Nov 5, 2009

How to choose a figure skating coach, part 3

Last one, I promise!

Here's what you should ask the coach before you hire them:

What do you charge?
Coaching fees range from $15 to $50 or more per half-hour lesson. If the coach is at the top of this scale, there needs to be a reason. At the top, I'd want to know that the coach either has a lot of students and therefore puts a premium on his/her time (reasonable), or has a really strong competitive/test record with his/her students. A young coach who is charging a high fee and yet cannot demonstrate a strong record over many years should be approached with a giant grain of salt. At the bottom of that scale, you might be seeing a junior coach (generally teens from the rink) who is being restricted. Make sure they know what they're doing and that they connect with your kid. It's great to hire a young coach, but don't mistake a fun coach for a skilled coach.

Is the coach PSA rated? Do they attend coaching seminars and continuing education?
This indicates someone with a commitment to teaching, who attends continuing education (it's a requirement of the rating) and who has a support system. This coach has also invested both time and money in coaching, indicating a commitment on a professional level, and not just as moonlighting or, as I often hear from young coaches "I just wasn't ready to give up skating" or, worse, "I can make so much more money doing this than working a cash register." A PSA rating, or attendance at local club and federation educational events indicates a coach who believes in the profession, and isn't just there for a stop gap.

What's the policy for missed lessons?
Most coaches have incredibly liberal policies for missing a lesson, usually a call-by time (generally 24 hours to cancel without being charged, but sometimes even more liberal). Remember that the coach relies on lesson fees for income. Very few coaches work 40 full hours per week, so a missed lesson is a huge hit on their income. Know the cancellation policy and then honor it. I've never heard of a coach who charges you if they miss a lesson, but there will be varying approaches to make up lessons (for instance, I never do make up lessons.)

Are there other policies you should know about?
Some coaches require a certain amount of practice or they drop the students. They might request cash only, or will want to bill you, or require advance payment for sets of lessons. Start and stop time is sometimes covered by coaches-- the lesson begins after warm up, but always ends at the appointed time, for instance (so, if the lesson is 8 to 8:30, and the coach requires a 5 minute warm up, if the student gets on the ice at 8, that lesson is now only 25 minutes long. You need to know this going in.)

Also ask them about their experience and coaching philosophy. (Caveat-- I love to skate is NOT a coaching philosophy). It doesn't necessarily matter how long a coach has been in the profession, but you should know this. Appearances can be deceptive. I'm old, but have only been coaching 11 years.

Don't be afraid to show your ignorance about the sport. Ask for explanations of anything you don't understand. Make your financial and time limits clear. A lot of bad coaching experiences can be nipped in the bud through simple honesty.

Finally, bad coaching experiences are far and away the exception. While you should do your homework and ask your questions, your instincts are probably good. Hire your coach and watch your child thrive.

Here are a few more articles on the topic:

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