Dec 22, 2010

Understanding your skaters goals

A young coach at my rink is discovering the frustration of seeing potential in a child whose family just isn't that into it.

She had been working with a kid that I'd had the prior session-- this child takes lessons between sessions only. They take from a different coach every time. The parents are utterly clueless about skating and not interested in learning. The just want R to have a lesson a week, every week. When class is in session, they do classes. When it's between sessions, they do privates.

"I could totally have gotten him to PrePre or even PreJuv in like a year!" she lamented. "I don't understand why they stopped taking lessons!"

She's from another region and is trying to transport the skating culture she grew up in--competitive, test-oriented, and club-run--to our more ecumenical culture in Chicago, where lots of kids come in and out of skating, do fill-in lessons between sessions (and then disappear forever) or hop from coach to coach like bees.

So how do you make sure that your goals and knowledge, your child's goals and needs, and the coach's goals and expectations align?

Be clear on everyone's expectations right from the start
For parents, this means you need to tell the coach, right up front "we are taking 3 lessons so that he keeps skating between sessions," "we're looking for someone to get her to nationals," "she's planning to take lessons until [soccer season starts, school ends, she learns skill X]. " If you are not clear on this, there is going to be confusion and resentment when you reach the goal (or worse, don't seem to be aiming for it), which the coach may not share, or even know about. Then it's up to the coach to find a way to retain you if she wants when your goal is done, or changes. I get a lot of students this way-- a family decides to sign the skater up for a couple of lessons, discover they love the one-on-one, and stick around. Other students stick to their guns and drop off, but we part happy, because everyone understood going in what the expectation was.

For coaches, if the parents have not stated a goal, they need to ask. It's a simple question "what do you hope to get out of lessons," that saves lots of grief ahead, helps you structure lessons, and gives you an idea of where each individual family is coming from. This is not to say goals cannot change or be guided by the coach, but when a skater first starts lessons, the skater's goal should lead the process. You know you've gotten a thoughtful and engaged coach when you hear this question.

For skaters, really the parents again if it's a child, they need to know (or ask your child) why they want lessons. Some kids may understand exactly what they need. "All my friends take lessons," "I'm having trouble with Skill X," "It sounds like fun," "I want to compete," "I really like Coach Xan," et cetera. These are all valid reasons and indicate a child who has thought about the issue. See if you can get a conversation going to get the child to formulate a goal (consistent with their maturity, skating skills, and age) and outlook regarding private lessons. Try not to superimpose your own. (At least for now.)

Honor everyone's expectations
Once you've established everyone's reasons, let them percolate a little bit. Don't think "oh, I can get this individual to continue lessons/go for testing/stop taking group classes or whatever. First, the relationship may not "take"; if you start developing a trajectory for it before it gels, you're just going to be disappointed.

The hardest thing for a lot of coaches to understand is that it's not the coach's choice. It is nominally the parents' call, but really comes down to what the skater wants. It's really easy for a skater to commit sabotage when his goals or needs conflict with the parents' or the coach's. I hear so many coaches complaining about kids "not getting it" or parents undermining the skating, etc., when really the coach just didn't honor the skater's needs, goals, and expectations.

Understand, or at least acknowledge, the culture
As I said in the intro, you have to understand a rink's or region's skating culture. My friend came from a region where everyone who takes lessons belongs to a Club and does USFS testing and competition. But in this region, we have a very strong ISI presence (ISI was founded in Chicago), an over-saturation of municipal, as opposed to privately run rinks, and almost no Club influence. You can skate to a very high skill level (as opposed to competitive level) in Chicago without ever joining a USFS Club. They don't run the practice ice, the shows, or the competitions.

In regions like mine, parents and skaters have a lot of options. In all regions, they have a lot of information to absorb. Most coaches grew up skating, so it's like breathing to them, but as you and I know, it's an impenetrable and incomprehensible sorority to newcomers. Give everyone time to get used to each other, do your research, and talk to each other. Coaches shouldn't say "we're going to do X competition" without asking the follow up "do you know anything about competing in figure skating?" If Coach wants you to compete or test, ask what that means. If you hear a word or phrase that makes no sense, then ask for an explanation.

As I've said many times, your skating career will be much much happier and more productive if you set goals, keep communication open, and do your research.

No comments:

Post a Comment