Feb 21, 2010

Who gets to teach figure skating?

Short answer--anyone that can get hired by a rink.

One of the things that all US Coaches must have in order to get "credentialed" (i.e. have permission to be rinkside with their skaters) is a membership in the Professional Skaters Association, or PSA.

Because no university, as far as I know, awards a bachelors degree in figure skating coaching (and you really have to wonder why not), PSA is the only game in town for a coach that wants to demonstrate training credentials in coaching.

For a profession that discourages the kind of parent coaching common in just about every other youth sport, the requirements for coaching figure skating are a scandal. Basically, there are none. Rinks are "accredited" not by the qualifications of their coaches, but by which type of curriculum they choose--ISI, USFS or none at all. In other words, there is no accreditation. Just membership fees. And anyone, anyone at all, that the rink will hire can teach figure skating. I know, because when I started coaching I had no teaching experience, was a very low level skater, and had never taken any test or coaching education.

Fortunately, I'm an ethical person, and I set out to get the credentials I felt I needed, and now have a Senior Rating in Group Instruction from the PSA and am also credentialed by the Ice Skating Institute as a gold level judge. For the PSA rating, this means I have passed three of the four levels of coach's credentialing in my chosen discipline of Group Instruction. To keep it active, I must attend an average of at least 9 1/3 hours of continuing education classes every year for as long as I want to keep the rating. You can get rated in numerous ice skating disciplines, including Group, Free Style, Moves in the Field, Choreography, Program Director, Figures, etc. I earn my hours by going to an annual 3 day seminar, by attending every ISI, USFS, and PSA seminar offered in my district, and through annual accreditation in Red Cross First Aid and CPR. (More about the ratings exams here.)

But it's not required. I never heard of a rink where you need to be rated to teach. Incredibly, not all rinks require First Aid or CPR training. You don't even need to be a member of US Figure Skating or the PSA to teach (although now you must be a member of both those organizations to sign your students up for tests and competitions). No rink I have ever worked for requires that coaches attend continuing education. I know of coaches who have never taken a single figure skating or coaching test nor skated in any competition. Rinks with formal programs to help Junior coaches learn the profession are few and far between; it's all watch and learn. Coaches that I have spoken with about this almost universally tell me that kids who can skate can coach. So, I can read, I guess that means I'm qualified to teach second grade! I can't imagine another profession where you jump from student to pro with no training in between.

I have a few problems with the PSA--I think that at the Master level the Group rating should be divided into developmental and freestyle; PSA seems to think that the higher your students are tested, the better you are. Which may be true for competitive skaters, but completely misses the point about group classes, where the vast vast majority of skaters are in the lower levels. For me, the Master rating in PSA, where they focus on questions about teaching the higher levels, is like asking someone who wants to teach grade school to pass a PhD level exam in particle physics. My specialty is beginners, and PSA should recognize the value of the skills needed for teaching beginning skaters by giving people like me our own rating exam.

It's a problem that PSA has no competing program; like I said, kids should be able to get a PE or Recreation degree with a focus on teaching figure skating or managing figure skating programs.

But PSA is the only game in town, and a PSA rating is a good indicator that your coach takes coaching seriously, understands that there are ethical guidelines, regards it as his or her profession, and does continuing education to stay on top of the sport.

I have asked Jimmie Santee, president of the PSA, to offer a comment for this post, but have not heard from him yet.


  1. Thanks for the info on the PSA rating system for coaches. I'll be able to ask better questions now when interviewing coaches.

    Are coaches judged by the skating levels of their students? I'm asking because a former coach, who previously was not agressive about having her students test, is now pushing her students thru free skate tests. Suddenly she is pushing her students to test and she has one skater who has passed to a level where she won't be competitive (anytime soon) with other skaters in that level (even in test track) because her skills are not strong enough. Knowing this student, I'm sure this is going to be frustrating (perhaps discouraging)for her at competitions. What do you think is going on? I'm wondering if the coach is trying to pad her resume. If coaches are looking to change rinks, what kind of criteria is used by clubs/rinks to determine the abilities or competency of potential coaches? Are the test levels of their students one of the criteria?

    When I have visited the PSA site, I have been bothered (offended, really) that the only info under the heading of info for parents is a list of suggestions of how we should behave. I would suggest that a link to the ratings descriptions section should be at the top of the list, so we can ask the right questions when interviewing potential coaches. Also, I have suggested to Ice Mom that we need an anonymous "Rate Your Coach" database for parents like they have for professors, since it is suggested by the PSA that we not talk to others about coaching issues.

    One more thing, if a coach's bio states they are "a member of PSA" does that mean they have not taken any tests, just paid membership fees?

  2. One of the ways that coaches qualify to take the ratings exams is by having students pass the levels (you can qualify by passing the level yourself, or by taking a student through the test). No way to know why a coach, skater, or parent makes a choice. Level of the skaters that a coach has is an excellent indicator of their skill, or of their specialty (for instance, I never teach kids over FS3, just not interested).

    Member of the PSA means they are just members, but it is still a good indicator of someone who takes the profession seriously. To be a regular member of PSA you have to have a sponsor and you have to demonstrate that you have been coaching.

    And no, PSA does not get skating parents at all. Parents are the most misunderstood factor in the equation, across the board. It's one of the reason I'm loving the P&G "for the Moms" ads at the Olympics!

  3. One of Ice Girl's clubs has requirements for coaching; the other does not. Here are the rules for one club:

    All approved FSC of *** coaches:

    - Have achieved at least the Intermediate USFSA Freestyle test level in their own

    - Are members of the Professional Skater's Association (PSA).

    - Have professional liability insurance.

    Only approved, green-lighted coaches can be on club ice. The rest can coach on the limited number of open freestyle sessions. They won't allow new coaches on club ice without an approved coaching mentor, either.

    That said, the other club lets anyone coach as long as they pay dues and have insurance. PSA isn't a requirement.

    For parents, I think that having some order in the chaos would help with selecting a coach.

    Great post, Xan!

    Ice Mom

  4. Love the P&G ads too.

    Also love the Walmart ad where hockey mom gives her reasons for why she saves: saving for a new pair of skates (I took a temp job at Christmas to pay for skates) and saving for the next 10 years of hockey fees. Spoken like a true skating parent. In this case, Walmart is really skating a mile in my boots.

  5. IceMom, that's great, I hope I hear from others with that kind of stringent coaching requirements. It will restore my faith! (Altho it would keep me off club ice! I've only got Adult tests!)

  6. Amazing - considering the potential for injury and how litigious we are.

  7. Beth, you nailed it. Don't even get me started on junior coaches. I will say that if you are a regular employee of a rink, the rink covers liability, plus if the rink is "signed up" with the ISI weSkate or USFS Basic Skills program they also provide insurance for both skaters and coaches. All coaches who teach privates on any rink, including their own, must provide proof of liability insurance, available thru PSA, ISI, or USFS.

  8. University of Delaware offers a degree in exercise science with the ability to minor in figure skating science. Admission to the minor requires a high level of proficiency in your own skating and has four semester long figure skating practicums. I don't know if other universities with similar programs, this is the only one I'm aware of, and I find the concept quite interesting

  9. I wondered if UofD might have a program since they have an elite training center there, and lots of students who are high level competitors. Thanks for the info!

  10. Hi Xan, I've learned a lot from your blog. Thank you! I would love to read more about your personal journey from beginning adult skater to coaching. I would be particularly interested in learning what you would do the same and what you would do differently, knowing what you know now. What would you recommend as the first three or four steps to take as an adult beginner (recently finished first ISI Learn to Skate Adult 3 class) who loves skating and has discovered that she loves to share that passion with other skaters almost as much as skating herself? If I do pursue coaching, I want to do everything I can now and along the way to become a competent coach. I'd love to read your ideas and insight on the "how" if you're game. Thanks!