May 30, 2011

She's not that into you

Excuses and tactics I have observed from coaches trying to get you to quit:

Phoning in the lesson
That is, on the phone during the lesson.

Rough night?
Runs in at last second for early morning lesson, still in pj's with unbrushed hair.

Oh, I thought we had decided on Thursday!
Five weeks in a row?

Oh, we don't need a regular schedule
Because then I wouldn't have an excuse for not showing

She's not ready to test
For a year. Because I never teach her the test.

Gmail sucks
No it doesn't. Neither does yahoo, webmail, outlook or any other computer program. She's labeled your IP as spam.

T-Mobile drops so many calls
Especially when you're screening them to avoid answering that particular person.

All my students skate 25 hours a week, and if you can't handle that you're a bad mom
Paraphrased, but not by much

Oh, music? oh, competition deadline? What? New skates?
You mean you think the coach should be thinking about these things?

I teach all my students in groups
And then pay attention only to some of them.

Did that coach's accent just get stronger?
Hard to take a lesson from someone you can't understand

What's the best excuse you've heard for dropping a student?

May 27, 2011

Getting over the hump

Everyone hits the wall. Where skating used to be easy and fun, it suddenly becomes difficult, or serious, or both. Among recreational, class skaters, what I observe is that alpha is easy, and beta is cool. Then it gets tricky because gamma is hard, and delta is boring.

And then it gets really hard.

After beta, there are suddenly lots of things to remember--opposition, getting the edges right (on purpose), what to do with that pesky free hip, really not toe pushing. And on and on. The expectations are higher, not only for being able to accomplish new things, but to be able to execute the old things solidly and without excessive instruction. The skills are complex, and it suddenly matters what you know, and not just what you can do with your natural talent. The coach will start nagging about extra lessons and practice time, and suddenly it's not "fun" any more.

You know your kid loves skating, but they're complaining an awful lot. So what do you do?

Some people make actual contracts with their kids-- "I'm about to pay money for skating. This means that you have to come to all of these practices, lessons, and/or classes even if you're tired, or have homework, or want to do a playdate instead." And yes, I mean it about homework. If you and your child can't figure out how to get homework and outside activities to co-exist, you should not be doing the outside activities.

Don't listen to their complaints
Don't indulge the skater's crocodile tears, complaints of sore feet, boring teachers, hard skills or mean classmates. When children test these statements, simply reply neutrally and continue as though there is no issue. If the issue is really serious, the child won't drop it. If the kid is just testing your resolve, the problem will mysteriously go away.

Do listen to their complaints
If the skater suddenly hates this thing that's given him or her such joy, see if there's a real reason. Maybe the coach is boring, or mean, or ignores them. Maybe their skates ARE too small. Maybe a clique has formed that excludes them. Maybe they've been pushed through too fast and it's gotten scary because their skills aren't up to their class level (this is very very common). A complaint that persists, or has a specific pattern, is probably real. Figure out how to mitigate it.

Let them have fun
The last 5 minutes of any class should be extras that aren't in the curriculum. It might be putting on a little exhibition, or games, or coming up with a program, or learning something from a higher level. Even a high competitive child should be allowed to have some fun interspersed with the work. Private lessons probably aren't the place for this, but your skater should have at least some control over their own practice, and shouldn't be yelled at for taking a few minutes every now and then just to have fun.

Give them something else to do
It's okay to take vacations from skating. A week, or, frankly, a year. (If it's a year, don't expect to come back in at the level you left.) Don't skate every day (even competitive skaters). Have another activity that the skater enjoys.

Make sure they skate enough to improve
One of the biggest things that takes the joy out of skating is when you can't progress. If you are constantly missing lessons, or not skating enough for your level, your peers are going to start leaving you in the dust. This will make anyone feel bad. Believe it or not, O modern parents, you might have to ask your child to choose from among the 19 different activities that they participate in in their relentless pursuit of admission to Stanford.

May 24, 2011

Home for the summer

I've broken a long reader question into component parts.

Issue: I'd been having lessons with my coach for about two years, but I wasn't too happy with them. I love her as a person, but she'd often be talking to the other coaches or texting when she was supposed to be watching me.
Problem: unprofessional coach, disengaged parents, student unwilling to demand her rights
Solution: read that coach the riot act, then fire her

Issue: we would spend so long working on the field moves for exams that we had little time (in the one half-hour lesson I could afford a week) to work on spins and jumps, and I felt that these suffered as a result, as all our focus was on the field moves for my exam.
Problem: conflicting goals, not enough time, poor communication
Solution: make your goals absolutely clear, and make sure you understand, and that the coach conveys, what it will take to reach them. I'm stunned at a student taking just a single half hour lesson a week being told that Moves tests take priority. It's absurd. Moves is ADDITIONAL, not the only thing you work on.

Issue: I went off to university, with our understanding being that I would continue to have lessons with her in the holidays;
Problem: Huh?
Solution: You hate the coaching style, she doesn't share your goals, or indeed pay attention to you during lessons, and basically wastes your time. Going away to college was a gift-wrapped excuse to move on without hurting anyone's feelings.

Issue: after a year of missing out on skating due to being at uni I'm faced with a 3 month summer holiday where I'd really like to get back into skating, and this obviously must include lessons, otherwise I'll never improve. However, I don't think I want to go back to my coach, for the reasons above - I want to just be a recreational skater, trying things for fun, whereas she'll want to push me towards grading, which I have no interest in.
Problem: see previous issue. You have no obligation to this coach. You haven't taken a lesson in a year, and didn't like the lessons. No reasonable person would expect you to continue this relationship, and nothing in PSA ethics or even simple courtesy obligates you.

Issue: she still coaches my sister it's an awkward situation,
Problem: creating issues where there are none. Many families have different coaches for siblings, to make sure that the coaching style matches the student, to avoid rivalry and comparisons, to accommodate schedules and a host of other reasons, or for no reason at all. There's nothing in any coaching manual that says a family can only hire one coach.
Solution: First, the parents need to observe these lessons and make sure that the coach is not pulling the same crap on the sister as on my reader. I cannot imagine why this family feels so committed to this coach.

Issue: I cannot swap to another rink
Problem-- Need more info here. Is there NOT another rink? Transportation issues? I hear this a lot, and sometimes it's more "I'm afraid to switch to another rink where I don't know anyone"
Solution: make sure this is really true before you rule it out.

Issue: I don't think that any of the other coaches will have space to take me on, and most of them at the rink seem to, shall we say, have a similar coaching style to mine.
Problem: Your rink is a mess.
Solution: Run away and don't look back. No, seriously. Observe some of the other coaches. Look for coaches whose students seem to have similar goals and levels to your own. Tell the new coach in so many words exactly what your issue was with the old coach. The old coach is NOT your coach anymore; neither you, your sister, nor any coach you speak with is under any obligation to report that you are making inquiries.

May 22, 2011

Applaus-o-meter: Ice Show, Day 3

It's great to see how the girls at an ice rink support each other. Everyone cheers and claps for everyone else, and the whole group comes together as a happy family supporting the year of hard work, spills and chills, love and camaraderie that got us...

huh? whu? Wake up now?

Oh, sorry.

If you've ever been to a community ice show, you know to bring ear plugs, because the girls don't cheer for each other. They SCREAM.

And it's a contest-- whose friend will get the loudest cheer.

I'm not too proud to admit that the year my daughter graduated she not only got the noticeably biggest cheer, she got a bigger cheer than her arch rival, whose mother I still, 4 years later, cross the street to avoid.

The reason the girls need to scream is because of the cliques.

There's always a coach with a giant roster, so her kids always get high decibels, which means the smaller cliques have to up each individual's power to match it.

There are girls who aren't really part of any clique, you will see their grandmothers drumming the benches in order to raise the volume. (And then loudly complain in the stands how "no one applauded for Suzy. These girls are so selfish." Gee, maybe if Suzy talked to other people every now and then someone would know who she is. It ain't Stars on Ice, folks, no one's applauding because of the amazing skating.)

Now here comes Synchro, really giving Popular Coach a run for her money. Popular coach may have to make sure that extended families are in the stands to increase the sound.

Then there's that girl who doesn't really hang out with the cool kids, and doesn't have a popular coach, but ties all the little guys skates, and talks to parents, and helps out with the Learn to Skate classes, and knows everyone's name. Plus, her mom is nice.

Guess who's getting the biggest cheer.

And just in case you really want to know:

May 21, 2011

Apathy: Ice Show Day 2

I get involved. You may have noticed this. I like to "fix" things. (Beware of people who like to fix things.) Therefore, I get extremely stressed out at things like underprepared ice shows featuring 135 small children and their nervous, overprotective parents.

My friends took me in hand yesterday and told me we were going to work on my apathy. St. Lidwina brought me liquor. (No, I didn't drink it. It's a mini-bar sized Dewar's, and it's sitting on my desk, reminding me to chill.) Skating Director supplied chocolate. My two coach buddies wouldn't let me exit my assigned area.

Went great. I had a good time, didn't end up in tears, everyone skated, other people had the freak outs.

What I always feel at ice shows is that if the coaches and volunteers mess up, the kids suffer, which isn't fair. It's not their fault that moms stick their noses in where they don't belong. It's not their fault that a coach is AWOL from a critical post. It's not their fault that the coaches only get minimum wage for doing this. Frankly, I wish parents knew this and would express their outrage to the city that their children are being entrusted to people who are not being paid enough, but this is not a fight that I can wage, let alone win (I've tried).

But while a single individual in a critical role can have a very negative effect on the entire effort, another single individual cannot fix it.

So last night it wasn't so much that I didn't care, as that I didn't step in. I still care. I just need to remember that I can't fix it by myself.

May 20, 2011

Stress Rehearsal

Day one of the spring show.

Observation 1: nature abhors a vacuum
Manifestation: if you put all the disappearing coaches at a single station, the closest moms will step into the void. Better hope they know what they're dong.

Observation 2: The costume ladies are the ones who are actually in charge
Manifestation a: Kids are not allowed to wear the costumes that were ordered for them because they are "too fragile."
Manifestation b: It somehow makes more sense to require that 27 children ages 7 to 11 to go back and forth to the costume room four times (for the group number and back, for the finale and back) and "sign out" the costumes, and then go back and sign them back in. Twice. Did I mention that they're asking second graders to sign a piece of paper stating that they will bring the costume back? Have these people ever actually met a second grader?
Manifestation c None of the girls actually managed to get into a costume. Everyone in the number was wearing something different.
Correllary: See Observation 5, conclusion

Observation 2: the most clueless person in the room will ultimately be the only person anyone will believe.
Manifestion: Oh, you mean the children are all supposed to be together when you need them? I didn't think you were serious when you said you wouldn't hunt for the children in the stands.

Observation 3: there are 2 kinds of moms in the world.
Manifestation: The sensible ones ask for instructions from the people most likely to know what's going on. The ninjas will dispute this and stand there arguing until it's too late to actually fix the situation. The nearest coach will be blamed.

Observation 4: the children are actually the ones in charge
Manifestation: Wrong costume, skates in dad's trunk, glitter, lipstick doesn't match my dress I have to go to Walgreen's, missing the group number so you can get your picture taken with grandma (and then ninja mom wants to run the number again), glitter, "stay in your area" means "go where you want when you want," glitter, and the unshakeable belief that you can be in a dance recital and a skating show at the exact same moment because "daddy said I could do both."

Also, glitter.

Observation 5: no one is willing to concede authority to anyone else
Manifestation: I feel like the lines of authority are clear. First line: official volunteer Kick it upstairs to: any coach or actual employee of the rink. If still in dispute: person in charge of specific area (lighting director, costume director, etc.). Final say: Skating director.
Conclusion: The person who actually turns out to be in charge is the visiting grandmother of the child who has missed every single rehearsal.

Observation: your ability to relax falls in direct proportion to the number of people telling you to relax.
Query: Did telling someone to relax ever actually have the effect of helping that person to relax?

For the view from the rafters, check out Why Me, St. Lidwina.

May 18, 2011

What does your lesson fee actually buy you?

Serious skating isn't just about what happens on the ice. There are all sorts of vital related issues: what to wear, scheduling, equipment issues, and more. When do these things get discussed, and do you have to pay for the coach's time?

Class coach
I don't know how it is in other districts, but in Chicago pay for classes ranges from minimum wage (yes, you heard that right) to no more than $32 per hour; in other words a fraction of what the coaches charge for private lessons (Chicago range is $17 to more than $100 per half-hour lesson). Some, but not all rinks pay for a small portion of non-ice time for talking to parents, planning curriculum, etc.

Therefore, I would say respect the coach's time and keep these discussions to a minimum. Expecting a class-only coach to stay for more than 5 or so minutes after a class to discuss your personal skating needs is not fair to the coach. If you're just taking classes, your issues will not be so complex that they cannot be dealt with either on the ice or in brief conversations afterwards. If your issues become complex, then hire the coach to do private lessons.

Likewise, when the class ends, you need to let the coach leave the ice. The pay stops when the clock says the class is over, even if there is empty ice right afterwards. Maybe the coach stays after sometimes, but this is out of the goodness of his heart; don't exploit this. Remember that the coach cannot leave until you leave, because of insurance and safety regulations. He's not hanging around because he loves watching you skate without getting paid for it. He's hanging around because he's not allowed to leave until you do, and he's too nice to tell you to please go home now.

The other thing to remember about the class coach is that she or he is obligated to everyone in the class-- taking up his or her time during class with your personal issues is essentially stealing time from everyone else in the class. If you do it after class, but everyone else wants to also, then that coach's five minutes for which they aren't paying suddenly becomes, in a class of 10, nearly an hour. Trust me, it has happened. I keep business cards in my pocket and ask people to email me. You can also ask a class coach if they will set aside a time when you can talk to them.

Here's what you should NOT do: Do not grill the class coach about competitions, progress, private lessons, and USFS rules, and then hire someone else for privates. It's one thing to interview coaches to see who is the best fit, and we are all happy to give you as much time as we can- that's just marketing. But it's just exploitative to get all your information from the accessible class coach, and then turn around and hire the one who wouldn't talk to you without getting paid.

Here's what the coach should not do: Leave his co-teacher on the ice dealing with the kids, while he spends his time talking up the parents and soliciting private lessons. Do you want the coach who is teaching, or the one in the lobby schmoozing you. Just sayin'.

Private coach
Like choir directors and university professors, your private coach pretty much expects to work on your behalf during non-lesson time. This is one of the reasons the private fee is higher than the class fee-- the coach's obligation to the student does not end with the clock. I estimate that I spend at least a half-hour off-ice for every 2-3 hours on ice on each student, working on choreography, schedules, parent education, etc. Coaches whose students compete or test have a much higher ratio. The private coach is expecting to converse off the ice, exchange emails, and talk on the phone. But again, don't abuse this. Don't demand daily hour-long conversations, or email exchanges that go into several daily iterations, or weekly off-ice meetings. Look at what your or your skater's actual "career" (such as it is) involves. The fewer the number of lessons, the less "competitive" (as opposed to recreational) the student is, the less you should be taking up the coach's private time.

One thing you can ask from private coaches is periodic goal-setting and benchmarking meetings. If you're competitive, you need one at the end of the season, a couple during early pre-season and one before each major competition. Some coaches will charge for these, some will not. For non-competitive students, twice a year or when either the coach or the parents feel a need for instance, if you want to switch a student from recreational to competitive, or when they reach a milestone like the axel that might require more ice. For situations like these, you don't want to feel pressured or distracted about missing instruction time.

If the coach does not charge you for these, and you feel that she's gone above and beyond, think about giving her a holiday bonus at the end of the year, like you do for other private contract employees like housekeepers, gardening service, etc.

In any case, never call the coach at home during what a reasonable person would consider personal hours-- weekends, after 9 at night, et cetera, unless you've been specifically told that this is okay. Use the phone number and the email the coach gives you; don't track down alternate ways of contacting her. Coaching is a business; keeping a business-like approach, honoring everyone's time, money, and personal boundaries always makes for a better coaching relationship.

May 16, 2011

Look for a coach with a good story

As I've said before, I love it when my various areas of expertise conflate. I recently read the brilliant advice, regarding how to acquire students, that a coach should "tell the best story."

This is classic marketing and fundraising advice, which is what I do in my other life. You need to engage your potential customers, or they'll go with the person who does engage them.

My story is summed up in my tag line: "anyone can learn to skate." I've got a good story as an adult skater who loved the sport so much that I changed my life in order to pursue the passion. Looking around my rink I see some other good stories-- the young coaches who grew up at the rink. The grade school teacher who coaches during her off hours. The Russian stars (at least according to them, but whatever, it's a good story), "my dad's a former champion," and of course, the former champions.

Then you need to ask yourself: why does this story resonate with me? What is it about this story that makes this person a good coach? Does the answer change if you think about different skaters-- for instance, the former champion has a great story, but is that the right story for the recreational or timid skater? "My dad's a champ" is a great story, but do that coach's skaters actually get to skate with dad? In other words, is the coach adapting aspects of the story to reach your individual skater's needs?

What's your coach's story? What coach do you know who has a good story of their own?

May 14, 2011

What is that coach *talking* about?

I talk a lot.

A lot of teachers struggle with this. We know a lot of stuff, and we just want it all to come out. One of the hardest things to learn as a new teacher is when to stop talking, and how to filter your delivery so you are giving your students only the information they can really process right now and in a way that they can process it.

An ideal class should be talk-a-little, do-a-lot; I'll go so far as to suggest a ratio-- 1 to 4. For every minute you talk, there should be 4 minutes of skating. This means in a 30 minute class, you shouldn't stand around for more than 7 or 8 minutes (if that), and further, this shouldn't be all in a row. A commenter on a prior post points out that there are lots of instructional videos on line that you can stand around and watch; he doesn't want to do that on skates in a freezing rink. On skates in a freezing rink you want to move.

You have to adjust this for every class or student. Most adults will tolerate, even demand, a lot more talking. A children's beginner class doesn't really need instruction in technique-- stupid to tell a child about technique if the child can't even glide. Just get them moving. Teens like to watch each other, and also want the coach to acknowledge that they are becoming adults and peers, which will entail a little more talking.

So back to the original question-- what is that coach talking about? My observation of coaches that talk a lot is that they are not, in fact, talking about skating. They're talking about themselves, or they're flirting with the kids (I know, ew, but it happens), or they're being silly because they're stuck in their old competitive ethos of "it's all about me." The good coach is not the one with a cluster of stationary children standing around hanging on his or her every word.

The good coach is one focused like a laser on the movements of everyone in class.

Have you had a coach who talks "too much?" What were they talking about?

May 12, 2011

Everyone always moves

A commenter gave a great insight from a college PE pedagogy class: "everyone always moves." It's a terrific piece of advice for a sports program. After all, you're not there to write term papers. You're trying to learn how to move!

Of course, this does not mean that you can move in any random pattern, according to your own desires, and whenever or wherever you feel like it. There are always issues of safety, courtesy, and space.

The commenter goes on to talk about a teacher who said yes, but you have to limit activity on a given apparatus, for safety reasons. And this is the crux of the matter. In an ice rink, the entire room is our apparatus. And like other apparatuses- whether a balance beam or a baseball diamond- there are rules about sharing and appropriate use.

Where to skate
In class, you've probably got a restricted area for the students in your level or class only. Unless the teachers give explicit permission to cross into another level's ice, you stay in your own boundaries. (Skating through another class is fairly common in freestyle classes, unheard of in Learn to Skate.) In private lessons you skate where the coach tells you, or according to whatever set pattern the rink has laid out.

When to skate
When the coach says "go." Period. This is not negotiable. It's really easy to move on skates, and kids (as well as a lot of adults) have ants in their pants-- they seem incapable of sitting still. I'd love to see how this works in an office, or a class room, or a car, or at random street crossings. If you've gotten stuck with a coach that talks too much, you still have to stand still. Next time, don't take class from that coach. But frankly coaches that talk too much are not really the problem; most of them don't. The problem is children who simply skate off at random times with no consideration for any of the above safety rules.

What to skate
The task at hand. This means that when the class is practicing spins, you should not be doing waltz jumps.

Who should skate
Everyone, or no one. If you are the only person moving, and have not been explicitly told "we are now going to demonstrate one at a time, and it's your turn" then You Are Doing It Wrong.

How do you know when skate?
Just going to take a wild stab at this, and suggest "listening."

May 9, 2011

Understanding skating moms

This post, and the responses, struck such a chord, because boy have I been there. You just want to focus on your kid, and someone is asking you what jumps he has and who his coach is and how much he skates, and it feels like prying, if not snarking.

You just want to sit and read, and the PickaLittle ladies behind you are bragging and comparing and talking about Eva dresses. And of course, since their children don't skate with the same coach as your children, rink culture keeps you from making friends with them.

So I am going to posit a theorem, and let's work with it. The theorem is:

On average, people are nice,
I meet lots of people whose kids are skaters,
I can be friends with those people

(Caution- strong language follows)

Here are some of the things that skating culture puts in the way of this very reasonable premise, which you would not even question in any other situation.

It's hard to talk to other coach's kids Yes, it is, and bullshit rules about "soliciting" and "tampering" make parents paranoid about getting their coaches in trouble, so they form cliques based on who their coach is. So just make friends with everyone. Sit down and talk with them. If they refuse to make friends for some bullshit reason of coaching relationship or skating level, then they're assholes and you can stop worrying about them.

This mom, whose kid skates with my kid, MAKES ME FUCKING INSANE Because she is completely at sea and looking for an ally. She suspects she's being fed bullshit by the coach and no one will tell her because of the gag rule, the fear of overstepping, and the fear of being thought arrogant or pushy.

I hate it when the moms brag about how fast their kids move through Maybe they just skate a lot? Maybe the moms are proud? Make it a game. How long can I talk about something unrelated to skating before this mom somehow ties it to her kid. This is a hilarious game, trust me. There are a couple of champion moms who could turn the news about Osama bin Laden into a skating analogy before you can take a breath.

Why does everyone want to know what jumps my kid has, and how much she skates, and what level she's in? Because that's what you have in common. The deep, meaningful discussions about that great story on NPR are in your future. Don't shut them out because you think the moms are being intrusive. Maybe they just aren't imaginative enough to come up with a better pick up line.

Why does everyone not want this done the way I want it done?
Because they aren't you. They have different priorities, understanding, and kids. Trust me, this is my big failing. I think I'm right. In many cases I know I'm right. That doesn't mean I get to have it my way, or that it's the only way, or the appropriate way for the situation. Reasonable people can disagree.

Rinks and schools are horrible places to be human beings. Fraught with ego and concern and kids being compared to each, which we all know is impossible. Each one is so so precious and wonderful. Honor that. The moms will come around.

May 8, 2011

Adult skater question

An adult skater tells me:
I'm now in FS1, with a few skills that range up to FS3, and am completely hooked. I'm technically in group lessons though effectively they are privates, since no other adult has signed up for group lessons at 10am on a Tuesday. I have no delusions of grandeur, but I love love love this sport like I've loved nothing else physical I've ever done. How do I proceed? What's next and who do I ask?
Personally, I like goal setting, and this skater specifically asked about this. Here are some of the things she asked about:

Just skating in class or a single weekly lesson will barely maintain your ability let alone help you increase your skills. Three to six hours a week is adequate practice to really improve. Serious competitive skaters train 20 to 30 hours per week, including off-ice; the serious recreational kids do about 3 to 6 hours per week, so that's a pretty good model. If you want to compete (see below), you'll need to increase your ice time, although probably not up to 20 hours per week.

Private lessons
Two things will improve your skating: mileage and instruction. Mileage is addressed above. Private lessons are reasonably easy to come by, but don't take them with just anyone. Rather than looking for the "best" instructor (as evidenced by high level students), look for the ones who teach adult classes and have adults in private lessons. Not everyone understands how to teach adults; some coaches can be either impatient, unclear, or outright dangerous in that they don't take into account adults' different bodies, brains, and courage.

Adult testing
Specific goals and focus and measurable progress are really motivating. All the patterns for Moves in the Field, and the requirements for Free Skating are on line, but if you want to actually work on testing for USFS judges, you really cannot teach these to yourself. A coach will know the small tricks that judges are looking for, will know the end patterns (which aren't always specified, especially in the lower level patterns) and will be able to assess when your skills are test ready.

Ice show
Join the adult number in your rink's ice show. I absolutely guarantee, as long as you're not my friend Beth who is a hold-out, that you will have a blast. No one; okay almost no one, takes themselves very seriously, you'll meet the other adult skaters, and you'll go out for drinks afterwards. Some rinks award solos to adults at a lower level than they do the kids, if that's your bag.

Ice Dance
There are still clubs that have social dance ice where other club members can teach you the patterns, and rinks with ice dance classes. Ice dance is excellent for adults, because you can do the patterns in your comfort zone of speed, edge and pattern size, and you always know exactly where to put your feet. Plus, no jumps.

Synchronized skating, formerly known as Precision, is essentially team skating. Just about every club in the US and Canada has adult synchro teams at a range of levels from beginner to advanced, and many rinks have ISI or local teams. Some of these take a more Theater on Ice approach. These are good for the same reasons as the ice show-- you get to meet other adult skaters, and liquor is often involved.

And finally, the one area of skating that keeps more adults from joining this sport than any other:

How do you dress?
Skating tights, yoga pants, loose, body-skimming shirt if you're a little self-conscious about body image, or tight fitting if you're skinny, you rat. Skirts are lovely, but as far as I'm concerned, adults, even young adults, skating in the adult tracks, should have some dignity and wear a skirt that reaches to mid thigh.

May 5, 2011

Since you're already pissed about paying for vacation...

I thought I'd write up some home truths about the skaters.

I don't know why I'm in such a bad mood lately. But I find myself completely unwilling to play the game-- the little girls who've been told that acting like they're 2 when they're 5 is cute. The children who completely fall apart when told that they cannot do something that they, um cannot do; the ones who lie to you about how much time they've spent in class; the self-promoters, who take 2 classes at level X, hide for a week, and then show up in level Next and tell you they passed the other class.

Here are some of the things that parents, and skaters, just simply have to start being honest about.

Don't indulge them. It's bad enough to baby an 8 year old who falls but isn't hurt, but a child who is encouraged to sob uncontrollably because "teacher was mean" should be disciplined, not comforted. For the safety of the child, I need tears to be real. I need to be able to tell the difference between a child who is injured and a child who is spoiled. I have a child who takes terrible falls and never cries, so when she does cry I know that something is really wrong. The child who falls apart when you look at her cross eyed is not going to get the same level of concern. Ever hear of the boy who cried wolf? Don't parents teach that story anymore?

Jesus, what happens when your child makes mistakes on the math test, or something else that actually matters? The inability of children to accept criticism these days is astounding.

Standing still
Please. Stand. Still. Please don't talk when I'm talking. Why am I saying "please"? I used to jokingly ask the kids "do you act like this in school?" and they would get all sheepish and say, well no, they didn't it's not allowed, and then they'd behave. Now, they look at me like I've just asked them whether they're allowed to breathe in school. Apparently, this is how children behave now.

Actually mastering the skill
So, based on the way coaches, kids and parents just blithely move their skaters up, actually having to learn the skills is old hat. This has been a problem with coaches in the past, but nothing like when the parents/kids take control. I've seen coaches move kids up a level when they aren't ready, but have at least had the 10 weeks of class. I've seen them move their private students up several levels for whatever ridiculous reason, but at least they're getting private instruction in the deficit areas.

But this new thing where you take 2 classes of gamma (not 2 sessions-- 2 classes), and then skip delta because it's at an inconvenient time, and show up in PreFreestyle for a day before finally landing in Freestyle 1... All in the space of 7 weeks. I have 4 kids in classes right now who fit this profile. What The Bumblepuck! Do parents understand the danger involved in putting a child in a level they aren't ready for?

Sorry, no As for Effort or Attendance in Figure Skating. You gotta deliver the goods.

Four year olds with no social skills whatsover
I've met a lot of 4-year-olds. Far more than you will ever meet. Here's what a four-year-old can do: Respect the teacher. Listen to instructions. Ask for help. Restrain from tantrums, screaming, kicking, spitting, biting and hitting (not kidding). Share. Make friends. Don't talk when someone else is talking. Spend 30 minutes away from a parent (who by the way, is standing just 20 feet away). Speak clearly enough for a stranger to understand. Stand, even on skates. If your four-year-old cannot do these things, either stop babying him or get him evaluated. If your 5-year-old cannot do these things, skip the "stop babying him" and just get him evaluated.

Skating class as a socializing experience
If your 4-year-old has never been in a class, skating class is NOT the place to start. Go to Music and Me, where the danger of injury is less.

Leave the teens alone
Stop helping your 16-year-old get dressed. Seriously.

May 2, 2011

Why I can't take your suggestions

Why you and not the mom next to you?
If I take your suggestion, and word gets out, I've pretty much lost all claim to control over my curriculum or choreography, unless you have an unassailable credential that everyone will accept.

What if I was going to do that anyway?
Now I'm afraid if I do it, because you'll think you I did it for you and I'll never get you off my back. So your great idea, which I had already thought of, just got trashed.

What if your idea is not technically feasible?
Either I have to bring you up to speed on a lifetime of figure skating, I have to be patronizing, or I have to call you an idiot.

Would you let me walk into your office and tell you how to do your job?
'nuff said.

What in the world gives you the idea that you know better than me?
You have one, maybe two skaters-- your kids. I've known thousands. Do the math.

What have I done that makes you think I'm not paying attention?
Did another problem you noticed not get fixed? Did a child get hurt, or ignored? Is the class or rehearsal out of control? Are other mothers complaining?

At our old rink, we did it this way
Right. You want me to do it the way they did it at the rink that for some reason you don't go to anymore.

Update: Anonymous' comment, (first comment below) has made me think a little more about this, so I'll amend a bit. Verbally assaulting a coach with a long string of suggestions about how the choreo or class can be improved, even with a smile on your face, the second she steps off the ice, is not going to elicit a positive response from the coach. You are basically marching into my "office" and proclaiming that you know better than me. You have given the coach no time to process or consider the class, and now you want to "fix" it. Write it down, send me an email, ask if you can talk to me.

In general in negotiations, simply saying "here's my idea, it's better than your idea, why aren't you doing it this way" is not going to get you the result you want. Ask a question--why is it like that? Can you tell me what effect you're going for? State your concern "I'm afraid it won't be polished by the end of the rehearsal period." Simply saying "do it my way" is sure to elicit a defensive response, and then the problem, if indeed there is one, doesn't get fixed, the coach has now flagged you as "one of those moms," and you don't get what you want. Everyone loses.

I probably have taken lots of parent suggestions, when the parents exhibited some professionalism, sensitivity and good timing in how they approached me. Parents expect coaches to behave in this way, after all.