7 Life Lessons We’ve Learned from Olympic Figure Skating

Watching the Olympics on NBC has been interesting. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the morning coverage along with the highly-edited evening edition, so I’ve gotten to see some sports and competitors that many haven’t. While watching the women’s figure skating short and long programs, with coverage of many more competitors and countries than the evening edition, I’ve been struck by a couple of things.

1. If you fall, get back up and keep going. So many of the competitors, especially in the early groups, give up after a fall. They continue to skate, but look like limp noodles. They’ve beaten themselves by looking like they don’t want to continue. This is similar to #2, but separate for a reason – perseverance in the face of all odds against you is critical to surviving and succeeding in life. Don’t let the ____ get you down.

2. How you approach a fall is as important as a perfect skate. Continuing on after a failure as if nothing has happened leads to success eventually, sometimes immediately. Pressure is an equalizer – some people are way better at performing under it, some collapse. But we all have to learn to manage our performance under pressure. A perfect performance, conference, meeting, or career rarely happens. Falls happen, how you deal with them makes the difference between a winner and a loser.

3. Your choreography should speak to your music. If your steps are technically correct, but don’t match the music, you’re going to look funny and fail to meet the audience’s expectations. Connecting with the underlying emotion of the music in your actions is essential. If you’re just following the technical steps of your career but it’s not what you really want or should be doing, then you’re not going to be happy and will not do a great job. Find your own personal music and dance like a maniac to it – it may mean a change of career, but you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run. Steve Jobs was right.

4. Chronological age doesn’t matter as much as maturity. Several 15 year olds are competing in the women’s figure skating competition. Yulia Lipnitskaya, the 15-year-old Russian, is clearly emotionally connected to her Schindler’s List program and skates with depth and technical skills. Tara Lipinski won the Olympic medal at 15. But there are other 15 year olds, 16 year olds, and 17 year olds who are not ready yet. They’re the ones you’re not seeing in the edited versions of NBC’s evening presentations. But I’m seeing them in the morning and will see if they’ve matured in South Korea in 4 years. You’re only as old as you think you are. And once you’re past 40, acting your age is overrated.

5. Flexibility is a plus no matter who you are. Stretching into pretzel shapes is a new requirement in the women’s skating programs and most of the young ones are able to do moves that skaters 20 years ago would never have considered. But it does make a point, both types of stretching, physical and creative, results in a program that is interesting to those watching and is personally pleasing to perform.

6. It’s important to balance strength and artistry for the best success. We’ve all known the bulldog manager who claims ‘his way or the highway.’ We’ve also endured the milquetoast managers. I’ve watched skaters who have all the powerful jumps in the world but look uncomfortable in an artistic spin. I’ve also watched the elegant skater who falls on every jump she tries. It’s important to balance both sides for a great experience in any endeavor.

7. Everybody needs a hug sometimes. No, really…