Nov 14, 2010


In a skating relationship, it's not always clear who is in charge of what. For one thing, it's a very intimate menage- parent/skater/coach. For another, the skill sets overlap. Third, the goals are fraught- with fear of injury, failure, keeping up with the Joneses, cost, time.

Parents, therefore, often want to know everything about what you're doing. Take it from me-- I wanted to know so much about it that I ended as a coach. They want to know what techniques you're teaching. They want you to justify every minute spent on and off the ice. They want to be able to call you at 10 at night. They want you to have a certain demeanor, except when that interferes with their expectations which may vary from week to week. It's not necessary. Coaches complain a lot about how parents just don't get it, or don't listen, or don't follow what seems like perfectly logical, reasonable advice from the coaches' point of view.

I have a lot of conversations with other coaches that begin "If I'd known as a skating parent what I know now..." But how much should we really rely on what parents know, or even more, understand, about skating culture?

I'm not talking about technique. As far as I'm concerned if a parent knows that an axel is an edge jump they're already in too deep. You really don't need to know anything about technique-- if your skater is passing their tests, they're doing fine. Think about it-- when was the last time you asked the piano teacher what technique they were teaching, or why your child was still doing sarabandes, when the other children are doing concertos. How often do you mime proper bowing technique while your young violinist is practicing? Yet I see parents miming jumps from the stands every day.

Coaches say a lot of things to parents that sound completely insane, forget logical. Unfortunately, some of these things are insane-- there are self-serving, venal, and plain old incompetent people in coaching just like there are in any other profession. So how do you separate the just plain nuts from the nuts but true?

The most important thing for you to know is not either skating culture or technical knowledge, but your own skater's and family's goals, desires, and capabilities. There are benchmarks you can watch for-- when are the jumps solid, is the skater competitive at their level and type of competition (ISI, qualifying, non-qual, test track or whatever), are they "aging out" of the test levels, how are they doing compared to their competitive peers, can you afford the costs. (Their peers are the kids with the same training schedule and goals, NOT just everyone their age. Don't compare your once a week skater to the rink's national champ.)

It starts with trust. You have to trust your coach and the coach has to trust you. If you're part of a team-- synchro, pairs or ice dance-- you have to trust the other families. If you don't trust these people, you are going to spend all your time arguing with them, and demanding explanations and rationalizations instead of getting the job done. If you and the coach are constantly fighting, the skaters are going to start checking out.

The coach needs to be able to trust the parents, too: will she be paid at the negotiated rate, on time? Will the skater be there, ready to work? Will the parent be able to listen to hard truths, or soft ones?

If your coach tells you "this is what needs to happen to meet those goals" you have to take a deep breath, start from the premise that your coach is not one of the venal or incompetent ones, and ask yourself "can we do that." If the coach tells you your goals are unreachable or longer term based on your level of commitment, he's not just trying to get more money out of you. He's trying to make you understand what it will take. If you don't trust that your coach is telling you the truth, the relationship is doomed anyway.

If the parent tells the coach "we can't afford that" (be it time or money), or that a skater doesn't really share the goal, the coach has to accept that.

You can't make excuses for your kids either. I can't tell you how many times I hear a parent tell me "oh, she's only 6," or "oh she's a hormonal teen," or any number of other excuses for poor training, bad attitude, and lack of commitment. You know one kid. Coaches know hundreds. They are likely to have a better idea of what a kid of a given age, skill, and level is capable of than you do. Sure, you know your kid. But you have to trust (there's that word again) that your coach has expertise in the discipline and will help your immature, hormonal, tired, overcommited child be the best skater they can be, in line with the goals you have all set together.

Don't sabotage a relationship with a lack of trust. Because we all have just one goal in mind-- the best interest of the child.


  1. Excellent post! This topic has been in my mind the last week. A mother at our rink is micromanaging her child's skating "career".

    It's really not my concern except that it is hard to watch. This Mom is running herself and her child ragged, at the same time trying to balance siblings, and I worry that she or her child or her family is going to have a breakdown one of these days.

    One major challenge is that Mom has contracted with a specialty coach that is a major "rival" of the primary coach. There is a history there, and I don't think that this Mom knows of the history, but for sure she has not "trusted" her primary coach to make the necessary suggestions, or this would not have happened.

    I just keep saying "ask your coach" when she asks my opinion. I want to scream "Trust your coach" that is what you pay him for. I wish this family the best. I am so afraid that this child will hate skating after this year, and the family will be burnt out.

    When we were changing my son's specialty coach, we wanted to contract with a certain coach, but our primary coach said no (gave us the reason), and we trusted him. The team has to be cohesive, it doesn't work if you don't listen to the Coach. They have the expertise. Trust them!

    "Don't sabotage a relationship with a lack of trust. Because we all have just one goal in mind-- the best interest of the child."

    I think this is such valuable advice and one of the cardinal rules of being an Ice Skater Parent.

    BTW I do theoretically know the difference between the edge jumps and the toe jumps, I think that this increases my ability to talk with my skater, however he is still trying (in vain) to get me to learn how to identify those jumps as they are executed. No problem with me getting to much technical knowledge in that area as I still say "double axel?" and get "no mom, it was a double toe loop..." with the eye roll.

  2. Giving your child the opportunity to execute the eye roll is excellent parenting all around. ;)

  3. haha :) just call me super mom ;)