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?


  1. My favorite coaches probably never exceed the 1:4 ratio your mentioned, not even the most talkative one (cough cough). Efficient time management is one prerequisite for coaches IMHO.

    Good coaches talk at the right time to adults and kids alike: the different edges (young children actually need more instruction on this), correct body positions, where are you on the blade etc etc. Lengthier talks usually involve introducing new elements or lecture on fundamentals, the rest is short and sweet error correction.

    I've however had group lesson coaches who easily go into casual conversations on ice about personal life and not willing to come back even when other (idling) students attempt to change topic. I also had coaches who talk to anyone but the students, whole other story.

  2. gosh, that wouldn't be me, right? ;P Your other points are also interesting--it's tough with adults not to slip into personal friendships and important to keep your lives separate. There's an odd intimacy to skating lessons, where adults often feel like they're putting their lives, literally, into your hands.

  3. I learn best by hearing directions (e.g. "foot here...arm this high...etc.") and then repeating them back while doing something. So there's a lot of talking during my lessons, but it's action-based talking, if that makes sense. However, I've had two different coaches and with both found that since we are both adults, sometimes there is a devolution into personal stories or anecdotes about other skaters, which I don't like too much. I've liked both coaches, but I've found this much easier to take with the second one, who will make up for lost time by lingering on the ice with me for a few minutes here and there to be sure I really get whatever we were working on that day, unlike my first coach, who would chit-chat for 10 minutes even when I tried to focus her on a lesson, and then would end the 25 minute session right on the dot of 25 minutes. In general, I'd prefer the personal chit-chat to happen when we are lacing up skates or preschoolers are warming up or other down-times rather than during the precious lesson time.

    I have a protocol question, though: should discussion about things like testing, what to wear, how to schedule, or other skating-related but not skating-instruction topics happen during lesson time or at other times? I do not pay her for private lessons. I work with the coach that was assigned to me when I signed up from group lessons; however, I am the only adult in these "classes," so it's hard to know what the protocol should be.

  4. MT-- that's a tricky one, and worthy of its own post. Thanks for the topic, and watch this space!

  5. Xan, would you kindly include the private lesson coaches too while answering MT's question, please? What types discussions are suitable during lesson time (on ice) only and what will be OK before or after lesson? How much is too much?

  6. Yes, I'm with JJane on this one. My inclination is to want to make an appointment to talk with her about the testing issue, since I have a sense that it will probably take a while (at least 15 minutes) to have this conversation, and while I respect her time, I also don't really want to whittle my lesson time down to 10 minutes over this. By the way: group lessons are supposed to be 25 mins of lesson time, 25 mins of supervised practice, but since I am the only adult, one of the coaches who teaches the Snowplow class for the first 25 mins comes during their practice time to teach my lesson, so that the rink doesn't have to pay a separate coach for a "class" that is only me. It's very nice of them to accommodate me in terms of the lesson time, but since I don't have a supervised practice time portion of the hour, during which I would otherwise have such a conversation, I am less inclined to take up lesson time with it. But I may be wrong for thinking this way, which is why I'm asking. Hence my question is: do I ask if she would be willing to talk with me about this for a few minute right before lessons start? Or do I offer some kind of compensation for her time? Or do I simply ask if there is a convenient time we could discuss this on the phone, so that she isn't making a special trip somewhere? And how would that be different if she were my private coach?

  7. Also, could you include in the post how many pre-arranged planning meetings between coach, skater and parents are acceptable per year? We average one 45 minute meeting per year but always feel like we're being rushed through the meeting. Too much time? Not enough? How often should these meetings occur? About to have our second meeting in 9 months between coach and parents only because issues have arisen. What is an acceptable length for the meetings?

    Always feel like coach is doing the talking and directing the meeting and we leave feeling like we didn't get a chance to voice our opinion and little was accomplished. Should we offer to pay the coach for her time so that she has to listen to what we have to say?

    Would love your opinion about meetings because we have one coming up soon.

  8. jj and MT-- I just wrote that post yesterday in response to an email! It's scheduled for next week, I think.

    MT, you're in a very idiosyncratic situation. You are still paying for 25+25; if the rink has not actually cancelled that class, it's not your problem that they don't want to "have to pay a separate coach for a "class" that is only me" THEY are not accommodating YOU; YOU are accommodating THEM. So I would say yes, you are entitled to that 25 minutes. The coach can put it on her time sheet.

  9. Thanks, Xan, for all the helpful advice. (And today's post was helpful, too, for longer-term issues!) Coach and I got straight to the business of working through the specific figures for the test yesterday, after just about two minutes of conversation about the most basics of test structure. We spent the whole lesson on these, and will spend at least one more on them soon. She is clearly focused on teaching during the lesson, and I am pretty sure that the conversation about what I should wear, how she will decide when I'm ready to test, etc., will be something she'll hang around for that extra five minutes or do as we unlace, etc. It's fine with me if these are a few short conversations here or there, now that I know the lessons won't be all talk. :) Thanks again for all your wisdom.