Tuesday, November 8, 2011

WFSC 2011 Geisingen! Also, Nerves

This year's world championships might actually be my favorite competition of all time. For the record, this year's PSWC probably clocks in as my second favorite of all time.

However, I think as far as my own skating goes, Geisingen takes the cake. Not only was I able to have a positive, carefree attitude about the whole experience, but I also skated better in competition than I ever have before, which turned out to be terribly good timing, it being the world championships and all.

Actually, aside from London where I flatly refused to participate after flubbing my classic (again) and being road-weary and just wanting to be home (in Belgium), I think my skating has gotten better in every competition this year. Of course that has something to do with training, but I think more of it is finally being able to skate in a battle without feeling like my legs have turned into cooked spaghetti.

In the past I have always felt like I am fighting two battles when skating in a competition --the one that everyone sees in the Youtube clips, but more importantly the one in my head where I was willing myself to go into the cones and feebly imitate the tricks that I could do so well in practice. That was always the most frustrating thing about competing: knowing I could do something perfectly well, but never being able to show it when it counted because of being incapacitated by nerves.

Now, three years later, I am finally at the point where I can use nervous energy positively, instead of letting it sink into my stomach and fill me with dread.

The last time I was "bad nervous" in a competition was in Bremen back in April. Actually, I was only nervous before the competition, because by the time I had to skate, I had made the decision that I wasn't going to let that get to me anymore, and then it started to be fine. I didn't do it alone; other enlightened people (especially Sinead!) helped me. :)

If only it were that easy, right? But really, every competition since then, it's gotten a little bit better and better, but only because I maintain my commitment to that decision and I reinforce it all the time. I still have nervous flutters, but now they don't seem so bad, and I can use them differently than I used to.

I also used to wonder why women skaters seem to get more nervous than the men during battles, but somebody pointed out to me that the men don't feel any less nervous than the women; it's just that the women talk about and/or show their feelings more. Ha. So true.

Anyway, one skater (who reads my blog! Yay!) actually came up to me at WFSC and asked me what I do in order to deal with nerves during competition, and I've been thinking about his question since then. I feel particularly qualified to answer this question, because I have personally gone from feeling debilitated by fear to actually enjoying skating in competition, with most of that progress having been made this very season. So, here are a few things you can also try to do, if you find yourself at a competition (or anywhere) and you feel like you might want to run away and hide instead of doing the thing you are supposed to do.

Mastering your nerves takes time and practice, just like slalom itself. So don't beat yourself up when you have a slip-up and retreat back into scared, I-don't-want-to-do-this mode. If you hold yourself to too high a standard, you will get too nervous trying not to be nervous!

Here's what I recommend:

1. Acceptance. The first thing to do is to accept what you are feeling, and know that it is a physical response to chemicals being released in your system. Realize that this response is programmed into you so that you can use it to survive, and that you can learn to use this flood of chemicals for something positive, but that it takes time and practice.

2. Be positive, even if you don't feel positive (aka fake it til you make it). When you are at the competition, feel free to talk about how you are feeling, but don't be negative, and don't reinforce your fears. For example, it might help you feel better if you say out loud, "I'm nervous," because then you are acknowledging your feeling, and then your friend next to you can reassure you and encourage you. But it won't help at all if you say "Oh no, I'm going to skate so badly!" The latter statement won't help you feel or do any better, and in fact it will probably make you do worse.

3. Stay warm, but don't overheat. When practicing before your competition, keep the blood flowing through your muscles, and don't skate too hard or too much. Staying warm will help you temper some of the nervous energy before your competition, and will also distract you from analyzing every minute of competition before you have to go on, which can wreak havoc on your nerves. If you are sitting down for awhile and feel your muscles start to stiffen, get up and roll around for a few minutes and give people high-fives. Then take a few passes through the cones without trying to perform anything impressive. But by all means, warm up your harder tricks so that you feel confident about them. If there are tricks you don't feel confident about, then it's probably best not to try them in the competition anyway. Stick to the tricks you know you do well. You will feel less nervous doing skating you are comfortable with, and you will feel better about it when looking back at the Youtube clips. (How I wish I had learned this in the beginning...well, Naomi told me, but I didn't listen.)

4. Gravitate towards the people with good energy. Skate with them in the warm-up area, support their performances, and let their energy be contagious. Instead of making you feel like you are shit at skating and not worthy of being there, you will be filled with the wonderful knowledge that you are all in it together, that you are all connected. And we are. We are all passionate about this lifestyle, and if we weren't, we sure as hell wouldn't be traveling to competitions. Guess what? We all pretty much hang out in parking lots and are all abnormally thrilled by the sight of polished cement. If I am feeling the nerves creeping in and trying to take over, these are the kinds of thoughts I usually try to distract myself with, and they always make me feel better. The little Buddha I wear around my neck helps me remember this, too.

5. Focus your energy where it's most effective for you. Where do you do your best skating? Is it showing off in front of a crowd of passersby in the city park? Is it when you are all alone with your headphones on? For me it's the latter. So when I compete, I have to shut the people out and enter my own little world, because if I let other people in while I am skating, I immediately become self-conscious and uncomfortable. I hate to do it, because I know the people around me are supportive and it's comforting to hear their cheers, but when it comes to the actual skating part, it has to be just me and the cones. Any deviation from that has to be really careful, or otherwise I will lose concentration. On the other hand, some skaters seem to be lit from within when a crowd (or a camera) is nearby. These people might never want to shut the audience out when they are competing.

6.  Skate like you've got nothing to prove. Even if you are a beginner (or just still feel like a noob) and feel embarrassed that you are not better than you are, try not to let that bug you about competing, because everyone was a noob once, and everyone learns at a different pace. Besides, some people have a lot more time and energy to dedicate to slalom than others. And not everyone is going to become as good as Martin Sloboda, no matter how much they practice, nor should that matter, because you are YOU, which is entirely unique. Your level shouldn't detract from your enjoyment of skating in the competition. Just show what you've got, and know that if what you've got ain't that good, the next time will be better.

As a side note, if you are one of those people who are "waiting to be good enough" to compete, just an FYI: you will NEVER feel good enough, so just start now and get the benefit of all the learning competition provides! Hell, I've been competing almost as long as I've been slaloming and I'm all the better for it. The only damage it's done me is produced more than a few embarrassing Youtube clips, which are starting to look kinda cute to me a few years later, and in the meantime I've learned so much about myself and about slalom, not to mention met the most amazing people I've ever known. So if you're on the fence, just come down and hang out in the cones...in front of the judges. :)

Well, that's pretty much the only advice I have to give on coping with nerves. There is still a lot that could be said about the approach to competition with respect to other factors, but this is (again) a long post and I'll leave you with the vids of my classic run, which was really fun to do!

Here is Carmen's video of my run:

Here is the Frozwheels video of my run, which is beautifully made, but I thought I was posing for a still picture at the beginning, not video, and therefore I blink into the camera like an owl in the sunshine...

Well, it still wasn't perfect, but I'm happy with it, and I hope they are all better from here on out! By the way, the song is "Drop That Thing" by Groove Armada.
Thanks for reading. :)


  1. Chills runing down my spine just watching this again. Live it was so wicked awesome!!

  2. Hi Megan! I was practicing in the backstage area and went around the corner to watch your run, and it was immediately obvious to me that you are enjoying it because the performance felt very solid and confident. All the more surprising that you say that you began years ago at comps feeling paralyzed.

    Well, when I started joining local comps here I just ended up feeling totally useless. You practice a lot, want to show yourself in a good light, your friends turn up and then suddenly your brain starts conspiring against you, your feet get all wobbly and you end up looking like you shouldn't have ever started skating in the first place.

    A turning point for my slalom was when I went to Australia as part of my job. Everytime I go somewhere for more than a few days I bring my skates along. In Melbourne I met the local slalomers who turned up to be very friendly and supportive bunch. I became very motivated (let's face it, obsessed :), bought new skates, practised (now for real), started to learn things that I have previously avoided, built up some confidence and hoped that nervousness will go away. So, in summer I went to Poland to Battle Warsaw where I first met you, and.. I messed up bigtime in the competition! That was a punch in the face but I decided I am not going down so easily and went to a couple more comps in summer, and actually things started to improve!

    This is what I observed (and I am pretty much going to repeat what you said):
    - Inside competitions, nervousness kicks in everytime, sometimes less sometimes more. It's better to just accept it as a fact and most of all to avoid feeling guilty because of it. I am inclined to believe even people who claim they don't suffer from it are not 100% immune. Although there really seem to be exceptions who on the contrary get a perceptible boost from performing in front of an audience.
    - It helps to keep yourself warmed up. Starting with simple tricks helps me to calm down, then I proceed with more difficult things. Once you start making mistakes, and you are getting all sorts of funny thoughts and dim visions, don't panic but go back to simpler stuff to lower the stress level. And don't practice too hard, that will just drain your strength for no real gain.
    - Don't isolate yourself from other people, but talk to them and be supportive. This might even be the most important one.
    - Outside of competitions, it is helpful to sometimes skate in public places where people walking by can see you. This can be very difficult at first, and works for me only if I just want to freestyle without focusing on improving any trick in particular. When I need to focus and learn new things, I much prefer to be someplace less exposed.

    See you,

  3. Hi Boris,
    Sorry I am responding so late to your comment. I agree with everything you say here. The last one, skating in public, is something I rarely do, and it's probably not good for me. Of course I don't mind people seeing me skate and it doesn't actually make me feel nervous at all (I've always been comfortable in front of a crowd), but I haaaaaate feeling obliged to skate FOR the people when I really just want to do my own thing, and then it's double annoying when I'm ignoring everyone and doing a boring-looking practice drill anyway and then people just shrug like "Huh, well THAT's not that cool" and move on.
    A lot of the London skaters have got that one down. Their styles are generally good because they have cultivated them WHILE practicing in front of people and showing off in the park and at Traf Square. I think of Naomi, Natalie, Sam, Mark, CJ, the JB's, Jacob, Zoe, and others...all super-stylish skating that is thanks in part to performing quite a lot of the time. I like doing that from time to time, but mostly I prefer the practicing part to the performing part. I'm just a sucker for 20 cone repetitions of torturous drills these days. :)

    Aside from not performing up to the same level as in your practice, what also kind of sucks is when people know your skating outside of comp and so they expect you to be just as good...a friend asked me earlier this year, "Um, what happened to your back wheeling?" and I was like, "Uhhh...what back wheeling?" Because she knows I can do it in practice, but it's never been that good in comp. It's frustrating of course but it just means I don't own the trick yet. GAAAAAAAH! So much to do!

    I guess the only solace I can give anybody about any of this stuff is, "You are not alone!" And then for the people who don't face these annoyances (if they exist), they can read this and go "HA-ha!" like Nelson from the Simpsons. :P

  4. Thanks Remco! You were an awesome supporter. :D