Jun 23, 2010

Planning a figure skating lesson

As Icemom pointed out, a lot of planning goes into getting a skater to his or her lessons, but what about the lessons themselves? What's the plan?

There is no standard curriculum for private lessons, of course. You proceed according to the skater's needs and goals. But individual coaches do fall into categories, and you can spot the differences from the stands, by style, if not by outcome.

Some coaches have a standard lesson plan that they follow with every skater. Call them the planners. Others like to have an outcome in mind and build toward that by increments or leaps (the spanners?). There are coaches who are really good at some single skills-- jumps or gliding maneuvers or spins-- and will focus on those things (the fanners!). Some will be a little more fluid and see what happens lesson to lesson (oh, let's call them the xanners, just for sh*ts and giggles).

The planners
Every lesson follows the same pattern, for instance: 10 minutes of moves warm up with technique secondary and the focus on power, building endurance, and ice coverage; 5 minutes of jump drills like back-scratch to loop, one foot hops, check-position drills; run through jumps up to highest mastered, then do some number of repetitions of the most solid jump, and then some number of repetitions of your problem jump. Program run through, then finish with spins. Every lesson will follow this plan.

The pros: The student knows exactly what to expect from every lesson, so the coach focuses on quick, targeted comments and spends no time laying out the lesson plan. The mystique is removed from the difficult move, because it's just part of the plan. The goal here is not to finally get the jump, but simply to move through the familiar lesson. The skater has a fair amount of autonomy with this plan. These kids are always moving, which looks really good to the parents in the stands. It's a great way to run freestyle group lessons, especially where there's a wide range of age, talent or ability.

The cons: It is tempting for the coach to check out, because no one is pushing the envelope. This plan works best mid pre-season, when new things are already solidifying and the pressure is least. In some ways, this is not a lesson; it's more of a supervised practice. The skater is not getting a lot of specific technical advice. Students under this sort of tutelage run the risk of then putting their unsupervised practice on automatic pilot, and feeling like they've accomplished something simply by completing the lesson plan, without actually working on anything other than moving from item to item.

These coaches develop strong camaraderie with and among their students, and solid, workaday skaters.

The spanners
This coach knows exactly what should be mastered by when, and will step up the intensity on a given problem area, or focus area to stay with the calendar he or she has set. Not only the lesson content, but the pedagogical approach and the lesson attitude may be wildly different from week to week or even lesson to lesson with this sort of coaching.

The pros: this coach is intensely engaged in the student's progress, and will be able to zero in on problem areas while letting solid parts of the skill and program work themselves out. A coach who follows a span of progress spends a lot of off-ice time working out lesson plans. You will be able to track progress easily; further it allows both coach and student to know when to abandon something that isn't working.

The cons: the skater gets very little autonomy with a coach like this, and parent input is unheard of. Skaters will spend a lot of time at the boards getting instruction, because each lesson is different. Parents can misinterpret this as "hanging around at the boards." This coach is also likely to work either on many different things, or intensely at a geek level on one thing in a lesson, making it hard for parents in the stands to keep track of what's going on.

In my observation, these are the coaches with the champions.

The fanners
Fanners (because they're fans of one skill) will have kids who are absolutely fantastic at, for instance, spins or spirals. They'll spend a lot of time helping their kids perfect these skills, and will revert to Planner-type lessons for other skills.

The pros: The favored skill will be brilliant, and especially at the lower levels of competition, one brilliant skill will often catapult a mediocre skater up the ranks. Kids get a huge burst of confidence from their mastery of this skill, which colors their approach to everything else. Huge bragging rights to the parents of these kids-- "did you see that spiral! She's only 6!"

The cons: These coaches sometimes neglect other skills, and especially basic skating like stroking and crossovers. The skaters can't do anything else, or don't do other skills up to par. You'll get sloppy or heedless skating with this one flash of brilliance. If your skater doesn't naturally excel at the selected skill, she'll have a difficult time with this coach.

These coaches will often be seen teaching the skill to other coach's skaters, having developed a specialty niche.

The xanners
This coach has a general idea about what the skater is learning (Alpha, Basic 7, axel, etc.) but will move through the lesson more at seeming random, adjusting the intensity and type of exercise to a skater's current mood, and introducing new skills by feel.

The pros: this approach is very skater-friendly and puts the students in more control than other types of lesson plans. It focuses on building confidence and love of the sport, rather than on specific outcomes. These coaches will fix a problem area before they move on. Kids in these types of lessons will understand exactly what they're doing wrong or right, because it's been broken down very specifically for their idiosyncratic issues. I have it on good authority that coaches like taking on students who have been taught under this type of plan.

The cons: this type of coaching will not work for competitive or even test-track skaters, and is more recreational. Skaters with these coaches may take longer to move through the levels, because the coach wants them absolutely solid before they pass up.

These are the skaters with the smiles on their faces.

What type of coach do you have?
(If you make up another type, by the way, it has to rhyme!)


  1. I had an AMAZING coach. she was a bit of everything- she knew what to plan, when to span, and which of her "fan" moves to pass along. She was a "xan"er in a way, only she expected competitive commitment from me.
    Because I moved back home to Israel, I am looking for a new coach (and a way to skate in the only olympic rink without loosing my mind over the 5 hour drive). are you a zionist by any chance? ;)

  2. I am an adult skater who tests and competes. My coach is a variant of the Xanner. The first thing she asks me in a lesson is if I have anything specific I want to work on. Most times I don't but sometimes I'm stuck on something from practice and know I need her expertise in fixing it.

    Otherwiase she picks something she wants me to work on either for the next test or for the competition. If I am doing something badly or learning something new she doesn't let it slide. She makes me work on it but if I am having trouble with it she limits the practice to a shorter duration than if I am getting it. However I can intervene and adjust the length of time if I want (muscle is getting fatigued or I think I almost have it and want to give it another go). I like this flexability. It keeps me moving along with skills; both perfecting older ones and learning new ones. It also helps with the mental aspect of the sport. I am practicing a combination of things that are a balance between things I feel I will never get and things that I have a chance of doing well. This gives me hope that I am a decent skater and can master new skills. Yes, I might be taking longer but I have more confidence in myself as a skater. I know my coach won't put me out there without having the mastered the skills I need to pass or win. I have passed three adult tests and medaled in two competitions.

    Silver Blades

  3. @Anon, One of the most important, and neglected, parts of choosing a coach is finding one whose planning/teaching style compliments the skater's goals and learning styles. Xanner coaches work well with most adults, because adult skaters *want* to move slow, and tend to assume that they are in charge of the lesson.

  4. My current coach is absolutely wonderful, and very varied!

    But... I did have a CANNER!! As in... coaches that can you every time you do something wrong, miss a jump, etc. Sent off the ice, told to go home, even sit ups ON the ice at the side, near the barrier... what a nightmare!

  5. I think Ice Coach is the lillehammer because she's taken Ice Girl from Basic 2 to Axel in less than two years!

    Maybe she's the glamour because she has a clothes obsession.

    Ice Coach and Ice Girl have this mutual admiration society going between them: enamor.

    The Lillehammer Coach Approach!

    I'm a writer, so I'm a grammar jammer. Then again, I say/write dorky stuff, so I could be a deadpanner.

    Whee! This was fun. I mean it was the unprovoked dorky joke.

  6. I'm not creative enough to play the name game. :-(

    But I think my coach would be in a different category. He's a "customizer" for lack of a better (rhyming) name. My lessons are for ME. He clearly spends time mapping out each lesson (often I can identify a theme.) I learn new things, I work on things I'm struggling with and I get to do things I like at each lesson. It's great because I feel motivated, I'm expected to work through things I may not like much (I swear he has the same expectations of me as he does with his Nationals skaters) and I have a blast! Every. Single. Time. Best of all, there have been times where I've asked him to basically scrap his plan and help me with something specific and he's able to put together a great lesson on the fly. Yeah, I'll keep him...

  7. Oh, I was thinking about Dmitry when I wrote this. He's totally a xanner, no question.

  8. LOL, Love it! Great information and very creative at the same time! My IceBoy (intermediate level skater) has a Planner for sure. IB thrives on this type of coaching, and there is enough flexibility that if he has a particular problem or question, it gets addressed.

    They usually spend some time at the boards, but recently they started to spend a lot of time at the boards. When I asked what they talk about, IB says that he is being told about techniques etc, so the part of your description that talks about the geekness...it's totaly true LOL. Thanks for the info, because I was beginning to wonder if IceCoach has turned into a "Yammer" (haha).

  9. There's a place for the Yammers too (love it!) Snarky, stuck up teenage girls do GREAT with yammers. (now I wonder how I know that? You listening, Princess?)

  10. Our daughter's first coach was a fanner. Interesting to discover it's a coaching style not unique to just this coach. We have always described her coaching style as loving to teach our daughter "tricks" because she picked them up quickly and easily, however she neglected all the basics. We left that coach and have spent 2 years trying to correct our daughter's deficiences. This coach's current skaters are beautiful young women but some of the ugliest skaters I've ever seen--horrible body positions and flailing arms and legs--but each has some unique skill like super fast spins. This coach was unable to see that the skaters were lacking in other areas because she was so impressed with her ability to teach the skater the one unique skill. I can remember our daughter's first competition where she clearly was not the best skater in her flight, finished 4th which I thought was pretty accurate but the coach kept saying that she couldn't understand why she didn't finish higher. Since we were new skating parents, I just assumed I missed something but now I understand that she was unable to see their whole performance.

  11. This is Anonymous (at 2:28 pm) again. After posting I realized that our aforementioned coach was not only a fanner but an "I don't understander".

  12. The Same AnonymousJune 29, 2010 at 2:47 AM

    Hi Xan! I think my coach is a planner-cross-xanner, as I can tell she's planning because she says what I'm going to do next lesson, but she's also flexible.

    I was wondering about off-ice skating (quad and inline). Does it help or hinder skaters? Which is better?