Apr 25, 2012

The only coach for me

This is the flip side of the cookie cutter coach, from the skater's perspective.

Every time I fall for a student (and there have been a few I wanted to bundle up and take home), I start dreaming about how cool that will be when we get to her senior year in high school and I'm the one giving her the flowers at the spring show. (These kids are 4 or 5, mind you.) Every coach wants this.

While kids get attached to coaches, they tend to transition pretty easily (insultingly easily) from one to the next. It's the adults--both adult skaters and parents--who get convinced that they (or their child) can work with one coach and one coach only.

I've seen this manifest in parents who won't let kids take classes or seminars with another coach, even with a guest coach, because "oh, I only learn well from Coach Svengali."

This can become difficult if the coach's life changes and they can't coach you anymore. I've seen parents berate coaches for moving, switching rinks, and having a baby (what do you mean you won't be teaching for 6 weeks!).

As I said, coaches really like the idea of taking a kid from tot to the Olympics (think Brian Boitano and Linda Leaver), and especially at the recreational level you see this a lot. My daughter has managed to have the same dance coach (slowly morphing into a dance partner) from Preliminary through Internationals (she's on her fourth or fifth, I've lost count). But you need to let this happen naturally, and not out of misplaced ideals.

You stay with a single coach because you have a positive relationship, work well together and are reaching the goals you set. If you're not passing the tests, or doing well at the competitions, or learning the jump with that coach, then either change your goal (to I love this coach and don't care about that other stuff), or switch coaches.

And of course, you have to bring it up: what happens when parents believe only one person is qualified to coach their kid and the coach becomes self-obsessed, abusive, and capricious? I've seen coaches who have so convinced the kids and parents that they can never switch, that in lessons they ignore the kids or use abusive language and methods. The parents, and skaters, start learning that the choice is not Coach Svengali or Coach What-a-Relief, but Skate-Or-Quit. Quitting is always an option, but not because of my-way-or-the-highway coaching.

Sometimes you get lucky, and stumble onto a coach that really is the only coach for you. But make the choice for positive reasons.

Have you or your skater worked with the same coach over a long period?

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?

Apr 20, 2012


Nine things I hate to see:

Edea skates ($1,200 not including the blade) on Pre-preliminary skaters. I do not want to hear about how your 7 year old's feet hurt in "regular" skates. (EDIT for accuracy, and to honor a great company: Edea price range starts at $300. But I do see the high end ones on kids who shouldn't be spending that kind of money.)

A world competition costume on a skater who only competes at local ISI competitions. I don't care if you got it on eBay or MySkatingMall.com. Have some perspective people.

Pink blades. (Also blue, yellow, lavender. The white ones are cool. The gold ones, meh I dunno. Quit focusing on the product and learn to skate.)

K-picks, unless you're actively working on triple. Coaches who haven't trained in ten years and yet have new K-picks, get over yourselves.

Coaches in skating skirts while teaching. Not dignified, even if you've got a cute ass. (Especially if you've got a cute ass.) Just what are we teaching here?

Coaches in shoes, unless you forgot your skates, are recovering from a broken ankle, or are John Nicks.

Chloe Noelle. On everyone. Uniform not mandatory, did we know this?

Used tissue. Empty candy wrappers. The rest of the nacho cheese. It's called a "trash can."

Skates in the Lost and Found. Seriously, how does this happen?

What do you hate to see at the rink?

Apr 17, 2012


A reader emailed me that her Basic Skills kids "love to skate but they hate going to the rink". This was further complicated by the fact that getting to the rink was also exhausting to the mom-- both because of a long commute, and because of having to motivate them to go every time.

So how do you motivate skaters, especially beginners who aren't yet as invested emotionally, or don't have as much cool stuff that they can do?

Sometimes the issue isn't skating, it's everything around it. You want to watch tv. You have homework. "None of my friends skate; they think it's weird." And on and on.

So this is not always a skating issue, sometimes it's a parenting issue. And the parenting issue here is, who is in charge? They're kids! Yes, they have a strong will, but honestly folks, if you can't get your 5 year old to do what you say, or if you're offering him the option to negotiate, skating lessons are the least of your worries.

In other words, stop negotiating, and just go.

They don't always have to have a lesson
The mom in question was having 2 lessons and and 2 classes per week, at Basic 6 and Basic 8 levels. That's quite a lot of skating at that level; I think she could probably sacrifice one of those sessions to a "fun skate." Take them to one of the weekend public skates, and promise you won't make them "work". At that level, everything they do on the ice is "on task" pretty much, whether they know it or not. Saturday and Sunday afternoon free skates are FULL of kids from the classes; they'll find people they know and make friends and then skating will be about fun instead of about work. (It's also cheaper, plus if they get into it, there are carpooling possibilities, saving you a chore)

If your skaters are doing privates, class, and practice (and maybe off-ice or dance as well), think about "bundling" them-- back to back class+lesson, or tack skating onto an existing trip (piano lesson, regular grocery shopping, immediately after school, whatever) so that you're already out anyway.  Some parents do homework at the rink--you get there right after school, get them a snack from concession and do homework, then have skating class as a reward for getting some homework done!

Encourage your kids to develop rink-based friendships. If they seem to connect with a certain child, find the parent and set up play dates, or see if they're at the rink early so the kids can hang out. Sign up for class together; even share a semi-private lesson (this also helps with costs).

What not to do
No bribes. No trades. If you really want your child to skate, and you know she likes it/is good at it, stop making it a choice.  You don't have to be mean about it, just matter of fact. Skating is one of the things you do.

What strategies have you used to motivate your skater?

Apr 13, 2012

The drama-free rink

I'm not really the one to write about this, because drama seems to follow me around like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe.  But I believe in the drama-free rink, even if just as a goal to strive for.

The first lesson, of course, is that you cannot turn off human nature. You will have cliques, and you will gossip. Any activity in which milestones and competition figures centrally will generate strong emotion.  Not everyone believes in the drama free rink.

But there are steps you can take.

Do your job
If you're a skater, show up for lessons. Follow rink rules, etiquette, and common sense. Take care of your stuff. Respect your coach and the others on the ice. If you're a coach, show up for lessons on time. Insist on proper work ethic and demeanor from your skaters. Respect other coaches' and skaters' space.

Be a grown up
No arguing in the lobby, or worse, on the ice. If you have a problem with someone take it OUTSIDE the rink. Maintain proper lines of authority--I don't care how hip you think you are, or how invested your coaching is in being the hip young coach. You are the coach not the buddy. This means a coach should NEVER talk about other coaches to students or parents.

Don't gossip
Okay, okay, I know this is completely unrealistic, but try to follow the old Talmudic proscription, which I will amend here. Do not pass on speculative chatter about anyone. The ONLY gossip you should engage in is unassailable, confirmable facts. If you are in possession of an unassailable fact that could harm the subject but is not material to their position at the rink, do not pass it on. No one needs to know that the Skating Director's mother committed suicide, or that Coach A had an abortion, or that Coach B is on medication. Stop talking about the rink to the person who shared this information with you.

If you don't actually know the person being discussed, personally (like they know you well enough to remember your name), you shouldn't even be doing that, because really if you don't them, why do you care?

There are lots of other things to talk about--gardening, work, the price of gas.

Make yourself be nice.
Congratulate the skater who just landed an axel for the first time. Applaud all the skaters, not just your skater and her cohort. Make sure your skater does this too.

Don't interfere with, but don't be put off by, natural alliances
Kids, and moms, and gosh, coaches too I guess! develop their own friendships. Not all friendship groups are "cliques" in the destructive sense of the word. But a close-knit group is not an excuse either for them to disparage outsiders, or for outsiders to disparage and ignore them. Just because four moms (or skaters) are tight, doesn't mean you can't interact with them. Just because you have a tight knit group doesn't mean you get to be rude or dismissive of others at the rink.

Keep it in perspective
It's just skating. Even (especially?) at the elite levels. It isn't world peace, it isn't children starving in the ghetto.

How drama-free is your rink? What do you think helps keep it that way?

Apr 11, 2012

Go away, mom!

From the keyword search: "When parents interfering is crossing the line." I know this one, sadly, from the inside out, because I was That Mom. Here are the warning signs:

•  Coach is letting all your calls go to voice mail.

•  You call the coach more often than you call your mother.

•  Coach is suddenly doing about-faces when she sees you in the lobby.

•  Kid stops skating the second you show your face inside the rink door.

•  You research skating techniques so you can drill the coach on the latest discussions about skid or no skid on double axels.

•  You're thinking of getting certified as a judge.

•  You try to join USFS and ISI as a professional member.

•  You know the IJS long program rules for your daughter's current skating level.

•  You are convinced that your daughter's poor rank at the latest non-qualifying competition is due to dishonest judges, club favoritism, incompetent coaching or all three.

•  You're considering calling Brian Orser about coaching your Intermediate skater, who has never made it out of a qualifying round.

•  You're considering hiring a sport psychologist for your Intermediate skater.

•  You make your skater review everything she did wrong in practice or, worse, the competition, on the car ride home.

•  You bought K-picks for your 8 year old.

When did you know you had crossed the line?

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?

Apr 4, 2012

Why do figure skaters wear suspenders?

There were so many skaters at Worlds in suspenders this year that it just SCREAMED for a contest.  Here's what my tweeps came up with:

alijolly 6:49am via Web
A: so you can hang them up neatly when they have finished skating

LePigeonBercy 12:45pm via Web
A: Next to Olympic Gold, every skater covets a Nick Verreos skating fashion mention. Suspenders give you that 'edge'.

A: To increase their chance of having a SportsCenter worthy costume malfunction. ;-)

A: to hold up their pants

And my own answer:
A: To hold up their scores

And the winner:
@annmjensen 6:48am via Echofon
A:  to cover nipple piercings
Thank you for not being afraid to really go out there. Also for destroying my innocence. I hope children, and the skater's mothers, aren't reading this. (But I will NEVER look at Jeremy Abbott the same way ever again.) Ann, send your mailing information to coachxan@xanboni.com.

Bonus prize for the first commenter to correctly list ALL of the contestants in all four disciplines at Worlds who wore suspenders. Deadline is now May 1, since I'm not getting any entries!

Apr 2, 2012

How do you start a booster club?

First of all, what is a booster club?

We all know about figure skating clubs. These are USFS sanctioned organizations that are subject specific rules not only of USFS but also of the IRS, as they are registered tax exempt entities.  They are subject to approval by USFS and have a specific mandate to promote figure skating generally and to feed skaters into the USFS pipeline among other things defined, again, by USFS.

A booster club, on the other hand, is a much looser and more locally specific thing. It can have a much narrower focus--only for kids at a specific rink, or in a specific school for instance. You don't have to incorporate if there are no tax implications. (For instance, if you're not incorporated you can raise money, but you can't offer tax deductions to your donors, or apply for state sales tax exemption. You aren't required to have a formal board, etc.)

Which brings us to Why, and How.

Why start a booster club?
You might need a booster club if you're trying to increase collegiality at the rink, encourage socializing both on and off-site, raise extra money (for instance for scholarships, uniforms, equipment for the rink like video, or a better sound system, etc.) A booster club can help tone down cliques and gossip-klatches by giving people both something to do, and a place to vent frustrations, or even more to take positive action with the things that are frustrating them.

How do you start it?
Leaflets. Seriously, just start leafleting cars, Zucca bags, bulletin boards. Talk it up. Arrange a meeting, then another one, then another one. If it's just a booster club with no tax implications or national oversight organization then it's no different than starting a book reading club.

But first.
It will not work if rink management is not on board. If the Skating Director is not part of at least the initial process, she or he will kill it either deliberately or through benign neglect. The SD can get you free space, photocopying, can facilitate the leafletting, and hopefully be at the first meeting to let parents know that they're on board.

Let the SD know exactly why you think the rink needs a club; make sure they understand that this is not about circumventing, undermining, or taking over their function, or about challenging their authority. Have a specific mandate: we want to do field trips to Stars on Ice, or raise money for a skating school display, or create scholarships for shows and lessons (or all of the above). She will probably know of ways to help you also, with the city or the part district, or, in a private rink, with rink ownership.

A booster club is a positive thing
Do NOT start a booster club if what you're trying to do is get rid of someone in management or on the staff. If this is the problem, find another rink, or start a petition.

Who runs it?
Lots of possibilites here. Basically, the person whose idea it is, at least for starters. Have a steering committee rather than a boss. Make sure that the steering committee isn't just the founder and her cronies, or no one will join. Don't do elections; if you've got a really big steering committee, good for you. Try to get a couple of teenagers on board. (Get the local high school to offer community service hours for participation.)

Facebook has been an absolute godsend for volunteer organizations. Your Facebook page will be almost more important than your meetings. Make it a public page so anyone can join, or at least a by invitation page (i.e. don't have a secret group, make it accessible). My experience with Facebook groups is that they are pretty much troll-free and extremely useful for disseminating information and creating community.

Rule of threes
Everyone who has ever been involved in a volunteer organization knows this one. One third of the people do all the work, one third of the people sit on their hands, and one third of the people drop out. Make sure you replace the people who drop out; rule of thirds applies to the smaller group too--one third of those left will then drop out. This is how attrition happens.  If you are the one-third of the people who does all the work, don't resent it. It is what it is. You get a fast track to heaven.

Has anyone started, or joined, a booster club? Tell us about your experience!