Mar 27, 2012

A Junior Coaching curriculum

I know that there are programs that get the coaches' education thing right.

But in many programs, junior coaches are just left on their own: no education requirements (even though there are lots of opportunities from ISI, PSA, and USFS). No mentoring. Sometimes they're put on classes by themselves. Sometimes their own coaches use them as subs-- how would you like to pay for the highly credentialed freestyle coach and end up with the inexperienced junior instead? Happens all the time.

Coaches that I have spoken about this with almost universally tell me (sometimes rather patronizingly) that "kids learn how to coach from taking lessons". So, I've been to second grade, I guess that means I'm qualified to teach second grade? And that's how old some of these kids were when they learned these skills "in lessons".  I remember when my daughter started teaching and came home one day asking, how in the world do you teach a swizzle? Because she had learned it when she was 3--for her, it was like trying to explain to someone how to breathe.

I can't think of another profession where you jump from student to pro with no training in between.

The Professional Skaters Association is working on the problem through programs like Excellence on Ice, where rinks get benefits if the entire staff are PSA members, through the Entry Level Coaching Course and Apprentice Program, and through a comprehensive national education program. But until rinks insist on teaching credentials and not just skating credentials, you might not even know if you've got the pro or the junior.

Several years ago, at the request of my Skating Director, who knew I was interested in this issue, I created a Junior Coaching course. Being able to implement this is one of the reasons I've always wanted that  Master Group credential from the PSA-- so that I could work with young coaches on this. Sadly I never got to implement it, as that SD left and the new one was not interested in training her junior coaches.

But I have continued to tweak the program in hopes that someday, someone will implement it. The basic outline of the course is as follows:

Participants must:
  • Have passed at a minimum the in-class ISI FS 4 or USFS FreeSkate 4 test.
  • Be at least 14 years of age.
  • Have a signed parental waiver.
  • Have a recommendation from a coach.
  • Arrange an on-staff “mentor” among the professional coaching staff.
  • Be an individual member of the Ice Skating Institute or USFS Basic Skills, and join the Professional Skaters Association at the appropriate level.
  • Attend an Orientation Session.
  • Be available for  a minimum of 4 hours up to a maximum of 10 hours per week, including at least one peak class session.
  • Be available for each entire session.
  • Attend at least one ISI, USFS, or PSA training seminar every 6 months.
  • Participate in ice show rehearsals for Tot and Pre Alpha levels in any capacity deemed necessary by the Pro in charge.
  • Work at the annual competition, including trial judging.
  • Clock 10 hours (about 1 session) of supervised coaching at a given level before handling a class at that level on his/her own as a Junior Coach.
I suggested that all Junior Coaches start in Tot and Pre-Alpha classes where the need for additional staff on the ice is the most critical.  Based on hours clocked and mentor recommendations, Junior Coaches could then be assigned to higher level classes Alpha through Pre-Freestyle as they progress.  I also suggested that the mentoring relationship be a real one, with the Junior coach observing their mentor teaching higher level classes, and taking one-on-one lessons in teaching techniques.

Junior coaches would receive Community Service credit hours, discounts for rink programs, and priority in hiring over other similarily-qualified applicants, once they had audited or taught in at least 4 different levels, and had booked 100 hours in any combination of assigned classes or events, private lessons in instruction technique, audited classes, seminars, ISI or USFSA tests taken.

Sadly, I know of only one rink that has anything approaching this comprehensive a junior coaching program, and rumor has it that this much-vaunted program is more honored in the breach than in actual reality.

Does your rink have a comprehensive junior coaching program? 


  1. Our rink doesn't have junior coaches. Kids can volunteer but they are juvenile+ level skaters and in middle school. They help in classes that are full or benefit from a low teacher student ratio (tots for example). They just help keep kids upright, they aren't the coach.~meg

  2. Kids here can help on the ice for CanSkate lessons (not as a replacement for the group coach, but as an extra pair of arms and legs) after they are 11 years old and finished their first preliminary Skate Canada test.

    All of our coaches have to be registered with Skate Canada which requires them to be qualified as a coaches (CanSkate or NCCP Levels), insured and have up to date first aid training. Our coaches are also required to participate in the Coaches Education Program (CEP).

    Xan, I thought you might find this link interesting:

    There is no way (none) I'd pay some kid a NCCP Level 3 coach's rate. I can't even imagine it being suggested. Just not done here.

  3. Hi Xan,

    This really is a tough call; it falls in that nether region between a rink (a business), a parent (the paying customer), the skater (the recipient of the service), and the coach (the service provider). Much like any other certification deal, much of it's validity depends upon the interest and involvement (and lobbying) from the paying customers. Just look at this query:

    ... it's not just a figure skating thing; across all of youth sports you have the same basic issue -- plenty of organizers and proponents, but not super-active parental lobbying.

    Until the parents decide it's important it may not happen.

  4. DS volunteers with LTS. When he turns 16 I think there is a possibility of starting the process of being a "junior" coach. I know one girl is now going through 6 months of volunteering as a JC. She doesn't get paid until those 6 months are up, but she has a class...this is the first time we've seen her at LTS...high level skater, very intelligent, great with kids and conscientious, but hasn't had any type of specific training to be a LTS teacher...hmmmm

    One coach at the rink is very aware and wants to help the teens become good coaches. She has been fighting for rotating them around instead of just leaving them with the snowplow sams as human walkers. The reality is that the kids are needed there and therefore they get stuck there.

    Luckily the Snowplow Sam coach has taken DS under her wing and has been giving him pointers. Another Coach had him help with Basic 3 when he first started, but her numbers are down on the day he helps, so he has been working with the wee ones.

    I'm going to have him start reading through the PSA classes and maybe even have him register as a Jr. coach or whatever it's called (I looked at it so long ago) through PSA.

    Meanwhile he is learning a lot from working individually with the little ones, especially how to motivate, how to praise and how to set limits and be assertive, but not aggressive. He gets a lot of information on this from me, not from the other coaches because they are busy doing their jobs.

    Wish he could take your program!

    He notices that the some of the other volunteers are just not interested in learning how to be good coaches. They don't listen when main coach gives pointers, they look everywhere except at the child they are working with. They might be in it for the free ice time...who knows. Or, actually,I know which coach they idolize...they will become just like her...eek...

    1. I should also qualify my comment by saying that he is seriously considering becoming a coach, so maybe he takes the job more seriously than those who want it to earn pocket money.

    2. "They don't listen when the main coach gives pointers"

      This is a huge problem with junior coaching as it exists in the US right now. There ARE programs for helping serious kids like your son to learn how to TEACH, but many high level skaters just figure they know it all and how dare anyone suggest that they are just kids and have something to learn (this is not just in skating of course). And skating culture, which sometimes rewards skating talent and achievement and dismisses all other markers--like compassion, maturity, skill with tots, etc.--just encourages this.

    3. more's the pity...the kids don't know what they're missing, they will have to learn the hard way, and eventually they will have to learn... :(

  5. At my rink I've noticed that this has begun to happen just recently--all of a sudden all these junior coaches. No training other than that they are skaters. All of them are teenagers. I've had them coaching me at the Adult Skills class I attend, and I find that I have to ask the leading questions to make sure that the skill I want to learn from them is taught to me logically and methodically because most of them can't tell me on their own what the mechanics of that skill are without me getting them to think about it. The little girl or boy in class, meanwhile, doesn't have that benefit and must rely solely on the ability of the coach to determine how best to communicate with and motivate them. And any parent will tell you what dealing with a teenager in that department is like! While I am sure there are some in the bunch who take the job seriously, a lot of them, through no fault of their own, simply will not be able to understand the fundamental difference between being able to
    perform a skill and being able to teach it to someone else. If skating talents
    were the defining prerequisite for coaching, as it seems to be with the hiring of junior coaches, then this kind of logic would presuppose that only coaches who have reached the pinnacle of their competitive careers would produce champions. We know this to be a false argument as evidenced by so many top-caliber coaches who do not have many medals of their own but have gone on to produce the best skaters in the world. Rinks and clubs everywhere need to provide and/or require teacher training for their junior coaches. We already know they can skate, but we don't know that they can teach.