Aug 29, 2010

A 30-minute training session for people who "can't skate"

I get a lot of beginning adults and parents of beginning skaters who complain that they can't do anything so it's hard to practice. They also get locked into the idea that they have to be learning "skating skills." As a beginner, your only job is to get comfortable with speed, balance, and glide.

Start- once around the ice surface just to get your feet under you. The only aim is to get comfortable on the ice and get a glide going. With kids, call this "free time."

Working on glide and comfort
5 minutes
Continuous stroking (or stepping, if you're not quite up to stroking). "Continuous" means your feet must keep moving. Think of it as walking-- if you were going for a walk, you wouldn't stop every 5th or 6th step. Don't do it on the ice either. Don't worry about form, or acceleration, just keep your feet moving.

Working on the pressure of the blade against the ice
5 minutes
Swizzles. Mix it up and challenge yourself-- how many can you do in a row. How long can you hold the wide part before you can't pull back in. How far can you glide on a single swizzle. Can you make it all the way around doing only swizzles (it's hard!)? Find ways to keep it interesting; 5 minutes is longer than you think.

Working on weight shift and balance
5 minutes
Scooter pushes and half-swizzle pumps. Again, mix it up. Start with going all the way down one side of the rink using just your right foot, then back up the other side using just your left. Then do 5 on one foot and 5 on the other, then alternating.

Working on bilateralism
5+ minutes
Swizzles and scooters in the other direction (i.e. if you were going counter clockwise, turn 180 and go clockwise, unless you're on a public session and they won't let you.

Working on backwards
2 minutes
Backward swizzles or wiggles, either back and forth across the short axis, or all the way around the rink (if you go all the way around, also use the opportunity to learn how to check behind you).

Working on blade pressure
5 minutes
Slalom. Feet together, essentially forward wiggles. Let yourself build speed (that's what this move is for)

2 minutes
Practice your hardest move (not jumping-- I'm talking about beginner skills like stroking, crossovers, long one-foot glides, backwards glides, 2-foot turns, etc.), or practice putting together a small program-- sequential skills in a pattern (make sure you go both clockwise and counterclockwise)

1-3 minutes
Cool down. Gentle skating once or twice around the rink.

This work-out will both get you comfortable on your skates in a very gentle way, and is also a surprisingly effective cardio workout, if you keep moving. You can do this identical workout at a high level, by making the focus power and acceleration and by splitting each 5 minutes in half-- doing half forwards and half backwards, figuring out different ways of making the turn (mohawks, rockers, jumping turns, et cetera, all at speed).

Any child who can read can do this too-- give her or him a list and a stop watch. Make a card with these items on it, and have them time themselves. They get a checkmark for attempting, and a sticker every time they really make it to 5 minutes. (Like I said, 5 minutes is longer than you think!)

When you are done, do a light stretch, focusing especially on ankles, hamstrings and lower back.

Aug 26, 2010

Okay, parents, take a deep breath

For the top skaters in the Novice, Junior and Senior levels, the competitive season has already started, with USFS "Champs Camp"*, and the first Junior Grand Prix competition, in France. *(A longer article on last year's camp can be found here.)

For the wannabes, and I use the term affectionately, the excitement and the tension is just building, as we move into the final stretch before Regionals. Medalists from selected competitions last year have already qualified for Nationals (if they're skating in the same level and division) and don't need to go through Regionals and Sectionals, but pretty much everyone else has two competitions-- Regionals in October and Sectionals in November. The last of the serious non-qualifying competitions is done, the costumes are hanging in the closet (even if the bill isn't quite paid), and the choreography is solid and getting its final tweaks.

For parents, the only thing left to do is freak out.

Seriously skating parents, let's not this year. Take the pledge:

1. I pledge not to fire the coach.
I understand that factors other than my coach's utter incompetence, which somehow slipped my notice until my child missed final round by .135, can affect the scoring.

2. I pledge not to hire a new choreographer without telling anyone, like, for instance, the coach, the current choreographer, or the skater.
I understand that the selection of the choreographer is, first, not my job, and second, already done.

3. I pledge not to complain about how much this is costing, and to pay my bills on time.
I did my homework, and set my budget, including both the panic contingency and the mad money account that I'm hiding from my husband so he doesn't find out how much this is costing.

4. I pledge not to decide that we can go on vacation for the last 10 days of September. After all, homeschooling makes this sort of thing so flexible! I understand that the coach has a very specific training schedule to get ready for Regionals, and that it doesn't include a last minute trip to Florida.

5. I pledge not to contact the mayor, the Club president, that really successful coach from the other club, USFS judges, local and national press, or Michelle Kwan to come and see my current-Juvenile, future Olympic champion child. At least not without casually mentioning to the coach that I've done so.

6. I pledge not to coach from the stands. While the actual coach can see me.

7. I pledge NEVER to make my child rehash his or her training session in the car on the way home. Even if it kills me. And it will.

8. I pledge to remember the goals that we have set with the coach. That's why we had that conversation. If we achieve or exceed our goals, everyone gets a box of chocolate. If we miss them, everyone gets a box of chocolate, and all the adults get a bottle of whisky, too.

9. I pledge to be friendly and open with other parents at every competition, and to encourage a healthy and friendly competitive relationship among the skaters.
I can always dish about them later, in private.

10. Finally, I pledge to love my child unconditionally and to support my coach, my club, and the structures and rules of US Figure Skating and the ISU, which are put there to support and protect the coaches, the skaters and their families.

Have a great competition season, everyone, and good luck.

Aug 20, 2010

Proprioceptive activities on the ice

This is the first in a series of posts about the use of tools in teaching figure skating. Tools can aid understanding, body position, spatial orientation. They can aid or distract attention (and one is not necessarily more desirable than the other). Tools can be specific figure skating tools (a figures scribe, for instance), a general sports aid (like a stretchy workout band), or a toy (we use beany babies more than might be actually healthy). You can use them to reinforce good habits, to teach new habits, to overcome bad habits.

I'm currently working with two cognitively challenged children. One is a kid who in my own (long ago) childhood would simply have been that crazy boy; we would not have recognized his behavior as having a clinical definition, much less a condition that could be both named, understood and compensated for. I haven't asked his mother (feel free to chime in, since I know you're reading this) what exactly his diagnosis is, but I would say he's got attention issues. Let's call him NoisyBoy. (He takes lessons with his friend, and they're in my book as "skating with noisy boys".)

The other, Miss E, I've written about before; she is dyspraxic, a sensory and motor processing disability.

Both of these children do occupational therapy, and I owe their OTs a great big box of chocolate, because they, indirectly through the moms, introduced me to the wonderful world of using proprioceptive tools to reach these kids (I had never even heard the word before. It is now my new favorite word). As the new class sessions get underway in a couple of weeks, I will be watching for other children, and adults, who might respond to these techniques.

Proprioception is the ability to orient your body in space; to sense the position, location, and movement of the body and its parts. Noisyboy's mom first introduced me to the concept when she mentioned that he liked "heavy load" exercises- these are activities that involve weights, and/or sharp sudden movements like jumping, falling, crashing, pulling. You get the idea. Noisyboy does in fact love these, I had noticed this. Either because I am a genius, or because he was faster than me (you never know), I generally, within limits, let him. Clever me, because this turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.

Oddly, the same week, Miss E's mom mentioned that her occupational therapist recommended the use of stretchy workout bands for physical activities. One of the deals with Miss E is that she does everything at a very high level as long as you hold onto her, sometimes quite closely. As soon as you let go, she goes back to either tot marching or racing around the ice (singing). We found that when you use the bands you can gradually let go and she still feels the right kind of pressure to continue the activity properly (of course, you have to catch her first).

So meanwhile Noisyboy's mom sent me a list of proprioceptive activities from NorthShore University Health. Their handout includes a long list of proprioceptive activities, saying "these activities can be calming, organizing, or alerting to the nervous system. It can calm people when they are aroused, and arouse them when they are calm"


I started trying this out with these kids and what a difference. Stretchy bands. Two pound weights. Jump exercises. Pushing and pulling exercises. Stomping the ice. All of these things anchor these kids back to their bodies, place them in space, and focus them on their surroundings.

I'm still learning how to use these tools with the kids, and their mothers are exhibiting blessed patience as I sort it out. I'm pretty sure Miss E is onto me, because she often just decides not to play anymore, lets go of the tool and off she goes! Noisyboy is still intrigued by the novelty, so I'll need to try to stay one step ahead of him, also to keep him from getting the bright idea of bashing Noisyboy 2 over the head with the weights (good times!). I'm looking forward to an aisle-foraging trip to Sportmart to see what inspires me.

Just as we've come to understand different learning styles (tactile, visual, aural, etc.) kids also have different proprioceptive abilities. Miss E and Noisyboy are outliers; mainstreamed kids with diagnosed difficulties. But there are plenty of kids farther inside the bell curve who can probably benefit from this awareness. Sometimes it's the challenging kids that make you grow.

PACE Day 3 and final thoughts

As I tweeted yesterday, it was a great event, with great participants, great faculty, great town, great presentations. I'm a PACE junkie, this is my fifth time, and I've had some GREAT experiences, so what made this one so special? Some thoughts and highlights:

• It really made a difference to be able to sleep in my own bed every night. Despite the commute and the 5:30 a.m. start, having the familiar surroundings each night was a boon.
Three days, 160 miles round trip commute each day. I know there are people who do that everyday. How can they stand it? In sum it was about the same as driving to the PACE site in Ohio, but somehow, this seemed hard (and I like distance driving).

I rode every day with my friend Molly, as well, so we got to debrief at the end of the day. It was useful as well as fun to share thoughts and impressions. This was such an important part of this PACE that I would recommend PSA try to come up with a way to offer a discount for two people who sign up together.

The faculty just clicked. Now, these were many of the same faculty members that I've encountered before, but somehow the chemistry was just sizzling with this group. Furthermore, they checked their egos at the door, and approached the participants as peers. This is not always the case; I have encountered faculty whose mission seemed to be to prove either that the participants were idiots, or that they themselves were on such a high plain you could never hope to achieve it. None of that noise was at this event. (Except at lunch-- it was uncomfortable that the faculty segregated themselves from the participants. Just leave the building folks, that was a little weird.)

It's easy to find free parking in downtown Milwaukee (in fact, for years we've joked that Milwaukee's tourism motto should be "Milwaukee: It's easy to park!") "Paid" all-day parking will set you back $2 to $5.

Kern Center is beautiful, but man, their ice surface was poorly prepared. I guess hockey skaters aren't as picky as figure skaters.

The three presentations on IJS by choreographer and national technical specialist/controller Scott Brown were worth the price of admission alone. It absolutely stuns me that any competitive coach EVER attempts to choreograph a program without attending Scott's sessions, and he does enough of them that they are pretty easy to get to. If ALL you can get to at a PACE are his presentations, it's worth eating the rest of the cost. I have pages and pages of advice for programs from Juvenile through Senior, and I don't even teach at that level. But it helps me in class, where all those skills start, to know what the judges are looking for.

There were a lot more people doing the Group track this year, and they seemed to be people who weren't just collecting ratings (yes, there are these types), but rather coaches who really believe in Group and aren't just looking for the "easy" rating (it isn't, by the way).

But I think the most important thing that was different this year was my own attitude and expectation. I had a truly terrible experience at PACE last year, so bad that I left halfway through. In fact I decided not to continue seeking ratings because I just didn't need the humiliation (this after actually passing the rating that I took last year). But I came to my senses, decided not to let one bad teacher alter my career, and went in this year feeling like I was at a Master level. This made me act like I was at a Master level, which I like to think came through.

All in all, I'm inspired and excited, and looking forward to continuing the Ratings process through Master Group and, I hope, Registered at Moves, Free Skate and Synchro.

Aug 18, 2010

PACE Day Two

Long day, which started before 5 a.m. since we're driving to Milwaukee each day instead of getting a hotel there. (We being my friend Molly and me.)

The first presentation was a review of the ISU Judging System (IJS) by National Tech Specialist and Olympic choreographer Scott Brown. Scott's presentations are always great-- he's got a lot of personality and isn't afraid to be honest about how judging/calling works. With him was international judge Gale Tranger, also a really dynamic and honest speaker. They had lots of inside info about what's coming up in IJS, behind-the-scenes explanations of why certain rules changes were made (such as "we're tired of ugly spirals") and very clear and specific instructions to coaches about what should be in programs, such as don't have skaters do things that they can't do well. Seems obvious, huh? Apparently, you'd be surprised.

We moved out of the classroom and onto the ice for teaching and testing tips for Freeskate and Moves Pre-Pre through Juvenile. I didn't stay for the Intermediate through Senior levels because I don't teach those levels. Scott did an on-ice presentation about IJS, including tips on how to have your skater warm up at competition to make the judges sit up and take notice.

After a truly terrible lunch (who the heck puts mustard on tuna salad sandwiches. Is this a Milwaukee thing?) we started "mock exams" where the faculty puts each participant in the hot seat and makes them answer test questions at their level as though they are in the ratings exam. It's amazing how nervous you get even though it's really friendly and you're allowed, even encouraged to screw up (so that you can get the correction and not do it wrong when it counts).

The day finished with another draw class, and a discussion/mock test on ethics; PSA is adorably delusional sometimes about how ethical we all are and how well the system works, but it's nice that they're trying.

More mock exams tomorrow. It's been a great event so far.

Aug 17, 2010

PACE Day One

PACE: Professional Accreditation and Certifying Education, affectionately known as Practice Answering Concisely and Efficiently, is a PSA education event held in three different regions of the US every year. Unlike most coaching seminars and workshops, PACE specifically teaches you how to take oral ratings exams, rather than offering up coaching advice or technique (although you get some of that, too). This is my fifth trip to PACE, and so far it's one of the better ones I've been to.

To get rated, or credentialed, by the PSA, a coach goes through a series of exams from the Basic Accreditation (a written test) to Registered (the lowest oral exam) to Master (the highest) in any one (or more) of a dozen disciplines. I'm working toward my Master Group rating (currently hold Senior, the third of the four levels). Eventually I'd like to have the Master Group, plus a Registered Free Skate and Certified Moves in the Field.

The first time I came to PACE I did not get the whole "teaching the test" thing. I went looking for coaching tips. You get these at PACE, but that's not what it's for. PACE is where you practice answering coaching questions in front of the people who are going to be your ratings examiners. It's not the place to show off, to get creative, to hide in corners or to pretend you know more than you do. Show your strengths and your weaknesses, let the chips fall where they may, and learn confidence in a pressure situation like an oral exam.

The second time I went to PACE I met two of my group coaching mentors, Jan Tremer and Angie Riviello. It was their encouragement that helped me get over my self-doubt about whether I should even be a skating coach, and their guidance that helped me earn the Senior level rating.

And it really is all about the faculty at PACE. Last year I left early the second day, because the faculty's agenda seemed to be to belittle the students. It was so counterproductive that I actually decided to give up on the ratings, because I just couldn't imagine putting myself through the humiliation I experienced at the event.

Fortunately, I decided not to let the turkeys get me down, because this year the faculty is outstanding. Angie's there, and national dance coach Sandy Lamb, as well as national coach Tracy Poletis, PSA executive Carol Rossignol, and Olympic choreographer Scott Brown. The event was organized by another coaching mentor, Craig Bodoh.

I've attended sessions on Choreography (scary and hard!); a "draw" class, where you put pen to paper and literally draw the imprint of each Moves pattern, jump, and spin (I'm really good at this); two Group sessions (where I naturally completely and idiotically blew the first question I was asked!); and both a Certified and a Registered Moves session. I asked to be allowed just to audit the Certified one, which Sandy kindly acquiesced, but I went ahead and participated in the Registered, where I accounted myself just fine. I should remember that I actually do know how to do this and not to sell myself short.

Which is why you go to PACE. To learn confidence in your knowledge and the ability to share it, verbally, as well as you share it every day with your students on the ice.

I'll try to write up tomorrow's sessions as well but it's a 10 hour day with a 1 1/2 hour drive at either end, starting before 6 a.m., so we'll see.

Coaches-- have you been to PACE or other PSA seminars? Let us know your experience.

Aug 16, 2010

PSA Education, the editorial

The biggest benefit of the Professional Skaters Association is also the thing that you'll hear coaches complaining about the most-- the continuing education requirement.

If you have a "rating" (i.e. a coaches' certification in a range of disciplines, acquired through both written and oral exams), you must garner a certain number of credits over any given 3-year period. These credits can be obtained by attending numerous local, regional and national seminars, conferences and meetings, sponsored by USFS, ISI, and PSA.

If you take students through either testing or to USFS sanctioned competitions, you must also take the on-line CER (Continuing Education Requirement) exams annually or you cannot get credentialed to stand with your student, or to list yourself as the coach of record.

It's time consuming and expensive. For extremely experienced coaches it can seem redundant. But I for one consider it extremely important.

I like to joke that I'm Exhibit A in "anyone can coach." When I started coaching I had zero teaching experience, was barely a Freestyle 1 level skater, and had never taken a USFS test or been in a competition. I asked if I could help with tot classes as a volunteer, and to my shock was simply assigned several tot and the beginning adult class to teach, on my own.

No training. No experience. No insurance.

No clue. It was scandalous, really. I kind of just don't even know what they were thinking. Fortunately I'm an ethical person and started going to every coaching seminar I could find.

In the absence of college programs that treat figure skating coaching like the serious profession that it is, (I don't know of even one. The way you start coaching is your coach gives you her run-off. I'm not kidding.), it's good that USFS and PSA have stepped in and made these requirements. I personally think that 100% coach's membership in PSA should be a requirement for a rink to be certified by whoever does that.

There can be problems with PSA education. They can be dogmatic. It's a small, closed world, and, again in the absence of other programs, they are the only game in town. Individuals within the ranks can be suspicious of people like me with non-traditional paths into the profession. As I said, on top of the nearly $500 annually in fees, memberships, insurance and online testing, it's expensive.

But I've also met wonderful coaching mentors and learned how to be both a better coach and a better person.

This week I'll be attending PACE Wisconsin, an annual 3-day seminar where they literally teach you how to take the ratings exams. Unfortunately, the new website does not have a description of PACE anymore, just a commerce link to sign up for it (um, guys, you want to fix that?) so I won't provide a link. I'm going to try to tweet from the seminar, and blog it each evening, although I'm driving back and forth Chicago to Milwaukee every day, so we'll see.


Mindfulness is a concept in Buddhism and psychology that exhorts a person to be aware and accepting of the present moment. Aldous Huxley used the concept in his novel Island, where even the birds were trained to say say "Here and Now Here and Now" to remind the denizens of his utopian community to be fully "present."

I use a form of mindfulness when I teach--I ask the skaters to feel the blade slipping across the ice, to understand what their arms and feet are doing through conscious thought, and not to get into what I call "The Zone," a kind of skater's highway hypnosis where you zone out just moving around the ice. I want them to think about what they're doing. I laugh at myself about this--teaching 6-year-olds mindfulness.

My cognitively disabled student Miss E is brilliant at mindfulness. Yesterday I watched her seek out ice that was bumpy; she liked the feel of her skates skittering over the slippery bumpy ice. She's recently been fascinated with the feeling of cold on her hands-- all ways of getting her in the moment.

Parents need mindfulness even more. If you're sitting in the stands, don't focus on the skater. Focus on yourself--are you comfortable? bored? anxious? annoyed? Be aware of how the moment is making you feel. In mindfulness, the focus is first on you and your presence in the world, and then on the things around you. You'll find yourself less prone to gossip, less likely to get competitive on your childs' behalf, less annoyed at Perfect Mom with the recent manicure and the pink iPhone.

A skater uses mindfulness to focus in on technique rather than outcome-- to think of where the shoulders are, and how the blades leave the ice and how to create a torque rather than just trying to jump. When they're not aware I tell them they're in The Zone, not a good place to be on the ice, because The Zone is either the mindless repetition of non-directed movement (also known as skating around in circles) or the noisy brain phenomenon of worrying too much about the landing before you've even started the take off. You want to stay in the moment, make it long, and understand what you're doing every foot of the way.

So here's a challenge--watch out this week for moments when you get in The Zone and either forget what you're doing, or let your noisy brain lead you somewhere you don't want to go. Then try to stay mindful for the rest of the session, and let us know how it goes!

Aug 11, 2010

What's my job?

One of the biggest headaches in a skating matrix (i.e. the whole panoply of relationships that go into making a skater), is when someone oversteps their role. This happens when club presidents try to alter established practice ice rules on the fly, or when monitors pick on individual coaches or kids; when skating directors don't know what's going on in classes, or when parents complain too far up the line (like to the mayor instead of to the coach. Not kidding.).

So, what does everyone do? Here's the whole heirarchy, from the politicians down to the skater's little brother:

City Council member
What they have to do with skating: Trying to get zoning changed or parking added? This is the person to talk to.
What they have to do with your skater: Nothing. City Council has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR SKATER. No one should ever call City Council EVER about an individual skater.

Head of the recreation division, or president of the private management company that runs your rink.
What they have to do with skating: See above, under City Council.
What they have to do with your skater: nothing, unless he is your brother in law. Then you can invite him to ice shows.

Facilities Manager
What they have to do with skating: If the facilities manager is the one who is directly in charge of scheduling or selling ice, or you are on a parks board and have macro issues to discuss, it is appropriate to directly approach the FM. Otherwise, keep moving down the line.
What they have to do with your skater: The only time you should be bringing the FM in on an issue is when children are physically at risk and the Skating Director is not dealing with it.

Skating Director
What they have to do with skating: If it doesn't actually stop, the buck (puck?) should really stall out here. A problem that can't be solved by the SD is either too big for just you, or you are not accepting reasonable compromises that have been proposed. Most problems that can't be solved by the time you get to the SD have been blown out of proportion by you.
What they have to do with your skater: This is as high as most personal skating issues need to go, and then only if the Club President, coaches, and/or ice monitors are not satisfactorily dealing with an issue. (And by "dealing with" I don't mean "doing it my way or else." I mean addressing it in the best interests of the children.) It is, however, appropriate and even necessary for the SD to be at least cursorily aware of every regular practice ice skater in the program, and their coaches. They should be actively knowledgeable about the top competitive skaters.

Club President
What they have to do with skating: club issues only. They have nothing to do with classes, parking, facilities, non-member coaches, non-member skaters, non-member parents, non-club ice.
What they have to do with your skater: nothing unless the skater is a member of that club. If you believe that your skater is being persecuted in violation of USFS rules, contact USFS (not City Council, for instance).

Ice Monitor
What they have to do with skating: They enforce practice ice rules. Period.
What they have to do with your skater: They get to make your skater and your coach follow the rules. Don't argue with them or make a scene in the middle of practice ice, please. They are volunteers, even when they are also petty dictators. And frankly, ice monitors need to be petty dictators, because the ego on an ice surface could sink the Nimitz.

What they have to do with skating: following USFS and ISU rules for judging.
What they have to do with your skater: Nothing. Period. Leave them alone. (Okay, I'll let you complain about them behind their backs, since I know I can't stop you.)

Wow. Really? Just now got to coaches way down the line? Here's why--
What they have to do with skating: not that much really.
What they have to do with your skater: Everything on ice. They're in charge of the skating. The training schedule, the competition schedule, competition costume design, the music. They only thing they're really not in charge of is your budget, unless you cede this to them.

What they have to do with skating: even less than the coaches
What they have to do with your skater: Everything off ice. School, happiness, food, love, and keeping the lines of communications open with the coach, so he/she can keep the lines of communication open with everyone above him.

What they have to do with skating: nothing
What they have to do with your skater: do the job to the best of their ability, as long as it is fun, rewarding and affordable. Feel the wind in your hair, and learn to fly.

Skater's little brother
What they have to do with skating: Nothing, poor kid. Stock up on books for them to read at the rink.
What they have to do with your skater: Whining, vis: "We have to go to the rink AGAaaaaaaiiin? That's so boooooring. Why do we always do what SHE wants to do?

Aug 2, 2010

Learning styles- the movers

People have different learning styles, and it's one of the challenges of teaching, #1 to identify that style for each skater, and #2 to incorporate each skaters's learning style into a group class, where you might have 4 visual learners, 2 aural learners, a couple of process learners, 1 of the visual learners only works if they also get challenges or competitions, plus there's a tactile learner and 3 kinesthetic ones.

Their are four types of kinesthetic learners-- the tactile ones, where you have to actually place their bodies in the position; the process ones, who have to do in order to learn; the spatial ones, who have to understand their relationship to the space around them; and the "connectors" whom you must be touching or they can't hear you (not being facetious). This last type aren't always kinesthetic in their actual information processing, but because of the physicality involved in teaching them they tend to fall into this group.

Tactile learners are the most challenging for sports coaches, because of the very skittish (and litigious) environment in which we teach. One of the first things experienced teachers will tell you is "never touch a child." Careers get ruined because other adults misinterpret physical interaction between teacher and kid. Better to keep your hands to yourself. (I have a "no hug" rule, which just kills me, because I love these kids to death.)

Of course, in a sports environment this is next to impossible, especially for the kinesthetic learners. Therefore, if I have to touch a child, I will always go to the parent after class to explain what was going on.

Here's some teaching methods for these kids that you may have observed:

Tactile learners
These skaters need their limbs held in position. Very young children almost always learn well this way; for instance when teaching scooter pushes (one foot pushes the other along), kids will generally favor one side and have a lot of difficulty switching sides. If you physically hold down a child's foot and make them push with the other (yes, while they're moving--it's hard on the back!), they will start to understand the feeling of balance and propulsion on the "hard" side. With these kids instead of saying "point your toe" you do it for them. You stand them at the wall in a spiral position and physically left the leg to the proper height. You adjust their arms for crossovers, turns, and stroking, and so on.

If you must touch a child, you find the least "fraught" body part-- the hands, the feet, the head (i.e. the extremities). I have only one child, a disabled girl, whose mother has basically given me carte blanche because you have get right in there with her.

But there are other ways to help these kids that involve no touching at all. Tools work extremely well--exercise stretch ropes, hula hoops, beany babies (you'd be amazed at the skating skills you can teach with beany babies), their own gloves. You can have the kids themselves partner up and place each other in positions (if you luck out and get a tactile with a visual, they both benefit hugely).

I recently had a mother casually mention to me that her son likes "heavy load" exercises, so I started incorporating races that end with a thump against the boards, or we do two foot jumps, with noisy (therefore hard) landings. These exercises focus him for a good chunk of time after they are done-- amazing. It's this sort of thing you need to be on the look out for. I'll now incorporate these sorts of things in every group lesson too, in case there are "heavy load" kids among them.

Process learners and spatial learners
Kinesthetic process learners need to do (you find process learners among all the types--the aurals will repeat instructions out loud, the visuals will need to draw them). You can't stand them around while you explain things to the aurals, or draw pictures or do demos. Spatial learners fall into this group because they also must move-- they feel themselves in space and in relation to other skaters, and again, can't process technique that they aren't actively engaged in.

The best way to help these kids is to give the class one thing at a time to do or improve, so that explanations stay short. For instance, if you're working on stroking, tell the class "no toe pushes" (and exactly what that means) or to focus on proper arm or head. Then keep adding corrections. The point is to make sure they're moving and attempting the proper technique. They'll get it eventually just by doing it over and over. But they'll never get it standing around and listening, no matter how brilliant your explanation.

Games, choreography, "add on" and solo demos (where they are the demonstrators) also help these kids learn.

Not all connectors are necessarily kinesthetic learners-- they may not learn by touch, but touch is how they relate and communicate. These skaters don't need to have their limbs placed just so, but they need a hand on the shoulder in order to understand where the information is coming from. You'll often see me in class with a "helper" standing in front of me or next to me, with my hand on his or her shoulder; this is because without that physical contact, these kids don't know how to listen. You can spot them easily, because they are unable to have a conversation with a friend or classmate without touching the friend; sometimes the friend does not like to be touched. Ice is slippery. Hilarity ensues.

Kinesthetic adults are very problematic in figure skating. First, adults, if they ever knew, have often lost touch with their learning styles. Most adults in skating class want you to talk them to death, even if they aren't really absorbing the information. Further, adults are big, so handling them is trickier from a safety viewpoint, and they're skittish, so that touching them can set off unintended and undesirable consequences, which just makes them more skittish. Adults will also tend to grab you and hang on for dear life, when all you're trying to do is put their arm in the proper position.

Read about other learning styles by finding the "learningstyles" tag in the cloud.

What's your or your child's learning style and how has your coach or group teacher used it?