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.


  1. Feeling bad for the young skater, that's mentally destructive, especially if she spends lots of time at the rink.

    An excellent skating pro does not mean once skating at a high level, or Guss Lussi the ski jumper will chase you down. Professionalism, talent to TEACH, extensive knowledge (different skill set from high level skating), and passion for students are equally important.

    Xan, I don't know about other coaches' privates, in group lessons there are few coaches who cannot compare to you in any of the above. Your passion for EVERY student is impressive too. I'd imagine this is not a comfortable thought to "tormentors". (And your skating looks great, definitely no worse than many other coaches currently show on the ice.)

    I am evidently pained by unprofessional skating pros and avoid them at all costs, probably because I have been spoiled by top-notch coaches who 1) spot problems and give you the right drills to address them 2) treat all group lesson students with great passion and engaging every minute to watch and critique. It's night and day compared to the one who runs group lesson like private lesson to his private student and everyone else just air. (ops rant mode accidentally on)

  2. "Everyone else just air" my new favorite phrase to describe this phenomenon. Thank you so much for your kind words. Remembering, and acting on the idea, that *every* student is important makes my days shine. Ignoring a class is, frankly, boring.

  3. Agree with jjane! sooo annoying when coaches have a group class of 8 or 10 kids and spend half their time with the one kid who is their private student and the other half shooting the s@it with the coach on the next circle. Yep those other lost baffled kids are nothin' but air

  4. Skating teaches a lot of lessons, many of them quite difficult. You don't always win. Sometimes your best just isn't good enough. Sometimes things come easily and sometimes they don't. You fall, you're cold, you're tired.

    These are all good life lessons. As for interpersonal relationships -- I'm not convinced these are any different than outside the rink, *except* for the factor that skaters are constantly around others who are very obviously better and worse than they are (skills-wise). There are life-lessons there, too, for those who will learn them.

  5. Gordon, this is it exactly. These things happen elsewhere as well. But skating is not school or temple--it's not something you must do, it's something you choose to do. At a place like a rink you should expect to find support, friendship and affirmation, not a minefield of cliques, dismissal and unearned criticism. And make no mistake, if there are cliques and cruel behavior among the children, the adults are facilitating it, if not actively supporting (read "The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth" by Alexandra Robbins about how adults support destructive and hurtful behavior among children).

  6. "And make no mistake, if there are cliques and cruel behavior among the children, the adults are facilitating it..."

    I couldn't agree with this statement more. At the rink we just left, it's the synchro teams that are a huge collective clique. And it's not the kids fault because they are generally nice kids, it's the coaches...more specifically one of the coaches. She has too much power at the club and creates these problems through her "team building" practices. (I personally think she is very insecure and uses synchro to feel special, validated.)

    Here is a prime example of synchro exclusionism: Just this last week, club members competed at ISI Worlds. The only kids & coaches invited or encouraged to participate in Opening Ceremonies were the synchro teams (with their special T-shirts). They organized themselves but didn't bother to include other skaters from the club who also competed at Worlds, including DD who was representing this club for the last time. To this coach's way of thinking, they (synchro) ARE the club. There are no others.

    It's a very difficult environment at this club for skaters who have decided to no longer skate synchro. They are excluded from consideration for any privilege--talk about dismissal! .

    I don't think the coach nor the board realizes how this is negatively affecting the club. Almost all former synchro skaters have left this club soon after they quit synchro. Why stick around and be constantly reminded that you're a second class citizen? It's like this coach uses the plight of ex-skaters as an example to coerce current skaters into continuing...lest they end up an outcast like their former teammates.

    There's no point in complaining to the club board either because the board consists of exclusively synchro parents and a couple of adult skaters. We discovered that the friendships we formed at this club were mostly artificial and fleeting and based solely on synchro. No matter how much volunteering we did at this club, we just didn't have any value because our DD didn't skate synchro any longer. So, we're off to greener pastures in pursuit of a more organic experience (as in less toxic). No synchro teams at our new club.

  7. Anonymous @ 10:24AM, can non-synchro parents volunteer to become board members, to slowly bring about changes?

    anonymom and skating parents out there, I realize as observers it's more difficult to figure out what's really happening on the ice, and sometimes younger skaters don't know the difference. But if there is something you are uncomfortable with, I am sure skating directors everywhere appreciate constructive criticism that improve the program. Email them, call them, see them. Try to make a difference for your own skater and others.

  8. I'm anonymous at 10:24.
    I was told that the exiting and existing board members decide on new board members, so we are not allowed to volunteer.

    I have expressed my concerns about the direction of the club to the current club president, various board members, our former coach (who is the ISI director and one of the synchro coaches who organized the Worlds exclusive walk-in), our ice dance coach and the club's membership chair. The board president was very dismissive and other board members just don't see that there is a problem because they can't put themselves in our shoes.

    This club has a long reputation as a synchro club, and in fact, we came to this club to skate synchro. They are not interested in change. The general feeling is that the synchro skaters are somehow making more of a contribution to the club than other skaters. My observation is that they are, in fact, buying less contract ice than non-synchro skaters and spending less on lessons with club individual coaches than other skaters in order to pay for synchro because the program is so expensive.

    To the club's benefit, synchro does retain more of the marginal skaters who might otherwise leave skating because their individual skills are not as strong.

    Their synchro program is declining and they struggle to put enough skaters on the ice. The club is in a metropolitan area with many strong synchro programs, including USFS world medalists. The other programs are in the suburbs where there are more potential skaters and they tend to be more innovative and creative. The accomplished synchro skaters from the area looking for a more challenging team are going to those programs.

    I think we've done and said a lot to try to help but we have been dismissed, so we made the decision to leave the program because we are concerned about their future viability.

  9. Unfortunately, there are also skating directors and club leaders who don't view questions and difficulties as constructive criticism or positive engagement but rather as a challenge to their ability and authority. Most people, like Anon 10:24, don't bother to try, especially where there are multiple other options. And these clubs and rinks would know this, except the ones with these kinds of problems are also the ones who don't do exit surveys for people leaving, because they figure they're just better off without the trouble makers.


  10. I'm Anon 10:24:
    Amen, Xan!

  11. As a parent to watch my skater. Dd was involved in a show and the number they were in was based on skill level. At the first rehearsal I could see dd's face change from happy to sad with the whisper of another skater. When she got off the ice I asked her what happened and she said the other skater said she wasn't good enough to be in the group number and why was she there.

    If I had not seen her reaction to the whisper, I would not have been able to figure out why she was now less than enthusiastic about the performance. She is under ten and would not have known this was not okay - the other girl was 3 years older. She had no idea how to deal with this new situation.

    We spent the next week talking about it, role playing, she came up with ideas in her response from the sensible to fantasy.

    I really wanted to call the parent and coach and tell them to deal with it, but dd also needed to LEARN from this experience that she was capable of trying on her own to make it work.

    When it was time for the next rehearsal the girl came over to bully dd more. She told dd again that she didn't belong with that group and dd said loudly "Why don't you talk to Coach X about it!" The girl's coach was directing the number and not one to put up with any nonsense. The girl backed off knowing dd was going to be vocal and unafraid and she was embarrassed because she knew her coach would be disappointed.

    Because the adults were never directly involved, the girls DID learn to get along and now they are friendly. Good thing because they are often put together in classes and skating is a small world! eM

  12. I heard some rinks survey the parents regularly, it surely involves a lot though. Heck, a noticeable suggestion box for the skating program will probably suffice, if the management is determined to improve the program.

    One of my favorite quotes is "Be the change you want to see in the world" by Mahatma Gandhi. Sitting back will not move things toward the positive direction.

    Anon 10:24, you did everything you could and have every right to vent! LOL

    eM, I like how you handled the situation.