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Thread: Psychologizing skaters: attributing success and failure to mental states

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by noidont View Post
    All "inconsistencies" stem from lack of training and/or lack of physical talent to a degree. So what's more polite, call a skater "lazy" or "inconsistent"? Keep in mind, no skater is truly lazy at that level, but some do work harder and are more focused than others, especially when they don't have money issue and/or other problems to worry about. If we don't psychologize a skater we could very well potentially physicalize them. It's a lot harder to dispute physical states than mental ones.

    Personally I value intrinsic talent more than anything. Why is it that only winning is plausible? I don't mind Nikol Gosviani falling on all her triple jumps, as long as she moves beautifully in between them. She is just not a gifted jumper or even someone who has the winner mentality. Does it matter?
    It only matters for the purposes of modern competitive figure skating. For all other purposes, including private enjoyment according to one's very personal standards, be they logical/internally consistent or no; or imagining that it's the free skate of the 1972 Olympics and valuing accordingly (well, except for the winning part), it doesn't matter.

    There is nothing wrong, of course, with making up one's own rules for enjoyment, but it must be recognized that someone watching a skate from such a private perspective, and someone else evaluating according to competition rules, are in a very real sense watching two entirely different things, even if they happen to be watching the same set of physical phenomena (say, a Gosviani skate).

    What must also be recognized, IMO, is that there are very few public events, whether they be skating, or dance, or baseball, or spelling bees, which do not incorporate some communal notions of what is good or bad, better or worse, what wins or loses.

    The vast majority of the audience do not spend time savoring, in even a local spelling bee, the creative ways in which a word can be (mis)spelled, except, perhaps, the parents of the offender, and maybe her third-grade boyfriend.

    Even in a more purely artistic endeavor such as dance, the winning/losing aspect of a public performance (as mediated according to some set of communitarian criteria) is merely more indirect and fragmented in process, not absent. If the dancer is great, according to the known criteria for that genre, she will be feted and celebrated, and will receive a leading place in the dance company.

    The issue with someone like Gosviani, from the perspective of public appreciation, is that, given the current breadth and depth of the skater pool, there will always be skaters who have a more complete set of capabilities, including the ability to jump as well as the ability to do other things "in between".

    There is always a place for appreciating skaters with brilliant skill/talent in some narrower aspect (e.g. a Lucinda Ruh, or a Katherine Healy), but, to reverse your proposition, to be able to excel at a broader array of criteria is not a bad thing.

    IMHO, no skater reaches the very highest levels of the sport without having won a lot, without enjoying winning, and without some ambition to keep on winning until they have won the biggest prizes possible. I daresay that this probably applies to Nikol as well. Sure, I can appreciate those who did not win but demonstrated excellence in some way, but I believe that we need to give "winning" its pride of place, not least because the skaters themselves do.

  2. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by RobinA View Post
    I disagree that you can't necessarily tell what is in a skater's mind. If you sit there and watch practice after pratice and the person does beautiful jumps and wonderful flowing run-throughs, and then that person shows up for the competition stiff as a board, splating throughout, I think it's fair to say they have a problem with nerves. Plus, the people commentating have been there. I'd venture to say that every skater walks out onto that ice with nerves buzzing in their heads. Some find a way of dealing, some don't. It's a big part of who stands on top of the podium and who does not.

    And I will defend the use of "headcase," as it is frequently used in sports and everybody knows it doesn't mean "crackpot" or one of those other synonyms. It means a person whose psychology is getting in the way of their other abilities in the sport. Everybody in every sport has something (or a bunch of somethings) to conquer on their way to the top. It doesn't mean there is something wrong with them.

    As spectators of sports, we speculate on what is going on. The speculation can go over the top, but when it doesn't, it's part of the fun of spectating.


    The mental aspect is a big part of all sport, this one especially. There are certain skaters who always skate well under relatively little pressure but never skate well under immense pressure. You can't describe that skater without describing the mental component. I don't think that I am a "hater", but the term "headcase" seems to apply to at least a few of them. Trying to figure out the mental aspect is an integral part of accurately understanding the sport. The mental aspect is a fact of the sport. Are we just supposed to ignore the reality of it?

    Even the best and highest-winning skaters occasionally get mental blow-outs. Some skaters, we all know, get them more frequently. (We each have our own list and I am not going to give you mine. ) It does not mean that they are bad skaters, but it does mean that they have mental issues affecting their competitive standing (at least at a particular time). I can't imagine anyone on this board, when making predictions about who is going to win which event, not taking into account the mental state of the skater based on their past performances. And if there actually is, I would love to wager a few bets with them.

    Regarding the term headcase, whether it is used properly or improperly, nicely or in hate, it depends on the nature and motive of the user. It can be appropriate and it can be used without mal-intent. I don't think that I have ever used it (although I may have), but I sure have thought it. There are "haters", very true, and they over-use terms like "headcase", but I don't think that they would be slowed down without the term being there. As well, the term can be used in contexts of fair objectivity (or at least in a way that is as objective as an opinion or perception can be).

    This is a competitive sport. People judge the competitors and they can't help but assess the mental aspect, as best as possible, of the skaters over time based on performance. It is part of the way we rank the skaters. Anyone who cannot handle that should not compete as a skater and maybe not even in sports. I respect the compassion and kindness of the contrary opinion, but I cannot agree with it. Sorry.

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    There are athletes who can competen well under pressure and those who can't. It happens in all sports. I can think of two players on my favorite baseball team, the Yankees, who were famous for suddenly slumping in the playoffs after playing well all year. Was it nerves and pressure? Probably to some degree.

    I think we ask a lot of these kids, in a way. To be a successful competitor at this sport, you'd have to be an extreme extrovert, feeling no nervousness at being judged or having no performance anxiety being in front of a crowd. But you'd also have to be an extreme introvert to give up most of your teenage social life to spend time in a rink with adults working on which way your foot is leaning on your lutz. It's a rare person who can be both.

  4. #19
    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robeye View Post
    ...very few public events, whether they be skating, or dance, or baseball, or spelling bees,…
    Off topic, but speaking of spelling bees, why are Indian children better spellers than anyone else in the U.S.?

    The last six winners of the National Spelling Bee are Sameer Mishra, Kavya Shivashankar, Anamika Veeramani, Sukanya Roy, Snigdha Nandipati, and Arvind Mahankali (edging out Vismaya Kharkar (6th), Vanya Shivashankar (sister of Kavya, 5th), Nikitha Chandran, Amber Born (!!!, 4th), Sriram Hathwar (bronze), and Pranav Sivakumar (silver).

    Me, I'm too much of a head case to watch the National Spelling Bee on TV. It makes me too nervous.

  5. #20
    Missing Tdizzle and SDiggity golden411's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    Off topic, but speaking of spelling bees, why are Indian children better spellers than anyone else in the U.S.?

    The last six winners of the National Spelling Bee are Sameer Mishra, Kavya Shivashankar, Anamika Veeramani, Sukanya Roy, Snigdha Nandipati, and Arvind Mahankali (edging out Vismaya Kharkar (6th), Vanya Shivashankar (sister of Kavya, 5th), Nikitha Chandran, Amber Born (!!!, 4th), Sriram Hathwar (bronze), and Pranav Sivakumar (silver).

    Me, I'm too much of a head case to watch the National Spelling Bee on TV. It makes me too nervous.
    I believe that you mean Indian-AMERICAN children, Mathman. Most, if not all of the kids mentioned above, are American-born, IIRC.
    And I would add that of the spellers whom you listed, I'm pretty sure that one or more actually is of Pakistani -- as opposed to Indian -- descent.

    As to the point of your question, my hunch is that a cultural/family emphasis on education in general is a large part of the explanation.
    For example, I am 99% certain that one of the boys named above won the National Geography Bee as well -- might have even been the same year that he won the Spelling Bee.

  6. #21
    skating philosopher Mrs. P's Avatar
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    All the talk about spelling bees make me want to watch Spellbound this weekend.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spellbound_(2002_film)

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    Quote Originally Posted by phaeljones View Post


    The mental aspect is a big part of all sport, this one especially. There are certain skaters who always skate well under relatively little pressure but never skate well under immense pressure. You can't describe that skater without describing the mental component. I don't think that I am a "hater", but the term "headcase" seems to apply to at least a few of them. Trying to figure out the mental aspect is an integral part of accurately understanding the sport. The mental aspect is a fact of the sport. Are we just supposed to ignore the reality of it?

    Even the best and highest-winning skaters occasionally get mental blow-outs. Some skaters, we all know, get them more frequently. (We each have our own list and I am not going to give you mine. ) It does not mean that they are bad skaters, but it does mean that they have mental issues affecting their competitive standing (at least at a particular time). I can't imagine anyone on this board, when making predictions about who is going to win which event, not taking into account the mental state of the skater based on their past performances. And if there actually is, I would love to wager a few bets with them.

    Regarding the term headcase, whether it is used properly or improperly, nicely or in hate, it depends on the nature and motive of the user. It can be appropriate and it can be used without mal-intent. I don't think that I have ever used it (although I may have), but I sure have thought it. There are "haters", very true, and they over-use terms like "headcase", but I don't think that they would be slowed down without the term being there. As well, the term can be used in contexts of fair objectivity (or at least in a way that is as objective as an opinion or perception can be).

    This is a competitive sport. People judge the competitors and they can't help but assess the mental aspect, as best as possible, of the skaters over time based on performance. It is part of the way we rank the skaters. Anyone who cannot handle that should not compete as a skater and maybe not even in sports. I respect the compassion and kindness of the contrary opinion, but I cannot agree with it. Sorry.
    Not sure that is the best word choice. In the U.S., the phrase "mental issues" typically refers to actual mental illness. Performance anxiety is not a mental illness.

    Once upon a time in my life, I directed high school plays and coached competitive speech. I think I directed 16 shows. Not sure. Lost count somewhere along the way. Performance anxiety is a normal part of any performance and is typically worse if the performance is being formally judged rather than just watched for enjoyment. My kids could perform a competitive one-act without a hitch on our home stage for their parents and friends. But two days later at contest with judges in the front row, someone might forget the culminating line of the play (that really happened once). The problem is that with higher stakes, they have way more adrenaline caused by nerves. Some are better able to control that reaction and handle it than others. And some never learn how to control it. I had one student who I caught doing frantically fast push-ups right before curtain time one year. I made him stop, but he'd already done 50. When Agnes led after the short at Nats in 2012 and was jumping up and down on her skates at the boards, I thought of him. In that musical performance, he tanked his first solo. And we know what happened to Agnes. His push-ups and her jumping up and down were both nervous energy caused by that burst of adrenaline. Not mental illness or weakness or being unprepared. The key is learning how to handle it and that part does not come naturally.

  8. #23
    Custom Title spikydurian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    Off topic, but speaking of spelling bees, why are Indian children better spellers than anyone else in the U.S.?

    The last six winners of the National Spelling Bee are Sameer Mishra, Kavya Shivashankar, Anamika Veeramani, Sukanya Roy, Snigdha Nandipati, and Arvind Mahankali (edging out Vismaya Kharkar (6th), Vanya Shivashankar (sister of Kavya, 5th), Nikitha Chandran, Amber Born (!!!, 4th), Sriram Hathwar (bronze), and Pranav Sivakumar (silver).

    Me, I'm too much of a head case to watch the National Spelling Bee on TV. It makes me too nervous.
    It must be genetic. People of Indian origin tend to dominate in IT and law too ... all require some kind of logical thinking skills? And oops.. memory too.

    Quote Originally Posted by golden
    And I would add that of the spellers whom you listed, I'm pretty sure that one or more actually is of Pakistani -- as opposed to Indian -- descent
    I THINK 'Pakistan' was part of the India until they broke away to form a different state to cater for the majority Muslims?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    Off topic, but speaking of spelling bees, why are Indian children better spellers than anyone else in the U.S.?

    The last six winners of the National Spelling Bee are Sameer Mishra, Kavya Shivashankar, Anamika Veeramani, Sukanya Roy, Snigdha Nandipati, and Arvind Mahankali (edging out Vismaya Kharkar (6th), Vanya Shivashankar (sister of Kavya, 5th), Nikitha Chandran, Amber Born (!!!, 4th), Sriram Hathwar (bronze), and Pranav Sivakumar (silver)
    Well, they started their education spelling those names of theirs.

  10. #25
    Custom Title Rachmaninoff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by louisa05 View Post
    Not sure that is the best word choice. In the U.S., the phrase "mental issues" typically refers to actual mental illness. Performance anxiety is not a mental illness.
    I don't think of it that way. I think of "issues" simply as problems in a certain area. There are a lot of human experiences or traits that I'd call "mental/emotional/psychological issues" that wouldn't qualify someone for some mental disorder diagnosis. What other term could one use to refer to a problem that has to do with the mind? (Honest question. If there's a term that doesn't make people think "mentally ill" it'd be useful to know what it is.)

    As for the original topic, guess I agree with phaeljones that I don't really think there's anything wrong with talking about the mental side of competing. It's a major factor, after all. However, it does go too far when people act as if being a "tough competitor" or a "headcase" is some fixed trait that doesn't change, rather than just a reflection of where the skater is at right now. A skater known for being a "tough competitor" might begin to struggle when circumstances change (they become a defending world champion, for example, and deal with being "the hunted"), or a "headcase" skater might gain confidence and experience and become more consistent. There are also different factors that people might struggle with: one skater might be skate well at nationals but have trouble on the world stage, while another would feel more pressure at home. One might be consistent for years and crumble at the Olympics; another might be erratic for years and have the skate of their life at the Olympics. So I do think labeling one as tough/fragile can be problematic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rachmaninoff View Post
    I don't think of it that way. I think of "issues" simply as problems in a certain area. There are a lot of human experiences or traits that I'd call "mental/emotional/psychological issues" that wouldn't qualify someone for some mental disorder diagnosis. What other term could one use to refer to a problem that has to do with the mind? (Honest question. If there's a term that doesn't make people think "mentally ill" it'd be useful to know what it is.)

    As for the original topic, guess I agree with phaeljones that I don't really think there's anything wrong with talking about the mental side of competing. It's a major factor, after all. However, it does go too far when people act as if being a "tough competitor" or a "headcase" is some fixed trait that doesn't change, rather than just a reflection of where the skater is at right now. A skater known for being a "tough competitor" might begin to struggle when circumstances change (they become a defending world champion, for example, and deal with being "the hunted"), or a "headcase" skater might gain confidence and experience and become more consistent. There are also different factors that people might struggle with: one skater might be skate well at nationals but have trouble on the world stage, while another would feel more pressure at home. One might be consistent for years and crumble at the Olympics; another might be erratic for years and have the skate of their life at the Olympics. So I do think labeling one as tough/fragile can be problematic.
    There is a term. I gave it to you: performance anxiety. It is a natural phenomenon caused by adrenaline in a high stress situation before any type of public performance--dramatic, musical, sports, public speaking, etc...I also gave you an example of how that anxiety can be worse in one situation than another--my perfect play cast performing in front of family and friends that turns into an error riddled bundle of nerves in front of competition judges.

    Here is WebMD's article on the topic:

    http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/g...rmance-anxiety

    It is a common response that should not really be classified as a mental or emotional issue. I found, actually, that when I discussed it with my actors and speakers as a perfectly normal response, it was easier for them to learn to cope.

  12. #27
    Custom Title Victura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by coppertop1 View Post
    I wonder sometimes about the most artistic yet notoriously inconsistent skaters. Do they have an artistic temperament that makes it hard for them to coach or be consistent?
    Obviously, this depends on the person, but I would think that for some who truly feel the music and the performance, it might be a concentration issue. They might be so focused on the emotional aspect of a performance and find that it's difficult to shift focus when they have to suddenly gear up for a big jump.

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    Missing Tdizzle and SDiggity golden411's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spikydurian View Post
    ... I THINK 'Pakistan' was part of the India until they broke away to form a different state to cater for the majority Muslims?
    Understand your point.
    Mine was that I think it is possible that parents of one or more of the spelling champs might have been born in Pakistan (and would identify their heritage as Pakistani). I am no expert on either country, but I think the distinction could be quite significant to those who trace their roots to one or the other -- for exactly the reason that you state.

    Quote Originally Posted by caitie View Post
    I think sometimes it's hard to understand why you can watch a skater do beautiful jumps during warm ups... and then they go out and bomb their jumps in the program. I think skating is just frustrating because the audience naturally wants an explanation for why someone isn't performing well, and the idea that they are folding under pressure is the simplest explanation that most people jump to. If you're more knowledgable about skating, then maybe you look at other issues and take time to listen to what skaters are saying in their interviews. .... Maybe Max Aaron is doing too many quads, maybe he's doing too many jumps too late in his program. ...
    After Skate America, Max said that he had been "overthinking" there -- a relevant word for this thread that I don't think has been mentioned yet.

    Quote Originally Posted by Robeye View Post
    ... What must also be recognized, IMO, is that there are very few public events, whether they be skating, or dance, or baseball, or spelling bees, which do not incorporate some communal notions of what is good or bad, better or worse, what wins or loses.

    The vast majority of the audience do not spend time savoring, in even a local spelling bee, the creative ways in which a word can be (mis)spelled, except, perhaps, the parents of the offender, and maybe her third-grade boyfriend. ...

    Sure, I can appreciate those who did not win but demonstrated excellence in some way, but I believe that we need to give "winning" its pride of place, not least because the skaters themselves do.
    LOL, I was wondering what had prompted Mathman's post. Finally went back thru the thread and saw this one. Agree with Robeye's overall point.
    Way back when, I was a young spelling bee geek ... and I also feel that Robeye's analogy is apt. Let's just say that a case of overthinking ended my spelling "career" . In hindsight, the correct spelling of an unfamiliar word turned out to be basically straightforward and phonetic -- but one of the vowels sounded ambiguous to me, and the more the pronunciation was repeated at my request, the more convinced I became of a letter that proved to be wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by coppertop1 View Post
    ... I think it's more about consistency and mental toughness-- to me that means being a good competitor. I know what people mean by headcase but how about finding another, more appropriate word for it. Why not just say "She's inconsistent".
    Because inconsistency is too nonspecific to describe a lack of mental toughness, if that is the intended meaning. Inconsistency could be caused simply by insufficient physical training.

    Quote Originally Posted by noidont View Post
    All "inconsistencies" stem from lack of training and/or lack of physical talent to a degree. ...
    But psychological factors could be a cause of inconsistency, IMHO. I just don't think that they are the only cause of inconsistency.

    Quote Originally Posted by Poodlepal View Post
    ... I think we ask a lot of these kids, in a way. To be a successful competitor at this sport, you'd have to be an extreme extrovert, feeling no nervousness at being judged or having no performance anxiety being in front of a crowd. But you'd also have to be an extreme introvert to give up most of your teenage social life to spend time in a rink with adults working on which way your foot is leaning on your lutz. It's a rare person who can be both.
    Many of the elite skaters strike me as natural "life of the party"-types. Sacrificing a lot of social activities with friends from outside the rink is not the same as being extreme introverts, IMHO ... plus in some cases, it seems that a lot of off-ice socializing goes on among fellow skaters.

  14. #29
    Custom Title Rachmaninoff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by louisa05 View Post
    There is a term. I gave it to you: performance anxiety. It is a natural phenomenon caused by adrenaline in a high stress situation before any type of public performance--dramatic, musical, sports, public speaking, etc...I also gave you an example of how that anxiety can be worse in one situation than another--my perfect play cast performing in front of family and friends that turns into an error riddled bundle of nerves in front of competition judges.
    Yes, I know what performance anxiety means, and I know what you posted earlier. I meant a more general term, something that refers to something happening in the mind that is causing someone problems. Because that is what I (and probably phaeljones) meant by the term. Performance anxiety is only one of many experiences that would fit into that category that is not a mental illness. I don't even think it's the only one that applies here; there are other reasons for lapses in concentration, etc.

  15. #30
    Missing Tdizzle and SDiggity golden411's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rachmaninoff View Post
    I don't think of it that way. I think of "issues" simply as problems in a certain area. There are a lot of human experiences or traits that I'd call "mental/emotional/psychological issues" that wouldn't qualify someone for some mental disorder diagnosis. What other term could one use to refer to a problem that has to do with the mind? (Honest question. If there's a term that doesn't make people think "mentally ill" it'd be useful to know what it is.) ...
    Am not criticizing Rachmaninoff for her/his choice of words.
    That said, I would propose "factors," the word that I used above, as an alternative to placate those who insist that "issues" could have no interpretation other than "pathological issues." (Like Rachmaninoff, I myself consider "issues" to be a more neutral term. )

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