Apr 19, 2010

Who are the coaches?

I never heard the term "developmental coach" until well into my coaching career, since I wasn't any kind of skater, let alone a competitive skater, as a kid.

But when you think about it, someone has to be the first coach, and someone has to get the skater ready for Prime Time. Trust me, Frank Carroll is not teaching swizzles to anyone. (Update: according to one of my tweeps, apparently, in fact, he is. Good for you, Frank.)

So what are the different types of coaches, and just how does the whole thing work?

Elite coaches
These are the coaches that you see at the boards at major competitions. You may or may not know their names; basically having an elite student sets you on the path to being an elite coach. A very rare minority of them came up through the ranks, starting as a class coach with local students, and gradually developing their coaching skills and student base until they managed to find a student they could develop into a champion. Some of them were champion skaters themselves, like Tiffany Chin, Brian Orser, Yuka Sato, and Charlene Wong. The majority of them started on the staffs of other elite coaches and gradually developed a student base of their own. As a rule, you must audition or be invited to train with these coaches, but they often also have less glorious skaters in their rosters.

Developmental coaches
This is USFS's term for coaches of national and sectional competitors below the Senior or even Junior level. They are "developing" the next level of Senior competitors (and I count everyone who gets to Nationals, not just the "name" skaters). Some developmental coaches are on staff with elite and national coaches, some have managed to establish their own coaching business. USFS takes a strong interest in these coaches, providing them with seminars, support and training, along with their skaters, especially starting at the Novice level. Some of these coaches will eventually join the elite ranks, others will stay with the developmental group. In some cases it may be that they just never make the leap, or attract the students; but in more cases these are coaches who have established a niche and an expertise at this vital level of a skater's training.

Your coach
Assuming that your coach does not have a skater on the USFS team envelope or is an elite coach, I would also characterize this middle level of the coaching pyramid as developmental. These are the vast pool of working coaches who do the heavy lifting, (and I mean that literally), teaching kids basic skating technique and jumps, and suffering through learning the stupid axel.

As far as I'm concerned, this echelon is the most important one, because without strong basic technique, usually learned from these coaches, a skater has no chance at developing into a national competitor. Tarasova is not going to fix your axel. These are the coaches teaching strong basic skating and instilling love for the sport. Without local coaches at everyday rinks, there would be no elite skaters. Dorothy Hamill started skating on a pond with socks stuffed in the toes of her too-big skates. Some local coach noticed her talent and the rest is history.

And then there's me
Holding up the whole heavy pyramid are the many many part time coaches teaching group classes at local rinks. This is the first coach your skater meets. If she doesn't make it click, your skater is never even going to get to step two. Don't underestimate the importance of this group. Again, they are instilling that love of the sport. They are the first ones who will notice your child's talent, and probably will be your child's first coach. With luck, you'll happen upon one with the integrity and self-confidence to recognize when the skater starts exceeding the coach's expertise or ability and will help you move up the ladder, to a higher coach at your facility, or into the developmental track.


  1. How very nice of you to include a link to Ice Coach's blog post about harnesses. It's tough for a small person like her to haul my skinny kid in the air!

    Great post about the different kinds of coaches, Xan!

    You're absolutely right about the group and developmental coaches both making a personal connection with the skater and recognizing talent or passion for the sport.

    The single most important factor in a teacher's effectiveness is her personal connection with the students. More important than organization (2), more important than feedback (3), and more important than knowledge (4).

    That's not to say group and developmental coaches aren't knowledgeable, but that connection you and other coaches build keeps the whole sport alive.

    Thanks, Xan!

    Ice Mom

  2. @ IceMom- The harness posts were just great, and it just wrote itself right into this copy.

  3. I second the thanks on the link, I actually thought I could have wrote a lot more on the pole harness but I figured if people were really interested they would ask me :)

    Great post about different types of coaches. I agree with everything you said!

    Ice Coach

  4. Ah, I started off with an elite coach- she coaches most of our nationals competitors XD I didn't have to audition because I could barely skate forward.