Coaching Tips for Skaters with Fear (Michelle Leigh)

World and Olympic coach Michelle Leigh discusses the challenges of helping skaters work through fear issues associated with certain aspects of skating. She mentions the common fears of skating fast, jumping high, falling, and the fear of not succeeding. As she notes, very few skaters will openly admit they are afraid (and many skaters don’t even realize they are afraid!) but it still makes sense to start by asking questions. Sometimes coaches have to deduce the truth in other ways.

For the fear of jumping/falling, Michelle strongly recommends using an on-ice overhead harness or pole harness. By removing the risk of a big fall, it’s possible to see if a skater is being held back by technical issues or by fear. Michelle is also fine with skaters using padding to minimize fall impacts (butt pads, hip pads, elbow pads). For padding, Michelle prefers simple pads the skater can place in specific locations rather than the commercial pads that have them built into clothing where the skaters has no control over exactly where the pads are. Michelle says, “If we don’t let our athletes use pads then they’re going to compensate in other ways. They’re not going to try as hard. Maybe they’re really going to injure themselves.”

For skaters that are afraid to skate fast, Michelle believes it’s more of a progression thing. Make it a goal to go faster gradually over a long period. But make sure it’s the skater’s goal, because “if they have no intention of going fast you’re going to be beating your head against the wall for a long time.” Michelle also recommends using other resources such as other coaches, and recognize that issues like lack of speed into jumps might be addressed simply by working on regular skating speed.


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