Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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Exploring sport coaching and psychology

2 The making of an ice princess

In women’s figure skating and artistic gymnastics, teenagers often succeed early because the current scoring systems put performers with small and flexible bodies at a significant advantage. Different rules and scoring systems result in different types of bodies. Compare, for example, the significantly different physiques of Olympic artistic gymnasts (short and powerful) and rhythmic gymnasts (taller and more slender). At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, 16-year-old artistic gymnast Amy Tinkler was Great Britain’s youngest medallist. She is only 1.46 m (4 feet 10 inches) tall. Sporting success can, in some cases, be achieved before puberty.

In 2016, the BBC followed young child athletes Lily, 11, and Genevieve, 12, and their families as the young athletes pursued their dreams of becoming ‘ice princesses’ in competitive figure skating.

Activity 2 Children, coaching and choices

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch the following video featuring Lily and Genevieve. Look for the way Lily and Genevieve interact with their family and coach. How do the girls speak and react to those around them? It is thought that these interactions influence aspects of motivation.

Download this video clip.Video player: The making of an ice princess
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Transcript: The making of an ice princess

It is quite unique that I have self-motivation to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and go to the rink. I’ve always wanted to be a skater since I was about three. But my mum wouldn’t let me because she thought I was a bit too young.
For her seventh birthday, we bought her an ice skating lesson. It was only ever going to be a half hour lesson. At eight, she’d already decided this was what she was wanting to do. She wanted to be the best that she could be. She wanted to be a British champion, and then she wanted to do European’s and World’s, and ultimately, of course, it will be the Olympics.
She makes all the decisions. She dictates how much she wants to train. Everything is driven by her, and I don’t know where it comes from. Just something within her. It’s not genetic. It is just Lilly.
OK. That’s tine. One more time. I really like the fact that when you did the Mohawk, there was a really strong push there before you went into it, OK? As you step forward –
The reason Lily and her mum decided to come to the ice rink in Blackburn is so she can be trained by former Olympic competitor Catherine Hudson.
She’s super talented. You ask her to jump, she wants to do it twice. Tell her it’s time to get off, she wants to stay on longer. She’s brilliant.
Catherine has been training Lily now for two years.
Many of the girls she’s competing with have literally grown up on skates. They’ve started as toddlers and gone through, or even started at five or six. So she’s got a lot of years of just trying to catch up.
The more you train everything for speed, the more confidence you’re going to have in the competition to do it. Because it’s more normal, isn’t it? Yeah?
I want to see tight knees, heels coming off the floor first.
This is the painful bit.
Giving Genevieve another advantage is that she’s trained three times a week in this gym by a national gymnast champion from Bulgaria – her mum, Madeline.
Genevieve, shoulders back. If you’re going to be sitting, sit up. Higher, higher, higher.
I’ve been coming to gym since I was three, because I remember being in one of them baby carriers on the bench. And I come three times a week.
It is difficult being a coach and a mum at the same time, because I know when we go to the ring, she wants me to praise a lot more. I tend to focus a lot more on her mistakes and what needs improving. And I know she wants a lot more of me to be a mum and a lot more to say, well done and you did well. Which I try to, but we’ve got an understanding that when there’s something that needs correcting, I’ve got to tell her as well.
Genevieve, faster! Knee in tighter – it’s too slow.
End transcript: The making of an ice princess
The making of an ice princess
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The level of commitment to training at such a young age might be a little unsettling to watch for some. You mostly saw Lily on the ice and it appears that she is self-motivated, with parents who facilitate her training. The tone of her interactions and behaviour with her coach appears to be warm.

In contrast, Genevieve appears to be shy with a closely involved mother who contributes to coaching. Her mother says that aspects of their parent/child relationship can be hard to balance in relation to sporting matters. It is not clear how much autonomy or control over her sporting world Genevieve has: in the clip her mother appeared to push her.

A video of children training intensely gives us an opportunity to reflect on the purpose and outcomes of children’s sport. Research suggests that a balanced life in sport, education and with peers/family is ideal.

You can perhaps understand why there are minimum age limits for senior international competitions in figure skating (15 years) and gymnastics (16 years).


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