As the whole world went into a frenzy with anticipation at the recent World Championships in Boston, I found myself, as always, slipping into a calm and tranquil state. My experience as a competitive gymnast and performing in front of a packed theater every night as a ballet dancer taught me the importance of a calm and centered demeanor in order to perform at an optimum level of excellence.
The question is what can we, as coaches, do to help our skaters get and remain in a focused and calm state for their competitions? One thing I do is ask the skater to spend some time alone to relax and concentrate on the importance of staying in the moment. It is essential not to get ahead of oneself or preconceive any specific outcome. After the physical warm up at a competition I have my skaters visualize their program seeing themselves skating a clean and well executed program. More than once a skater has told me that after the visualization they missed an element. I have them re-skate it in their mind perfectly and then do a physical practice of that element. Almost without exception the skaters succeed in completing the questioned element in their program. Visualization is a powerful and underutilized strategy in competitive figure skating.
Once they take the ice to compete it is critical that the skater concentrate on the immediate task at hand staying in the moment and not thinking about the outcome.
Max was able to get in this zone for both his short and long programs at the 2016 World Championships. He was calm like the ocean in the morning. He is well trained and has many clean programs in his arsenal. This was the time to trust and let the music and the audience carry him through. He achieved those goals.
As skaters prepare for the new season they might consider taking time to develop a clear and calm mental focus. This can be practiced even while skating run throughs at the rink. The process of pure and tranquil visualization can become a huge competitive advantage.
The session is over and the Zamboni is coming out.