Apr 9, 2012

The cookie cutter coach

This is one of those "there are two types of" posts. Because there are two types of coaches.

Well, okay, three (um, four).

The first two types have a good handle on their own teaching style, and respect for students.  These are, first, the coach that adapts their own goals and teaching style to each student. This coach will have a couple of serious students, a synchro skater working her way through the tests, a once-a-weeker, someone working on the axel, and a couple of tots. She works with each student at their own pace and learning style.

The second coach has one of those types of skaters, 17 times over. This coach has identified the type of skater she works best with and seeks them out. She's honest with parents up front, telling them exactly what she expects of her skaters.

Then there's the cookie cutter coach.

This coach has the range of the first coach above, but forces every student into the same mold. This is the coach that is telling some poor clueless parent that their child isn't working hard enough, or has the wrong body type for figure skating, or needs more lessons. Or worse, drops the child, loudly blaming the child or the parent for the child's poor success.

Some cookie cutter coaches aren't dishonest in this way, they're just clueless. They don't have a good range of teaching approaches to adapt from, so they just keep giving the same lesson to everyone, regardless of whether it's working or not.

The cookie cutter coach will take any student that approaches them. Rather than actual successful (whatever your definition of that is) skaters, she's got PR--she's the coach of the "popular" kids, or makes a big fuss when they're all going to some competition (but no corresponding fuss when they all do poorly). She sells her kids matching outfits, makes a production of group lessons, and talks a big game.

In a way, the cookie cutter coach is like coach #2--they are able to teach just a certain type of student. But unlike coach 2, they're not being honest with themselves or their students about their own teaching style, whether deliberately or not.

Have you ever encountered, or taken lessons from, a cookie-cutter coach?


  1. Unfortunately I've experienced the "cookie cutter" coach a lot as an adult skater. There are a significant number of coaches who treat adults with a sort of mild condescension ("how cute, you want to skate!") and have very low expectations. They don't understand that some adult skaters need/want to be pushed (to an extent that varies!) and instead consign them to a lowest common denominator.

    I'm sure this happens in all levels but that's all I have experience with. I've been fortunate enough to find and skate with coaches who don't have preconceived notions as to what I am capable of, but are willing to push the envelope (within reason) so I can improve consistently.

    1. All but all 2 of my coaches were cookie cutter coaches. None of them were rude to me or anything, but I could see they didn't have a range of teaching skills. I think if you start skating at 4, you never learn to consciously overcome skating problems and don't have a deep understanding of skating skills--you just can skate, that doesn't make you a good coach. I've come to think of this as the norm in coaching.
      My present coach is not good with refining basic skills. I've had to work things out on my own to a certain degree by reading, videos, and going to group classes. At my present rink I've not seen any evidence that any of the coaches are more than cookie cutter.

      I think a sign of the cookie cutter coach is when you ask them a question about a skating move like 'what edge am I supposed to be on during 'x'?' If they have to do the element to figure it out, they're a cookie cutter.

  2. Hi Xan,

    When I first read this post, I thought to myself "well there's nothing remarkable about that," as Coaches are similar to school teachers who are very much the same way. But after a bit of mulling (over some mulled wine) I realized "you know there's something quite remarkable about that."

    You see, unlike the situation where, for the most part, kids get assigned to teachers, what's different here is two things. First -- if my experiences were typical -- most kids select their own coaches, can switch at their choosing, and stay with them several years.

    And second, although your observation seems obvious to an adult or even a late teen, it's not readily apparent to the ten year old skater at the cusp of choosing to commit.

    Like most parents I knew far less about skating than my daughter, so I entrusted her to choose her own coach. I was a bit dismayed that she made this choice solely based on word of mouth "feelings." After reviewing ISI cert's (http://www.skateisi.com/site/Sub.Cfm?content=Directory_associates) she talked to her peers to get a sense of what coach she would "like."

    In retrospect things worked out well enough, but I do sometimes wonder if any method could provide better coach-skater pairings?

    -- Jeff

  3. My daughter has one now. I am currently figuring out how to find a new coach that will fit my daughters individual needs. Unfortunately the fact you are not allowed to talk to potential coaches makes it hard.

  4. Hee, hee...you must know our DD's first coach because you described her perfectly.

    I believe this coach is unaware that her coaching methods do not serve her students well, or the club for that matter. She has limited availability which is why I believe she resorts to the "cookie cutter" method of coaching. (In addition to a full time job, she has approx. 10 private students, coaches 2 synchro teams, teaches skating school twice a week, is in charge of the club's bridge program AND skates on a competitive adult synchro team.) She thinks she can have it all and do it all but she only thinks about herself. She just doesn't have the time or the focus to give ANY skater what they need to succeed. (She is also a music thief because she doesn't have the time to find something appropriate for her students herself.)

    Unfortunately, most of her skaters leave her and many end up leaving the club or skating all together, which is unfortunate. Three years later, only one of the skaters my daughter trained with are still with this coach or with the club and most have left skating (and she had more than a dozen young skaters at that time). I am hoping for the appropriate opportunity to suggest to any club board member that they should stop giving this coach so many responsibilites (opportunities) because her coaching style is actually causing skaters to leave the club. I know she works in the club's beginning level programs so she can pick up the promising young skaters to replace the ones who leave her. She's the Queen of Bling and the young girls like that, but she is all fluff (and PR) and no substance. She was actually a decent skater herself but she is not a good teacher. She cannot teach her skaters how to do what she could do. She is also not good at analyzing her skaters--all her skaters have bad body positions and posture. Not only does she not have the time to properly instruct them, but she doesn't take the time to really look at them and give them the individual attention they need--typical of a "cookie cutter" coach!

    It's really very sad when I think about the unrealized potential of the skaters she has lost who have left skating. It's very sad for the skaters, for the club and for skating.

    (I wish I could anonymously send this post to her. Unfortunately, she's so clueless that I don't think she would recognize herself in the post.)

    1. Sadly, skating recognizes exactly two metrics for "good" coaching-- how high a level/successful a skater were you, and/or how many students do you have. Quality of coaching, not so much.

  5. From Anonynous at 1:20 p.m.
    Our DD's former coach has also taken the "cookie cutter" approach one step further...she has adopted the "copy cat" approach to teaching. Our daughter now works with another coach at the rink (after skating at another rink for 3 years). When DD is on the ice with her current coach and former coach is also on the ice with a tween student, former coach will follow DD and her coach around the rink copying current coach's lesson and teaching technique, whether it is appropriate for her student or not. I don't know if she's really trying to learn something about instruction from current coach or just determined to annoy the heck out of her.

    1. Xan (and others!!),

      How would you deal with a coach who copies other coaches around the rink eavesdropping on lessons and blatantly copying lessons?

      Is copying simply flattery or just plain rude, annoying, and possibly unethical?

    2. This is how I learned to teach. I think it's a great idea. It's nice, however, to ask the other coach if you may shadow them.

  6. I've been fortunate to be in an area with a super abundance of coaches, many of whom are former national/olympic team competitors as well as many coaches who were proficient skaters and have advanced through the NCCP ranks. Yes we have lots of cookie cutter coaches but at least it's easy to find a good replacemt for them if they aren't doing their job. I also find that the cookie cutter coaches prey on the newbies who can't yet differentiate bling and flash from coaching competence.
    I know what George was saying about coaches who don't take adult skaters seriously. I see coaches who treat adults in a patronizing fashion and don't push the skater to improve at all (easy $$$ for minimal work).