Jun 10, 2011

A coaching problem

The scenario:
Your skater is not progressing commensurate with other skaters of the same age, ability and commitment. In particular, she's been working on her first double for nearly 2 years, with no progress for half that time. She's taking 2 half-hour weekly lessons and practicing on her own an additional two hours.
What's going on?
Issues with current coach: Does the coach have other students who have mastered this skill? Is the coach actively engaged with the skater during the lesson? Has the coach talked to you about the issue, and addressed your concerns? If the answer to the first question is no, either you're the first (so give her a chance), or you need to switch. If the answer to the second question is no, you need talk to the coach yesterday and find out what's going on. If the answer to all three questions is no, you're probably looking at a coaching change. Caveat: "addressed our concerns" is not the same thing as "won't let parents make decisions/judgments about technique."

Skater issues: Is the skater responsive and engaged with the coach? Does she appear to be working on actively fixing the problem skill or technique or is she just practicing the mistake, (a very common issue, especially with scary things like jumps). Is there a non-skating issue such as stress at school (either good/academic expectations or bad/social problems or mixed/social pressures), family difficulties, growth or weight gain, etc.

Someone needs to fix her double salchow:
I think you can focus in on specific skills at a Basic Skills level-- fix her crossovers, fix his 3 turns-- but if the problem is doubles, then there are deeper issues than "can't do double salchow," starting with poor basic skills. Talented skaters who have difficulty with higher level skills almost always have underlying technical problems. Might be psychological (rare, but parents always think this), might be coaching incompetence (rare, but parents always think this, yet oddly don't act on it), but more likely it's problems with basic skating. In other words, you cannot demand that a coach fix one problem when you, as a layperson, can't really know exactly what the problem is.

Is this actually slow for this skater?
Look back at her skating background. If she's made slow but steady progress, two years on a double might not be out of line. If she's "suddenly" gotten complex skills in the past, this may happen again-- it looks like one day it was just there, but maybe all the slogging just finally fell into place. Again, make sure she's practicing the problem skill and not only doing it in lessons. I can tell you that a skater who will not practice a specific skill outside of lessons is going to get the same lesson over and over because she's not making the technique her own. You might need to add some practice time to allow her to feel she's getting everything in.

We've already decided to switch: Then please stop complaining about the coach and just do it. When you do it, do NOT claim that it's because the coach couldn't teach her way out of a paper bag, or start questioning her credentials (e.g. "well, supposedly she had skaters at Nationals, but that was 15 years ago. How come she hasn't had one lately?"), or complaining in any way about her. Coaching issues are, frankly, less often problems with competence than with skater/coach compatibility, which is no one's fault. Complaining about a coach is harmful to her career. Unless you actually want to negatively affect a coach's career, the reason for switching is "it wasn't working out." If you actually think this coach shouldn't be teaching, then file a complaint with the rink, club, or police and be ready to back it up with justifiable accusations.


  1. "Talented skaters who have difficulty with higher level skills almost always have underlying technical problems."


  2. Nice post Xan!

    "Does she appear to be working on actively fixing the problem skill or technique or is she just practicing the mistake?" --- how should the parents answer this question if they don't really understand skating?

    Also could it be possible that it's no one's fault and the basics are fine, the skater just hit the limit of her natural abilities?

  3. I do not believe in the concept of "limit of natural abilities" especially as applies to double jumps. People reach the limit of their desire, or of their courage, or of their time, but not of their abilities. Not everyone who works hard at it will have a beautiful double or triple. But everyone who won't settle for less will have it. It's like saying that you can't read Dostoyevsky because you've reached the limit of your natural ability to read.

  4. I do agree that limit of natural abilities as far as doubles is a huge matter of desire, courage, time.

    However, I do wonder how far that goes and just where is that point of needing some other ability or talent other than just desire and hard work.

    Double axel? Triples? A specific triple? I'm wondering this because double axel is looming on our near horizon and I've heard everything from "It just takes more courage" to "This is where ability/talent is needed." Halp!

  5. Josette-- it's a post topic! But in the meantime, I'm going to stand my ground. Skaters quit when their definition of "limits of my talent" is equivalent to "more work than I'm willing to put in." There is a supremely untalented skater at my rink. She should really not be able to stand on skates, but she's out there working on that double axel and if her history at this is any indication, she's going to get it.

  6. I think sometimes what people refer to as natural talent is really natural athleticism... and I think that will take skaters to a certain point and then it stops and you have to work hard and perfect technique after that. I think there are kids and adults who can quickly move through the lower leves and go up to FS 5/6 on just natural athleticism before they hit one of the doubles that leaves them frustrated b/c now its more than just being athletic and takes more time and discipline and better technique.

    I also think there are people who lack that natural athleticism who work hard from day one, and sometimes those people surpass the "naturals" because they never took anything for granted and had to get there the hard way.


  7. No that's fine! I'm glad you're taking a stand and standing your ground. You know, as a parent, there are just those days when I wonder whether I'm supporting something that might never happen (a specific element, that is - not getting to the Olympics. ;-). )

    And yes, I do agree that many kids are able to sort of "muscle" their way all the way up to axel. Some even get axel relatively quickly compared to others who are putting in the same amount of hours. But, yes, at some point, not having that exact edge or holding arms in the exact position *is* going to make a difference, and one that often pulls kids back down to relearning three-turns and single jumps. I've heard of quite a few parents with stars in their eyes at Basic 8 or Freestyle 3 suddenly wonder where their wonder kid went.

    The fact is - as we are finding out - that as you move up the ranks, each level gets exponentially more difficult, and that's even for the talented skaters who are at the rink every day for three or four sessions.

    Anyway...can't wait for your double axel/triples post! We're going to be there by end of summer, and I'm going to need a lot of on-line hand-holding and sports parenting therapy sessions as I attempt to keep my mouth shut and remain positive while my skater kid goes through the ups and inevitable downs. :-)

  8. btw, I like the saying "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."

    My kids, of course, hate me reminding them of this. ;-) But it's true for sports, the arts, and academics.

  9. I tend to think single jumps for average middle-age adult onset skaters are like double jumps for average children: achievable with a reasonable combination of natural talent and hard work. Similarly, double jumps for adults are much rarer like triples for children.

    There got to be middle grounds for skaters somewhat above or below the average of their age group. Some hit the wall at triple axel, some at double axel, and some at single axel?

    Looking forward to your post, Xan!

  10. The Same AnonymousJune 15, 2011 at 4:08 AM

    Is the skater working on double axel the same skater who took a year for a one foot glide? I actually printed off that story to inspire me, because I have muscle and coordination problems and I take ages to learn anything.

    I started skating when friends invited me to a public session. I thought I'd be terrible at skating and hate it. Well, I was half right! I'm probably the slowest progressing person ever (with over a year of private coaching, I'm ready to take the equivalent of ISI Alpha), especially for a teenager, but I just love skating!

  11. Being inspired by the spirit of children is one of the wonderful things about this job. Actually that skater has made it to double jumps, amazing in itself. This is another one, who actually also took forever on the simplest things. I'm not sure she understands what a miracle she is;

  12. I tend to think single jumps for average middle-age adult onset skaters are like double jumps for average children Thanks, jjane: this makes me feel so much better! I feel like I've been working on the first three single jumps for a long time without much progress. (Technically, they exist; aesthetically, they are not pleasing. Or high.) Despite knowing what I should be doing differently, I still find it difficult to make my body do those things. Your perspective really helps me realize that patience is going to be my mainstay for a while. Thanks!

    Also, I love Josette's saying about hard work and talent, and I think I'm going to start trotting it out to my kids incessantly now.

    Thanks, Xan, for posts that inspire such helpful discussion, too!

  13. MommyTime, here is a very long thread on adult skaters perspectives, I found it interesting and helpful, hope you enjoy it.