Feb 27, 2011

I'm so impressed

One of the reasons, of course, that figure skaters become coaches is that they are really good figure skaters (something I have never been, ahem, accused of). I became a writer, after all, because I was really good at it. Sadly, the only thing I ever get to write, aside from these blogs, is grant proposals, but oh well, writing is writing.

When you're really good at something, you want everyone to know it. So I write these blogs. Artists put up shows, figure skaters keep skating. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, blah blah blah.

Let's all do it in its appropriate time and place, hmmm?

For instance, the appropriate place for a very gifted former champion figure skater to show off is on practice ice that is set aside for that level of skating. It is NOT on a Learn-to-skate lesson period on a studio-sized rink crowded with coaches teaching very young children who cannot skate. Coach Fab, your waltz jumps are amazing-big and free and graceful. Not gonna look so graceful, however, if it lands on my 5-year-old student, whom you have not bothered to notice. And let's not even talk about the lawsuit.

There is a coaching approach based on observation: coach executes the move perfectly, student copies. This works brilliantly with gifted students who happen to be visual learners, who are working on ice where there is room for this kind of demonstration. Demo is very important for figure skaters, but you have to be careful 1. to be demonstrating the skill in a way and at a level that a student can absorb (even a gifted, visual one) and 2. that you can do it safely.

The silly thing about these over-the-top demos is that they are completely unnecessary. Everyone in the stands assumes you can do that anyway. I like to be very upfront with my skating background, so that my students and parents aren't helpfully clued in by others. If I kept my mouth shut, everyone would just assume that I was a high level skater, because what kind of crazy person goes into a profession that they aren't good at?

Which is the point. Coaches are not professional figure skaters. They are professional teachers, a very different thing, requiring different skills. As a parent, if I see a coach demonstrating too much, especially demonstrating at a level much higher than my student, I'm going to assume they don't know how to teach and are just trying to impress me. Okay, I'm impressed. Now could you focus on my kid? Coaches who use larger-than-necessary demo in lessons are using it not so much as a teaching tool, but as a public relations tool. "Look at me, parents" they are saying, "I'm a fabulous skater. If your kid skates with me, they'll look like this."

Now, these coaches are looking at this and saying, "oh sour grapes. Xan can't skate her way out of paper bag, she's just an adult skater, and she's jealous." Fair enough. This is why you don't see me demonstrating all that much. If I have a student that really needs a demo, I'll call over one of the junior coaches. But a skater with my approach and limitations is forced to focus on the skater rather than on impressing everyone with my wonderfulness (that's what blogging is for). The most successful coaches at my rink seldom or never use high level demos in lessons.

I'm not talking about all demos. You have to use demonstration in teaching anything; it's a valuable tool. But a coach who is demonstrating waltz jump entries by doing giant axels, or spirals by doing Level 4 spiral combinations, is not teaching, she's showing off.

A good teacher understands that he or she is not the most important person in the room. Big demos take the focus off the student and put it on the coach. The focus should always be on the student and his or her needs, skills, and level of understanding.


  1. Ah, yes--Fab Coach. He/she is usually a very young and insecure coach too.

  2. Actually, I'm pretty sure our coach can do solid jumps like she brushes her teeth, but she'll call over another student or another kid to do demos of larger skills. I think it's good for a Coach to have an attitude of "You do it. I already know how." Ya know?

  3. ITA about "to be demonstrating the skill in a way and at a level that a student can absorb". A smaller jump at slow-motion better enables the student to observe the change in body position. It's frustrating if student is left to imitate something that finished in a split second at a level beyond reach.

    The adult skater in me wants to understand things in addition to seeing things, bonus if there is a walk-through with detailed explanations.

    Luckily I've never had a coach whose demonstration puts other skaters' safety at risk.

  4. Shmee, Coach Fab is not so young anymore. He's not insecure either. I think he just likes jumping more than teaching, and I would too if I could jump like that.

    Coach Fab has never made me feel unsafe, but there is a coach who has, even while keeping both blades on the ice. She never, ever looks anywhere except at her student, and as a result she cuts across my path more often than all the little kids combined. Is there a polite way to tell her that she'd better look where she's going or next time she's going to get yelled at in front of her students? I know that lessons get right-of-way, but there's a difference between taking advantage of your rights and having no idea where you are on the ice. She doesn't even look up when she's following a student who is doing a backwards spiral.

    It particularly irks me when she has two little girls on public skating. She teaches one and ignores the other, who two-foot-shuffles through everyone's patterns. Nobody else is letting their four year old wander through the center without supervision. This is a big part of why I'm not going to public skate anymore.

    This coach was 40% responsible for the worst accident I've had skatng. I was skating along the boards during public skating when she takes off perpendicular to traffic without looking up. I stopped to avoid her. Behind me was a man (60% responsible, has since worn out his welcome at the rink) who always skates out of control, and he hit me from behind. I'm bleeding on the ice, and she doesn't even notice a crash has occured.

    -a peeved AMS

  5. Back in the day, if someone was in your way/doing something stupid/ignoring right of way/ignoring the ice patterns/skating too slow/being generally annoying....

    They got yelled at. It was embarrassing; the moms (me among them) went apeshit, children cried, empires fell.

    But man, everyone learned how to take care of themselves on the ice.

    So my advice is, yell at her.

  6. Also, if this coach likes skating better than teaching, during lessons, when you're supposed to be teaching, not skating, is NOT the time to let the world know this.

  7. I think every skater at a higher level faces the fork in the road when they have to decide if they will be the coach or show skater who keeps up their jumps and strength or lets the skating go.

    Coaches don't need to do doubles or triples to teach them (some of those coaches don't bother to put on skates) but the one that still wants to think they're the hot shot skater does.

    I don't think that situation will ever go away. Rules of ice conduct could help keep it safe for everyone.

    Now, about your writing ... I think you need to write a book! You're writing is excellent and maybe there is more than blogs in your future! Keep it up!

  8. Thanks, Jenny! I'm all for coaches keeping up their skating, and doing exhibitions, or the pro's number in the show, or just turning up on practice ice to, um, practice every now and then. But we don't need to see that in the middle of a lesson.

  9. As far as not being able to do the elements yourself, I once challenged my gymnastics coach after I used bad form on a handspring for the 2200th time. I said, "Oh yeah? Let me see YOU do it!"

    She calmly said, "Does the football coach take the ball and run it down the field? Does the football coach make real tackles in order for the players to learn to do it?"

    I got the point.

    And then she made me do 50 sit ups for being a disrespectful pill.