Mar 15, 2012

Is "Champion" too narrow a measure?

From the PSA Professional business practices pages, on how to judge a skating coach:
6) Student Achievement/Rankings - This is an undisputable [sic] test of a professional’s worth. Coaches who consistently produce champions and who are able to get the best from each of their students are worth their weight in gold!
But what if achieving "championship" level is not your goal? What if you're just starting out and have no idea what kind of skater you or child will, or wants to, be?

I agree with the PSA--student achievement is an excellent metric for coaching excellence. But the emphasis on champions is too narrow, although to their credit they follow up with "get the best from each of their students."

EDIT, due to some confusion over the nomenclature!
Just to clarify, there's "ratings" and then there's "rankings" in the PSA:

Ratings indicate that a coach has gone through competitive exams before a panel of judges in one or more of 11 different disciplines such as Group, Dance, Pairs, Free Skating, etc. There are 4 levels through "Master" and you can get as many ratings as you want to put yourself through.

Rankings indicate your competitive success, starting with Level 1-- has students in recreational and nonqualifying competitions, through Level 10- multiple world medalists.

One is an indication of commitment to continuing education, and one is a measure of your success as a competitive coach. I would say that a coach with one or more ratings at the Senior level plus a mid-level ranking indicating that they've taken students to or through Regionals or beyond, would be a pretty good bet as a coach who takes instruction seriously.

I believe that all coaches should have, or be working on, a PSA rating as a minimum requirement to employment, but that ranking is a less important measure based more on your overall goal.

So what's the broader way to look at this metric?

From the outside, it's hard to judge the success of a student. A student who isn't competing by definition isn't going to be a "champion." Does that mean that coach isn't any good? You might look at a coach and think "her kids can't skate, I don't want to work with her." Or "he's only got the one really good student, he must be putting all his effort there and neglecting everyone else."

What you're not seeing are each student's goals, and where each one started. That teacher with all the "terrible" skaters? Maybe they were kids in trouble, who are now spending afternoons in the rink instead of on the street. Maybe that one really good student is a star, but the other ones started with time, money, or talent deficits that this coach is working with, to get "the best from each" of them.

A better "undisputable" test of a professional's worth is the focus and commitment they exhibit in the lesson. Is their attention on the student like a laser beam? Are the respectful and firm with the student? Do they have a good relationship with the parents? In a funny way, coaches who can turn out champions are a dime a dozen. But if you don't happen to have, or want, a champion, the firm, engaged, respectful, affectionate coach is the rarer bird, and the more desirable one.

Human beings
As in, you want the coach who is teaching her skaters to be good people, and not just good skaters. That coach with all the fabulous but cliquish, snotty ones? Forget him. Go with the sweetheart whose students volunteer to help with the tots and the special needs kids.

In other words, get the stars out of your eyes, and find the coach with her blades firmly on terra glacialis.


  1. Coaches who consistently produce champions are the ones who are good at poaching good skaters from other coaches.

  2. The Same AnonymousMarch 16, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    Also, you've got to consider the differing natural abilities of skaters. People might conclude from watching me skate that I've got a poor coach, when what I have is muscle problems... and a fantastic and extremely patient coach who has made me a much better skater.

  3. This sort helps me understand a lot of the underhanded, unethical coaching nonsense I have seen during my daughters skating career. No wonder the coaches act like jack-a**** they are trying to get that rating. If I felt comfortable sharing in a public forum some of the things that have been said and done to her...

  4. Personally, I don't care at all whether my daughter's coaches have trained champions. I don't know that her main coach has (I've never asked because it wasn't relevant to me), but I do know that my daughter adores her coach, and that the coach is warm and (appropriately) affectionate with my daughter and is happy to coach her regardless of whether she ultimately chooses synchro or singles as her main path. The coach is fully booked and has a waiting list for new students. I don't think I'm alone in my assessment of her skill with the kids.

    The private dance coach has trained champions, but that's not why we went with him. The coaches in her competitive program are a mix of those who have and those who haven't; I don't know that I'd say that the most effective with my daughter are always those who have coached champions. My daughter's favourite coach in the program is one who was a champion himself because he's so good at giving tips/tweaking form. Plus he makes her laugh and occasionally swooshes her around in the air when she does something particularly well. She's still young enough to really love that.

    Our goal is not to raise a champion; getting out of regionals is highly unlikely in our extremely competitive area (training hub). That's not how we determine whether my daughter is having fun, improving her fitness and gaining the other social and training benefits of figure skating.

    My daughter's private coaches are the ones she requested and I approved after watching them interact with other kids. I think the bond between the skater and the coach makes a big difference; the coach who is effective with Skater A may not be equally effective with Skater B.

  5. Hi Xan,

    I've got a couple future blog posts about this, but until then (in summary)...

    1. Compared to say, baseball (little league), a parent has a /very/ narrow choice of coaches to choose from. There simply aren't that many rinks convenient to any one individual parent.

    2. It's all about love. Coaches who thrive from the love of their students (and vice versa) rock the house.

    3. And I agree with you 101%: it's a path that's different for each student, not a "goal" that we are all striving for.

    -- Jeff
    L.A. SkateDad

  6. ITA: It's all about love. Coaches who thrive from the love of their students (and vice versa) rock the house.

    But seeing that the quote is #6, and not seeing a link to the full article, I am guessing this is just a piece of the overall picture. If my skater had dreams to go to nationals, we wouldn't select a coach who was PSA rated level I no matter how much we love him/her. ~Meg

  7. A coach's PSA rating may not be an accurate indication of a coach's current ability.

    We left a level IV coach last year who had "taken kids to Nationals" (as she repeatedly reminded us when we questioned something). This coach hadn't taken an individual skater to Nationals in approx. 20 years and she no longer took individual skaters to challenging local non-qualifying competitions either. She had become complacent (or distracted by another skating discipline or a little of both). It was our opinion that she had not kept up her teaching technique. Our daughter was with her for 2 years, had an axel when we hired her, and never learned another jump while she was with her. Six months after leaving this coach, she had 3 doubles. In the time we were with her, this coach had 2 other skaters, that we know of, also leave because they weren't progressing.

    I think the PSA should limit how long a coach has to claim a level--20 years is just too long. It's deceptive. Unless they are maintaining their teaching skills, they may no longer be worthy of a higher rating. That's why it's so important to do your homework before hiring a coach

    1. This is why ratings is a better measure of instructional ability--to maintain your rating, you must do several hours of continuing education each year (or each grouping of 3 years, actually), and you must be employed a minimum number of hours as a coach. Rankings, as you say, seem to follow you forever.

  8. There's some confused use of the terms "ratings" and "rankings" so I've edited the article a bit!

  9. How do you find out what level your coach is without asking them? Or what other coaches are if a change in coach is needed?

    1. The coaches ratings are listed in a directory, that are distributed to members. At a seminar last year the question came up about a public directory for ratings so that people could look up their coaches or potential coaches. It was pointed out that this would also be a good tool for the coaches to use as advertising. It seemed like the representatives were interested in this idea, but I don't know if any progress has been made on it.

      I think that you might be able to call the PSA and ask them for specific coaches rankings. Any member will have a directory and access to that info. If worse comes to worse, I can do it for you. If you email me.

  10. Great post and great comments! It is so true that a coach that has champions will get more champions. Once the coach has taken a champion through, it is less likely that they will continue to start with the grassroots kids and build them up into champions. They will likely be too busy to see them because all the higher level hopefuls will be jumping on their bandwagon.

    DS's coach once said that in terms of competitive skating, your true measure as a coach is how far you have taken a student that you have built up from "scratch." Meaning that you started from LTS with that child or close to it and taught them everything they know.

    There are many coaches who poach and develop a child once they already have gone as far as they can with their other coach. There are others to whom skaters (parents) naturally flock to when they see how good some of their other skaters are doing, thus never giving their former coach the opportunity to guide them higher.

    Such a hard thing to measure objectively.

    Ratings are good for knowing the potential of a coach and for knowing if they are keeping up with their continuing education. But your results may vary.

    Totally depends on your child, you as a parent, your child's goals, your pocketbook. etc.

    When looking for a coach, Stop, Look and Listen with your heart and an open mind. Don't rush into anything. If competitive skating is your goal, you have to make sure your coach is able to do what your child needs. But the highest rated coach won't do any good if your child hates every minute of lesson time.

    Unless they skated and were champions, and started coaching high level from the beginning, many coaches were unknown, untested before their first champion. There are many of them out there, potential star makers if just given a chance.

    It takes a willing/eager/capable student and an experienced/knowledgeable/capable of teaching--coach and the right circumstances to get to the highest ranking. Don't count the numerous other coaches out just because they don't have that high number behind their name.

    Use the basic formula, a good relationship between coach and student, the right type of experience or willingness to learn on the coach's part.

    You might not get a champion with an Olympic Gold Medal, but your child will have had a Championship journey that will last a lifetime. You have to decide which one is the most valuable to you?

    1. Jason Brown's coach Kori Ade is a great example of this. She was a decent skater, and she had high level coaches, but never really made a name for herself as a skater. But she persevered with Jason and some other students, played a good political game, and made herself a highly ranked coach through her own talent as a teacher and a manager. I wish there were more like her.

    2. "played a good political game"

      I *think* I know what you're talking about here, but I'd love to have this explained more directly. Especially in regard to how and when this becomes important in a skater's career.

    3. A good political game means being respectful of the establishment, but firm in your goals, being out front where you can be seen, gathering friends and information, and, Kori's real skill, brilliant management of a skater's trajectory. But I think this is less an issue for the skater than for the coach's career, although the two are so intertwined that who can tell. Me, I'm terrible at the politics. Too much of a squeaky wheel.

  11. I completely agree that champion is too narrow a measure of a coach's competence. To say that the only coach who can create champions in one who has created champions in the past is to say that ultimately there will be no more champions. Every coach needs his/her first champion they don't magically fall out of the sky.

    I my own experience my teenage daughter has a young coach (in her 20s) who she absolutely adores. No this coach hasn't raised any champions but she has taken my daughter from No Test to Juvenile Moves and Pre-Juvenile Freeskate in a year (my daughter started skating very late). I constantly have other parents saying to me that I should change to their coach because our coach isn't a 'good' coach. Curious thing is the skaters of these parents haven't been advancing as much even though their coached by the 'good' coaches.

    I think it is extremely important to find a coach who clicks with your child because in the end every coach has their first champion. In the end what is most important is a healthy coach-athlete relationship which contains mutual respect and (appropriate) affection.

  12. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

    1. I'd like 10 shares of Savchenko/Szolkowy, and a short position in Plushenko please.

    2. As skaters, or as coaches? I haven't seen any of these people prove their worth as coaches yet. Plus, I think what we're saying isn't that a great skater NEVER makes a great coach but rather that it isn't the only, or even the best, measure of success.

  13. At my rink, every good skater eventually goes to the Olympic coach who resides here. It's just a 'grass-is-greener' type thing. They believe the Olympic coach will be a magic fix. I really hate this because the other coaches are never really given the chance to make that first champion.

    One girl, who was my coach's student, switched to the Olympic coach after consistently placing last due to a downgraded double flip and lutz. Nearly a year has passed, and she still can't consistently land or rotate her flips and lutzes. Therefore the problem was not the coaching, but herself.

    I agree that a truly good coach is one who raises a skater from LTS. I knew my coach in group lessons ever since I started skating- she took me from swizzles to double lutzes. I began privates with her at backspin/toeloop level. If I were to go to the Olympic coach I simply would not have the personal connection, the drive to please. I don't skate for anybody but my coach.

  14. I would agree with a lot of the previous posts that turning out "champions" isn't necessarily an indication of the right coach for you. I live in an area that regularly turns out national level competitors, many of whom have been champions at some level of qualifying competitions and World/Olympic competitors. Many of these coaches get students who are already landing doubles and many won't even take students until they've reached a certain level of ability. I know of students who had a great measure of success with "lesser" coaches and switched to the "champion" coaches and ended up languishing under their tutelage-was it the coach, the student, both? Not sure, but clearly there are times when the relationship between student/coach is more indicative of success than previous champions. Obviously if you desire the path of a champion, you need to find a coach who is skilled at teaching you the necessary skills to attain that status, however coaches who produce "champions" aren't necessarily going to make you a champion. My daughter has a young coach who has taken her much further in a year than some of her peers who were ahead of her a year ago and have "champion" coaches. People keep telling us we need to switch coaches and move to a more proven coach in the "system", but my daughter loves her and trusts her and until my daughter fails to progress or her coach proves to us that she can no longer meet her needs, we will stick with the young coach. There are coaches in this town that are more proven, but I'm not sure they are better so to speak. Many of them lose sight of the relationships with their students b/c they are looking for the next champion. I certainly am not saying all champion producing coaches are like that!! Plenty of them are FANTASTIC coaches-just saying it doesn't always equal a coach who is going to get the best out of all skaters-there so many factors involved. Relying on rankings and ratings alone can be dangerous especially if the skater isn't ready for the expectations these coaches have for their students. If only it were that easy!

    great post-thanks and thanks for clearing up rankings vs ratings