Nov 11, 2009

If I ran the ice rink

It's a favorite pastime of skating coaches-- griping about the clueless management. Of course, the management isn't clueless, but some decisions, or non-decisions seem puzzling if lines of communication aren't open.

So here's what I would do if I ran the circus skating rink:

Listen to my staff. Better still, ask them for input, on a regular basis. At the end of every class session (generally 6 to 10 weeks depending on the rink and time of year) sit down with staff and ask questions. What worked, what didn't. What did you hear from parents? What are your ideas for keeping our students engaged and in class (or better yet in multiple classes). If you can't get them to come to a meeting, meet with them individually.

Know what your coaches are doing on the ice. Watch a few classes. Sit in the stands with the parents. A certain type of coach left on her/her own will default to What's Best For Number One. The most notorious example of this is the coach who only teaches his or her own students, even in class, ignoring everyone else. Before long, only his or her students will bother to sign up for that class, because kids and their parents figure this out and will stop wasting their money and their time. Wondering why no one signs up for Freestyle 6? That's why.

Listen to my customers. Find out who didn't sign up for a subsequent session and send them an "exit survey." Find out what kept them out. Look for trends and address them in the program. Get out of the office and talk to parents during class. Just go up and introduce yourself and ask them how it's going. You'll get an earful, and most of it will be good. You'll find out which coaches are the beloved ones, and it just might surprise you. The paperwork needs to get done, but well done paperwork won't grow your program.

Reward skaters and coaches publicly. Whenever a skater passes a USFS test, or competes in any competition (let alone wins a medal), put up a sign, congratulating not only the skater, but the coach as well. If a coach passes a ratings exam, or competes or performs, put up a sign. This gives that student extra incentive to keep skating, gives the coach validation for continuing education, and it also starts the education of new parents and skaters, who are likely to ask someone what that means. At my rink there are huge signs lauding the hockey program and speedskating. The hockey program painted a giant sign on the ice surface. Hockey and speedskating TOGETHER account for maybe 20% of the ice time. The speedskating program is a private club. Eighty percent of the hockey program is rentals and travelling teams. Where is this kind of promotion for in-house figure skating, at one of the largest figure skating programs in the area? When I asked the rink manager this, I was told "it's not always about the money." Well, with all due respect, yes. It is.

Know what my coaches are doing. Whether taking PSA ratings exams, or attending a lot of continuing education seminars, or taking your rink's students to lots of competitions, coaches who immerse themselves and their students in the sport, and who are out in the skating world promoting your program through their presence, should be rewarded. Despite my recent Senior Rating in Group Classes from the PSA, I am in a lower salary range than 22 year olds with high USFS tests. Those kids skate better than me, but no way do they teach better than me. I, and others like me, should be rewarded. Don't confuse ability to skate with the thing that is really important to your program-- a coach that inspires skaters to continue.

Mix it up. Within the limitations of the schedule, don't always put the same coaches on the same classes. Some kids (or parents) don't like a certain coach and you will lose them forever in that class unless they know that they might draw a different coach. Currently most rinks assign classes on a seniority system-- the longer you've been at a rink, the more likely you are to get the "desirable" classes. We have a joke, that you can always tell when the freestyle coaches are feeling nervous about how many private students they have, because they suddenly turn up teaching the Alpha class, where they skim off the best students before disappearing back into the freestyle black hole. The seniority system means not only that gifted new coaches have difficulty getting assigned to high freestyle, but also that your most experienced coaches never teach in the lower levels.

Have after school practice or public ice for all levels of skaters. Some rinks have only public skating after school, so they lose all the freestylers and high level skaters. Some rinks only have free style practice sessions after school, so your beginners never come to practice. Again, mix it up. Make sure your rink has something for everyone. (And, after school means 3:45, not 6.)

Stay tuned for "If I ran the rink, Nutcracker edition"!

Edit: here's a discussion sparked by this post, at Skating Forums.

*full disclosure: I do NOT want to run the rink. I just want to complain about it.


  1. Wouldn't it be a lovely world if we were actually acknowledged PERIOD for anything we do as coaches...

  2. This sounds like a land of fantasy.

    Until more parents get involved with giving good/bad feedback on our government-run program, nothing will ever change (just as it barely has in the 20+ years I've been there). And it can't just be the same parents every single time, but more variety, which can be helped if coaches encouraged it a little more.

  3. Absolutely. And if more coaches and parents would do this, there would be safety in numbers and gadflies like me would not develop a reputation of being difficult and unpleasant.