One of the fun wintertime activities in Stuttgart is attending the month-long annual Weihnachtsmarkt (outdoor Christmas market).
It’s a place to eat bun-cradled Bratwurst and drink steaming Gluehwein while standing on your feet, to shop for gifts while gently pushing your way through crowds… and the bravest will strap on skates at the outdoor ice skating rink.
I am not among the latter.
Yesterday evening my husband, a female friend, and I joined the crowd of onlookers while the musical hits of Billy Joel, Kid Rock, and TOTO filled the air. I sang along while my husband and friend sipped their steaming drinks.
We enjoyed watching the swirling neon spotlights illuminate the skaters as they circled the rink’s center, some weaving through the crowd expertly, others slowly yet confidently pushing their way forward.
The smallest skater was a girl perhaps 5 years old, tightly gripping the chest-high handles of the sliding support shaped like a snowman. She was inching her way forward with no one nearby to assist her.
The white snowman was approximately 3 feet tall and stood firmly on stubby blue skis. A newbie skater could stand behind it, using its stability to keep balance while wobbling forward and pushing it in front of them.
It took the young girl about 15 minutes to make one circuit of the rink. I watched her skates flail in flashing ovals while she barely glided forward, and I realized what was missing: she needed to turn her backmost skate on a slight angle before pushing against it with her foot.
By the time the young skater was returning to her starting point, my friend commented, “She’s a fighter, that will take her far in life.”
We watched her exchange a few words with a middle-age adult male who was wearing skates and standing outside the rink; he was probably her father. Then she began a second lap gripping her snowman support. Still skating alone, she moved faster this time, circling the rink in about 10 minutes.
When we saw her face again, she still looked neutral-to-happy. All three of us were impressed, and we guessed at why she didn’t seem frustrated.
“She is enjoying herself,” my friend commented, “and she doesn’t seem scared by the way people are skating quickly past her.” The other skaters were giving her plenty of room, which I imagine helped her stay calm.
I added, “I think she is NOT comparing herself to anyone else. In contrast, she probably is seeing how she is the same as everyone else on the rink: she is SKATING!”
We left as she began her third lap, walking away around 9:30 pm while the music and socializing continued.
This morning as I write this, I also realize no one seemed to tell her that she doesn’t belong on the ice. None of the other skaters appeared to talk to her nor call out a comment while she was skating. After her brief talk with the man, her body language didn’t express any discomfort regarding her progress.
I pulled several lessons from the experience.
- Stay calm when you’re a beginner
- Use tools to help you learn
- Ask for advice when you want to improve
- Enjoy the process instead of comparing yourself to more advanced participants
- Give beginners time and room to try their burgeoning skills
- Keep any verbal insults and frustrations about a beginner’s progress to yourself
and the most important one:
- Sometimes there’s a subtle difference between frustrating activity and success
Whether you’re coaching a new business partner, showing a friend how to use a computer program, or advising a child how to ice skate, the same principles apply.
As coaches of our teammates, be aware of the subtle actions that lead to easier and faster success. The best coaches can observe a person’s activities, discern the skills (obvious or subtle) that are missing, and teach them patiently.
Although she never spoke a word to me, that young skater reminded me of some important facts.
I hope the next time she laces up her skates, the proper technique “clicks in” so she can soar around the rink like the fastest skaters.
–LYnn Selwa, “The Rocket Science Coach ™”
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