Jan 16, 2011

The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Skating Coach

Some of you may know that I'm also an avid gardener and "real food" proponent. I read a lot about sustainability issues. Right now I'm reading Joe Salatin's The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer.

Joe's point is that he does things contrary to conventional wisdom, but that he believes so strongly in what he's doing that he also goes against the conventional wisdom that bigger is better, richer is more successful, and growth is always a good thing and is the only metric for business success.

Lately, I've been feeling the pain. I think I'm a wonderful teacher. And yet I never seem to get the private students. It makes me feel awful-- I'll talk to some mom after class and the conversation inevitably ends, "My child just loves you, thank you so much for taking so much personal interest in her. So what we're going to do is hire Other Coach." I haven't had a raise in 11 years. My boss gave me a "6" (out of 10) in skating knowledge because I never skated as a kid. (So I guess the PSA, which gave me a Senior Rating, doesn't know what they're doing, either.)

And I started to think, y'know, screw this. Why am I breaking my heart over this. I'm going to be like the coaches who only ever talk to their own kids in class. I'm going to lie to parents about how fabulously talented their darlings are and how group class is bullshit. I'm going to skim off the best and the brightest and be like the coaches who just phone it in during group class, because what's the point of giving so much to these kids and these parents when they just don't get it.

And then I came home and picked up Joe's book, and this farmer, this guy in a profession as different from skating as could be, inspired me to remember exactly why I do this.

Because I am a lunatic skating coach.

I quit a $65,000 a year executive job to work in a profession that pays $12 an hour (group class rate at my rink). No benefits (by which I mean not just no pension or insurance but also no sick pay, no vacation pay, and forced layoffs three times a year).

Why would someone do that?

Well, because I was that skater that everyone ignored and/or made fun of. Because my daughter grew up in a rink where the culture was poisonous and I wanted to change that. Because I remember figuring out that the reason no one wanted to coach my daughter was not because she wasn't talented, but because they had figured out that we had no money. Because I have a coaching philosophy, and it has very little to do with the number, quality, or competitiveness of the students that I attract, and everything to do with how happy the kids in my classes are. Because while Coach Fabulous might have 15 students, I have 140 because every one of the kids in my beginner classes thinks of me as "their coach," like Sarina, a little girl who hugged me in the lobby on Thursday. She looked about 7, and had been my class student when she was 3 or 4. I barely remembered her, but as far as she's concerned I'm her teacher.

This is the passage in Joe's book that brought me out of my self-pitying funk:
"Here's the question: 'What goals are noble enough to justify my life?' That leads to noble and sacred goals...Goals need to be far bigger than sales.If we strive to be good above all else, growth tends to take care of itself. Growth can occur in ways besides gross sales and net profits. We can grow in relationships, knowledge, quality of life, spirituality."
So I'll concede the masses of individual students to Coach Former Champ, and Coach Sweetheart, and Coach Fashionista, and Coach In-Crowd. I don't do this, I've never done this, in order to be famous or to have the most or the best students. I do this because I love teaching group class, because I truly believe that everyone can and should love to skate, and because I know that I can inspire them in that.

And that's the sheer ecstasy of being a lunatic skating coach.


  1. Xan, your post nearly drove me to tears. We need more coaches like you: professional, passionate, and knowledgeable.

    Skating knowledge of group lesson instructors should be rated in the context of actually teaching group lesson students. I wonder how skating directors evaluate it without observing classes and talking to parents.

  2. What a touching post, Xan! It's too easy to forget that there are so many ways for kids to enjoy figure skating - and striving toward the highest level of skating isn't for everyone. I'm so glad you're there giving the love of skating and your expertise to many who wouldn't be able to experience what skating has to offer them otherwise.
    Deb @ RaisingFigureSkaters.com

  3. You aren't here to impress the world. You're here to live in a way that makes you happy.

    Keep on keepin' on.

  4. I know so many coaches who dread the group learn to skate classes (they're often not paid for them, but doing them reduces their ice rent).

    It's such a breath of fresh air to see a coach who genuinely loves teaching groups of beginners and helping them to love being on the ice. I think all the best teachers and coaches have a genuine love of their subject, but more importantly, have a real desire to share their passion with others and make them feel it too.

  5. After reading your post, I did a quick observation at my rink. The coaches that started later on (like yourself) have all the adult private students while the Former Champs have the younger students. Why is this I would have to interview them, but that is my observation. Maybe it is just a matter of like attracting like...the former Champs starte at a young age so they attract students that are like themselves, while adults have more in common with coaches that started as adults. Do you also teach adult groups? If not you may want to .

  6. I love teaching adults. And I've had lots of adult privates as well.

  7. Crazy like a fox I think. The situation sounds like another skating coach I know in the Twin Cities, who has more knowledge in one pinky ... yet she's always overlooked. I think in her case, she came in untraditionally and can't ever make up for that.

    You sound (and write) like a great coach to me and I too, was very moved by this post.

    Remember, this is your second career. Most of the coaches I knew have to hang on, sometimes bitterly, to the only career they have.

    So keep on with the "crazy." Hey, do you have a New Year's resolution to swear too? :-)

  8. Best. New Years. Resolution. Ever.

  9. I chose a coach like you for my skater's first private coach because she actually cares about the individual skaters. In her group lessons, every child came out of the lesson with something as compared to the other, more popular coaches who appeared to be putting in their time in the group lessons they were required to teach. Every rink needs more coaches like you and my child's first coach.

  10. Hey, Ice Charades, can you some how share the name of that coach in the Twin Cities (without breaching the ethics of figure skating)? After a couple of disappointing experiences with coaches, I've been asking at rinks in our area "where are the genuine, down-to-earth coaches who actually care about their students' needs?" I think you may have found her.

  11. Well, think of it all as incentive and grist for the book you are going to write. You are going to write a book, aren't you?