Jan 9, 2010

The Upsides of Private Lessons

There’s a huge amount of anxiety-inducing myth associated with private figure skating lessons, engendered, I suppose, by the tales of intrigue and abuse promoted in figure skating media. Like other childhood activities that have adult counterparts (modeling, other high-performance sports, etc.) we tend to focus on the rare elites, and not on the huge number of recreational and casual patrons.

So once you’ve made that decision for your child to take private figure skating lessons (or to take them yourself, for any adult skaters reading this), what should you expect?

For me and my daughter, the biggest benefit of private lessons was not the skills improvement or success, but the close friendships both she and I developed with the various coaches.

The close relationship that coach and skater develop is one of the key features of a good coaching match. Each gets emotionally invested in the other; these are not just friendships, they are nearly familial in their intensity. In fact the closeness of this relationship can also create the downsides—discomfort or abuse of the financial aspect, and jealously, the parent of the coach and vice versa. A good coach develops a deep understanding of his or her student; this understanding extends off the ice. This is true not just of multi-lesson competitors, but even of recreational skaters taking lessons once a week.

I think this may have something to do with the isolation of a coaching session—it’s a rare place where a child has a non-parental adult all to themselves.

Parents and coaches also develop a bond. The worst thing a parent can do is fight this, or try to assert themselves too much as being in charge. It is given that the parent is in charge; it’s their kid, it’s their money. But if you accept the coach’s authority over the skating, the other relationship can grow into true friendship with a common goal. It’s a beautiful thing.

But enough with the mushy stuff. Private lessons are great because you get to be a better skater. Even kids who don’t take it very seriously are going to improve more and faster through private lessons.

Privates also open a door to peer friendships—with the other kids hanging out at the rink and with that coach’s other students. I often laugh at the scary “girl gangs” who own the hallways at the rink. Sometimes this goes off the rails as one gang tries to be the “cool” kids, but somehow this dynamic isn’t as effective at the rink as it is in school or at the mall.

Private lessons also give you ownership to place. There’s a common marketing concept of the “third place.” Everyone supposedly has three “places”—some combination of home, workplace, place of worship are usually two of these. Marketers want their place to be your “third” place, and a skating rink, where you might spend hours and hours every week, often falls into this category. I’ll often see the younger siblings of skaters running around rinks, completely at home. It can be a little scary, because they feel so utterly safe that they tend to wander off without telling anyone. “Oh, we were playing dark tag in the dressing room.” Yeah, kid, nice heart attack you gave us when we couldn’t find you.

I'm a terribly negative person. I tend to dwell on the downsides, and I've had some major dips in my relationship with this sport. But overall, I've gotten so many more benefits than faults. I'll have to give the win to the upsides.

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