There is no way to predict who is going to be a top-notch skater (national, Olympic level), and being basically geeky and overly analytical, I've started mentally charting the trajectory of the skaters in our area. The "early stars" who got their doubles, etc, at age 8, landing axels at age 7-1/2 first try etc etc etc are not necessarily the ones who are now excelling. Many of our top level skaters, when they get to the competitive level, are often the kids who were lower in the rankings at the younger age. They may have started later; taken longer to develop; had different coaching philosophies at play; been injured; etc.
Talent ID is not a science, it's an art. It takes into account a range of things, including body type; interest; athleticism; personality; trainability; and musicality. It's hard to predict that in an 8 year old or 10 year old or 11 year old ... Also, at the lower levels, the focus seems to be on JUMPS and somewhat on spins, so the jumper gets the "ooh-wow" response, whereas skating is so much more. Thus, your 11-year-old who was never much at competitions may have been at the back of the pack for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:
b) staged development, with a coach who focussed on all skills and not just jumps
c) a coach who focusses on perfect singles and doesn't move on to doubles etc until technique is great; this leads to future quality doubles and triples, just takes longer
d) lack of focus on skating; i.e. may have been participating in other sports
Or a range of other factors. Of course, her parents may also be overly ambitious ... seen a lot of parents who are convinced their kid is going to the Olympics, when it's not likely on the cards; as long as they don't have a coach feeding it for personal reasons, it's just like the parents of the kids who are convinced that a scholarship to Harvard is what their kid should be ready for ... high goals are okay, as long as they don't result in personal misery later.
As for the gentler coaching thing ... coaching is a fit thing, and some kids really do excel with a gentle coach who will not succeed with a tough coach. Gentle doesn't mean weak. My kid's coach is tough, directive and brutal, and it works for him; other kids do not deal well with this coach, and are more successful with a gentler more suportive coach. Some of the gentlest coaches I know are the most exacting ... different kids respond to different coaches ... my son's coach would destroy my daughter's confidence, for example, but my daughter's gentle coach is still just as tough and rigorous, just with a different manner.