Elizabeth Ryan is a Mindset Skills and Mental Toughness expert providing FUN, fast, and fabulous results for competitive figure skaters. Check out her website, Ice Cool Confidence, by clicking here. Elizabeth's full bio can be found at the conclusion of our interview.
Elesia Ashkenazy: You work in the figure skating world as a performance coach. Tell us more about performance coaching and mindset skills.
Elizabeth Ryan: I work with skaters who have reached a ‘block’ of some kind in their ability to skate confidently in competition. Sometimes the block takes the form of a ‘lost’ jump that they used to be able to do, but which suddenly disappears. And sometimes skaters become so wrapped up in what their competitors can do that they lose confidence in themselves and no longer believe in their own capabilities.
‘Gremlins’ are those little voices that tell us we can’t do something and fill our heads with negative thinking. Performance coaching is about helping skaters to feel comfortable performing and to do so confidently. A skater's inherent grace and elegance is often lost when they lose confidence and start feeling self-conscious about what they think others might see as ‘showing off’.
90% of any sport is down to the mindset. In fact, the mind is 100% in control! I use a lot of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), which is incredibly simple and gets results quickly.
Elesia: You live in the United Kingdom. Are you able to work with clients who live outside of your country?
Elizabeth: Yes definitely! I work with a number of skaters who live quite a distance from me. I recently worked with a Scottish skater who lives about 350 miles away and we continued sessions throughout her visit to a skate camp in Canada! As long as the skater speaks fairly good English and there’s a strong Internet connection, we can use Skype or any similar online software to run the sessions.
People are often surprised to find that I don’t coach at a rink. I do, however, run workshops at rinks for groups of skaters, their parents, and skating coaches. Sometimes I will do an online webinar if there’s a topic I think one of those groups would benefit from.
When I work one-to-one with skaters, we usually work over the course of three months. I like to have two weeks in between sessions to give them time to try out the new techniques and mindset tools they’ve been learning – plus they have a little work to do in between. Then we look at what’s working and what needs developing further in each session.
Goals are incredibly important. I also teach skaters to understand how to set effective goals (which keeps their skating coach involved!), then we work towards achieving them.
Elesia: What are two of the top questions you tend to receive from skaters and/or their parents?
Elizabeth: Skaters and mums who contact me almost always ask for help to overcome nerves at competitions. A skater might seem fine in practice, then on the run up to a competition they start to become more and more nervous, and then on the big day they go into meltdown. The strain on skaters and their families is tremendous. Most coaches (and some parents!) don’t really know what to do with skaters at that level of stress and end up trying to help but saying the wrong things. Some skaters contact me because they have a specific jump that they are just totally stuck on and the more they get stressed out by it, the worse it gets.
There’s no quick answer – but I get them to break down the Gremlin voice in their head telling them they can’t do something. For example, if they have to say, “I can’t do that,” then I get them to add the word “yet” on the end at the very least.
I encourage skaters to think back to something they found really difficult a long time ago, but that they can do easily now. It might be a single axel – or even tying their skates by themselves. I point out how hard that was at the time, but how easy it is now, and that they are going through the same process, which means there will definitely be a time when what they are struggling with will become easy. That helps them to put it in context.
From there, we start breaking down the thought processes they are going through when the jump isn’t working and see what they could say to themselves instead.
Elesia: What is the skate coach's role in the process of you working with a skater?
Elizabeth: I like to work very much with the coach in mind – if the skater and his/her parent is willing, I like to talk to the coach at the start to get their perspective on the skater’s problems so that I have an all-round picture.
Sometimes without realising it, the coach can be part of the problem by using negative language or even ‘reverse psychology’, so it’s helpful if I can also get the coach to see how they can get the best out of their skater by slightly adapting their approach. Even something as innocuous and well intentioned as “Don’t worry about your axel,” said just before they step on the ice can be disastrous, as the unconscious mind is then focusing on worrying about the axel!
Elesia: What are the top fears you tend to run into with your students, and what's your starting point as far as a plan to address these fears?
Elizabeth: Some skaters have reached a block and then had a series of poor results in competition. Their fears center around coming in last again or not qualifying for the national championships. Others have a ‘What if…’ mentality – worrying about things that probably won’t ever happen. And some skaters simply want to know how to perform without the debilitating nerves which strike them in competitions and tests. I start off by getting them to complete a questionnaire that gives me a much deeper insight into what else is going on for them, and that pinpoints what might be the root cause.
Sometimes there are things going on at home or at school or with friendship groups that are preying on their mind and preventing them from focusing. Distractions and/or continually circling instead of taking a jump, or even popping jumps, are very common things for us to work on along with the negative self-talk.
Another big fear is that their mums will be upset with them if they don’t do well. And these mums aren’t particularly ‘pushy’ mums, but sometimes when mum is simply tired or grumpy or wondering if her child is really still enjoying the sport, they come across to the young person as if they are ‘angry’ or ‘upset’, which worries the skater and affects their performance even more.
Elesia: Thank you so much Elizabeth for gracing us with this fantastic informative interview. We're all the better for having some time with you! And we're eagerly looking forward to Part 2 tomorrow.
Elizabeth: Thank you!
Bio: Elizabeth Ryan is a Mindset Skills and Mental Toughness expert providing FUN, fast and fabulous results for competitive figure skaters.
Her extensive background in dealing with crisis, chaos and conflict was based on nearly 14 years in the Diplomatic Service where she had to think on her feet in very hairy situations using a set of ‘mind-tools’ that she built up over the years which work fantastically well at beating inner Gremlins!
Now a Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Time Line Therapy™, Hypnosis and NLP Coaching, and professional member of the Association for NLP, she’s very good at getting the Skating Gremlins out of your head!
Her experience in the UK and Eastern Europe inspired her to create The Ice Cool Confidence Programme, helping young and adult skaters around the UK and worldwide have strong mental confidence under pressure. And the great thing is – it works for more than just skating.
Elizabeth’s monthly motivational and confidence tips are sought after by hundreds of skaters from the UK and beyond. And they work! Her students change their whole outlook on life once they’ve cracked it, and they’re positively sparkling!