I once asked my coach, how she knows if a beginner skater is talented. She replied, through experience.
At that time, I had just started coaching. I was trying to find that magic formula to decide how talented those beginner skaters were. Naturally, I started with how the skater takes to the ice.
There are those who are fearless, and not minding the falls. They jump onto the ice, fall down, hop up, skate a bit, fall down, hop up... etc.
There are those who are scared and tense, gingerly putting one foot on the ice, then the other, wobble a bit, and grope around for something to hold on to...
There are those who are steady and calm, knowing that they have to maintain balance and trying to do it.
Which is talented? It all depends!
Argh... such an excruciating reply. But in real life, that first step on the ice does not tell much. And after years of observation, one starts to realise that there is no magic formula - at least not one that is instant. It takes interaction with the skater and some instruction to assess how talented the skater is.
There is something I would like to call "skating intelligence". It is related to same intelligence as in IQ. After all, skating is about physics and dynamics rather than sheer strength and power. The beauty of figure skating shines in those who can make it look effortless.
But there is more to it than just pure intelligence. It is also how the skater responds to instruction and the skater is able to use the correct muscles to help to adapt the body to the right.
I had a little girl do an "introduction class" with me two nights ago. When she started, she looked unstable, and her ankles were wobbly. However, she took to instruction very well, and responded intelligently. Within 10 minutes, she had corrected her posture, her strokes, and was doing glides on one foot. I mean, it wasn't perfect, but way improved from before the lesson! Toward the end of class, I had her try the pivot... She entered it with some speed and flow, and easily went around. She has something going for her there...
Another little girl started lessons with my coach at the beginning of this year. It seems not-to-long-ago when I watched her learning crossovers, with hardly any power in her stroking. Now, she's happily working on salchow and toe loops, and will be competing in the ISI Freestyle 3 in the competition in a few weeks' time. It is amazing how she has progressed! When I mentioned this to the girls father, he said, "its a matter of interest. she really likes skating."
Sure enough, talent alone is not enough. Interest and passion is what makes the difference in a skater's progress. Unfortunately, figure skating is full of plateaus (sorry, that was too optimistic - what it really it is is a lot of ups and downs) AND the difference between a skater who is passionate and wants to skate, and a skater who does not really care is that the former will persevere to overcome the plateaus while the latter would give up.
At the end of the day, success is 1% talent and 99% perseverance!