Nov 25, 2011

Etiquette in group lessons

We've been talking about proper behavior in private lessons for coaches and kids (although not so much parents--stay tuned!)

But the vast majority of skaters don't take private lessons. They skate in classes and on public ice. So what are some etiquette pitfalls to avoid for classes? What are common missteps on the part of all parties?

Arrive on time
Especially at rinks where several class levels do a joint warm up, there can be a tendency on the part of coaches to think that they can just wander in when the "real" class begins. And to some extent it's true. The skaters will not have a demonstrably worse experience if one of the coaches isn't there. But you better believe that the coaches who make the effort to be on time for, and to run, the warm up are silently fuming about your arrogance and lack of professionalism. Further, if you are off the ice because you're out in the stands soliciting privates and generally shmoozing the parents you'll be lucky not to find your tires slashed.

I don't even have words for coaches who arrive so late that they miss part of the actual class session. Oh, wait, sure I do. Arrogant. Disruptive. Unprofessional. Childish. Rude. (And, with any luck, Fired)

Be part of the warm up
Don't stand on the boards gossiping while someone else does all the heavy lifting

Treat your students, and their families, like they matter
Seriously? You can't learn the names of 15 kids in 8 weeks?  Here's a clue--take attendance. Greet the parents at least a couple of times during the session, even if you're sure they aren't going to take privates. And, hello. Can we stop with the racist asides? "Oh they're East Asian. Why do these people even try, they don't know how to skate." (actual quote)  How about not telling adolescent girls they're too fat to skate? (Another true story). Here's a good one--everyone in class paid the same price. Not just your students. Not just the "good" students. Everyone is entitled to instruction.

Stay in your area
Know where on the ice your class meets. Make sure your kids stay in their area and don't wander into the neighboring class. Use traffic patterns that keep everyone safe, moving, and engaged.

Arrive on time
It is no less arrogant and disruptive for the students to be late than for the instructors. If I see you sitting in the lobby and you can't be bothered to get on the ice for the beginning of the warm up, I shouldn't even let you into the class. Now, sometimes the kids don't have control over this; if your parent or your school makes you late, call the rink and ask them to inform the coach. (Seriously) If you can't, then apologize to the coach and the class when you do get there.

Be part of the warm up
Aside from being important for health reasons, it is simply rude to consider yourself above any part of the instruction. If you're not going to participate, please don't come.

Be respectful of the coaches
You are the student. Your opinion on technique, choreography, class management (except in the case of a violation of #3, above) is not salient to the moment. If you have a serious disagreement, bring it up, respectfully, outside of class, and in a way that does not challenge the coach's professional authority. This means not whining to your mother because the coach told you that your language or dress was inappropriate (you can tell I'm talking about teens here).

For younger students, the ice class should be treated like a classroom. This means no wandering off without permission, engaging in the activity presented, and no talking when the coach is talking.  You know, all that "everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten" stuff.

Share the ice
Especially in the warm up, remember that this is class, not Sunday afternoon public skate. This means you're warming up, not socializing. No hotdogging. No getting on and off. No food. No gum. Watch out for the little guys and the beginners.

Arrive on time
Sigh. And don't sign up for a class that you know you will be habitually late for, or absent from. This is not rocket science.

Don't be part of the warm up
Sit down. Take a load off. Better yet, help keep the rink open by going out to the snack bar and spending some money. Do not under any circumstances stand by the glass, or worse yet in the door shouting at your child. If your child is too young to handle a class without you standing right there, then they are not ready to be in class. I have had parents stand in the door yelling at their child to pay attention to me. Well, they would be, if you weren't standing in the door yelling at them.

Let the coach be the coach
Don't tell them how to do their job. Don't tell them what your child is like*, don't assume miracles the first day. Accept evaluations; please don't go to a different coach for an evaluation if you don't like the outcome from the class coach. This undermines the coach among his colleagues and teaches the child a very bad lesson. Plus, it will give you a rep that you don't want.

*Special needs
Please please please please tell the coach if your child has been diagnosed with a special need. Tell the coach exactly what it is, but don't expect a class coach to be an occupational therapist. If there are specific physical, pedagogical or therapeutic needs then this needs to be shared and dealt with before the child steps on the ice. Municipal rinks are generally required to provide an aide for special needs kids, and some coaches, like me, welcome and are trained for them. But we need to know upfront to optimize the experience, not only for your child, but for every child in the class.

On the other hand, do NOT tell the coach this unless you have a medical diagnosis.

I know your child is special. They're all really special. Good manners helps everyone honor that.


  1. What about having coaches enforce good skating behavior on practice ice. At my rink coaches just stand around and chat while watching the bad behavior (skating backwards without looking, skating fast and sliding, skating in an uncontrolled manner, etc) and they do nothing. We need a rink guard on practice ice more than we do on publics. It's a free for all. If the adults aren't going to get serious about the rules, the rules don't exist.

  2. The bad behavior originates with coaches and parents. If they won't tolerate it, it won't happen. And the adults' bad behavior originates with lax management. If management won't tolerate, it won't happen. Believe me, I've worked at both kinds of rinks. The ones with the tough standards and the engaged management are the happier rinks.

    Practice ice is a whole different topic; let's focus on class behavior here.

  3. At my rink the 50-min group lessons = 25 min "supervised" practice and 25 min lesson. In order to accommodate many different levels of people signing up for lessons at a given time, the rink often has half the students get lessons in the first half, while the others (adults) practice (unsupervised). Then, while the kids have practice, we adults get our lessons. It would be a good system (good in that they're willing to let two or even one adult count as a "group" and pay group rates, rather than mix together adults who are in Basic 2 with those in FS3 for one class). BUT, the coaches who are "supervising" the practicing tots (these are all preschoolers, as this is a Tues morning session) do not necessarily keep the little ones on their half of the rink. So here I am, trying to take a lesson and work on footwork or a waltz-toe loop combo or something, and 3- and 4-yr olds with mini hockey sticks come barreling through my lesson. It is unnerving because they have even less control than I do on skates. Also, it seems to me pretty inconsiderate. I paid for lessons just like the kids did. I don't skate through their lessons during my practice; I stick to my 1/5 of the ice.

    So my question is: to whom do I mention this as problematic? My coach? Their coaches? LTS Director (who seems pretty oblivious)? Or am I over-reacting in thinking they ought to be controlled?

    I should probably add that my lesson sometimes runs later than the 50-minute mark because my coach is very conscientious, and she often runs late with the tots she is teaching in the first half. So if my lesson starts 10 min late, she will end it 10 min late also, to be sure I get the full lesson time. I realize that I probably can't do anything about kids skating through my lesson at that point, since the lesson session is over. But what about before?

  4. Two errors here: not running the lessons on time, and not maintaining discipline on the ice. Mention it to your coach, in a way that makes it sound like concern "I'm so afraid I'm going to run into one of the little darlings" (i.e. if that little monster comes at me one more time I'm slicing off her ear with my blade). If the coach refuses to do anything about it, take it to management. A simple solution for this is to put cones down the dividing line. Kids understand borders. In fact, you could just do that yourself, pretty much without asking, or go get the cones, present them to a coach and say, would you mind putting these down the line between the adults and the kids so there's no confusion?

  5. my pet peeve is the coaches who only pay attention to their own students. Its so sad to see all the other kids pathetically trying to get the coach to pay attention to them and always failing. My daughter always dislikes the group lessons for this reason. I hate that I pay to have her spend more than half her time standing by the boards.

  6. Ditto anonymom - same rink, ha! And parents, please speak to the coach AND the skating director, otherwise the skating director will imply the person who files complaint is overreacting because "there was no complaint against coach X in the past 6 months". I avoid such group coaches at all costs, will not even do make ups with them because it's worse than independent practice. Rinks, if you want to improve the program and fairly assess your coaching staff, (exit) surveys are good starting points before skaters move to other skating prorgams.

    Special kudos to my Coach who always runs the group warm up, always arrives at least 5 minutes early for group lessons and makes himself available in the lobby, treats all students fairly, and uses every minute wisely.

  7. I should amend that even the "bad" group lesson coaches have their good / endearing aspects. They really seem to like the kids too. Is what makes it so puzzling that they don't see or don't care about ignoring much of the class in the group lessons affects the kids.

  8. anonymom, don't you believe it. Those coaches who seem to be ignoring all but their kids are also making remarks about the other skaters ranging from "why does she bother" to "she's too fat, it's not worth my time to teach her." Ignoring children in class is the prime sin, and it just mystifies me that parents aren't banding together to demand an end to a seniority system which means that the same terrible coaches are the only ones who ever teach in the high level classes--every wonder why those classes are so empty? It's because the kids get tired of being ignored. Everyone has endearing qualities, who cares? The ONE quality you want in a teacher is that they teach all the students, not just a select few based on the coach's own metrics and needs.

    If the skating director is responding in such an unfeeling way, my advice is to go over that person's head--WAY over--to the municiple program director or the rink owner and state that you are *not spending money on these programs anymore* because of these coaches. Don't talk about how unhappy Princess is. Just tell them you're voting with your wallet. That's what they care about.

    Exit surveys are a great idea, but if you're dealing with a management that doesn't even listen to the comments or complaints of people still in the program, then it's never going to happen. These sorts of programs actually want the complainers to leave; they don't understand that complainers are the ones who make your programs stronger, and that responding to complaints makes allies, while ignoring them just makes ex-customers.

  9. Rant mode on.

    I went up, way up in the hierachy during the painful process which dragged on for months. Sadly things like "ignoring students" and "incorrect dance step sequence taught" are not as easily proved as "making phone calls during class", unless there are more people complaining.

    Forgot to mention the endless "stand by the boards and demonstrate skill X, Y, Z one by one". What's the point of stopping to practice and watch 9 students attempt a skill if the coach is not giving any feedback whatsoever?

    A good coach will start with quick overview if needed, then gives the class as much ice time as possible and goes around for specific corrections, stopping the class only to give quick pointers on common mistakes.

    And yeah, leaving the ice for extended conversation and asking anoother coach to cover his kids. One emergency, fine. But how frequently does this need to happen? Have I mentioned in-class phone calls and standing by the boards talking on and on, not even facing / looking at the students?

    Rant mode off.

  10. @jjjane45 - was this FS4 or FS5? What was the response of the skating director? Must admit I have complained only once when it was particularly egregious.

  11. Anonymom, if you are a member of, PM jjane45 there please.

  12. sorry not a member - not even sure what it is