Jul 30, 2011


Not those lessons.

I'm talking about the ones you learn, or teach, without realizing it.

I was thinking about this because of the heartbreaking statement a skater made about the emotional torment she experienced at her rink growing up:
"I asked B why they were so mean to me, and she told me 'well first it was because you had the wrong coach, but then I don't know why we did it after you switched to [for-some-reason acceptable coach.]' And I wondered- does she know that to this day I never really trust that people like me, because of that experience?"
I have these issues myself, especially vis-a-vis teaching. Despite more than a decade doing this, despite a Senior PSA rating, I find myself needing confirmation and assurances that I know what I'm doing. But perversely, I don't want them from the people I like and trust, I want the assurance, the recognition, of my tormenters. (I tolerated serious hazing when I started teaching, being an adult skater who had the audacity to decide that I wanted enter the sacred profession.)

We are all teachers, every day of our lives. I learn as much from the unfledged wisdom of a 5 year old as I do from the most eminent grise. Learning is not facts--facts are just acquired, and easy to find if you forget them. Learning is absorbed. Learning is accountable--because what you learn, you teach.

My young friend's tormenter learned, somewhere, to validate herself by harming others. From her, my friend learned caution, but I hope, also, compassion.

Know what you learned. Teach the right things.

Jul 20, 2011

How to run a competition

I recently took a student to a newish competition (in its 3rd year) at a nearby rink, and I have to tell you, they are doing it right. When I first got the schedule I was somewhat annoyed because my skater had her first event at noon and then the next one at 5, and I thought "what the heck am I going to do for the intervening time?

Well, I was there most of the day, and the time flew. The staff was welcoming, the judges hospitality (also known as food) was fantastic, the volunteers were friendly and the judging was firm but kind. Here's what they got right:

Welcome skaters!
From the moment you turned into the parking lot, until you were walking out the door, there were big, prominently placed signs saying "Welcome," "Congratulations", "Have fun!" as well as well-placed signs for registration, trophies, photos, and all the other things you need. I go to so many competitions where the signage is stingy or missing entirely. It's nerve-wracking enough to compete; having the layout absolutely clear is very reassuring. Furthermore, there was a giant clock graphic in the shape of the competition logo right at the registration table showing whether the competition was running on time. I have never seen this at another competition; it was great.

Program buy-in
Every coach on the rink's staff had multiple skaters in multiple events. The competitors apparently were invited the day before to put up decorations--the place was brimming with colorful balloons. The moms were also invited to help--they were at the registration table, the photo table, the trophy table and the hospitality (i.e. the food). Since all the kids were skating in multiple events, they stayed all day, meaning the place looked...

At a lot of events like this, a family will come, skate one event, and leave, so the audience never reaches a critical mass. This event was brimming with people--in the lobby, in the stands, in the snack bar. It made you feel like you were part of something from the minute you walked in. Further, a friend told me they had all agreed to encourage their skaters to skate, then join the audience and applaud--not just other events, but the skaters that they were competing against. With so many people in the stands, everyone got lots of applause. Further, didn't these kids learn a great lesson about sportsmanship.

Not only did everyone get a medal, no matter their placement (de rigueur at ISI competitions), but every competitor got a really nice tote bag with the competition logo, a competition t-shirt IN THEIR SIZE, lip balm, and gloves. In flights of six, 6th place got a medal too. (ISI flights are generally limited to 5, with medals for all. At some competitions if you end up in a flight of 6, they don't give a medal to sixth place. In a system where "everyone gets a medal" then everyone should get a medal.) Further, they had a podium for 1st, 2nd, 3rd just for families to do photos, but of course everyone stood on Number One. This meant you didn't have to explain to your six-year-old that she "lost."

At ISI competitions, rink coaches provide most of the judging, but guest coaches are asked to volunteer to do this, and rinks are strongly encouraged to have guest coaches on the panel. This competition had a schedule posted where you could fill in your name. I've never been to a competition so welcoming of guest judges--at most they look at you cross eyed and tell you tersely "we're fine." (Go away.) They took the referee position seriously, and gave all the Tots first place. When there were problems, or things they didn't like, they asked the panel for suggestions, and clearly were planning to have a staff meeting to talk about how to make it better next year. (Good heavens, it's going to be better next year? Sign me, and all my kids, up.)

They also gave out raffle tickets for each event you judged, and will do drawings for gift certificates that they got donated by local restaurants and shops.

ISI events are age-segregated, i.e. 13 year olds at level X compete with other 13-year olds at level X. But this means that in smaller competitions, you end up with skater after skater competing in a flight by herself, or "against the book." It's not as much fun, and it's not really "competition." Furthermore, it makes your competition look really lame in the program book, as though you can't attract enough skaters to fill out an event. This competition grouped the skaters in near-age groups, 4-6, 7-9, et cetera. While it puts the younger children at a slight disadvantage, it made for a more dynamic event.

In addition to action photos and competition video, they also had a couple of random vendors-- a jeweler and another one, which I've forgotten. Strangely, their snack bar was closed. During breaks in the competition, they announced the presence of the vendors and encouraged people to buy. So the vendors were probably happy too.

And finally,

This is my number one test of how much a rink really wants to have a competitions. Some rinks have bottled water and an open bag of chips. This rink had HOT LUNCHES. This is a rink that likes its staff and volunteers, and wants to share the love with its guests. Plus they had smarties at the judges table.

What would I change?
While it probably worked out for their coaches, who had multiple skaters throughout the day, for me to have wait 5 hours between events for a single skater was a potential drag. Scheduling similar-level events a little closer together would be nice.

I also wish that ALL competitions of this nature had registration packets for the coaches, with a copy of the schedule. I did not want to have to pay for a booklet, although it now occurs to me that it's possible that this friendly rink wasn't actually charging for these. But you feel so stingy saying "what does this cost" and then not buying it. So I didn't even ask.

I also think they could have done a better job of selling their own program. There are a couple of rinks nearby this one where I know that parents and coaches are not that satisfied; this seemed like a missed opportunity to pass out 10% off coupons or public skate passes; there was also no prominent signage about their program; you had to hunt it down.

What has impressed you at recent competitions in your area?

Jul 19, 2011

Who has the right to teach

More than in any other creative profession I've worked around--music, theater, visual art, architecture--figure skating professionals are unusually threatened by the idea of new members of the profession, and even of volunteers, unusual for youth sports, where volunteer coaches keep the lower levels going.

Competitive students
This, of course, is where most professional coaches come from-- they were once competitive, or at least high-test students. Many clubs will not allow you to coach on their ice without at a minimum, an Intermediate freestyle or equivalent dance test; PSA will not allow you to take even the lowest ratings exam without either having tested, or passed a student, out of the Pre-Juvenile level.

The question comes in when the student is the coach; that is, kids who are still testing or competing. Believe it or not, there are sour grapes among coaches about current students teaching, even on classes, and we all go fairly ballistic when they start having a lot of private students. Some clubs or rinks have rules governing this--no privates if you're a "junior" coach; restrictions on the amount they can charge, etc.

High school skaters
Not quite the same thing as competitive students teaching, this would fall under a similar category to parent volunteers. I get plenty of "non" skaters in my annual high school class who are solid enough on skates to teach tots and beginners, and the daycamp at my rink has the counselors go out with their groups, rather than skating pros.

Adult skaters
This is me. I was a low-level adult skater (barely FS3), which frankly is fairly scandalous. I thought so at the time. Fortunately I am an ethical person and both set about testing the lower USFS levels and getting credentialed through PSA.

But I don't see the difference in a FS5-6+ adult onset skater teaching or a FS5-6/Juvenile+ former child skater teaching. In fact, adults have very important things to bring to the table, starting with they can remember what it was like learning beginning skills because they weren't 5 when it happened. From my observation, adult onset skaters have a very steep acceptance curve among coaches.

Parents who are recreational skaters should not be coaching private students. But I would love to know if there is a program that works utilizing parent volunteers in beginning classes. You'd have to qualify by demonstrating basic skating ability, and you'd have to have some minimal training I think, but every other youth sport absolutely relies on volunteer parents as coaching, judging, and referees . Why not skating?

College skaters
Summer job anyone?

Side job
Some of the best coaches I know have second jobs (or more accurately, the coaching is their second job). In many areas, making a living as a skating coach is nearly impossible, and benefits (vacation, pension, health care) is pretty much unheard of. So, if you've got another job, should that be looked upon as a sign of your lack of commitment? I've heard this argument.

Skating in general needs to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It's better for the sport, the culture and the kids if there's a place for everyone.

Who teaches in your program? Does your club or rink have rules regarding this?

Jul 17, 2011


Here are some of the issues raised in the past few days regarding spins:

ISI curriculum starts the backspin way later than USFS. It's so crucial for the axel jump, really they should not be introduced in the same level. I'd say probably preceding loop, in FS3? ISI does in fact introduce the backspin in FS3, as part of the change-foot although you can spin on either edge. I will tell you that in competition, many judges will award the higher score to the skater who does a correct outside edge back spin portion, no matter how many times an inside edge goes around. By the way, you need to understand the back spin position not just for axel (FS5) but also for loop and flip (FS4).

Anyway, by way of justification, the "any edge will do" backspin does at least get a skater spinning on the other foot, which is hard all in itself.

Why do they introduce the backspin as part of a change foot spin instead of introducing it as a separate element? Actually, I don't introduce the back spin as part of the change foot, nor do most of the coaches whose teaching approach I'm familiar with. We all do stand-alone back spins. In fact, this is one of the place where Basic Skills shines, with its 2-rotation back spin at Free Skate 2. If this element could be paired at a lower level with the change foot concept, you'd have kids getting easy back spins at FS5.

Here's what Randy Winslip, Director of Skating Programs for ISI told me:
"The back scratch spin in FS5 has always been required to be on the back outside edge - since the requirement for the test portion is to enter from a forward inside edge.

While it's great if FS 3 skaters can learn to be on the back outside edge (personally, I always try to teach it like that to save time at higher levels), it has never been a FS3 test or competition requirement for the change-foot spin.

The change-foot spin requirement in FS3 is meant to introduce the concept of spinning on both feet - but that concept is not expected to be mastered at that beginner freestyle level. It's more important that the skater can spin at least the minimum required 3 revolutions on the other foot.

Of course, I personally feel the skater will be much better prepared for FS5 and higher levels if the BO edge is emphasized and learned as early as possible."
I wish someone had told me to start working on my backspin at the same time I started working on forward. I would disagree. Get a solid forward one-foot spin (not necessarily scratch spin) first. Then worry about the back spin. However, it is a good idea to start working on forward scratch spin and beginning back spin around the same time.

How quickly should a skater acquire the scratch spin and the back spin? Both of these skills entail what I call "positions not found in nature." They are very difficult. However, spend the time on these and the higher skills-- loops, axel, double, fast back scratch, forward and back sit, will happen quickly. Just as proper stroking and edges are critical for beginner skaters, these beginner free style skills are critical for successful higher level skating. Don't skimp on the lesson time for these because "we have to start working on axels." Work on these skills until they are solid, because in a major way, you are working on axels.

I would not begin to venture a time line. It depends on the skater's talent and motivation, the amount of time on the ice, and the quality of prior skills.

What are your spin questions?

Jul 14, 2011

Who reads Xanboni?

Results of the poll, total respondents 67 out of estimated readership around 500 per day.
Legitimate ambitions for Nationals this year: 5 (7%)
Always compete at Regionals or higher: 7 (10%)
Only compete at nonqualifying events: 24 (35%)
Only compete at recreational events: 20 (29%)
Never compete: 11 (16%)
By way of comparison I did a rough estimate of my rink (about 150 freestyle level skaters)
Legitimate ambitions for Nationals this year: 5 (3%)
Always compete at Regionals or higher: 15 (10%)
Only compete at nonqualifying events: 30 (20%)
Only compete at recreational events: 30 (20%)
Never compete: 70 (47%)
What do you think the averages are at your program?


About one in five skaters will jump and spin clockwise. Despite this meaning that they jump to the right (think about it), this tendency is called "lefty" jumping. It is somewhat, but not entirely, correlated with left-handedness, although there are right-handed skaters who jump lefty (me) and left-handed skaters who jump righty.

First, let me state emphatically that it doesn't matter which way you jump. There is no benefit or deduction for choosing one over the other. It is easier to teach a skater to jump and spin in the same direction, but again, nothing in the rules or in general technique would theoretically prevent a skater from jumping one way and spinning the other. Most highly competitive skaters now have spins in both directions. Ballet dancers have always done multiple rotation jumps in both directions.

Here's a basic guide:

How can you tell which way a skater jumps
If you are a parent, you basically don't need to worry about it. The coach will figure it out. If you're the kind of parent that feels a little smug and happy when your kid is different from everyone else, and you've got a lefty, I give you leave to brag (lefty skaters are cool, everyone knows it).

The easiest way is to just ask them to jump and do a half turn in the air. Most reasonably talented kids can do this on the ice by the time they're working on back crossovers. You can also watch their bunny hops (kicking with the right foot generally, but not always, indicates a righty or counter-clockwise skater; left kick is a clockwise skater,). There are other tests- have the skater face away from you, then give them something. They will automatically turn in their dominant direction. Ask them to spin. Then ask them to spin the other way and inquire as to which one they liked better (they won't always spin right off the bat in the dominant direction, strangely). Have them skate to the exit and step out without stopping. If they lead with their right foot, they're probably righties. Watch to see which foot they lead with going upstairs. Righties will generally lead with the right foot.

Which hand they write with is not the best indicator. A lot of right-handed people skate lefty.

Very young children have sometimes not established a dominant spin direction, or will change. Don't worry about it.

When should you choose
Most coaches will settle in on one direction or the other as soon as the skater starts to jump and spin (around Basic 6/7 or ISI Freestyle 1). But really you can play around with this all the way up to the back scratch or the axel if the skater really doesn't seem to have a strong dominance. I've turned a FS2 skater around; she was fine. I switched in FS3 (see the whole story below).

Can you jump one way, spin the other
This is great, but the way skating is taught in the U.S. a skater will have a much easier time if they spin and jump in the same direction. This is because the basic backscratch spin position is identical to the air position in all jumps. So then you only have to learn it once. However, if the skater and coach are willing to devote the practice time to it, no harm in being able to spin both directions. ISI Freestyle 9 has a reverse axel as an optional element, and FS7 has a reverse jump as a required element. Opposite direction spin in the IJS competitions counts as a feature, and therefore earns points.

Can you do both
Yes. Awesome.

What if the first coach gets it wrong
Eventually someone will notice.

What it the class coach gets it wrong
This happens a lot, especially with new coaches who don't know the kids in the program, and with inexperienced coaches. With adults it's not an issue because they'll announce their preference, but children need to be taught to tell the coach that they are reverse/lefty/clockwise jumpers (whatever terminology is in use at your rink.). In particular, coaches who don't know the kids very well will assume incompetence before they manage to get their brain cells lined up and manage to ask the poor child which way they jump. I've seen it happen over and over. Further, if you've got a pretty talented skater who suddenly gets incompetent when the jumps start, gently ask the coach if they've thought about trying the student jumping in the other direction. When I started skating I did not know anything about this. Couldn't jump or spin to save my life. YEARS into training, after laboriously learning to jump and spin counterclockwise, a Patch coach finally noticed that everything was stronger clockwise. He tried me jumping and spinning that way and glorioski.

Jul 12, 2011

Shameless plagiarizing

The prior discussion that morphed from "how do you set goals" to "what are the mechanics of competition." Regular readers Josette from Halushki and Skittl1321 had such amazing answers that I decided to cut-and-paste them to their own post.

Future posts inspired by the discussion will include making switch from recreational to competitive, and where to find information. Look for "choosingacoach" and "changecoach" in the Tag Cloud for information about coaching issues associated with competitive skaters.

Here we go; from the discussion:
from Skittl
Junior Nationals is for young (lower levels) skaters: juvenile and intermediate level.

"Regular" Nationals is for older (higher level) skaters: Novice, Junior, and Senior level. The Senior level is considered "Championship" level.

Generally, skaters do move up after winning a title, however, it is not required, with one exception. BUT if you win novice or junior and do not move up to the next level, the rulebook requires that you compete at sectionals the next year to earn your spot (generally high ranked skaters get "byes" to nationals). I'm assuming Jason Brown will compete as a senior this year, but I'm not 100% sure. The exception is for intermediate level champion. I don't know why, but that's what the rulebook says (winner of the US Junior National Championships is ineligible to compete at that level again).

I believe that last year was the first year there was a repeat Novice champion (Men's: Nathan Chen. He repeated because he is a prodigy- first novice title was at 10, and his coach didn't want him to move up and risk burnout/injury. As much as I understand the "don't sandbag mentality, staying at novice makes sense for an 11 year old whose bones are not ready for a triple axel! He is working on one now, apparently) He is moving up to juniors this year, but at 12 is to young to compete internationally as a junior.

*on a side note, another confusion is that international juniors are an AGE level, not an ability. Many of USA's seniors compete internationally as juniors.

from Josette:
Juvenile level just changed so that a skater must be under 14 years old by September 1 to compete. (It used to be under 13 by September 1; of note that some competitions don't follow this rule, but USFSA Regionals and Nationals do.)

My daughter competes Juvenile and places about mid-pack with her highest jump a solid double flip with lots of air time. Most girls we see at this level are between 10 and 12, but some as young as 9. Girls who medal at bigger competitions at Juvenile level have a solid double lutz-double toe/loop combination, double flip-double toe/loop combination, a solid axel (often with a "feature" - hand over head, etc.) National level Juveniles often have a double axel. At the top competitions, there is no room for under-rotated jumps or wonky anything if you want to medal. The kids who did well at Jr.Nationals at Juvenile level last year kids were solid technicians and performers who seemed to compete at least once a month starting in April/May up until Regionals in October. Did they need to? I don't know. But by Regionals, you could tell the "seasoned" competitors.

We've seen a few double axel tries by Juveniles already at May Day Open and Chesapeake Open, but none exceptional.

To place well at Juvenile, solid level 3/4 spins are a must.

To make it more interesting, often a successful Juvenile skater with jumps all the way through double lutz won't make the transition to Intermediate well unless they start to put some heft and height behind their jumps. Small, "spinny" double jumps won't translate to triples, nor do they get marked as well as jumps that actually look to leave the ground. A lot of people who watch "unseen" skaters hold their breath to see whether girls can keep their jumps past puberty and begin to put the whole package together with strong technical (the "tricks") score and strong program component scores (the second score: skating skills, choreography, transitions, interpretation...one more...darn.)

By 14, USFSA skaters need to move up to Intermediate level, but the bronze medalist last year at Nationals was 11yo with double axel and triple salchow. Regional and National Intermediate level winners lately have a double axel and one or two triples. However, you can compete successfully at smaller competitions without double axel or triples.

There are a few cases of kids starting as late as 9 or 10 and doing well. This seems more usual with boys than girls, although still rare. There is one Japanese female skater who (supposedly) started skating at 10 years old and who is 14 now and skated at last year's Nationals with triples. However, the rest of her skating looked decidedly non-senior level.

We're in a holding breath stage with my 12yo. It takes a combination of talent, work, kindness on behalf of the puberty gods, and keeping normal teenage angst/rebellion in check. She has other options, of course. But for the goal in her sites right now, she has to toe the line and listen to her coach. No deviations.

The USFSA Qualifying Levels are Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior, Senior.

There are 9 geographical Regions which get divided into three Sections. http://www.sk8stuff.com/f_basic_ref/regions_table.htm

Every fall, USFSA Regions hold Regional competitions from Juvenile - Senior.

Juvenile and Intermediate (the two lowest levels) do not go to Sectional competitions. They go directly to Junior Nationals. It's only Juvenile and Intermediate skaters.

Novice, Junior, and Senior skaters go to Sectionals, and the top winners at sectionals go on to Nationals.

To make it more confusing, this is all going to change after next year. No more Junior Nationals. Everyone goes to Sectionals and then Nationals.

For the complete discussion, see the comments thread on the prior post, however, let's move this issue over here.

Jul 11, 2011

Whose goal is more important?

I talk a lot about goals on this blog, and I think they're important not just for skaters, but for living. You don't need a GTD® list for daily living or anything, but should generally know where you're going.

The trick with goals of course, is making sure that yours are aligned-- with your child's, your spouse's, your boss's, the universe, and of course, and perhaps most importantly, with the coach.

Skating parents need to practice the following phrase:

"I want..."

...my child to earn all the patches
...to take two lessons a week
...to skate every day
...to find a way to cover costs
...to have him progress faster
...to not have to worry about progress
...to compete
...not to compete
...fill in the blank

You get the picture.

When taking on a student, coaches have a couple of different approaches-- they've privately "vetted" the skater, watching to see if this is a skater with a similar philosophy to their own, regarding work ethic, practice commitment, personality; or they take a student on and then assess how to deal with them. Should they compete? Shall I push a little more or a little less? What kind of time/cost/seriousness can this skater handle?

These are all non-judgmental questions, but coaches look at these things to figure out how to deal with the kids.

Most coaches will have a rough timeline in mind for their skaters.

They don't all bother to share this information with the parents, and even fewer parents share their own ideas with coaches, out of a misguided idea that they don't know enough about skating.

For a recreational skater, the family's/skater's goal is primary. All that's at stake is the skater's interest in skating, so the skater needs to be satisfied. This does not mean that the family and the skater get to choose the content of the lessons. It means if the family doesn't want to compete, they don't compete, and if they can't afford 4 lessons a week, the coach shouldn't make them feel bad about it by comparing their progress to skaters who skate more. (Point it out yes, disparage the student, no).

For a competitive student, the coach's plan takes precedence. If you've chosen to compete at any level, then you have to let the coach get the student to the appropriate skill level. No pushing or holding back, and definitely no micromanaging the lessons.

In other words, it's not whose goal is most important at all. It's making sure that everyone understands what the goals are.

Jul 9, 2011

What does a skater look like?

There's an ideal skater type; coaches sigh and flutter their eyelashes when these kids walk in-- they are naturally slender, look taller than they are, with a low center of gravity and short legs. If their legs are slightly bowed, even better. Sasha Cohen is the perfect example; Yu Na is another one-- they look so tall and slender, but when you see them in person you can't believe how tiny they are. Evan Lysacek and Carolina Kostner are unusual in that they are tall with long legs. As Johnny Weir once remarked, he admired Lysacek because it's really hard to jump "when you're 13 feet tall."

We like the little fireplugs with the power thighs, too. I call them mini-mights. Think Tonya Harding (well, the skating and body type anyway).

And gee, they never seem to wear glasses.

Coaches do talk about your children's looks. We're perfectly awful about it. Sometimes in admiration, sometimes mean, sometimes with a wistful "too bad he doesn't (get contacts, lose weight, tuck in his shirt, come to the rink without his mother...)."

But I hear worse stories, naturally, of the children who are told that they can't be skaters unless they lose weight, or get contacts, or wear their hair a certain way, or that they can't be skaters at all because they are knock-kneed, or slope shouldered, or some other physical attribute completely beyond their control.

So what's the truth, can anyone be a skater?

In a word, yes.

However (you knew there was a however).

Certain body types and morphological issues will limit your "career"-- if you are really overweight (medically overweight, I'm not talking about what we used to call chubby kids who slim down when they hit puberty), then the higher level jumps will be hard. You're just fighting gravity too much, and your flesh will literally be in your way. There is a limit to how hard a fat person can pull in, or how low they can get for a sit spin. (Sorry).

Glasses will fly off your face on a layback or a triple jump. You can get a strap--common in other sports--but because in figure skating presentation is also important, this is just not going to happen. Canadian champion and Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette actually got eye surgery to correct her bad vision because glasses were out and she couldn't handle contacts.

On the other hand, Joannie Rochette is a multiple international medalist, so this kind of step makes sense for her. Your child is just taking Preliminary Moves. So here's the low down:

Yes you can skate in glasses. If your child can handle contacts, fine, but this should be under the consultation of a medical professional, not a skating coach whose self-esteem is wounded by an "ugly" child in glasses. You can take ALL the moves tests in glasses. There is nothing in any Moves level that would be difficult in glasses.

Yes, you can do low-level competitions in glasses. Until you are doing lay backs and double jumps, you are not going to notice them. If they make the skater nervous, get a strap and arrange hair to disguise it. Or not. Make the nerdy look the kid's signature.

There is a very talented obese child at my rink. Yes, there is an upper limit right now to the skills she could acquire, and she cannot compete at a national level with the weight; for one thing training at that level she would simply lose it. But even with the weight there is an axel and probably a couple of doubles in her future. I have seen many many overweight children test at the lower levels without any penalty from the judges.

Her mother knows she is overweight. She doesn't need the coach to tell her. She especially doesn't need the coach to refuse to let her test because the coach disapproves of her weight. Testing is about the quality of the skills, not what the skater looks like. Judges, especially in the lower and recreational levels, understand this. Judges in testing situations are not allowed to take a child's appearance into account, unless it is interfering with the quality of the skills.

Now, if you go to the coach and say that you want her to be nationally competitive, then the coach has a right, even an obligation to tell you what that will take, including losing weight. No child should be on a diet regimen unless they are under medical supervision.

Not classically pretty
It's a sport not a beauty pageant. The next coach I hear who says "she'd be great if she would get a nose job" is going to get her own nose broken. I'm sorry, I have difficulty focusing on a skater's nose when they're spinning at 40 revolutions a second. This attitude is also responsible for generations of black and brown kids who don't even try because they figure they'd be penalized for their skin color. This, thank god, is starting to change.

Too tall
Like the overweight ones, the tall ones have greater difficulty. Even when they're very thin, they simply have more weight to heft off the ice. The center of gravity is necessarily higher. But just as they do not have trouble figuring out how to handle stairs when they are this tall, they also figure out skating.

Slope shoulders
Two words-Rachael Flatt.

Here's the low down--coaches love kids who are easy to teach, we're only human. Medical and morphological issues make kids hard to teach. A competitive coach may not want to be bothered with a skater whom she judges has no shot. And you know what, with this shallow coach the kid doesn't have a shot. I'm also extremely bothered by the prognosticating-- how they heck does any coach know that some kid who wears glasses at the age of 8 or 10 can't ever be nationally competitive because of this? In this culture, how dare a coach hold a child back because she doesn't conform to some ideal? Soviet Russia, okay. Middle class West? Please.

Jul 8, 2011

When do you tell the coach you're leaving?

The only really easy way to leave a coach is to actually leave town, and sometimes I think skating families actually consider this in order to avoid telling the coach there needs to be a change.

In the US skating families are hobbled by what I call the gag rule--it's very difficult to seek a new coach without the old coach finding out, because they're required by PSA rules to rat you out. If you're not a competitive skater the way around this is to quit for three months--just do classes and practice; as far as I'm concerned this cleans the slate. You no longer have a coach and can talk to anyone you want without them having to talk to the other guy. When you quit, make sure you have a final bill in writing, and that the coach physically signs it off as paid when you pay it. This ends your obligation and overrides the gag rule. You now have no coach. Sigh.

If you're competitive it's a little trickier because you can't be without a coach for that long. Of course, you can always just be honest and upfront and tell the coach that you want to change and that you'll be talking to other coaches. Let him know why-- we don't feel the relationship is working/the commute is too long/rink politics are making us uncomfortable/whatever.

Then the current coach can prove you right by being a jerk and making the skater miserable, or by refusing to teach you anymore, or s/he can be a mensch and support your search.

Since the gag rule is so stupid, I cannot believe coaches really follow it. I really think there have to be an awful lot of families out there talking to coaches and asking them to please not tell the current coach until they are ready to switch. Frankly, as far as I'm concerned this is the logical way to do this--talk to any coach you want to and prohibit them from telling your coach--after all talking to a coach is not the same thing as hiring a new coach. It's really no one's business but your own until you actually make the change, at which point you really do have to tell everyone.

It's never easy to "fire" someone, and you shouldn't put it like that; unless the coach has engaged in criminal or abusive behavior (rare) there is no need to burn the bridge. A coach being a jerk is not enough of a reason to destroy a relationship.

So, back to the original question: When do you tell the coach you're leaving?

The second you think it's going to get out anyway.

Jul 5, 2011

SkateMoms Chat!

Got an issue? Got a story? Got an idea to make skating better for you and your kids?

Join me and @RinkSideDamned (aka St. Lidwina) for the first ever #skatemoms chat on Twitter, Sunday July 10 at 8 p.m. Central Time.

We'll do the chat every Sunday at 8, talking about specific topics (How do you choose skates? How do you handle vacations? How do I tell my coach his breath is bad? Where do I hide the bodies?) or, like this first one, in Open Forum-- anything goes-- just to get to know each other.

We want to know what you want to talk about, so bring your ideas, and tell your friends. We'll parse them all out and create a calendar. I hope we'll be able to get some guests, like Rainbo Sportshop to talk about skates, or perhaps even some skaters and their moms who've "been there."

If you're not on Twitter, now's the time! You don't have to tweet, or follow anyone, or pay any attention to the whole rigamarole--just give yourself a name, and you can join us. Don't want to join? You can still follow the chat by going to Tweetchat.com and enter the hashtag #skatemoms. Even if you're not signed in through a Twitter account you can still read the conversation.

So put the date and time in your calendar-- Sunday, July 10, 8 p.m. Central Time (so sorry, UK, we had to balance the followers in Oz with the followers in Middle Earth, and there seemed to be more down there.)

Jul 2, 2011

What makes a good customer?

We had quite a discussion going about how a coach's better customers (i.e. the ones who skate more) are going to get the better customer service in terms of ice time, attention and flexibility.

But what about that "once a week skater." What about all those kids who just do classes, or the ones who take the beginning classes and then decide not to skate or the anonymous families who come week after week, but only to public? Are they "good" customers who deserve to have their needs met, or do we just focus on the lifers?

What makes a customer "good"?

Two ways to think about it-- individual skater who buys a lot, class of skaters that there are a lot of, namely beginners.

The great Jimmie Santee (now head of the PSA) used to do a graphic at coaching seminars showing a pyramid. In the tiny peak at the top were the approximately 500 "elite" skaters--kids in all skating disciplines who compete nationally. Along the broad base were the million or so people who participate in figure skating. You could do a version of this at any scale-- your rink, your region, or, like Jimmie's, nationally.

Coaches and rinks get stars in their eyes over these so-called "elite" skaters. I never worked at a rink that didn't think they were "competitive" and focused an awful lot of attention and effort on the 2 or 3 skaters who had a shot. And, to their credit, I've also never worked at a rink that didn't manage to produce a national skater every few years.

But they've got to come from somewhere. That one skater pulled himself out of the masses of public-session skaters. Putting up barriers to those kids--scheduling, cultural, cost,--keeps these casual customers out of your program and prevents them from becoming the so-called good customers who spend a lot of time (and money) in your facility.

Yes, your high freestyle and competitive skaters are important customers. For one thing they keep your coaching staff happy. They spend a lot of money, and they're great PR. But the beginners won't ever get there if you make it difficult, expensive, or unpleasant to be in your rink.

Gosh, if we only paid attention to the talented people, none of us would have jobs.

Who needs premium ice and the "top" coaches: the hooked customer, or the new customer?

Again, most of the people who skate are casual skaters. It continually astounds me when facilities don't have convenient or frequent public skating (which is also more lucrative ice), giving all the premium ice times to the fewest skaters (high freestyle). Again from Jimmie Santee--most of the kids in your class will sign on not because they saw a catalog, but because they came to public skating or a school outing and had a great time. They didn't come because they saw your best skater; they came because they saw an actual famous skater on tv and wanted to try it, or because mom and dad loved skating recreationally. You top skaters are helping that coach get students, but they are not bringing bodies into the facility.

How do you make this happen?

There's the cynical way: hockey makes parents spend several hundred on equipment; synchro makes you buy lots of "team building" crap like matching guards, bags, makeup, and for all I know feminine hygiene products (really, what a racket), as well as signing a contract. (In other words, if you quit Synchro halfway through a season, no other team will take you and there are no refunds.) These programs, and other youth sports, grab the customer with a costly upfront investment and the promise of instant and long-term companionship.

Your solo skaters need to be lured back-- by good ice times, wonderful teachers, a caring staff, and a well-run facility.

In other words, all of your customers are "good" customers; all customers should be treated with equal respect and have their needs met to the best of the program's ability.

What kind of skater are you? (Take the poll). Do you think your facility does its best to make you feel like a valued customer?