Sep 29, 2010

What do test scores mean?

Both ISI, the recreational federation, and USFS, the competitive federation, have figure skating tests, broken down into progressively more challenging sets of skills. These test levels also generally correspond (but only generally) to competition programs.

However, the scoring on tests is very different than the scoring on competitions. For one thing, while there is a scale, the tests are essentially Pass-Retry. (The kinder, gentler, 21st century way of saying Pass-Fail. Musn't upset the kiddies or their check-writing parents, I guess.) There is a minimum passing score, for skating that meets the test standard. If you exceed the test standard, you can get a higher score; in USFS testing this is the rarer case. Most skaters pass AT the passing score because the passing standard is high and fairly universally agreed upon by nationally trained test judges.

I have heard at least two parents complain to their children that they "barely" passed a USFS test, i.e. got just the passing score. This is wrong. In USFS testing a pass is a pass. The standards are high; everyone passes with an A. Passing over the minimum score is equivalent to an A+. One parent told me she was going to make her daughter retake her test because "I wasn't happy with her score." First, this is not allowed, and second, sorry, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard from a parent, and I've heard a lot of stupid things from parents (and said a lot of stupid things AS a parent).

Unlike USFS, which uses a descending point system (10 point scale, your score is the accumulation of your deductions), ISI uses more of a grade system, 0 through 10. The handbook describes it as follows:

0- didn't attempt
1- attempted, not recognizable
2- attempted, recognizable
3- poor
4- not passable (F)
5- minimum passing grade (D)
6- Fair (C)
7- Good (B)
8- Very good (A)
9- Excellent (A+)
10- Superior, no errors (A++)

So as you can see, in ISI, you pass with a "D" just like in school.

I really don't like to see this however; who wants their kid to pass with a D? I don't think I'm alone in this either. Because ISI makes me pass Ds, I give more 3s and 4s than I might otherwise. I also really disagree that a "5" is a "D." Coaches that I know are looking for better than a D. You can't do only 70% of an axel, after all, which would be a D. I tell my students that you should not move up a level until you have at least one, and better yet two 7s in your scores. Further, I think that a teacher who gives all 5s is not paying attention. There are six skills in each test; I find it difficult to believe that all the skills are going to be equally just 5s. I have also observed that passing with all 5s is a guarantee that you will struggle at the next level. My grading looks more like this:

0- did not attempt
1- attempted, no understanding of skill
2- attemped, cursory understanding of skill
3- completed skill, unacceptable errors
4- completed skill, minimal errors
5- good understanding of skill, passing
6- skill is good enough for competition
7- excellent
8- superior
9- professional
10- perfect

To compete in ISI competitions through Delta you must complete an isolated skills test; to compete in Free Style you must also take a program test (all skills set to music). In USFS you need to do the Moves and Freeskating tests at each level to compete at that level. You can also "skate up" a level at some USFS competitions. You cannot skate up in ISI. You cannot skate down in either system. (Deliberately skating down by not taking a test you are ready for is called "sandbagging" and is considered cheating.) In both systems, your class level has no bearing on your test level. You can take classes both above and below your test level, depending on what your program or your coach requires or tolerates.

USFS tests must be taken in front of judging panels of varying sizes and judge's levels. They do not need to happen only at Club test sessions. Your coach can arrange separate, non-club tests if needed; you just have to pay for the ice. Club test sessions are a convenience, not a requirement. Talk to your coach and club leadership to find out about this. I took my First Figures test on a public session with a single Silver level judge (it was an utter disaster because you really can't skate figures on public, but the point is, you can do this).

ISI tests through FS 6 can be taken at your home rink. It is generally frowned upon to test your own private lesson student, even in class, but is not specfically against the rules. Each rink should have its own rules about testing-- some allow students to move up just from class tests, some set up special ISI test sesssions, some allow class testing to move up in the classes, but require a separate test to qualify for ice show solos. I've worked at 5 different rinks, and seen 5 different test arrangements. Above FS6 you must take the test at special sessions with impartial judges. Coaches are judges in the ISI system, with judging levels of Bronze, Silver, Gold.

Sep 24, 2010

Arguing with the coach

One takes lessons for numerous reasons: to benefit from the advice of an expert, to get an outside hand to push you to more and more advanced abilities, to get an objective opinion about your skill, talent and/or prospects, to force you to skate a certain amount, to prepare for testing, exhibition, or competition.

Private lessons, of course, are expensive, but even classes consume resources--time, effort, money.

So then why would you sign up for this torture just to argue with the coach?

I don't mean the occasional ahem discussion about cost, time, or specific technique. I'm talking about telling a coach that their technique is wrong, or that what they are asking cannot be done for whatever reason. Here are the reasons I have heard, mostly from parents and adult students this week:
  • I already know how to do that (gee, I already know how to read, so I guess I never have to do that again)
  • I refuse to try what you're suggesting because numbleplup, now please tell me why I don't skate better.
  • I'm having enough trouble with A, to even have to listen to a coach ask for B
  • Everyone else told me to do it this way (demonstrates completely bizarre technique that they made up themselves)
  • Isn't that in (name level lower than the one you think you are in, as though you will never have to do those skills again)
  • I AM doing what you told me (not) and anyway it's wrong (and you would know this because of the years and years of figure skating training you've shared with me?) and anyway, no one else does it like that, and anyway if I do that I'll get hurt, and anyway, I can't. sigh.
  • My arm/leg/head/tooth/hair/dog hurts (so stay home! No one cares if you miss a class, it's not going to go on your permanent record)
  • I'm afraid to fall (then take up chess)
  • My other coach said I don't have to do it your way (this will almost never happen plus I kinda don't care)
My point is, if you keep offering a coach excuses as to why you cannot work, listen, or improve, after a while, he or she is just going to say "okay!" Because the fact is, I skate better than you for the most part, and if I don't skate better than you, I know how to help you skate better. And if you won't let me help you, after a while I'm going to stop trying.

Here's the reality- skating is scary and hard. You have to do crazy stuff like jump, and turn at speed, and pick up one foot. You. Are. Going. To. Fall. In 15 years on the ice, I have seen just seven or eight injuries that required a trip to the doctor. I've seen and taught thousands of people to skate. Recreational skating is not any more dangerous than crossing the street. But crossing the street is free, and you don't argue with the traffic cop.

Arguing with a coach over technique is so counterproductive as to be absurd. I have a fun job, but you're making it be kind of a drag.

Sep 20, 2010

Where the movement ends

At a PSA Nationwide Seminar I attended yesterday I was so happy when the presenter gave me the opening for this post. He said, "without good extension, a skater has no power and no control."

I tell my students that extension is the end of any movement. That means that you have to find the end of each movement, and take it all the way to that point, then let it stop there for a moment.

One of the biggest "tells" of an inexperienced skater is that their movements never seem to have a "there." They'll leave a slightly bent knee, or any unpointed toe, a mushy jump set up, or step out of a landing too quickly. You can spot the strong, experienced skaters by their moments of stillness-- watch the end of a cross-over or a stroke. A good skater will wait just a hair before shifting to the next position. They're wringing every bit of power out of each push, each check, each moment at its very end.

Extension is one of the hardest things to teach low level skaters, because it's fussy and confusing. Kids today have zero muscle tone; I'm continuously astonished at the poor mid-body (core) control that children have. They're super smart these days, but they're a bunch of marshmallows when it comes to strength. And extension requires strength-- strong extension is actually a form of weight bearing exercise, focusing on proper muscle contraction (think about it-- your extended knee is caused by the flexing, not the extending, of the quad muscles).

The classic extension moves in skating are stroking, cross overs, and spirals, and every Moves in the Field test features these moves with a major focus on extension. I would like to see, and be able to spend more time on, the concept of extension in Learn To Skate/Basic Skills classes, but the set curricula of these programs neither emphasize nor support using class time for this, and the "move to the next level" mentality of coaches, parents, and management at most rinks cannot support holding someone back at Alpha/Basic 4 because of poor extension. As one cynical coach said to me "means more lessons when they start learning Moves." (Think about this, parents-- if you would stop getting your knickers in a twist over your kid passing Alpha, maybe you'd be saving money down the line in private Moves lessons. Just sayin'.)

You can teach extension from the very youngest children, though. With tots, have them stretch their hands over their heads, then run your hands just out of reach and have them stretch up as high as they can trying to touch you. With beginners, have them do "penguin walking" where the knees are stiff, the heels are together and toes apart-- this teaches them the muscles they need to contract to extend their knees as well as keeping them off their toe picks. You can also play swizzle games for extension-- doing swizzles with knees only bent, and with knees only straight; the widest and/or longest swizzle you can make and still pull back in, holding deep half-swizzle pumps. Holding half swizzle pumps and undercut pumps is also a good way to teach extension in cross overs.

Extension doesn't happen only in the legs, of course. All the extremities need to have that sense of length--arms, legs, neck. I call a nicely extended neck "snotty skater girl" position, and when I say that, every kid automatically does it right. I love using ballet arms to teach extension. Have the skaters do swizzles, with a different ballet position, one through five, for each push. With more advanced skaters try this with stroking, which then adds extension of the leg.

The best place to teach extension, however, is off-ice, where you remove forward movement as a factor. I think with recreational skaters we spend so much time telling them to bend their knees that when we suddenly say, okay now unbend it, it just does not compute.

Extension is what makes skating beautiful. Personally, I think of all the artistic athletic forms-- skating, gymnastics, ballet-- skating has the most aesthetically pleasing tradition of extension. There's none of the hyper-extended sensibility of ballet, and until recently, none of the contortionist excesses of gymnastics.

Extension in skating is simply where the movement ends. Hold that moment; it's lovely.

Sep 18, 2010


I love to quote an old coach of mine (imagine Russian accent): "Most important part of jahmp is JAHMP"

True. But I'd almost now say that most important part of the jump is the landing. You hear more masturbatory commentary at competitions about jump landings than about any single other issue in figure skating. The figure skating world has gotten so obsessed with the so-called "clean landing" that they actually have changed the rules to parse out the turns by quarters, so that good strong jumps get credit, even if the landing is not quite "clean." Essentially, an attempted triple that is a little short will now get credit for the attempt, rather than a harsh downgrade to the double, because the skaters were starting to go for the GOE on the lesser jumps rather than risk the point loss associated with downgrades (think Lysacek and the infamously nonexistent quad).

The parts of a jump are the entry (lift off), the creation of rotation, air position, and landing. Interestingly, one of the first things you teach a beginning free style student is not the entry, but the landing, starting with the touch down and the check-out position. A classic landing touches down toe first on a straight leg, free leg in front and head turned towards the direction of rotation.

That's right-- you land on a straight leg, with your free leg in front. The misnamed "landing position"-- bent skating knee, free leg extended behind-- is actually the checkout. That's the position you hit to stop the rotation as you glide out of the jump. If you don't land correct position, you'll pitch forward, digging your toe pick across the ice, in a spray of snow, kicking out a big divot. Snowy landings are dramatic, but they indicate technical problems. A clean landing is not just full rotation. It's also a light, snow-free touch down with no rotation on the ice.

There are lots of drills to teach that moment, and here's a few:

Backward pumps to backwards outside edge glide: Strong pumps on a circle, then back outside edge glide on a straight leg, free foot in front, pull the leg through to a back extension while bending the skating knee. Arms are in an L (skating arm pointing into the circle, free arm in front) and head turned towards the center of the circle. You should be able to hold this without letting the edge get tighter for at least halfway around a hockey circle. I make my students do this in both directions, no matter which way they rotate.

Moving hops: Once a student has mastered the above, add 5 short hops to the final glide: just up and down from the landing foot, pushing off the toe. Bonus points for staying on the curve.

Stationary hops: Skater stands in a neutral position, arms and head in landing position, then balances on landing foot and does several small hops, first in actual landing pose (free foot in front), and then jumping up in landing position and doing landing-check (extended free foot behind). Again, both these exercises should be done by all students on both feet.

Rotating hops: Otherwise known as back scratch-loop. Student enters a back scratch spin from any entry- inside three or back pivot- and then does a serious of increasingly rotated hops while still rotating- half way, single loop, double loop. Arm position is optional: in checkout position, or pulled in tight.

There are also numerous moving exercises you can do using turns and both two-foot and one-foot jump combinations and sequences to help you feel the sensation of full rotation while moving at speed across the ice.

Sep 16, 2010

Using Features in teaching and practicing

Pre-competition season education has started! You want to be an informed fan, if for no other reason than that you can follow the tweets (and by the way, I'll live tweet every competition I can).

If you're a skater or a coach, one of the ways you can do this is by utilizing components of the IJS (ISU Judging System) in your teaching or practice. And, no, you don't have to be Yuna to be successful at this.

A feature is simply any addition or enhancement to a basic jump, spin, footwork, or spiral position that increases difficulty and uniqueness. Unusual or difficult arm or leg positions in spins, footwork and spirals; additional rotations; the length of time you hold a single position, etc. all are features. Here's some examples of features that you can add, at any level:

Simply spinning in both directions is a feature. In today's competitive world it's a really good idea to be able to spin both directions (ballet dancers have always done this). Start at Basic 5/Beta getting the kids to spin in both directions from a stand still. Add a feature to a one-foot spin by spinning with arms over the head or behind the back. Sit spins? Try "broken leg" (foot to the side) and "pancake" (foot folded under, or to the back). Spin with arms doing a windmill. Any variation you can come up with is fine.

Believe it or not, you can add features to jumps. I'm kind of amazed that we haven't started seeing jumping in both directions yet. ISI high level tests have required this forever, so I'm not sure why USFS is so slow to pick this up. At the very least, every skater should be able to do all of the half-jumps in both directions (waltz jump, half flip/stag, half toe-walley, scissor or mazurka, half lutz, split, falling leaf, Russian split; what else am I missing?) Then there are alternative arms-- for very secure skaters, (VERY secure) try jumping with arms behind. Then there's the "Tano" jumps-- one arm over the head, and the "Rippon" jumps-- both arms over the head.

Edge changes (without an additional push), then variations on the 3 basic spiral positions (belly button facing the ice, the wall, or the cieling)-- waving or windmill arms, grabbing the knee or the blade, "haircutters" (blade pulled to the back of the head). Plus the Sasha spiral, leg pulled up in front, although the judges are discouraging this (get an image of this position coming straight at you on a forward glide and you'll understand why. The position has a very crude alternative name.) For low level skaters do catch foot with an upright back rather than a true spiral position, or moving between spiral, lunge and shoot the duck in various orders.

This is the hardest thing to add features to at high level competition, because the requirement for footwork is so complex in and of itself. But you can use this for intermediate skaters, simply to get them used to the concept of "features." Have them do all the basic turns (through counters) with different arm positions, or have them jump the turns (in a jumped turn the edge and/or foot change occurs in the air, so these are essentially half-jumps). With twizzles (moving spins) no so important, and part of the Moves in the Field tests, you can easily add features-- alternate arm and foot positions, or catch foot. You can also do two-foot "twizzles" (not really twizzles but again, it starts to familiarize even beginning skaters with the terms).

In other words, get yourself and your students ready to understand what you're seeing by doing it/teaching it yourself. How fun would it be to be watching skating with an 8-year old PreJuv and have her say "Hey-- I did that thing that YuNa just did!"

What features do you like to practice or teach?

Sep 15, 2010

WHAT is he talking about?

As we move into the competitive season, I'm starting to think about the phrases you hear from the commentators. "Features" "Clean landing" "Extension" "Wrap" "Run of the Blade" When I hear these I know what I'm looking for, because I'm a figure skating expert. But what about the non-skater casual fan?

When I watch hockey or football, I find the comments make me more, not less confused. It took me quite literally years to figure out what a "hat trick" is, and I'm still not entirely convinced I've got it right. I'm so confused by football terminology that I can't even come up with an example of a phrase that confuses me. So here's a little lexicon, and this week I'll add short posts on how to apply these to your own skating or teaching as well.


Features are extra difficulty added to specific skills. Every skill has them, but you most commonly hear about them in spins because it's probably been the most obvious change in what figure skating looks like now. A feature is any variation to the basic position or rotation. So if you're doing an upright spin and wave your arms (creating a helicoptor effect), that's a feature. A different foot position is a feature, as is changing the spinning edge. (Different from a position change-- that's a thing in itself. There are four basic positions-- upright, sit, camel and layback. Features occur within each basic position.) A classic "forward" spin is actually on a back inside edge, but you can do any spin on any edge, and changing from one edge to another without losing speed or center is difficult, and gains points. All those "haircutter" contortionist postitions are a feature. You can only use any given feature once per program, which is why you get these awful can't-keep-my-eye-on-what's-happening flailing spins. I was happy to learn that there is a new feature this year-- 8 rotations in one position-- and you can use it as often as you want throughout the program. So we'll be seeing longer spins this year. And because extra rotations take time up in the program, you're also going to see some warp-speed rotating. Nice.

Clean landing
This is probably the most commonly used, and abused, phrase in figure skating commentary. It has come to mean a landing that is fully rotated, but originally it meant just what it sound like-- a landing that didn't kick up any snow or spray, i.e. "clean". Perforce, an underrotated landing won't be clean in this classic sense. The underrotation itself scrapes and gouges the ice. Other things to watch for that make a clean landing are a straight, upright back position (no pitching forward or twisting) and a held edge. Fussy choreography following a jump is often the coach's "fix" for a jump that the skater can't check (i.e. stop the rotation). Michelle Kwan was a genius at the saved landing. Watch her free leg cross behind her landing leg sometime-- she's having difficulty checking the rotation.

Just what it sounds like-- using the full range of motion of arms, hands, legs, feet, and neck, especially in held positions. The classic extension move is the arabesque or spiral, of course, but the best skaters will demonstrate good extension on everything. That blurry tight back scratch spin is a function of good extension, with all extremities pulled in and as tight as they can go. Watch for better expression in this as well this year. The ISU Judging System has changed the spiral sequence to encourage long full extension rather than a series of fussy features. As one judge said to me "we got tired of ugly spirals." Spirals will now be 6 to 8 seconds in a single position (with edge changes) or two positions of 3-4 seconds each. Hallelujah.

A wrap is actually an error. While not specifically wrong, it affects rotation and ruins the beauty of the air position. Watch for a very high free leg with the knee sticking out during the jump's air time. It's very difficult both to spin fast and to land cleanly when you "wrap" during a jump.

Run of the blade
This skill comes to the fore in the men's Moves in the Field skills, the women's spirals, and in footwork. It means smooth, snowless glide. Watch for skaters whose glides don't stutter or wobble, have no loss of speed, and for footwork sequences with clear, obvious, snow-free curves and turns. Since I picked on Michelle Kwan for her questionable landings, I'll pull her out here as the queen of the glide. No one demonstrates this ability better. It's created through the skaters' understanding of which part of the blade to put in contact with the ice. Since a blade is a rocker, i.e. curved on the bottom, you can press the back, middle, or front of the blade, plus either the inside or outside edge, to create different turns, to aid acceleration, and to emphasize flow.

Underrotated, formerly known as "cheated"
Jumps are scored based on the difficulty of the entry, and the number of rotations in the air.  An underrotated jump is more than 1/4 of a turn short of full rotation, and almost always has to be reviewed by the live video in the judges' station. It is the main cause of delays in announcing the scores, as the judges review selected jumps.

What commentator's phrase has confused you?

Sep 9, 2010

What if the coach leaves you?

It happens-- people have babies, or go back to school, or get a new job, or just decide that coaching isn't for them. So what do you do when it's not you quitting your coach, but your coach quitting you?

I'm not talking about those rare instances where the coach "fires" a skater-- if things are bad enough that the coach can't stand you anymore, you're probably ready for a change. But coaches have lives that sometimes interfere with existing relationships; recently at our rink a very beloved coach got transferred by her day job to another city. She was gone in the space of about 2 weeks. It's wrenching. Here's how to make this easier on everyone:

Don't feed the gossip mill
Let the coach make the announcement on his or her schedule. If she lets her students know she's leaving, but asks them not to share that information, don't. Especially don't have Facebook or other online social media discussions about it, because these have a way of going rogue, even when you think only certain people can see them. I find out the most amazing proprietary things on Facebook because parents especially don't really understand just how public a forum that is.

Don't complain about it
Especially to your skater. The child here is already going to feel a little abandoned. Kids are very self-centered, and can take this kind of change quite hard. Your coach has very good reasons for living his life on his terms and not yours. Usually students/parents are good about supporting a coach's life changing decisions, but every now and then you'll hear someone trashing the coach's decision, which is fairly inexplicable because, frankly my dear, he doesn't give a damn. Be supportive. Keep it in perspective.

Getting a new coach
Most coaches will either help you find a new coach, or will actually turn their students over to someone, often without really consulting the students or the parents. This is both good and bad. Coaches know each others' teaching styles, and each others' students, and will be able to suggest a good fit. But sometimes, they just want to pass their kids on to their friends, or prevent some "rival" coach from getting "their" students. So a suggested coaching change is just that-- a suggestion. You can actually audition coaches, and it's a great time to take this opportunity-- you are suddenly without a coach so there are zero ethical problems or feelings to be hurt if you take a few weeks to do a couple of lessons with a variety of coaches. This is a dream situation. Just make clear to everyone--each coach, old coach, all the parents, and all the kids-- that none of these are permanent coaching situations. It's one time when the gossip mill can work for you.

Keep in touch
Most of the time (not always), your old coach will want to hear, at least for a couple of months, how the student is doing. Send her or him emails, and let them know about ice shows and other performances. Let them know when the kid lands her axel, or other milestones. After a few weeks, you can let this go, or keep it up, whatever seems appropriate. I keep in touch with all of my former students, on a very casual basis, but not everyone is comfortable with this. I personally do not feel it is appropriate for adults to be Facebook friends with minors, (even when they are closely related because that gives you too much access to their friends' private conversations), but especially not with students. Keep those lives separate. However, it might be nice to "friend" their parents. Again, whatever seems appropriate.

Use common sense
In fact, of course, this should guide everything you do.

Sep 3, 2010

So you want to be a figure skating coach!

Unlike most youth sports, American figure skating seems to discourage volunteer parent coaches, even when there are parents who were former high test figure skaters or collegiate hockey players. Conversely, there is no national certification standard-- it will vary from rink to rink and club to club, and no requirement that coaches have any sort of certification. Pretty much if you can demonstrate an ability to not go splat, and you can get someone to hire you, that's all it takes.

There is a certification path, which I've spoken about, the Professional Skaters Association ratings, which is a series of four oral exams in a broad range of skating disciplines, for instance Group Instruction, Free Skating, Moves in the Field, Synchro, and Ice Dance. However, coaches who do not participate in USFS sanctioned events are not required even to be members of the PSA, and there is no level of coaching that requires a rating. There are a few rinks that require all coaches to be members of PSA (the PSA calls this "Exellence on Ice" and the moniker is awarded to rinks where all coaches are members).

There is no college program that I have been able to find that offers a degree in figure skating coaching. You could probably do a PE or Rec degree with an independent study, but you'd have to make up your own course work; since figure skating is not an NCAA sport (can we change that please?) there is also no college course work or scholarship program.

So becoming a coach is both easy (no required course work or continuing education) and hard (no guides or rules).

So how DO you become a coach?

First, start with group classes, and by that I mean the beginners. Don't walk into a rink demanding only to teach the high level skaters because you're too good for the beginners. The old pros will roll their eyes and put you down so fast your head will spin (independently of the rest of your body).

Second, coaching is a profession. Join the professional associations-- USFS, ISI, and PSA. (see the side bar for links) By the way, to be a full member of the PSA you have to actually be a professional-- you need to be paid for teaching. However, there are intern and associate levels as well.

Second, acknowledge that teaching requires more than the ability to land a solid double flip. There are plenty of coaches with solid doubles at my rink. But everybody comes to me (highest jump-- toe loop) when there are eight screaming three-year-olds to deal with, or an Alpha class with 27 kids in it. To learn how to work with groups, start attending USFS Basic Skills Seminars and ISI District Seminars in your area. Put your attendance at these on your resume.

Other than that, it depends on where you are in your training:

If you're a young skater with an ISI 6+ or USFS Intermediate test:
You qualify to teach in just about any club or skating school I've ever heard of, where they do have minimum requirements (minimum requirements are fairly rare). Start talking to area skating directors about either getting hired as one of the assistant coaches, or find a junior coaching program in your area. If you're college age, same thing at your school's or the local rink. See if your old skating director will let you teach in a summer program during the break, or talk to local summer camps to see if they have skating field trips, and offer your services as the teacher. In other words, start building a resume.

Young coaches should also consider finding a mentor-- your own coach, or another older coach who's into group classes-- and look into the PSA Apprenticeship program, with an eye toward ratings. I think it's a great idea to make it a goal to have at least a Registered (the lowest) rating in at least one discipline by the time you graduate from college. Or maybe do one rating each summer, so by the time you graduate you might have a Master (highest) rating, or a couple of Certified, or four Registered. I know if I was a skating director and some 22-year old came to me with an Intermediate Free Style test and Registered ratings in Synchro, Dance, Group, and Free Skating (for instance), I'd hire them on the spot.

If you're a former high-test or competitive skater trying to get back into teaching:
Put together a resume, and see above. If you're still in the area where you grew up, your former skating mates are the current coaches and even skating directors. See who's working where and see if you can get hired by an old friend, or a friend of a friend.

If you're an adult skater, with your adult gold test, or competing at a Gold or Master level:
See above. You fall into the same category as the other high test skaters trying to teach. Be prepared for a certain amount of, shall we say scepticism from the other coaches. There is a lot of contempt for adult skaters out there. I always find it amusing when fellow coaches start disparaging adult skaters, because they've forgotten that I'm one myself.

If you're an adult skater who hasn't tested, or is still in the Basic Skills or Learn to Skate classes:
You need to get your skating skills up to at least a Freestyle 3/FreeSkate 3-4 level. You really should be able to do at least a salchow and a toe loop at a minimum. If you think that's where you'll top out (like I did), work on higher jumps off-ice. I learned how to do an axel off-ice; I never put it on the ice, not being completely insane, but I can do the multiple rotation. At the same time, offer to be a volunteer for the tot and beginner classes, and for the low level groups in the ice show. You'll start learning how to be comfortable standing on the ice (standing around waiting for beginners to get all the way across is a skill in itself; you'd be surprised how hard it is), and you'll get to observe the experienced teachers in action.

If you're going to get hired, it will most likely be at the rink where you're volunteering. But not necessarily. In an urban area where there are lots of rinks and lots of high level skaters it's going to be harder than in more remote areas. I was very lucky to have encountered a skating director with a lot of guts and imagination when I started this journey; without her I don't think I'd be doing this right now.

I love to skate. I love the wind in my hair and the exhilaration of having command over my body to do something difficult. But teaching takes it to another whole level of joy. It allows you to continue your love affair with ice after your body decides it's not so crazy about being exhilarated any more.

Landing an axel is great. But putting a smile on a child's face is even greater.

Sep 1, 2010

Those who can't

Everyone is familiar with the old saying "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." But it assumes that teaching is a fall back, and not a skill. Maybe this saying should be turned on its head:

Those who can, teach. Those who can't teach rely on their unrelated resumes and teach anyway.

I bring this up because I've had several skaters come to me in the past week to find out if I'll be teaching on a certain class, and then telling me that if the other regular teacher is the only one on it, a highly decorated former competitor, they won't take the class, because this person makes the class unrewarding and unpleasant. The class used to have 10 regulars in it, and this year it's going to be empty, unless that coach manages to find some new victims.

Think about this when looking for a coach for yourself or your skater. Your coach's skill at coaching has little to no bearing on his or her resume as a competitive skater. The thing to look for in a coach is connection with students, and the students' competitive and/or testing success. If you're looking for bragging rights, by all means hire that former U.S. Champion, or world competitor. But if you're looking for improving as a skater, hire the one whose skaters improve.