Oct 27, 2010

We're so glad you're here; we love this place

Wouldn't it be nice if that was the first thing you heard from your peers when you started at a new job or school or, god forbid, skating rink?

Parents and skaters set the tone at a rink. A rink with unhappy participants is a miserable place. No amount of competence from the staff can overcome it. Parents and skaters have not only a stake in the success of any program, but a huge influence on it without ever having a suggestion even listened to, let alone implemented. Your ideas for improvement may or may not be welcome, it depends on the culture of the rink, but your attitude will define the personality of the place.

So what can you do, as a customer, to help your skating school thrive and improve?

Know the program
Be aware of what is offered, not only at your skater's level, but at all the levels. Newbies, whether tot parents or free style skaters, are going to look to you, their peers, for information. Rink staff is busy and sometimes off putting (depending on the rink). You are the rink's first line, and the information and attitude you project can give your rink a reputation, good or ill. When people ask you for information, don't roll your eyes and complain about the program, direct them to sources, tell them what you've liked about it, encourage them to sign up. If you start right in complaining about it, or if you put them off, they'll draw the correct conclusion that you must be an idiot, because if it's so terrible, how come your kid skates here, and that if this is not a friendly/safe/competent place, why stay.

Participate in the program
Take classes. Please take classes. Did I mention you should take classes? Does your coach really hate the idea of your taking classes with someone else? How about power class, at LEAST take power class. And then, well, do the ice show, or the exhibition, or the rink's ISI or Basic Skills competition (by the way, Basic Skills, you did realize that the abbreviation for that is BS? I hate that I can never abbreviate Basic Skills. Also, well, 'nuff said.) Ahem, where was I.

You cannot complain about the program if you don't participate in it. (Corrolary-- once you stop participating you also have to stop complaining.) There is an on going feeling at my rink that certain coaches only pay attention to their own students in free style class. Fine. Fair complaint. But you can also think about the class as just more practice time, because frankly the class is not much more expensive than practice ice and it's way less crowded. (Plus you can go to the coach before class and ask for specific help "Mary's worried about her xx, could you check it out? This works, trust me. It's embarrassing to have it pointed out that you've neglected a child.)

Participate in the extras
Volunteer. I'm not talking about the club. I'm talking about the rink. Offer to help fill out paperwork, or hand out costumes, or help with the costume sale or other fundraiser. Wrangle children at the ice show. Bring cupcakes and share them with everyone on practice ice. (Ignore the little hippie child who tells you "cupcakes aren't healthy." She doesn't have to eat them.) Ask a coach to show you how to tie skates and help out with tot class. You're just sitting around gossiping anyway-- go do something useful.

I can tell you that the parents who complain about the program without either signing up their kids or helping out as volunteers just get eyerolls from the staff. Why should we even listen to you when you make no attempt to be part of the program?

Make new skaters, and their parents, welcome
Say hello to new mothers. Make sure you don't appear to just be mining them for dirt. Acceptable-- I think you're just in time to sign up for the ice show! Do you know about the discount option! It's great. Not acceptable-- what level is she skating? Really? Who's her coach? Really? Oh, now that she's here she should skate with our coach.)

Know the staff
Again with the complaints. Say hello to the office staff and the other coaches when you walk in. Know their names. That's it. You don't have to volunteer, or offer to help, or send Hanukkah gelt to their grandchildren.

Know the Skating Director
Even if you have a skating director who hides in a cave, they do come out to feed every now and then. Know who this is, introduce yourself. Probably she already knows who you are, but it's nice to get eye contact and a hand shake. Once in a while, tell her something that you really like about the program, or let her know of a specific class coach who's really helped your child.

I won't go into the negatives, because you know them. Refrain from harmful gossip (I won't tell you not to gossip, because I know it's pointless. Just watch out for the really poisonous stuff.) Don't trash individual skaters, parents, or coaches. Don't compare this program to other programs. They aren't the same. Don't ever ever trash the program you're in to someone in another program. It just makes you look like an idiot.

If you do one of these things, you are already in a class by yourself. If you do all of them you're an uber-skating parent and we want to clone you.

What have you done to help your program?


  1. Kiddo's been skating for about eight months now, he's still in the Learn to Skate program. We've got our private coach and we flash her name like a membership card at this point. We know the office staff and the rink guards. He's skating in the show. Everything seems fine, except for the other skating parents.

    Why won't they talk to me? The only parents who have spoken to me kindly and at length are (believe it or not) the parents of high level skaters. The moms of kids at Kiddo's level and yet still below Freestyle 5 won't give me the time of day. I feel like an interloper at Practice Ice. I even had an Ice monitor roll her eyes at me. My husband says it's all in my head... but I'm getting the distinct feeling of being shunned.

    I'd give anything to sit down and talk (at length) to someone about what all this stuff is and means. (And I don't mean the soft talk about character building. I need the "You do this to get on Practice Ice. You talk to that person to learn about what competitions are coming up. This is how often and what he should practice." That kind of thing.) His past 2 coaches in L2S never introduced themselves to me at all. No one ever gave me any indication of what skills he's supposed to be learning, except at the mid session review when I got the "needs to improve" list. Competition Packets? What are those? ISI testing? What? Now I can ask Private Coach, but before her I was totally in the dark. I don't know how the other L2S parents do it. (Or how many of them even bother. They don't talk to me.)

    I've made the decision to be very friendly to any new mom like me. Being in the dark and lonely to boot is pretty sucktastic.

  2. I would let Kiddo take the lead-- does he have kids he likes? Encourage him to set up a play date at your house, or to sit and get ice cream after practice some time. Volunteer at the ice show. Pick out some parent who looks kinda nice, and smile at her every time you see her. "Accidentally" buy an extra coffee and offer it to her.

    It's like meeting people anywhere- awkward and scary and uncomfortable. Learn to Skate parents haven't really committed to the program that much yet, so if you're making friends with the freestyle parents, well, who ever said you can only talk to people at your kids' level.

  3. So I ended up chatting with two newbies like me today, and they started asking me how to get involved with competitions. I told them all about ISI, where I got my sewing patterns, a free online music editor, and pointed out some of the coaches I knew. We exchanged email addresses and I invited them to the google calendar I made showing all the ice that a pre-freestyle kid can get on. One of them told me she was relieved to meet another mom of limited means, when I explained a bit about what funds I had available for skating. Between that and Kiddo pulling some solid bunny hops, I felt much better!