Dec 15, 2010

My coach is great, your coach is an idiot, if not a criminal

Everyone loves their coach. (Well, until they don't) You invest a lot in a coach-financially, emotionally, temporally. And mostly, your coach probably is great. But how do you really know? Sometimes coaches do treat clients like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and feed them shit). Sometimes the coach has specific goals that he or she wants you to follow, with or without your consent or knowledge. Sometimes the coach discourages interaction with any other parents or coaches, so that you don't get conflicting information, or find out how other skaters operate.

So how do you know what is true, what is self-serving, and what is pure crap?

Don't get all your information from one place
Any blanket statement should be taken with a grain of salt. "Synchro is for kids who can't skate." "ISI is for skaters who aren't serious." "That competition has bad judges." Find sources other than your coach for skating information-- the blogs, the federation websites (ISI, USFS, PSA, all linked in my sidebar), the skate shop, the skating director, other parents (especially ones who work with a different coach, or whose skater has different goals than your own). There is no excuse for accepting anyone's word (including mine) without ascertaining the facts.

Don't isolate yourself at the rink
Talk to other parents. Have your child take class with different coaches. Do the ice show. Twice. (Many parents have the experience of an ice show that does not meet their expectations, so they bail after the first one. They don't consider that perhaps their expectations were not in line with reality, or that one seldom gets anything "right" the first time.) Check out the Synchro team, or hockey, for that matter.

Don't be afraid to ask questions
This is hard-- figure skating coaches and skating directors HATE to be asked questions. We take it as a challenge to our god-given authority. But remember to frame your questions neutrally- "how long does it take to learn mohawks" not "why aren't you teaching Suzy mohawks!" And save your questions for an appropriate moment. Inappropriate moments can include: during class, in the middle of the ice show, on the coach's private home number at 11 p.m., or when you encounter the coach at the grocery store. Send the coach an email (go to the library and find the PSA membership directory. Nearly every coach in America is listed in this book, and their email addresses are in it. See if they have a Facebook fan page, or if they publish their email on their Facebook public profile. ) Grab a coach before or after class, or call the skating director and ask when you can come in and chat. (Caveat- Do NOT go to the press or your alderman. Seriously.)

Challenge the answers
If an answer or instruction sounds fishy, ask for a justification. Find out other families who have been faced with the question, answer, or situation and find out what they did. Make sure you talk to people with different coaches. Again, skating coaches hate this. As a coach, I now understand why (it's hard to compress my decades of experience into a short enough answer to make sense to neophyte parents), but as a former skating mom, I really wish I had asked more questions and challenged more answers and assumptions. Other coaches may refuse to answer, or may (should) mention to your coach that you were asking questions. They are constrained from interfering with a coaching relationship, so that discussing someone else's student is a bit fraught. You, however, are under no such constraint and can talk to anyone you want to about your child.

Be a generalist
Try out the ice show. Go to a couple of different coaches about privates. Even TRY a couple of different coaches before you commit to one. (Make sure both/all coaches know you're "auditioning" them.) Put your kid in hockey skates, or speed skates, just to try it out. Go to public ice, at a couple of different rinks. Try out an ISI session, and then try out a Basic Skills session. (And just for the record, I have taught in both curricula, and I favor ISI, which forces the teacher to be creative, and also doesn't drop kids off the map after the axel. There is no class curriculum in USFS for recreational skaters over the FS 5 level. Each rink has to come up with their own. Plus, you can be in an ISI skating school and still do USFS tests and competitions. It's much more complicated to do it the other way around.)

Have fun
"Fun" is not the same thing as "dilettante," "untalented," or "loser." Fun can include serious practice, competitions, morning ice, private lessons as well as sometimes just skating for the sheer joy of it. If your coach starts telling you that your child is not serious enough, or that you are required to commit now to a competitive career, for your 6 year old Freestyle 2 skater, go back up to the first item on my list and start again.

Because if it's not fun, then asking all the questions in the world is not going to make your child want to skate.

What question do you wish you had asked?


  1. I wish I had just flat out asked "Do you want to be my coach?" and "How do you feel about adult skaters?". That would have saved me a lot of time and trouble and some of my self esteem. I'm still looking for a coach, but now I have a whole list of questions so I don't end up in a bad situation again. I never heard "ISI is for skaters who aren't serious." but I did hear "USFS is too hard for you".

  2. Adult skaters have another whole burden to bear. The vast majority of coaches just don't get us.