Let’s talk about some mildly recent failures real quick, regardless of whether it was the fault of the person or not. Evgenia Medvedeva got silver at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Jason Brown didn’t make the Olympic team for 2018. 2018-19 Grand Prix gold medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue missed the podium at the 2019 Four Continents Championships.
Did any of these athletes quit after these failures? Nope! Hubbell/Donohue landed Bronze at Worlds and Jason Brown came in 2nd at Skate America. Evgenia continues to compete, and even a recent withdrawal at Russian Nationals won’t stop her from skating and competing as far as she is willing to train for it.
Many people say that you don’t learn from success, but failure, and I can’t help but agree. My first year of figure skating happened slowly and then all at once. From what was once something to relieve some stress quickly turned into a hobby that caused a little bit of anxiety from the pressure of official USFSA testing. I passed every test I took on the first try until my first moves test.
We can sit here and argue about why I failed and whether politics had anything to do with it, but at the end of the day I had a big fat “RETRY” on my USFSA record for Pre-Bronze Moves, and I had to quickly figure out what I was doing any of this for.
Up to that point, I was just doing what my coach recommended. I trained for preliminary dances because I wanted to do solo ice dance, and then I tested them. I liked testing for the first few sessions because it was new and exciting, even if it was a bit stressful. But that retry did something weird to my brain.
I was a bit lost, if I’m honest. I had already planned out what I was going to train for the next test session, and suddenly I had to pivot. I knew getting a retry was always an option, but it had never happened to me so I assumed it wouldn’t happen that day.
The following days after the test, I had the opportunity to go to the SHARP 4 SPORTS camp in Nashville for a weekend in early August and got the opportunity to skate outside of the context of re-testing that moves level. I learned A LOT, and got feedback from coaches other than my own which gave me a good amount of things to think about.
Throughout the entire weekend, after the end of each day’s activities, I would sit in my AirBnB charged on skating. The first day I considered what it would be like to spend the season mostly working on solo free dance. The second day I looked into the requirements to do so. By the last night before my morning flight, I was crafting a negotiation to convince my coach to let me not test for a while. We could still work on pattern dances and moves, but it wouldn’t be tested until at least April.
Surprisingly, that worked? But we still had to get through this moves test I already registered for. So I spent the remaining couple of weeks reformatting my weak points to satisfy the test and passed with flying colors at that next session.
Since then, I haven’t really thought about testing much. My coach asked if I wanted to test Willow Waltz in January, but I really like what I’m doing right now. Free Dance requires so many more skills than pattern dances, so I’ve had to really lean into higher moves tests and learn a lot of turns and find ways to make myself more powerful and presentable on the ice. It’s been REALLY freaking fun, and I’m almost glad I failed that moves test now.
See, if I passed on the first try, I’m not sure I’d be finishing up my last choreography bits on this Bronze Solo Free Dance program, or have a really stunning dress waiting to be debuted, or have the sheer amount of skating skills that I do right now. I would probably be slowly trudging through Bronze Moves and maybe soldiering Hickory Hoedown or Ten-Fox. And while I have learned all of these things, they’re not the focus, and the focus I do get to do is really fun and something I look forward to.
I understand where people come from when they say that you aren’t defined by your failures, but I think what they mean is that your failures don’t dictate who you are. We are ultimately the culmination of our successes and our failures, but those failures are learning opportunities that lead us to grow beyond them and turn into successes. Without having something to fight for, would we work nearly as hard?