Mar 21, 2010

How to cope with a new rink

So if you have to switch, how do you make it work?

If the new rink is going to be your new home rink, work yourself into the culture there, but not too fast. First step is:

Educate yourself
Hang out for a week--drop in and find out which sessions are crowded, which tend to be "high" and which have more beginners. Watch the classes to see what coaches interact a lot with the kids, and if there are any that make a point of coming off the ice between classes (if they can) to talk to parents. Are there classes where all the kids are smiling (or classes where they're not)? When is the ice show or exhibition, and what are the rules for participating (some rinks put up barriers to this, like you have to be in the program for the prior two sessions to get a solo, which is insane-- what about the Freestyle 8 kid who just moved to town? Sorry, no, you're not one of us.)

Second step is a negative one:
You don't know anything about this rink. Don't come in talking about how your other rink did xyz differently; that statement will be interpreted as "you guys don't do this right." Absorb the culture, don't roll over it. I would frame all my initial interactions as a search for information: "we're new here, how does this rink do [whatever]?" NOT "I don't get how you do this here, at our old rink, it works like this; blah blah blah." (That is what people will hear. We're basically a selfish species, we don't care how it works at your old rink, we're never going there, especially if everyone is like you.) Don't bash the old rink or the old coach or any skaters you knew there. Figure skating is a very small world. Forget 6 degrees of separation. In the skating world, it's more like 2. I can get to pretty much any skater you can name through just another two people . Further, this is how skaters talk to each other when they first meet. They'll determine where you're from, then start with, oh do you know Coach A? Well, no, but I know her student Y, etc.

Snark at the rink will come back and bite you on your frozen arse.

Third step is get involved
Sign your skater up for a class. Sign up for two! Take a class yourself. If it's ice show time, volunteer. Sign your skater up for the ice show. If you've missed the deadline, talk to the skating director and see if there's a way for your skater to be involved (last year two of our best skaters had to compete the week before the show and couldn't be in it, so we found them a couple of old costumes and sent them out as tot wranglers). Introduce yourself to the moms and dads in the stands (remember, no old rink gossip or "we do things better!") Bring a cake for the next birthday or holiday, set it out in the lobby for all the kids. If there's no holiday, just make one up.

There are new families at our rink who you'd swear have been there since the kids were tiny, because they've absorbed the culture and made themselves a part of it. And there are kids who grew up there that still sit on the sidelines, looking forlorn and lonely, because their moms won't talk to anyone, won't sign them up for classes, and yank them away the second they're done.

Guess which kids will keep skating?


  1. Here's my chance to vent. At the skating school that my daughter attends, which is an ISI program, they require 2 years membership (associate is OK) in the USFS club that calls that rink their home before you can be considered for a solo in their ice show. Officially, there is no connection between the ISI program and the local USFS club, although they hire many of the USFS club coaches as instructors for the ISI skating school. The skating school is part of the city's park and rec program and the city owns the rink.

    My daughter has participated in this skating school for 7 years but will never be eligible for a solo because we belong to another USFS club in town. I would never rock the boat and complain to the director because she is great and my daughter has the opportunity to skate a solo at our own club ice show, but I think this rule is illegal. How can a city-run park and rec program require membership in a private organization to fully participate in their show? I think the kids that aren't members of the "chosen" club are being discriminated against. I wonder what the City Attorney would say if they saw their rule? (It's posted at the rink.)

    I know why the rule exists. There is a large USFS club in close proximity to the rink that does not host their own ice show. The rule is an attempt to keep kids from that club from signing up for the spring session and taking solos away from the local USFS club kids who participate in the ISI program. Some kids at the rink get around this rule by maintaining their USFS membership at the local USFS club but they actually train with coaches at the other large (and prestigious) USFS club. These kids always have the majority of the solos and their parents sit on the board of the local USFS club (even though they are spending the largest part of the ice time dollars at the other private club which owns their own private rink). Politics! I hated it and that's why we joined another club (by the way, we had been members of that local club but left because of the politics and dysfunction at that club).

    So if there's anyone from that rink/club out there that recognizes this scenario, this is how I feel about your rule I think it's illegal, discrmination and coercion, don't you?

    Thanks for letting me vent, I feel better.

  2. Great post! Can I add a tip? Be kind to the rink staff. You know, those high school and college kids at the front desk, the snack bar, the skate rental counter. Maybe it's just at my rink, but I feel like those kids take a lot of heat when really they're good kids who want to be helpful. I've seen them reunite lost tots with freaked out parents, help with skate sharpening debacles, set up cones so kids (and adults!)have a safe place to practice, mend broken zuca bags, and about a million other things. They're good kids, sometimes not even paid. I just wish they were more appreciated sometimes. (Again, may not be an issue at other rinks.)

  3. Denise-- you need to let the membership coordinator at national USFS know about this rule. I'm pretty sure it probably violates their sanction (i.e. blanket permission for USFS skaters to skate in a non-USFS events, like ISI and private club shows and competitions). My understanding is that you cannot limit the sanction to certain clubs only, if other rules are followed.

  4. MER-- that is excellent advice anywhere. As Bill and Ted would say, "Be excellent to each other"

  5. Great post!
    On the other side of this...It would be great for the parents who are already "established" at their rink to look out for new skaters and their families. Even though I consider myself "shy", I always say hi and try to make them feel welcome and comfortable. They inevitably have questions about procedures or locations of restrooms, locker rooms, etc.

    I also encourage our skater to say hi to the new kids even though they might not be the same age, or gender.

    It makes life at the rink a lot more fun for everyone! (and no, we don't have a Utopia, but we try hard :)

  6. Wow, Xan, I had no idea they might be in violation of a sanction. They let any USFS skater that participates in the ISI skating school skate in group numbers in the ice show, they just won't allow them to skate a solo (or as a featured skater that performs with a group) without membership in the local club. Do you still think they are in violation? If I complain, I wonder if they could find out who complained because I'd hate for my daughter not to be able to go back to the skating school. She has friends there and she likes some of the coaches.

  7. Denise, if you are the only one who is running afoul of this, I'd probably leave it alone (or find a new rink, I mean, wtf). But if they have other skaters who can't get solos, you need to write a group letter to USFS and ask if it violates the sanction.

    The other thing you can do is join the second club as an Associate member. Still have a two year (!) wait, but at least she'd get her solo.

    It's just the most inexplicable policy I've ever heard of. If my daughter couldn't get a solo in her home rink ice show, we'd have found another rink.

  8. Thanks, Xan, for your advice and for letting me vent.

    We're not the only skater that the rule has affected but we are one of the few skaters that skate ISI at this rink but actually belongs to a USFS club at another rink. Our daughter will be eligible to skate a solo in her USFS club's ice show, so I haven't ever complained about the ISI skating school's solo policy. But, it bothers me, especially because we have participated in and supported this skating school for 7 years.

    As far as joining the club as an associate, this local club charges associate members the same membership fee as full members and they have the highest membership fees amongst the 15 clubs in our city, so I won't join as an associate. When we left that club as full members (to join our current USFS club) we told the board exactly that.

    We have tried 2 other ISI skating schools in our area but neither was as good as this skating school. I appreciate that group lessons are really affordable and as our daughter advances thru the freestyle levels there are fewer and fewer students in her classes, so she gets lots of individual attention. It's my daughter's goal to pass FS10 one day. So, since our USFS club rink only has Basic Skills instruction, we either have to continue with the current ISI skating school or ask our private coach to add ISI tests to the list of goals they are working on. Hopefully someday the opportunity will arise to voice my opinion about this policy with the ISI skating school director but until then I'm not going to rock the boat.

  9. Some things you just gotta give up unfortunately.

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