Jan 7, 2012

All this work and you still suck, maybe you need a new coach.

Or maybe not.

But something isn't working. How do you figure out what it is?

The single biggest reason that skaters don't improve is that they don't do what the coach is telling them to do. With kids this will be about skating more, and using practice time effectively. With adults and older teens who are "stuck" it's even more basic; these skaters are often afraid to do motions that the coach is asking for-- it feels wrong (you want me to turn my shoulders how?) and they always have excuses (here are some of the ones I myself used yesterday-- "I was injured, I used to be able to do that, I haven't skated in a class in years, I've never been able to do that, I'm afraid").

While there are many good reasons to switch coaches, your own lack of progress is seldom one of them (although not never, read on!). Here are some things to do when faced with this situation:

Listen to the coach
If the coach is telling you that you need to do A to get to B, then you Have To Do A. This means if she says "more speed or you won't be able to do this skill" believe it. If she says your hip isn't open enough, then your hip isn't open enough. You cannot blame the coach for your lack of progress if you're refusing to do the basics that lead to that skill.

Listening to the coach will also help you understand if the problem is that the coach is not listening to you. If you are having trouble with a specific skill, and all the coach keeps saying is "lift your free hip" over and over, then there are two things going on: first, you're not lifting your free hip, but second, the coach is not giving you the information you need to understand what that means. A coach who's trying to help you get the skill will find multiple ways to say the same thing. A coach who has written you off, or checked out, will just say the same thing over and over.

Do what the coach is asking, even when the coach isn't there
This might mean writing down the coach's criticism, word for word.

Practice with a friend
You'll tend to skate better if you feel like you're a little on the spot.

Ask the coach why you aren't progressing
My guess is the coach will look at you like you're crazy, because you probably are progressing more than you think you are. But if you feel this way, the coach deserves to know. Maybe because you've been holding back, he's been holding back. Maybe he's been focusing too much on a skill that's difficult for you, out of both his own and your frustration with the skill. Talking to him about it may help him find a new way to teach it, or may help him think of something to teach you that you'll pick up quickly and build your confidence.

Take video of your lessons and practices
You'll notice two things-- you look terrible, and you look great. First, video always demonstrates that you don't look the way you think you look. You aren't 19 anymore. But you'll also see that in fact you're doing the skills that you think you can't do. It will also help you see what the coach sees. In three months, tape the same moves again. Compare them; have you actually progressed after all?

Parents--ask for progress reports
Ask the coach for a regular time to talk about your skater when there's no time pressure, and the skater can't hear you. Use your judgment as to whether to share the content or even the existence of these conversations with your skater.

For girls who stop progressing
Do some unannounced drop ins on the coaching sessions. I hate to say it, but girls will respond to inappropriate touching, suggestive language, bullying, or emotional abuse by withdrawing emotionally.  I would like to emphasize that it might not be the coach, even if the coach is the one getting the brunt of the reaction. It might be others in the skating "family"-- monitors, other skaters, even other coaches, the management. Bullying was an enormous problem at the Ice Rink of the Damned while my daughter was growing up there. I also feel very strongly that if a child says that they don't want to skate with Coach A anymore, you should listen. No point in paying a coach that your child dislikes.

So now you've concluded that it isn't, or isn't entirely the coach's fault. I'd give it another 4 months before making a change. Let the coach know that you're frustrated (or your skater is frustrated), but you want to make it work. Get "specialty" lessons in the problem skill from a second coach which the primary coach recommends. If after four months of honest effort on both parts, then maybe make a change, with the original coach's help. I cannot be the only coach who places her students when they want to change.

Here's "St. Lidwina" on reasons not to leave a coach.

Have you ever "saved" a coaching relationship?


  1. This is great advice. Thank you.

    I will say that for adults, especially, since our timelines are generally more flexible, sometimes practicing a related skill will help with THAT ONE that isn't progressing even without practicing that ONE a lot. My excuse for spins is that they make me terribly dizzy, so I can only work on them about 5 minutes at a time. Of course, I don't progress very quickly. But I find that the weeks I spend substantial time working on the things that are all about edge control, my spins improve a bit, even though I'm not working on the spins themselves more than usual.

  2. I really like this post and have tried a lot of this stuff with success. The one thing I often fail at though is doing what my coach asks when he's not there. It's just easier to do some things "my way." I know I'm cheating and I know if coach were there he'd be barking, "No! No! No!" And yet, I do it. Bad Michelle! Bad! I always get dinged on this stuff when my coach is around, so you'd think I'd learn my lesson. I'm so hard-headed sometimes.

    The one thing I would point out is that if you're working with a coach who doesn't speak English as a first language, they may be saying the same things over and over. It's not necessarily because they've written you off or checked out, they just might not have enough English words yet. If only my coach had fewer English words! :-) I've had friends in this situation and they overcome it by having their coach demonstrate more or physically help them more during their lessons.

  3. Good post! I think for myself I know what I'm supposed to do (I can hear my coach's voice in my head), but I don't know how to make my body do what he's asking. This comes from 30 years of being a couch potato.

  4. "I don't know how to make my body do what he's asking"

    This. :P

  5. Second Mer's comments about coaches for whom English is a second language. I find looking at videos of other skaters useful. I'm then able to go back to coach and open a dialog. Usually the answer is that I'm not at the level in the videos, and he's able to show me how he's getting me there by building my skills.
    Sometimes the videos remind me of stuff that coach has told me, but my brain dropped out, or I finally understand some comment he made.

  6. Language difficulty good point, but I'm not even so much talking about a coach who keeps saying the same thing, as one who doesn't find a new way to get the concept through. There are multiple drills and tricks that you can do for just about anything. Is your coach giving you these, or just making you practice the mistake?

  7. Xan -- I'm not understanding..

  8. So, say you're having difficulty with a mohawk. I can tell you "open your shoulders," "bring your free arm through," "heels together," "t-position and rotate," "step goes INTO the circle," "rock to the backwards edge," "look towards your starting point before you step," "make a tiny spreadeagle," "step rotate step," and about a dozen other specific instructions.

    I can have you drill each piece--edge only hold; edge plus free foot position hold; edge plus free foot plus shoulder rotation hold; edge plus free foot plus rotation and step=mohawk. I can have you drill on a slowly diminishing snail shell spiral and then do the turn at the tiny circle in the middle of that pattern. I can have you jump turn. I can have you do it on two feet.

    Or I can tell you rotate and step a hundred times.

  9. Which is exactly the difference between a good coach and a bad/bored coach. Sometimes it just takes one lesson with a different coach (even if yours is good) to have someone else say the same thing with slightly different words and for it to all make sense.

    This actually raises another interesting question - can your coach actually teach YOU? I've certainly had coaches who just don't explain things the way I understand (it's probably related to whether you are a visual/audio/moving learner and whether they were). And then there is the whole question as to whether a "good" coach is necessarily good for all ages - certainly I have yet to find a really good childrens coach who can actually explain things the way a 5 year old can comprehend rather than the way an adult does.

  10. MKP this is such an excellent point. Sometimes that teacher-student thing just doesn't click for myriad reasons. You can also have coaches who don't share your goals, and this is an impediment as well. I had a coach once who was just *too* good in a funny way. She wasn't satisfied with the adult-skater mantra of "that'll pass the test!" She wanted superlative, not only good enough. So that was a funny kind of non-progress, where she was actually having me skate at a higher level than I needed, or frankly, wanted to (as in, didn't have the time to get to that level. She wouldn't let me test Bronze because she wanted it to be so much better than it was. So I never put out a test that would, frankly, have passed.)

  11. We've dealt with the "cookie cutter" coach who had the same schedule, the same instructions, and the same goals for all her students. She never considered the individual skater's needs or goals.

    There was also the same excuse for every pre-teen and teen skater...hormones. She didn't make an effort with the students from age 11-16. It was never about HER inability to relate to these kids, it was about how these kids were unteachable at this age (so why did she agree to coach this age group?).

    She was an example of a coach who was physically present but mentally checked out. My theory was that she was over-extended and really didn't have the time or energy to think about what the skaters needed. She picked a formula and tried to apply it to everyone.

  12. MNsk8mom. "Cookie cutter coach" stolen for a future post title ;)