Generally, the session starting in February is the busiest-- more new skaters start in February than during any other session. And everyone is anticipating (hoping) that 2010, an Olympic year, is going to be a bigger boost than we've had in a while.
With new skaters come new parents, "immigrants" (that's what I call the skaters who switch into your program from other programs), or, as we skating coaches like to call them, fresh meat.
No no! I mean, we call them exciting new students of the wonderful world of figure skating!
Seriously, though, fresh meat is what you'll be if you get all your information sitting in the stands listening to parents with an agenda. Because it's often the ones with an agenda who seek out the fresh meat and start talking about the program, the other parents, and how they feel about everyone else's coach in comparison to theirs. Especially the "immigrants" with higher-level skaters are likely to hear some of the following comments and statements:
"Um, where did she learn her jump technique?"
"Oh, is that how her coach likes her to finish her spins?"
"She only skates twice a week!!!!???"
"My daughter's coach doesn't do it like that."
"All of our coaches' kids have been landing that jump since they were [gives age younger than your child appears to be.]"
"Isn't she kind of fast/slow/advanced/behind for that level?"
You get the drift.
So how do you keep the gossip at bay? Well, first of all, don't engage in it. Respond to all of the above comments with a vague "really?". If you feel like parents are steering you to a coach, nip it in the bud. That can get a coach in trouble, and can also blind you to the virtues of the full range of coaches at a new rink. Sit back and watch for a few weeks and find out what coaches have styles and skaters that you like. Don't choose a coach based on gossip.
But how do you sort the gossip from the useful information?
First of all, gossip can actually be full of useful information, you just have to filter out the snarks, the self-interested, and the show-offs. Second, be an equal-opportunity gossip collector. If you can't get away from the gossip (or don't want to--we're only human!) make sure you hear as much as you can. You'll start detecting patterns, you'll start hearing contradictions, and then you can start making your own judgments.
Get involved-- if it's close to ice show, exhibition, or competition time, ask to volunteer. You'll meet the people who really do know what's going on. (Some of them will also be gossips, of both the benign and the malignant types, but I tend to give volunteers a little more of a pass, because they are contributing extra to the program.)
Seek different types of sources-- talk to and listen to managers, coaches, kids, parents. See what you can find on line about both your program, and about skating schools and curricula in general. Check out my "figure skating links" in the side bar for sites. Read IceMom from start to finish. Go to discussion forums like the ones at Figure Skating Universe, Yahoo, and US Figure Skating.
You just want to know what's going on, after all. Just make sure what you're hearing is, in fact, what is going on.