Oct 29, 2009

Specialty classes-- beyond Freestyle 5

For recreational skaters, figure skating can be much more than a singles skater plowing from jump to jump. Starting with synchronized skating, which pretty much everyone in the sport knows about by now, there are all sorts of team, group, and specialty skills that skaters can learn. Here's a few:

Team skating
The Ice Skating Institute (ISI) has a competition category in Team Skating, namely, groups of 3 to 9 skaters doing freestyle skills as a team, with both group skating and spotlighted skills with everyone on the ice at once.

Rhythmic Skating
Another ISI innovation, Rhythmic Skating is essentially skating with props drawn from Rhythmic Gymnastics-- hoops, ribbons, balls.

Jump and Spin classes
These can be either specific jumps/spins (Axel Workshop, doubles, flying spins) or general classes for skaters with any jumps/spins from the simplest to the most complex. A good general jump class will help the skaters learn how to create jump combinations and sequences (and what the difference is), will work on improving speed and flow into jumps, how to do footwork into a jump and other special skills that utilize the jumps that they have already mastered. Spin class could work on adding features to existing spins (arm and leg positions, reverse rotation, etc.)

Ice Dance class
Best ice dance ad I ever saw: "Hey! You in the hockey skates! Wouldn't you rather skate with a woman?" A great specialty class for adults.

Couples Class
Not pairs-- no throws or high lifts, boys a plus but not required. There are all sorts of skills that kids can learn for skating with a partner, same gender or different-- stroking holds, couples spins, simple lifts, drapes. AND, more kudos to ISI, there's a competition category.

Junior Coaching Class
Why not? Get your tweens and young teens out there with experienced coaches and have them teach how to teach. Right now, the profession more or less assumes that if you're a high test or competitive skater, you can teach skating. Not true. Like any teaching, you need to learn how to do it-- how to manage a class, how to deal with injury, how to make it interesting to teach a swizzle, let alone keep a skater (and their parents) engaged their 9th time through Freestyle 5.

Nine times through freestyle 5-enough already!

With my various professional memberships in the alphabet soup of figure skating federations, come magazines. And in the Edge, ISI's magazine for it professional members, I read a very telling sentence this week:

"Do you really expect your skaters to stay in a Freestyle 4 or 5 class forever?"

But this is exactly what we seem to expect of our skaters. Among some coaches there is almost a contempt for the kids who can't progress past these two rubicons of skating skill (they get stopped by the sit spin at 4, and of course the axel at 5). There are lots of reasons kids stop here-- poor early training and insufficient technical skill, actual lack of ability, perceived lack of ability (usually traceable back to the first reason), insufficient time on the ice.

But looking over the classes offered at rinks around my area, I see very few addressing this problem. And there are ways to address it-- specialty classes. Whether it's unwillingness to risk the several sessions it might take to develop these classes, lack of ice to devote to it, a failure of imagination on the part of management, or the contempt for these kids that I spoke of, little is being done to address the problem.

It is a truism in skating that kids quit at freestyle 4 or 5, or in late tweens and early teens. But few professionals I've spoken with delve very deeply into this, it's just accepted with a shrug of the shoulders. It is also one of the top five topics that parents talk to me about, leading off with "she's just never going to learn that jump in class, so we're dropping classes." This does not sound like a strong business plan for the rinks, to just allow all your higher level students to be siphoned off into private lessons.

For some rinks this can work without much loss of actual revenue-- if you have an extremely robust practice ice program, with lots of after school times for kids to skate, a lot of these kids will move their $9/hour fee from class to practice ice. (Although hourly revenue on practice ice is much lower than for class ice, so your program looks full, in fact it might be losing out on revenue since you can potentially place more kids on the ice in a class). Clearly, parents are willing to switch from paying $9 to $15 per session for class, to paying upwards of $40 per session for the practice ice plus coaching fee. Why do rinks just shrug and let this potential revenue go? Bizarre.

So what can a parent do?

Certainly talk to your child's coach, although they have probably the least power to change things and the strongest self-interest in maintaining this status quo. So go to the skating director, preferably with several other parents and let him or her know that you want specialty classes (more about what kinds of classes you can suggest in another post).

Write a letter to the facility manager, and to his or her boss as well, again with signatures from lots of parents.

You're the customer. If management knows you're pulling your money from the program, they will listen.

Oct 28, 2009

More do's and don'ts

Okay, do's and don'ts for the scary kids-- Ages 11 to 14!

Ags 11-14
• Teach responsibility and self-reliance
• Be supportive

• Share responsibility
• Expect responsible behavior
• Discuss the future
• Keep it fun
• Set clear boundaries

• Do things child can do for self (This means you, all you moms tying your 11 year old's skates)
• Panic when beliefs and values are questioned

• Ignore signs of distress
• Ignore relational and social concerns

Oct 24, 2009

The other side of the coin

Okay, what if your kid is being held back?

I've talked a lot about kids moving up too fast, and it is the more common problem, but what about the child that needs to move through classes faster?

It's important for parents to remember that in group classes, the operative word is "group." These are not private lessons; most kids are not going to move at their own pace, they're going to have to normatize, to move with the class. Again, the success of this -- keeping the slow learners from feeling pressured while keeping the fast learners interested-- really depends on the teacher. A good teacher will find a way to keep all of the kids moving as close to their own pace as possible. For instance, if you're teaching a beginners class where some kids are fast and some kids are slow, you need to put them on a circle, rather than in lines skating back and forth across the ice, so that everyone can keep moving. There is always something you can do to make every child feel engaged, at every level.

If you think your child is the best in the class, don't move her up. For one thing you might be wrong-- she might just be the fastest one in the class. Or maybe the other strong skaters aren't there that week (this happened recently). But think about it-- your child is the best in the class. If you pressure the teacher into moving her up to the next level, she is likely now to be the worst in the class, and to not have learned the vocabulary of the next level, so she'll be lost. Would you rather your child take the lower level once and pass with flying colors, or get stuck twice in a level she wasn't ready for?

I get a lot of kids with strong athletic ability, but poor social skills-- can't stand still, can't follow through on instructions, can't retain skills they've learned without serious drilling. Don't just watch your child's skating skills, watch the whole child. I do.

Fallacy number two, "he already learned that." No such thing. Every skill can be learned at a higher level. Has your skater "learned" 3-turns? Fine, let's get him skating into them, or do running 3-turns, or alternating 3-turns, or bigger 3-turns, or really fix the rock and the check. Are you lost? That's because I know more about figure skating than you do, and you need to trust me to know whether you child should move up, or to keep him engaged at the level he's assigned to right now.

Think about where you're trying to move your child. I had a parent insist that her Alpha 2 student should be in Beta. Fine, I'm not going to stand here arguing with her. So she moved the child from an Alpha 2 class with 4 kids in it, to a Beta class with 15. Is she going to get better instruction?

Okay, full disclosure. There are kids that need to move up. I'll tell you. If they can't move up because of your schedule or ours I'll make sure they get the additional skills they need, or I'll propose private lessons. Every now and then there will be a child who can skip two levels. I've never seen a child who will benefit from skipping more than that, regardless of ability, because they miss all the vocabulary. I have an ongoing argument right now with the coach of a child who can "do" everything but you have to demonstrate and explain, and take away from class time for the kids who did the job and went through the levels. I should not be explaining Beta skills to a Freestyle 1 student, it's not fair to the other kids in the class.

It's complicated, isn't it. You just thought your child liked skating. And that's great. But let the coaches do their job, be engaged, ask questions. If you think your child is better than the other kids in the class, don't get in my face and make me do what you want, ask me if what you're observing is accurate. I'll be honest, I'll be kind.

But I'll want the kid at the level he's ready for.

Oct 22, 2009

Who do I ask?

Where is skating advice on the web?

There are some yahoo groups geared to coaches, although activity seems to have tapered off lately. Haven't been able to find one for parents of figure skaters. Figure Skating Universe has some useful forums; although it's mostly a fan site, there are skaters on there. As I've noted before, US Figure Skating and ISI (see side bar for links) have lots of useful information for parents and skaters, but ISI heavily sells membership, and USFS info, even on the Basic Skills page, is heavily invested in steering skaters into testing and competing, and the parent advice is skewed toward parents of competitive skaters and private lesson coaches.

There are some interesting coaches' blogs, but to me they look like advertising sites for those coaches (My technique is great! I have written a book! Buy this product that I invested in/invented! Click on my ads!)

And then there's me. As far as I have been able to find, this is the only blog up right now written by someone whose main coaching interest is group lessons and recreational skaters, that is geared to the kinds of questions that I wish someone had been answering for me (or even that I should have been asking) when I started this journey.

Has anyone found other blogs written by skating coaches? Post the links in the responses. (Seriously, please post responses!) Thanks.

Oct 21, 2009

Skills or tricks?

I started a new student today, a teenager with some talent, but limited time and only moderate patience for really digging into technique.

In any skill-based endeavor, technique is crucial, but sometimes I think it's okay to do something badly, that is, to not push through to be the best at some given thing. For instance, I love to cook, and I'm pretty good at it, but I've never felt like I need to have the technical skills of a chef, or to know the chemistry behind it, or be able to wield a knife like the sushi chef at Kamehachi.

So you can take skating with a grain of salt, and a toe-push or two as well. I asked my student whether she wanted to learn really great technique, or if she just wanted to learn tricks. She knew just what I meant, and told me she wanted to be able to do jumps and spins. Now, her technique is a little sketchy; her turns are clunky, and her edges wobbly. But her basic skating has a nice flow and she's motivated by her desire to jump. So I told her we would focus on skills, but that she needs to understand there are some techniques that you cannot skip, and some of them can be tedious to drill and to learn.

Each skater (and their parents) need to know what they want to get out of the sport. This can change-- I've seen skaters who started out just wanting "to skate backwards" go on to USFS testing and competitions, and I've seen high test competitive skaters turn recreational. But each time you get on the ice, you should understand where it is you're going right now. This is especially crucial for parents, whose goals may be different from the child's, sometimes out of ego, but sometimes just out of the fact that adults have a longer "dream" arc-- they can see the 16-year old doing triples in the 8-year old who just wants to skate with her friends. Both goals are correct, but they are not necessarily the same goal. They might be-- I've seen a lot of kids motivated by the idea of keeping up with their friends, too. But, again, that's a slightly different outlook from "win competitions." It might lead to that outcome, but the path is not the same.

A lot of coaches push for more serious skating than kids or parents are ready for as well. Sometimes the coach is thinking about her own investment. Securing a private student is time consuming. If that student doesn't get really into it, they might leave, and then you have to replace them. This, of course, is self-defeating. If I'm teaching the student what I need, that student will feel pressured and unfulfilled and will leave anyway. Coaches push kids into tests or competitions from ego, just as parents, and even skaters do.

Conversely, there are coaches who are emphatically not "competitive" coaches. I had a competitive daughter who moved to a coach who didn't do competitions. We didn't believe her when we switched, but guess what? She didn't do a competition with that coach until 5 years of coaching had gone by. That coach didn't do competitions.

Sometimes a coach will decide they're a certain "kind" of coach-- "competitive," "serious," "recreational" etc. And rather than refusing a student who doesn't fit that mold, they try to mold the skater into "their kind" of student. An ethical coach will ask you what your current goals are, and will let you know if this is compatible with the coach's goals and methods. Don't count on a coach to teach your student differently.

Long story short, know what you want. Know what your child wants (that's what really counts). And find out what coach is going to honor that.

Oct 18, 2009

Why is that girl so good?

Because she skates every day.

An anecdote

Sisters in the same level, one is 6 the other is 8. The 8 year old gets the skills and actually skips a level. The 6 year old moves up just one level. (Let me emphasize that both kids move up at least one level.) The mother is incensed, and tells me, "I promised her they would both pass up two levels." (Based on what, lady? Your 20 years experience teaching figure skating? This work for grade school too?)

She then says to the child, but while looking at me, "don't worry sweetie. We'll talk to that other coach, and he'll pass you."

Next class, Dad comes in with both girls, and says to the new coach, "I'm a lawyer, and she better pass up a level by the end of the week." Or what, you'll sue?

Whatever folks.


First of all, they're all cute. So damn cute. I love the kids; I think in 10 years of teaching I've met maybe 3 or 4 kids that I just didn't like. And I always feel really guilty when I don't like a child. What kind of horrible person doesn't like a child? (And what kind of doomed child is unlikable at the age of 5.)

The dilemma for the coach then is making sure you do your job and not the parents' job. It is the parents' job to tell the child that she is the greatest thing since sliced bread and that everything she does is wonderful (to a point). It is the coach's job to separate her personal affection or enjoyment of the child and the child's ability to perform the skill at a passing standard. Passing a child because you like her and don't want to disappoint her (or her parents), or because you think she'll get it eventually, is not doing anyone any favors.

I always tell my students that I want them to feel successful on the first day of class, not the last day of class. If they can handle the skills on the first day of class, then success on the last day of class is guaranteed.

So what do you do if your child is passed too soon?

It's actually easy. Do nothing. Watch your kid. It's possible that she has not noticed that she's not as advanced as the other kids. The coach however will notice, and a good and compassionate coach will take that into account and give your child remedial skills to work on that will bring her up to the level of the class, without the child feeling punished or singled out.

If you're really concerned about it, talk to the coach. Some solutions are to just bring the child skating on her own (you should be doing this anyway). If you can't skate, find a babysitter who can -- ice rinks are full of reliable teenagers. Doesn't have to be a lesson, just babysitting on the ice, at babysitting cost. You could try signing your son or daughter up for a second class at either the old level, or the new one. You could do a couple of private lessons.

Up through the lowest freestyle lessons, "cuting up" is annoying but not a disaster. Kids really do figure it out and catch up, although some kids will never acquire the technical expertise they've missed (things like toe pushes, and poorly executed turns). It's a big problem after Freestyle 2 (half jumps, beginning spins) because the subsequent skills are complex and dangerous if your technique is poor, plus it's very hard to unlearn bad jump technique.

In the freestyle levels, get a private coach. Do NOT hire the coach that cuted your child up, even if they say they did it because "she's so talented, she'll get it" or "I didn't want to hold her back, she'll be bored." That is a great big giant red flag that a coach is more interested in your $35 dollars for private lessons than in your child's well-being.

And just to be clear, yes, your child is cute.

Oct 16, 2009

The secret to figure skating

This is it folks. Here's how to ensure that when your kid graduates from high school, they'll be able to land a couple of doubles, or test through the higher levels.

Don't quit.

What, you thought there was more to it than that? Nope, that's it. If your kid starts to skate any time from toddler through about the age of 11, if they just keep at it, taking lessons and practicing, they'll be in the top group when they graduate.

You can thank me later.

"She's SOOOOO talented"

If you hear this from a coach, regarding your child, Proceed With Caution. This is a coach who may have a one-dimensional view of your child.

This is not to say that your child isn't talented. But talented at what? Natural ability to perform figure skating moves? Meh. I never met a child who couldn't learn, and learn well, every skating move up to the axel if he or she practiced and worked at it. (The axel is a little trickier, and does in fact require some talent. But a kid without the talent or motivation is probably not going to get that far anyway. If your kid gets legitimately up to the axel, he's talented, QED. More about kids who get up to the axel non-legitimately in a future post).

At any rate there are all kinds of talent-- there's the kid with the natural affinity for skating moves. There's the kid with the analytical mind, who can break down steps and positions intellectually. There's the kid with a talent for learning, or listening, or the capacity for a lot of practice. But I most often hear coaches say "your child is so talented" just to the parents of the first type-- the child with the natural sport ability.

So, your kid likes figure skating, why hasn't a coach said this to you? Well, there are a lot of coaches like me-- I seldom seldom praise a child's talent, because he or she has no control over it. I like to praise the things the child does have control over-- a specific skill, or a skill learned quickly, or a skill mastered after a long difficult effort. There are also coaches who will tell you your child is talented because they want to be that child's private coach. (Coaches like this might also tell you that the child "can't learn anything in class" "is too talented for class" "has the wrong teacher in class" etc. Any coach who discourages participation in any classes except the ones he or she teaches is to be approached with a giant grain of salt.)

It's possible that I take this farther than I should, because I feel a lot of empathy for the kids that get overlooked, and for the ones that just plug away in the corner, doing the job and learning the sport. Every child is talented, and every child is worthy of every coach's full attention and knowledge.

Oct 14, 2009

What is she talking about?

Want to know what that strange language is that your kid/wife/friend has started speaking? Check out this glossary of figure skating terms.


It's one of the most fraught decisions in the world. Should I get my child private figure skating lessons? It sounds so elitist, even vain. After all, you're not one of those pushy moms.

Well, if you are, don't worry about it, just don't kid yourself. It's okay to be pushy on behalf of your child. Well, up to a point. But I digress. Just because you want, or your child wants, private lessons, is nothing to either brag or be ashamed about. It's tricky, because lots of kids take private lessons (think piano), but private sport lessons are something that "rich kids do"-- tennis or horseback riding come to mind. But there are all sorts of reasons to take privates other than keeping up with the Joneses. Is your child struggling in class, but really wants to do better? Take a few privates. Is your child progressing quite fast; does she seem like she might be talented? That's another reason for privates. If she or he wants to compete, even just in our numerous small local, "non-qualifying*" competitions, or go through the ISI or US Figure Skating test structure, that kid will need to take private lessons.

Some rinks have a culture that supports private lessons, i.e. pretty much everyone takes them, so it feels fairly normal. Other rinks have a much more casual approach, and it might be more unusual to see kids in privates. Don't worry about it. Do what feels right for your child.

More about how to choose a coach in a future post. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear tales about your experience with private lessons.

*a "non-qualifying" competition is one that is generally run by a local rink or club, or is run under the Ice Skating Institute and does not have a mechanism for qualifying skaters to compete at Sectionals (in the Midwest we call our Sectionals "Mids"), National, or International competitions. Only U.S. Figure Skating runs qualifying competitions in the U.S. These are the ones just listed, plus Regionals.

Oct 13, 2009

Do's and Don'ts for 6 to 10 year olds

When my daughter was about 9 her desire to skate caught up with her talent and she got her first "serious" coach and started skating nearly every day. Unfortunately, the resources for parents are not as available as the resources for skaters and I did a lot of things wrong-- sitting in the stands "helping." Gossiping with other parents. Comparing her progress to progress of others.

U.S. Figure Skating has some great resources for parents, and not just parents of competitive skaters, but just general good advice for anyone whose child gets serious about sport. The parent information page on their website is a good basic guide. Scroll down to the link for the Parent's Survival Guide, which you can download as a pdf or order from them. It's a great booklet and I wish I had known about it when I was rearing a figure skater.

More from Dr. Gloria Balague:

• Be a role model
• Teach problem solving
• Encourage effort
• Set limits
• Be supportive
• Set clear expectations
• Encourage competence

• Give chances to succeed
• Focus on improvement
• Keep parents informed
• Involve kids in decision-making

• Compare to peers
• Focus on failures
• Make sport exclusive of other activities

• Make all decisions alone
• Make winning everything
• Expect exclusive commitment to skating
• Focus on failures

Oct 11, 2009

The nice coach or the effective coach?

Here's a scenario-- your child is in class, laughing and talking with the coach, having lots and lots of fun, and he tells you that he "loves" the coach. The coach also seems to really connect with your child, and at evaluation time, passes into the next level.

In the next, higher level class, 3 or 4 lessons go by and your child is struggling. He's unhappy, he's not responding to the coach, and tells you that the coach is "hard" or "mean." And then the coach lets you know that he's struggling because his skills were not where they needed to be at the start of the class.

So which coach should earn your wrath? The "nice" one who let your child have fun without teaching him anything, and then did what I call "cuting" him into the next level? (That's a pass because the kid's so cute, you pass him for his bright eyes, and not his skating ability.) Or the "mean" one who insists on a child behaving and learning at the level he's been signed up for.

More in a future post on how to deal with your child getting "cuted" up a level. In the meantime, do you suspect your child has been "cuted" up? Let me know in the comments.

Do's and Don'ts

A few years ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Gloria Balague (pronounced Ba-la- whay), a Clinical and Sports Psychologist with U.S. Olympic Gymnastics, U.S. Olympic Track and Field and a Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Dr. Balague spoke about different learning styles, age-appropriate teaching and coaching self-confidence. According to Dr. Balague, figure skating instruction helps develop not only skating skills in a child, but also cognitive and emotional skills, including “learning how to learn,” dealing with competition, external and internal motivation and confidence building.

Using a technical metaphor, she spoke of each child’s “hardware” and “software.” She defined hardware as natural talent and motivation. Software, a more complex concept, was defined as “affective knowledge,” meaning a child’s knowledge/learning of movement and her/his understanding of how to move his/her body through space. In other words, the child’s own self-knowledge of how to affect his own movement, and his ability to ask “what can I learn?”

Dr. Balague also presented some brief suggestions for "Do's" and "Don'ts" for parents and coaches. Here are the ones for the littlest learners, toddler through kindergarten. I'll post the other ages in additional posts.

• Set limits
• Be considerate
• Allow child to explore
• Play with your child
• Show Excitement

• Keep it fun and simple
• Short duration
• Show enthusiasm

• Be punitive
• Let the child rule
• Limit participation to a single sport
• Shame your child
• Use guilt to make your child behave

• Focus on competition
• Drill only a few skills
• Expect full attention at all times

What do you think your role as a parent should be? What do you think you do well? What have you seen a coach do well? Let me know in the comments.

Oct 9, 2009

Be kind to the coach

Yesterday I stepped off the curb to cross the parking lot, and someone backed a car straight into me.  Through the open window I could hear her exclaim to the child with her, "did you see that!  That lady walked right behind me!"  I went to the open window and told her, no, I had already been in the street and she started backing up without looking.  Then I turned and went on my way.  She then proceeded to honk at me and scream out her window that I was "crazy."  I stopped to see who it was-- yep. Skating mom.

On Thursdays, I teach group classes for three hours.  It is intense, although mostly fun.  Several children, all at once, different ages, different abilities, different personalities.  They might be tired, hungry, having a bad day; a lot of them are unable to stand still, have difficulty focusing, and/ot unrevealed developmental issues.  I am expected to keep them engaged, interested, learning, and to leave the ice smiling.  And I do it. 

It wrings me dry.  Some days I go and sit behind the wheel of my car with my head back and my eyes closed before I find the energy to turn the key and go home.

So pay attention; cut me some slack.  I've just spent a few hours with your child; it's not unlikely that a child yelled at me, tripped me, hit another child, got lost on the way to the bathroom, refused to do what I asked, or wouldn't stop talking.  If I accidentally walk behind your car, don't call me "crazy."  Assume I've just giving everything I've got to make your child happy, and I've just got nothing left.  I'm not allowed to yell at you, or complain about you, or, god-forbid, tell you to eff off.

Nobody needs to end their day like that.

Oct 8, 2009

Yes, please practice. Why are we even asking this question?

On the FAQ for skating parents-- should she be practicing?

The answer is yes.  And no.  If you've started jumps and spins, you should be practicing.  The skills are difficult and complex, and require independent thinking that comes from independent practice.  If you're a beginner skater the answer is still yes and no-- it's hard to "practice" when you don't know how to do anything, but for the beginner skater just skating around in circles constitutes practice.  Plus, I don't know any kid who will come to a rink, especially with friends, and not, number one show off, and number two, check out what that girl over there is doing, and trying that.

If your child is in love with skating, at least in Chicago you can easily find ice 5 hours a day.  But really, there's no need.  I raised a high level skater who passed the highest tests in 3 skating disciplines; at her highest competitive level she skated about 12 hours a week, including 2-3 lessons and 2 classes.  But before and after her short competitive stint, she never skated more than  about 7 hours a week, again, including classes and lessons.  Before any coaches reading this have an apoplexy, I wouldn't recommend this approach to a student whose ambition is to compete nationally.

My point is, you don't need to go crazy here.  Just like not every student taking violin lessons is planning to go to Juilliard, there's more to figure skating than being the next Michelle Kwan.  However, just because you're not heading to Juilliard does not mean you shouldn't practice.

The skills in Freestyle are complex (a spin utilizes two types of turns, backward crossovers, forward and backward edges, change of edge, and oh, yes there’s the spinning part!).  As with high-level skills in any discipline, only by practicing will you get it right.  So I strongly recommend that your freestyle skater come more than once a week.

Below the freestyle level (essentially when you start doing spins and full-rotation jumps) come to class and come at least once a week just to skate around.  Lessons are great-- your child will learn better technique and will progress faster with lessons-- but the most important thing for beginners is just to be on the ice having fun.

Once the more complex skills begin, technique becomes especially important, as well as skill-specific practice so the muscles learn.  But the amount of time is entirely dependent on outside factors.  Does he or she (or you, as the parent) have the commitment and stamina to come several times a week?  Can your schedule and budget handle it?  A good starting point for a new freestyle skater is one or two free style classes, or a free style class plus one or more specialty class.  To this you should add one or two hours of practice.  One pro suggests that you start with an hour of practice per week, then add one hour for each free style level you achieve (so a skater in Freestyle 1 should practice for two hours per week outside of class).   I came up with a formula- 1/2 hour of non-class practice for each rotation in jumps that you've learned.  So if you're in ISI Freestyle 4 (salchow, toe-loop, half-loop, flip) you should be skating 2 hours on your own outside of class and lessons.  Someone doing 4 double jumps and an axel should be practicing 4-5 hours per week.  Someone doing only the 6 low-freestyle half-jumps would practice 1-2 hours per week.

The more ambitious the skater, the more time needs to be devoted.  Want to compete?  You need to add time to practice the skills plus the program.  Moves tests?  Now you need  a moves lesson and dedicated practice.  Help with a specific jump?  More practice.

Just want to skate in class and ice shows?  Back to the formula-- that's probably enough to maintain and even progress.

There are lots of skaters who can learn all the jumps through Freestyle 4 just from class.  The higher level skills require one-on-one lessons.  Some skaters need extra lessons and extra classes earlier on, and like I said, all skaters can benefit from private lessons if the coach is a good fit.

The more you practice, the better you’ll be. Does your skater want to skate a lot?  Bless her or him.  If you can afford the time and money, go for it.  If you can't handle it, or your child can't handle it, skate enough to progress through the levels.  It's not about what the coach says, or what the industry says, or what the mom sitting next to you says.  It's about you and your skater and the love of this wonderful sport.

Oct 7, 2009

Let's hear it for the moms

In a lot of youth sports, the teachers at the beginner, and even intermediate levels, are parents, who may or may not also have training or experience in the sport.  I think I'm fairly rare in figure skating as an amateur "adult-onset" skater and parent who got into teaching the sport.

I'm a mom who went the pro route-- I took lessons and passed tests and got rated through the Professional Skaters Association.  (I'm often amused when my colleagues momentarily forget my background and start trashing skating moms who coach.  Hello?  That's me.)

Coaches will tell you this is because skating is a sport that requires a high degree of technique from early in the process, but I'm a little on the fence about that.  I often wonder how many kids we discourage because of standards that emphasize skating on a competitive track from early on, even at the purely local, recreational level (competitions for kids that have no ability or desire to skate in national or regional-level competitions).  Less skill-based and more fun-based teaching for beginners might keep more kids in the sport.

I would also love to see parents more involved in teaching at the beginning and recreational levels.  Lots of young skaters have parents who skated as kids; so often I'll learn that somebody's mom has passed high-level freestyle tests, and I ask why I don't see them skating or teaching and they dismiss the idea as ridiculous.  Why is that?  Lots and lots of hockey, soccer, and baseball coaches are dads that played these sports in high school or college, and now they teach it as volunteers on weekends.

I think if we got more moms involved in teaching skating we'd see a better understanding of the coaching profession, more kids staying in skating longer, and frankly we'd just have more fun at the rink.

Of course, I never was a soccer mom, so who knows what kind of soap operas are going on in the playing fields of America.

Oct 6, 2009

Honor the game

Adapted from an essay by The Positive Coaching Alliance

"I love skating, and I hope you do too. Skating has a long history and is one of the most popular sports in the world. A lot of great things happen on an ice rink. I feel that it is an honor to be involved in the sport. That's why I want to talk to you about Honoring the Game. We’ve all heard about what it means to be a "good sport." What does it mean to you to be a good sport? (Answers may include "play fair," "don't cheat" etc.) Sportsmanship is important, but in order to get the most out of this skating season, I want you to honor the game. The Positive Coaching Alliance has an expression: “Honoring the Game goes to the ROOTS of the matter.”  Each letter in ROOTS stands for an important part of any sport that we must respect. The R stands for Rules. The first O is for Opponents. The next O is for Officials. T is for Teammates, and the S is for Self.

R is for Rules
Even though it’s not a team sport, there are rules for skating, or accepted modes of behavior and ways to use the ice. These rules are what allow us to keep our ice time fun, productive and rewarding. Respect for the rules is important, even when it's possible to break them without getting caught. I want you to play by the rules, even if you think you won't get caught if you break them. Breaking the rules dishonors the game, even if it means that we win.

O  is for Opponents
Without opponents, we could have no competition. A good opponent makes us do our best. Sometimes your opponents are friends of yours. I want you to respect your opponents, and remember they are out there to have fun just like you. I want you to try your hardest to be best, not because you hate your opponent, but because you want to be your best. I promise that I will show respect for opposing coaches and skaters, and I expect you to do the same.

O is for Officials
It is very important to respect officials including coaches, judges, and all rink employees and volunteers. Often, this can be the most difficult part of Honoring the Game, so we need to remember to keep it as a focus when we play. Officials have been selected and trained to enforce rules and judge competitions, and they have a very hard job. Without the officials classes and competitions would be unsafe and unfair. Officials are not perfect (just like coaches, athletes and parents!) and sometimes make mistakes. However, there is no excuse for treating officials with disrespect when they make errors. I want you to show respect for officials, even when you disagree with the call. I promise to do the same thing.

T is for Teammates
It’s hard to think of the people you skate with as your team, but that’s what they are.  Even though you aren’t on a traditional team like soccer or baseball, your classmates and fellow competitors from your rink are your team. I also like to think of all of my XanBoni skaters as being part of my team. Being with your teammates should be fun. Later in life you will often be part of a team, and it is important to learn to work together. I hope you feel a commitment to each other as teammates and that you will agree to always work as hard as you can in practice, competitions, shows and in class. Please encourage and support each other on and off the rink.

S is for Self
Some people only Honor the Game when their opponents do, but I want us to Honor the Game no matter what the other skaters, their parents, coaches or fans do. I want us to be the kind of team that Honors the Game even when others do not because we set our own personal standards. And we live up to them no matter what. We have respect for ourselves and would never do anything to dishonor the game.

    So what do we mean when we say that Honoring the Game goes to the ROOTS of the matter? Respect for : Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates, and Self. If you do these five things, you are Honoring the Game. You and your teammates will get the most out of our season, and you will join the great tradition that is skating.

A Parent’s Responsibilities

The most important thing for a skating parent to remember is that their skater is a child first, and a skater second.  Sometimes skaters seem so grown up, so easily able to handle pressure situations, that we forget they are still kids. The same kids that we see looking so grown-up on the competition ice probably still cuddle their favorite stuffed animals when they go to bed at night.  Let them be kids, and support them as they grow.

Some other things for parents to think about as they approach the sport:

Balance: make sure there is balance in your skater’s life.  Allow time for school and personal growth.  Very few skaters make skating their life career.  Don’t put so much focus on your child’s skating that you forget they’ll have to function in a “normal world” when they grow up.  School is important.  Social development is important.  Being a kid is important.

Learn about the sport: learn enough about skating to recognize the elements (See below “Great stuff to check out”).  Be interested, and listen when your skater talks about progress or problems.

Support your Pro: pay your bills on time, get your skater to the rink on time.  When you can’t be there, make sure to tell the Pro in advance.  Let the Pro participate in goal-setting discussions if possible; or if not, at least ensure that the Pro understands your skater’s goals.  Listen to your Pro’s advice and instructions, and help to ensure that your skater follows those instructions when practicing or doing off-ice activities. 

Support your skater: Remember, your skater is still maturing.  Offer praise when appropriate, but be realistic with that praise; recognize progress towards goals, but be willing to acknowledge when more work is needed.  Never destructively criticize, especially in front of others.  Resist the urge to compare your child against another.  Some learn faster, some learn slower. 

I like the teacher that passes my kid

I could post the stories, but it might get me in trouble.  The parent who had promised her child she would pass a level, when the child wasn't ready and I didn't agree.  The father who brought his child to class, stuck his nose in my colleague's face and said "She better pass this week, or I'll be talking to your director."  The coach who told a parent that her child was so talented that she could skip four levels.

So how do evaluations work?
Most rinks follow one of two national curricula--   Ice Skating Institute Learn to Skate or US Figure Skating basic skills.  These curricula have specific markers that let a coach know when a child is ready for the next level.  The curricula build on each other-- mastering one puts a skater on the path to success at the next.

    There is no accepted or standard rate at which skaters move through the levels. As with any skill-based endeavor, participants progress at different rates depending on interest, practice, and ability.   A very committed skater will move through quickly; someone who cannot devote as much time will move more slowly. A skater in private instruction will progress more quickly than someone who takes only the group classes, and always, the skaters who practice on their own will do better. If you take every level just once (this is rare), the fastest you will get to Freestyle is six sessions, or a little over a year.  Most children can make it to Freestyle in less than 2 1/2 years.  If your child starts skating at the age of 8 or 9, this means they’ll make it to the higher Freestyle levels well before high school, so don’t worry.

    If you really disagree with a pro’s evaluation, always feel free to ask the pro why you or your child received that evaluation, and ask what you can do to help your skater move ahead faster. In most cases, you shouldn’t ask a different pro to re-evaluate your child.  (The exception is in the case that your private coach is also the class instructor.  A skater’s private coach should not evaluate his/her own student.) The best person to perform the evaluation is the one who knows your child from all the time they’ve spent together in class.

    You can read about general criteria on line at US Figure Skating (look for info on Basic Skills Program) and the Ice Skating Institute (look for Learn to Skate).  Both links are in the sidebar.

In search of Type III Coaches

When I was still just a skating mom, someone gave me an article about the ideal skating parent-- one who shuts up, pays the bills, and sits quietly in the stands, or better yet never even comes into the rink.

It seemed kind of one-sided to me. What should coaches be like? So I turned it on its head, and described the three types of coaches.

Type I Coaches stick with the ice and leave the parenting to the experts. They arrive for a class or lesson, put in the time, and disappear. They never figure in rink gossip because no one is entirely sure who they are.

Type II Coaches make parents feel like idiots, never explain what is going on, but expect parents to have endless emotional, time, and financial resources. They are contemptuous of children and parents who aren’t “competitive,” ignore all but their own students in classes, and are rude or dismissive of other coaches and students on practice ice. Through their own behavior they teach their students to be cliquish and arrogant.

Type II coaches think they know your child better than you do, and gossip with other coaches and parents about what a bad parent you are. They have no respect for children with lesser talent or drive, and coach primarily for their own aggrandizement, reasoning that a kid who doesn’t compete and win does nothing to enhance the coaches’ own reputation.

They devote all their energy to a few kids whom they think will make their reputation, and just go through the motions with the other 30 or 40 kids on their schedules. They ignore rink rules, and seem to be waiting around for a better offer from a more prestigious center.

Type III coaches are the ones who are waiting on the ice and are happy to see every child for a class or lesson. They abide by the rules, treat all the children equally, notify you if a lesson needs to be cancelled and never pressure you to spend more money than you are able or willing on clothes, ice, coaching or classes. They explain the mysteries of figure skating culture. They seldom figure in and never engage in rink gossip.

Type III coaches always have time for parents and are always willing to make appointments to discuss progress and concerns. They offer friendship and mentoring to their students. They respect, indeed seek to know, their students’ own goals and desires. They know when to push and when to lay off and know that their duties as coaches involve supporting and supplementing the parents. They teach students to respect the rules by demanding responsible behavior from all of their skaters, regardless of talent or ambition.

At tests and competitions, they do not expect parents to supervise warm ups and clearly explain what they perceive the parent’s role to be. Type III coaches view their students as individuals and not as their own personal ticket to fame. They respect skating club and federation rules, as well as other coaches, parents, and skaters.

Many parents are appalled by the behavior they see on the ice, not by the children, but by the coaches. As the number of Type II coaches increases and is tolerated by rinks, parents are put off by what they perceive as an unhealthy culture, and choose to engage their children in other sports. These coaches become an embarrassment for the rink and the sport.

Welcome to XanBoni

I got the skating bug as an adult, a consequence of my 3-year old daughter's refusal to participate in the mom-and-tot class.  She sat on the ice playing with the toys, and I learned how to skate.

Years later, I was in a beginning jump class and asked the teacher what was wrong with a particular jump.  She looked at it, shrugged in complete disinterest and said, "I dunno."  Well, I thought, I couldn't possibly be any worse as a skating teacher, so maybe I'll try this.

I started by volunteering with the tots in annual ice shows, and then helping out in tot and beginner adult classes.  I learned about local skating seminars, at one of which the instructor asked "who wants to do this for a living" and I thought, well, I do.  So here I am.

I've been teaching, including the volunteer time, since 1999, and in 2002 quit my full-time executive position so I could devote more of my life to skating.  I don't know what sorts of things will end up here, but I hope that parents, kids, skaters and other coaches can find something to help them.