football, basketball, soccer. When people bring up intense sports, which often have a win-at-all-costs culture, many people think of those sports. They tend not to think about figure skating – a stereotypically nice sport where all skaters are friends.
However, the widespread belief in the bubblegum nature of figure skating is nothing more than a fantasy.
I’ve been skating since I could walk. As the child of a seasoned coach, I’ve been to more rinks across the country than I can count and seen discussions in clubs everywhere. The highly competitive nature of the sport not only creates tension between skaters from different clubs, but can also create problems within clubs if their foundations are weak.
Figure skating can bring out the best and the worst in people. To be a high-level competitive skater, an athlete must be dedicated to the sport and work. Hours and hours of tireless work on and off the ice is required every day. Because of this, the best skaters are often extremely competitive, as only those who truly want to be the best will succeed at a high level.
However, this competition can become too much, leading to huge and chaotic rivalries between individual skaters and in some cases entire clubs.
It’s now almost everyday for skaters at competitions to talk horribly about each other, try various methods of intimidation, and even occasionally engage in physical fights. The 1994 attack on US figure skater Nancy Kerrigan is an infamous example of just how far this can go.
Rivalries can also get out of hand within clubs. I’ve witnessed firsthand club implosions when over-competition spirals out of control and the skaters stop working together. Gossip and intimidation reign supreme in these toxic “only the best can be here” cultures.
Some will say that competition is good for skaters, that it makes everyone better. I would agree; I am by no means advocating removing competition from sport.
Competing against others is my favorite part of skating, but there’s absolutely no place for gossip or toxicity in the sport, and there’s no place for physical violence anywhere.
Friendly competition with a little intensity is perfectly fine and should be encouraged, but there must be respect between competitors and coaches must take steps to eliminate the toxicity of skating.
Ryan Schaller is a 12th grader at Conestoga Valley High School.