Mar 24, 2010

It takes a village, but I'm just passing through

Group class is a wonderful way to learn how to skate. It's social, inexpensive, widely available, and about as low pressure as it gets in this high-pressure achievement-focused world. I pride myself as a coach on trying to reach every kid on the ice; to know my students, even when, like this session I have 80+ of them each week.

A good, aware coach does this by shaping every lesson around learning styles--visual, aural, kinesthetic, and tactile--and observing each child, as well as possible, to can see who needs what. She tries to tone down the aggressive and the wild ones, and nurture the artists and the shy.

But when it comes down to it, what a skating coach is teaching is skating. Now, I'm a firm believer that you get all sorts of collateral lessons from skating. You learn about poise, and overcoming obstacles, about the good kind of pride that comes from succeeding at something difficult. You learn to make friends outside your normal circle, and about pacing yourself and striving for goals.

But too many parents, especially those with very young skaters, seem to expect life lessons to be the central focus of skating lessons.

Write this down: the central focus of skating lessons is learning how to skate.

Here are some of the things parents have asked me to teach:
How to socialize: it's skating class, not a tea party. But we are learning about sharing (for instance, in tot class, not to horde the toys, or in a Pre Alpha class, not to monopolize the coach's attention). If you want to use skating class to help your child socialize, that needs to happen off the ice. Talk to the other parents there, let the kids find each other and arrange play dates.

To make new friends: I'll actually encourage this, unless I see the kids so focused on this fascinating new person that they forget to skate, or to listen. But again, the class itself is not the place for this. Sit next to the friend in the lobby when you're tying skates, or invite the family to share a juice box in the snack bar after class. But again, skating class is not a match-making service.

To learn not to cry: Please. Let your 4 year old cry. I just make a rule: no crying on the ice. I'll ask a child who has fallen if she needs to go get a hug, but she has to get to the door without crying. They will do this. But the no crying on the ice goes for temper tantrums too. Do NOT force your tantruming child onto the ice, I don't care how much of a man you are trying to make her (sic). It's not just about her; her screaming will disrupt the entire class. Either wait til she calms down and then send her back, or talk to the coach after class about strategies for coping with this. There are lots of things you can do, that make the child feel better, and that get her back on the ice eventually. None of them involve forcing a screaming child to skate.

Expecting a child to learn these types of things in an unfamiliar, difficult, not to say dangerous, endeavor like figure skating is inviting failure, both at the collateral lesson and at the skating. Things like these are difficult enough to teach directly in a classroom setting; in a skating class they are way outside the scope of my mandate, which is to teach skating.

Conversely, let the coach guide some of those collateral things as they occur. If your child falls and cries, allow the coach to assess the situation before you go running onto the ice to kiss it better. If the skater is really hurt, the coach will bring him off the ice. One of the things you have to learn on the ice is when you're really hurt; goldbricking is dangerous in an ice rink. A child who is sitting on the ice crying to get the attention risks getting his hands run over, and then he's really hurt.

If your child is shy, don't blame the teacher for pushing him into participating. The coach can see that he's shy, but can't allow him to either hang out on the boards, away from the class, or constantly be paying attention only to him. Even he will tell you that's not fair.

Let the coach assess when and who to give individualized attention to. Again, in an ideal situation, the coach is going to try to reach everyone every week (or in a larger class, every couple of weeks.) But sometimes there's a kid who needs extra attention all the time, to slow her down, or speed her up; to bring her up to the average level of the class, or to get advanced instruction because she's way ahead. These things are done to make the whole class better for everyone. In a group situation, you strive towards maximum participation. You don't want everyone waiting for slower kids, or a fast one out of control because he's not getting attention (sometimes simply because you can't catch him).

Remember that in a 30 minute class with 15 kids in it, any one skater is getting at the most 1-3 minutes of one-on-one time (it's simple math). If you happened to be blowing your nose or taking a phone call during that 1 minute, you think your child has been ignored for the whole time. just because you didn't see it.

In skating class, you'll learn how to skate. The life lessons are the free bonus.


  1. As a coach, on a scale of 1-10, how much would it annoy you that a parent told you to be LESS sweet to their child? I asked the teacher not to baby our daughter, because she learns better that way. If she's given the chance to have extra help, she will ALWAYS take it. If she is simply taught what to do and then forced to learn it on her own, she's much better. Does that make me a bad parent for asking them to let her fall?

  2. I wouldn't put it as "don't baby her" so much as to let the coach know, it's okay to be tough, it's okay for her to fall. Just good approach to anything-- don't tell the expert how to do her job (even when you're right), but do let her know you support her. I've got a parent who wants me to stop holding her sons hand (this is a tot); but then he won't stay with the class, so I've got 5 babies at one end of the rink, and one at the other. I'm going to hold his hand and get him over to the class if I need to. In any class situtation, the needs of the class, rather than of the individual skater, need to take precedence.