Monday, July 09, 2012

Transitions

PS Magazine July/Aug 2012


Transitions in skating are defined as the varied and/or intricate footwork, positions, movements and holds that link all the elements. In singles, pairs and synchronized skating, this also includes the entrances and exits of all technical elements… transitions are extremely important, but the IJS is not what comes to mind when I think of the word.

This past April, NFL star Junior Seau took his life. To say this was a shock to his family and friends, but also to the world of football, is an understatement. More importantly, many questioned not only why, but wondered if it was somehow related to the sport he loved and no longer played. In an article published on May 11, 2012 in USA Today, author Jarrett Bell says a “chorus of former and current players” called for mandatory counseling for athletes transitioning to life away from the game.

Interestingly, while I was researching material for the CER course “2 GRO-W Champions”, the idea of transitioning athletes from our sport came up. While interviewing Dr. Clark Power from the University of Notre Dame, I brought up skaters struggling with ending their careers. This is something I went through personally. After an amateur career that lasted sixteen years and a professional career that lasted another eleven, I struggled with becoming a coach. I was struggling with the fact that I once was the star of a multi-million dollar show and now I was just one of thousands of coaches. If it wasn’t for a spontaneous conversation outside a rink on Cape Cod with Dr. Caroline Silby, a notable sports psychologist and former figure skater, I might have continued to be lost. As I explained my funk to her, she smiled and said, “You’re just mourning your career. You need to go though the process of mourning.” That short sentence made all the difference in the world. I needed to understand that I would get through this and my life could and would still have meaning. Dr. Power’s response to my story was, “This would be an area where we could be really supportive as coaches and talk about it, maybe talk about our own experience transitioning from performing and competing to coaching, and what that was like for us, and try to help the athlete. Maybe this is a time when we can get athletes to think about giving back to the sport through coaching.” Exactly!

Experts and former players referenced in the USA Today article say, “It’s typical for the adrenaline rush that can come from the NFL spotlight to be replaced by depression.” I agree and I believe it is an issue for many athletes. Two figure skating examples that come to mind are Oksana Baiul and Nicole Bobek.  Both struggled with addiction following their retirement. Kellen Winslow, a Hall of Fame tight end and director of athletics and student wellness at Central State University in Ohio, has developed a web-based career counseling program. In the same USA Today article Winslow says, “You leave the game, and all of a sudden it’s, ‘What’s next?’ The interaction needs to start way before a person is retired. If you wait until you’re retired, you’re behind.”

The loss of one’s perceived identity can be devastating to someone who has no support. It is a coach’s duty to help a skater bow out of the sport of figure skating gracefully, with joy and dignity. Quoted from “2 GRO-W Champions”, “It is probably one of the most difficult times in a skater’s life. They have lived their life as ‘Susie-the skater’ and need to learn how to let go and become ‘Susie-who skates.’ It is part of the process and it is a coach's responsibility to help them through this difficult process.”