Nov 15, 2009

My coaching philosophy, part 1

  • Anyone can learn to skate.
  • I want my students to love skating.
  • I believe in group lessons.
  • But everyone is an individual.
  • Talent is not the most important thing.
  • There's always something new to learn.
  • It's about the journey, not the destination.
  • Kids are great.

This is turning out to be a difficult post to write. I know that I have a coaching philosophy, but what is it? Such a dramatic word-- philosophy-- it sounds like I should be describing it in words of 9 letters or more, with footnotes.

But when you come right down to it, my philosophy is bracketed by the first and last statements-- anyone can learn, and kids are great. That I believe these two things leads to everything else about this journey of mine into teaching this sport. So let's break it down:

Anyone can learn to skate
I am exhibit A for this one. It was my bad experiences with coaches who just dismissed me because I wasn't naturally talented that made me want to teach. I remember asking a coach why I couldn't do a waltz jump. She looked at it and shrugged, saying "I dunno." I just looked at her and thought, I could not possibly teach any WORSE than that. That is the moment that my ambition to teach, and my coaching philosophy, was born. There's a pervasive mythology in this culture, propagated by the media, that you only take skating lessons if you want to skate in the Olympics, and that only pushy parents "make" their children skate. Imagine this attitude applied to soccer, or music lessons. It's absurd.

I want my students to love skating
Every single person in a class deserves to be taken seriously, to have their time and effort honored, and to be given the best chance to succeed that they can. This means finding ways for each skater in a class to succeed in that class, especially challenging with younger and/or beginning skaters, who travel at vastly different speeds and levels of fear. It can be as simple as knowing everyone's name. I find it appalling when coaches, in the 8th or 9th week of class, don't know children's names. (see below, "Everyone's an individual"). Even if you decide that skating is not for you, you shouldn't leave because you hate it. People who quit should leave the ice liking, or loving, the sport, and not in defeat. But I have to say-- most of the kids who take my classes come back.

I believe in group lessons
I have actually had colleagues tell me that "classes are bullshit" and ask me "why do we have all these students who can't skate." Group lessons, and recreational skating in general, is where the sport starts. Read the biography of any world class skater from the US or Canada, and every single one of them started in classes or even on public skating, just for fun. There's also a fairly common attitude that if you're a high level coach you're too good for beginners (at any coaching seminar, you'll find most coaches at the session on double jumps, and very few learning how to make learn-to-skate classes productive). If basic skills classes are boring, that's the coach's fault.

Everyone is an individual
Again, you should really know everyone's name. But more, you should work to reach each skater in a way they understand. A coach should understand the concept of learning styles-- visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic. And he or she should have strategies using every learning style for every single skill from marching at the tot level, up to and including multiple rotation jumps. You should *see* your skaters, too. If you consistently notice that a child has her skates poorly tied, or the wrong size; if she's wearing inappropriate clothing (too much or too little), go and talk to the parent. If the parent knows that you see and understand their child, and care about him, that's going to go a long way toward engendering that love of the sport.

I'll start up in a later post with talent and learning.

If you're a coach do you have a coaching philosophy? Do you think you need one? How would you describe it? If you're a parent or a skater-- ditto, but for your coach. Do you know your coach's coaching philosophy, or do you even know if he has one? Has this ever come up?

Part 2

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