8 Things Figure Skating Taught Me About Financial Success

Gracie Gold's Performance

2016 US Figure Skating National Champion, Gracie Gold  warming up at the Excel Center, St. Paul, MN.

Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to attend the US National Figure Skating Championships at the Excel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. While my kids stalked skating celebs hoping for an autograph or selfie, my wife and I enjoyed watching the best skaters in the country vie for the title of US National Champion.

To be the best in any sport requires a mind-boggling amount of talent, discipline and focus. Figure skating is no exception.

Becoming a champion figure skater may not be on your bucket list, but I am guessing that goals like comfortable retirement or sending your kids to college are.

Below I list eight things that I learned about achieving financial success from watching some of the country’s most successful figure skaters.

Planning and goal setting are everything. Competing at the highest levels takes years of setting high goals and developing a plan to reach them. Even my little 10-year old star on ice meets with her coach to set goals for the year and develop a detailed plan to meet them.

Your financial goals require the same skillset.

Retiring at age 62 with 95% of your current income or paying for half your kids college expenses requires a lot of planning over a long period of time. Meeting on a regular basis to review progress towards your goals and making adjustments to your strategy is key to staying on track and reaching your goals.

The great ones make mistakes, but they move on. If you have ever watched figure skating you’ve no doubt seen your favorite skater jump for the stars only to come crashing down to Earth half a second later.

With the exception of 17-year old Polina Edmunds, every one of the top female skaters made mistakes in their short program including Gracie Gold who singled a triple jump.

At the end of her short program, Gold knew she made a serious mistake, but she never lost sight of the big picture. Undeterred, Gracie Gold went on to become the US National Champion two days later.

You will make mistakes as well.

An IRA required distribution is missed. Stock options weren’t sold when they were in the money. You jumped out of the market when you should have stayed in.

Like a double axel that isn’t fully rotated, financial mistakes happen. You need to leave the past behind you and keep moving toward your goals.

The best never give up. 26-year old Adam Rippon won the senior men’s national title. However, like many high performers he sometimes suffers from periods of self-doubt and occasional setbacks. In a Twitter post after the event, Rippon credits a strong team for pushing him to do his best and encouraging him to not give up.

You will suffer setbacks and self-doubt as well. The athletic scholarship that was a done deal may come undone. Or the market may take your IRA for a wild ride just as you are about to retire.

Even if the full-ride scholarship doesn’t come through or you retire a few years later than you wished, the goal of a college education with minimal debt or a financially secure retirement can still be reached.

Stay focused and never give up.

Great skaters overcome challenges. Mirai Nagasu came to St. Paul in 2008 and at the age of 15 became the youngest woman since Tara Lipinksi to win the national championship. This year her skating boot ripped on impact during one of her jumps in her short skate. During the free skate she was forced to skate with a boot that was literally patched together with duct tape.

In January your health insurance premiums jumped higher than Nathan Chen in a quadruple lutz. Last year you were prepared to max out your retirement plan, but not for being laid off for the year. Instead of paying down your mortgage, you were faced with unexpected home repairs.

What challenges you will face, anyone could guess. But you will face them.

To reach your financial goals, overcoming life challenges is part of the deal.

Winning takes a variety of skills. Adam Rippon, the men’s champion, summed up the sport of figure skating pretty well when he said, “It’s not a jump competition. It’s not a choreography competition. And it’s not a spin competition. It’s a little bit of everything”.

Your retirement plan requires a little bit of everything as well: investing, tax planning, social security, managing college expenses, budgeting, insurance, etc.

Financial planning. It’s not an investment competition. It’s not a tax competition. It’s not a budgeting competition. It’s a little bit of everything.

Dorothy Hamill and Sarah Branch

Dorothy Hamill and Sarah Branch. Photo Credit: Danielle Dee

Great skaters give back. My daughters and their friends fearlessly pursued skating greats like Michelle Kwan, Dorothy Hamill, and Scott Hamilton asking them for an autograph and maybe even a picture. All of them were generous and gracious with their time and willingness to share.

Charlie White, the 2014 Olympic Gold Medalist in Ice Dance, noticed my daughter looking his way, autograph book in hand, and with a wink and a nod he indicated for her to come over. He even switched chairs with his co-announcer at the Ice Desk momentarily so that she could snap a quick photo of the two of them together.

I think if she was a couple years older she would have completely melted.

I quickly scanned the crowd for his Olympic partner, Meryl Davis, but sadly a wink and a nod was not in the cards for me.

You are generous with your resources as well. This doesn’t have to change in retirement.

Include a charity as beneficiary on a portion of your IRA. Gift some shares of highly appreciated stock to your church. Volunteer a few hours of your time.

Realizing your retirement goals provides you with opportunities to share and give back in ways that you couldn’t when you were working.

You may not start your own foundation like Scott Hamilton Cares or Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation, but even small acts of kindness can make a big difference in the lives of others.

Figure skaters make sacrifices and hard choices. All athletes do. So do most people who reach their financial goals.

Fund an IRA in March or pay for a tropical vacation?

Borrow heavily to attend an exclusive Ivy League college or graduate debt free from a state college?

Eat out at a fancy restaurant once a month or make an extra mortgage payment once a year?

The sacrifices and choices you make will define the goals you reach.

Success is never guaranteed. After her performance in the women’s short program, Gracie Gold said “just because you go big and work hard” doesn’t mean you will win.

Markets can decline at the worst possible time. An illness can derail your savings plan. Kids sometimes drop out of college.

You can do all the right things and still your goals can be elusive.

Bottom line – there are no guarantees – in skating or in life.

Your goals may not be as ambitious as a gold medal in a national championship, but they are no less important. You, your family and the community around you are counting on your success.

Follow the example of these successful athletes and you will reach your financial goals like a champ.