Author's Note: I began working with Philadelphia Symmetry as a motivational coach in 2011, when I first wrote this article. Since that time, through hard work and dedication, Symmetry has managed to take a team to the US Figure Skating National Synchronized Skating Championships every season. This season, for the first time, they are taking two teams, both Novice and Juvenile, to Colorado Springs. The press release can be found here.
Figure skating is one of the more individual of individual sports, characterized every bit as much by ego and social isolation as it is by talent, athleticism and a drive for perfection. Bring those elements together in a collective - especially a collective of teenage girls -- and it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Add in an understanding that the only way the whole thing will work is through cooperation, trust, humility and a dose of humor and what you get is something wholly different.
Philadelphia Symmetry is headed for the national U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in California this week. The embodiment of the underdog, the team has risen above a host of challenges to capture their berth, including injuries, defections of skaters to other teams, a lack of depth and experience as compared to previous years and even doubts about being able to meet the requirements to field a team at all. In their rise from ruin, there are valuable lessons in toughness, tenacity and teamwork to be found.
The essence of figure skating is to make something that is enormously difficult look effortless. When you're alone on the ice that difficulty is lessened somewhat because it's all about you and what you bring to the table. Everything that happens-good, bad or indifferent--is your responsibility.
What about when there are 12 or more of you, moving through space at incredible speed, inches from one another, holding a razor sharp edge against the unforgiving surface of the ice and depending on one another to be steady, strong and exactly the same?
That's when it stops being about you, and starts being about us; when the weight of responsibility to everyone and everything around you comes to the fore and the essence of true teamwork is revealed.
That's a heavy burden to bear--especially for a kid--and, when you fold more than a few obstacles into the mix, becoming disheartened seems only inevitable. But teamwork forged in adversity creates a resilience that binds a group together in a way that few other things can. It is a steel that bends, but does not break. That flexibility and willingness leads to a perseverance that, in the end, can only breed success. Not unlike the little engine that could, it is the essence of being present.
From this perspective, synchronized skating can be seen as something of a metaphor for the way that teams should work. Not only is there a need for cooperation, but there is a demand to dial back individual needs for the greater good. It is an entirely egalitarian experience, where the whole really is greater than the sum of it parts because the skaters do rise and can, quite literally, fall together.
But what if it weren't just teams? What if we, as individuals, were to adopt a perspective that relied more on cooperation than competition, more on trust than doubt, more on humility than ego, especially in the face of adversity and strife. It seems from that place we, too, might learn to bend without breaking, engendering a success borne of tenacity and a willingness to actually be present, adapting to our circumstances with a joyful confidence, rather than the fear of defeat.
© 2011 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved
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