Apr 22, 2012

Adult-friendly rinks

Last week USFS Adult Nationals was held in Chicago, with hundreds of competitors on the ice. Adult Nationals (and other adult competitions) are wonderful, inclusive events with lots of opportunities for skaters at every level, minimal qualifying requirements, and a positive warm atmosphere.

I almost never hear negative stories about the big adult competitions. Whatever it is that ISI and USFS is doing for the adults, they are apparently getting it right.

A great experience at adult competition starts with a coach who understands adults. And where do you find them? In classes. Here are some of the things to looks for:

For a lot of adult-onset athletes, the community and the friendships (or the shared misery) are almost as important as the skill. Look for a "Cheers" class- where everybody knows your name.

A lot of rinks crowbar the adult classes into the ice times that no one else wants. Look for a rink with mid-evening, weekend morning (Saturday or Sunday), and Sunday evening classes, as well as the more typical weekday midday times, and you've got a winner.

Ice show
I was stunned to find out that not all ice shows include their adult skaters! And then I looked at the program and, yup, not very adult friendly. An ice show number for adults says "we care about this part of our program."

Experienced coaches
A lot of younger coaches hate teaching adults. I hear this again and again. They think it's weird to teach someone their mother's age. And you know what? It is. A program with experienced coaches teaching adults is a good sign.

A great adult coach will let the skater set the pace more than for a kid. But only up to a point. Adults are notorious for stopping just shy of their comfort level. A good adults coach can push this limit back without triggering the fear response. 

Are the same coaches who have adults in privates the ones teaching the adult classes? If so, you've found coaches who like teaching adults. If the adult class coach has no adult private students, that coach might as well hang a big red flag saying "I'm not good with adults."

A famous skater at a local rink actually killed a fairly robust adult program because the adult skaters hated the coach so much. They begged the skating director not to assign this coach. Director wouldn't listen, so they stopped taking the classes. End of program.

What clued you in that you'd found a great adult coach, or someone who should NOT  be teaching adults?


  1. I think this ties back to some of the points you made in your "cookie cutter coach" post. My coach is young but is great at adapting her teaching style to her various skaters, whether recreational or competitive, adult or kid, etc. I watched the coaches here teach for quite awhile before choosing a coach, and her adaptability impressed me. She also knows how to push appropriately. I've accomplished things I never thought would be possible because of her expectations.

    1. Didn't mean to imply that young coaches are never good with adults--that's not at all true. More, that a program that never puts its experienced coaches on the adult classes is probably not an adult-friendly rink. Either they aren't giving these often more-expensive coaches the choice to teach adults, or they aren't attracting coaches who like this segment.

    2. I think that a good adult coach recognizes that the pace of progress is more erratic for adults. Mine, for example, is willing to let me keep working my way up through FS levels on edges, footwork and jumps, even though my spins are at a much lower level. She recognizes that spins are just going to take me longer (for many adults, I think this element that moves at a slower pace is often jumps), and she doesn't put the rest of my skating life on hold because I don't have a good scratch spin yet. I think this is less practical for younger skaters who are progressing through levels on a test/competition schedule than it is for adults, who are often working on a "keep me challenged" level that isn't so much about facing external panels of judges.

  2. It's a little ironic that you said glowing things about ANs when I heard a number of complaints about the competition this year from people who went. There were some real problems with the execution this year, apparently.

    That said -- I've been to 3 Adult Sectionals competitions (I'm not eligible for ANs) and yes, I agree they are wonderful competitions. A great time, fun people, and a lot of great skating.

    Not too much to add to your post that I didn't say in the "cookie cutter" post, other than to say that my first coach, a former National competitor in ice dance, was a mere 22 when I started working with her. She was a wonderful coach, willing to push me when I needed it (most of the time!). It is probably true in general that younger coaches find it harder to teach adults because they're not sure how to push them, and also for some of them they aren't used to the somewhat more analytical approach many adults need/prefer. My experience is that most adults don't want just a demonstration, but an explanation as well. That usually takes some experience.

    Thanks for a great topic!

  3. "My experience is that most adults don't want just a demonstration, but an explanation as well. That usually takes some experience."

    My son took lessons at 16 and that was his big complaint - he would ask HOW something was done and the coach would just tell him to "just do it like this" and "don't think about it, just do it." He told me "Mom, I need to know the physics of it." He quit. ~Meg

    1. The Same AnonymousApril 24, 2012 at 6:33 PM

      I agree. With salchows, my class coach demonstrated the take off and jump in enormous detail, and I picked up on two things I'd been doing wrong.

      I almost immediately began landing the jump, even though the coach didn't have time to give me specific attention on it that week.

      That teaching style might not work for kids, who might not yet have the attention span/engagement to independently compare the coach's technique to what they're doing. But for motivated adults who are listening, it can work well, especially in a big class where there isn't time for everyone to get personalised instruction on each element every week.

  4. I'm lucky that I skate at adult-friendly rinks. When I decided I wanted to take private lessons, I had a long list of potential coaches who I liked from group lessons (mine and my son's.) I ended up choosing my coach based on three big reasons:

    1) His teaching style - He tells me what to do, shows me what to do and helps me do it. And, he provides context to help me understand what I'm learning and why.

    2) His attitude -- He makes skating fun. Yes, he makes me work hard, but it's a blast. I take about two lessons a month. If I could afford it, I'd definitely take more, I always leave my lessons in a good mood. It's like therapy!

    3) His professionalism -- Even though I'm a non-competing, non-testing recreational skater, my coach has high expectations for me. It seems like he thinks there's a right way to skate and that's what he's teaching, whether it's me or his super-competitive skaters. I find that motivating.

    I've had such great experiences as an adult-onset skater. The skaters, the coaches, the rinks...they've all been wonderful. My only regret? That I didn't start sooner!

    1. I know what you mean. If I'd started 30 years earlier I can just imagine how awesome I would be and how my life would be different (for the better).

    2. Haha, Michelle. Add in that he's got a sense of humor, needed since his student is a blogger!

    3. Yeah, I thought I'd actually leave a serious comment about my coach for once. Poor guy, he's been such a good sport about my blog.

  5. I've also had positive experiences as a brand-new adult-onset skater. Before I started skating a couple months ago, I went to two different rinks, and knew which one I liked when I found a lot of adults skating there, taking lessons, and welcoming me as a new face. I started lessons with a private coach that a couple other adults recommended, and she's been great -- she has that analytical approach mentioned above. Like Meg's son, I need to know the physics of a movement and she's great at articulating it, sometimes in a few different ways if I'm not getting it the first time.

    I'm also taking Learn To Skate class with a couple other adults, and I find that the coach there is a lot less thorough. She's the type of coach who, if asked how to do something, has to do it before she can explain. I've seen her giving private lessons as well and I think she mostly has younger students, and her style probably works better for kids who can mimic her movements. Me, I need the physics lesson because if my brain doesn't understand, my body isn't following.

  6. I'm not an adult skater, but I've met a lot of them. One adult skater came up to me and told me how good at skating I was, and it made me so happy. Compliments from other people about my skating always make me happy, since people in my family don't even watch me skate.