May 29, 2012

Developing a "skater attitude"

Oh, those skater girls. We've talked a lot about the "mean girls" and how sometimes they're actually mean, but sometimes it's just that focused intensity. When you talk to them they aren't mean at all.

Focus during practice isn't the only manifestation of this "skater attitude." These kids also have the ability to accept correction and criticism. And it's not just because they have a coach who isn't mean. I've seen kids put up with a level and style of criticism that I would not feel comfortable with, but the skaters, and their parents, will swear by the coach.

The "skater attitude" is all about compartmentalizing. People who are good at taking criticism understand that comments about skill or output is not the same thing as comments about "you." Skaters need to put the skating criticism where it belongs--with the skating. They understand the difference between "that axel was poorly done" and "you are a bad person."

Some coaches will overtly reinforce this by stating, for instance "I love how hard you're working today, but let's talk about the technical errors that are preventing success at this skill." But some coaches won't sugar coat at all-- "what's wrong with that axel today! Let's fix it!"

So how do you develop that skater attitude--the thick skin that lets you take the correction without ruining your day?

It isn't personal
Your private coach loves you. Your class coach doesn't care enough about you to mess with you. (Harsh but true at the most basic level.) Neither of these individuals will get any benefit from wrecking your self esteem. Criticism of skating is just that. Criticism of skating. Parents, if your child gets off the ice upset, don't immediately blame the coach. Find out why the child is upset; if she's angry at the coach for being critical, reinforce the coach by stating something along the lines of "oh, the coach criticized your [skill/work ethic/attitude]. Make it clear that the coach is focused on the skating, not on the person.

The coach's success is your success
A coach whose skaters fail or are miserable does not get students. The coach needs you way more than you need him. This is just another thing to remind yourself--the coach has no vested interest in criticizing you as a person.

Be self-critical
Remember (better yet write down) exactly what the coach is saying, and then see if you can observe that in yourself when you're practicing on your own. (You are practicing on your own, right?) This will help you own the criticism, or better yet, fix the problem.

Observe the skaters with that thick skin--how do they react when the coach criticizes their skating? Do they argue? Make excuses? Disengage? Or do they listen, absorb, and utilize the criticism to make their skating better?

Some coaches are inappropriately critical
I know of coaches who are fine with the kids, but hideously critical of the parents. The kids pick up on this and it can destroy a coaching relationship. I've heard coaches tell kids that they are stupid because they aren't understanding a technique. I've heard coaches tell kids that they can't skate because they're fat (even to kids who are not in fact, fat). This is personal criticism and it is wrong. Abuse--physical and emotional--happens, and you need to be alert for it.

Day-to-day healthy criticism of skating is not abuse, and you need to be sensitive to the difference. You don't need to develop a thick skin. Just use the one you were born with.

May 28, 2012

A response

At first I thought it was going to be tongue-in-cheek. But it turns out this post by my friend Jeff at l.a. skate dad was serious.

Jeff, I mostly love reading your and your daughter's journey through this land of the rink. But I have to take exception to nearly every word of this post.

Leaving your older child well-cared for at the rink while you run errands is neither poor parenting nor unloving. It's a coping mechanism for over-booked parents and a demonstration that you trust your skater, the program and the coach. (For grade school kids, please, stay in the rink.)

Packing the bag for the skater, asking whether the skates are sharpened (during every ride? really? You can't keep track? Because I assume your skater isn't doing this herself, since she apparently isn't doing anything else herself either) is usurping your skater's ownership of her sport, and allowing her to be one of those spoiled skaters who never thinks about her extra tights because she knows dad will pack them.

Shouting corrections through the glass will get you kicked out of the rink if you do it to one of my students whether they're in a lesson or not. You are not the coach. I don't sit in on your law firm meetings and shout suggestions about what you should be doing, after all.

Obsessively taking notes and videotaping every lesson is an example of over-involvement, not care. Every once in a while, sure. Every lesson? Overkill.

The implication at the end of post that if you don't behave this way you don't love your child is just wrong. There are all kinds of skating parents. We all love our children. Some of us just like them to take care of themselves.

Read Jeff's post, and have at us! Who is right?

May 27, 2012

Storing skates

I've been putting in gardens for the past month, for the organizations where I volunteer. It doesn't leave a lot of time for skating.

In fact, a couple of people have contacted me about what to do with their skates when they aren't planning to skate for a while. First the don'ts-- don't leave them in the car. Don't leave them in a bag, especially if it's got any sort of moisture barrier (many gym carriers and skate bags do). Some basic advice:

Get them cleaned, refurbished, and sharpened
If you're not going to be skating for a while, this is a perfect time to get that ratty tongue replaced, or fix the varnish. These maintenance activities can take a couple to a few weeks, especially if you live in an area with no skate technicians and you have to ship them.  I like to store my skates with a clean new edge on them. This also guarantees that you're not putting away rust.

So how do I find a skate technician?
Contact the manufacturer. If you have a major-brand boot like Reidell, Harlick, Graff, Jackson, SPTeri or Edea, these are family-owned companies with great customer service. They can either advise you about a boot technician in your area, or let you know how to ship them right back to the company for repair.

DON'T take them to the local shoe repair shop.

Keep them cool and dry
Pull the tongues all the way out, tuck the laces inside (or better yet, chuck the laces and get new ones), and just store them on a shelf in your closet. Don't leave them in a bag, where residual moisture can get trapped.

Don't hide them
I once put away a pair of skates so effectively that I didn't find them for 20 years. True story. If you're not sure you'll remember where they are, make yourself a little note in your calendar.

While you're at it, empty out your locker or bag and clean everything in there, too!

May 7, 2012

What does the skating director do?

There are lots of types of skating directors--from super involved to hermit-like, over-controlling to laissez faire, friendly, mean, aloof, engaged, you name it.

Parents like the over-involved friendly ones (except when they don't), and indeed that public-face-of-the-institution is part of the job.

But what's the rest of the job? What is it that a skating director actually does?

Well, first, you cannot imagine the amount of paperwork they have to file. Municipal, county, state, and federal safety, mechanical, and child protection paperwork. Scheduling for each of maybe 5 annual class sessions, 2 competitions, 1 or 2 ice shows, and 2 or 3 exhibitions. Copy for the next brochure. ISI, PSA, and USFS forms for competitions, tests, membership, accreditation. For every coach. There are 23 coaches on staff at the Ice Rink of the Damned, and 1,000 kids in the skating school.

Especially at smaller municipal rinks, systems are not always up to the 21st century, so a lot of work is still done on paper forms. (In other words, you have to do it twice--once on paper, and then again on the computer. Don't ask.)

In other words, a skating director's job is the poster child for busy work. To a large extent, you have to forgive them if they are not in the lobby glad handing.

Ice Show Director
At many rinks, the Skating Director is also the ice show director--selecting the music and arranging for the cut, writing the script, assigning the pros, setting up the rehearsal schedule, choosing the costumes and supervising the set design. This consumes months of time. Even if your Skating Director has a clue and offers to pay pros to fill some of these roles, it's a time-consuming process.

The Skating Director is responsible for the numbers. That means it's her job to get the bodies in the door. So she needs to come up with and implement the programs, rewards, classes, and events that keep the ice filled, whether or not she's been given the budget to do this.

Program Manager
Regular classes, specialty classes, off-ice class, clinics, seminars, special events, guest pros, you name it. The skating director is coming up with and scheduling every part of the curriculum, and must coordinate it with other programs sharing the facility (like hockey, karate, Sunday Night B-ball, Mommy-and-Me, and Zoomba).

The Skating Director is in charge of all those skating pros. She's doing the hiring, firing, hand-holding, negotiating, mitigating, and soothing of all those temperaments.

Not to mention the Skating Moms.

Tell her thank you every once in awhile.

What else does your skating director do? How well does she keep all the balls in the air?

May 2, 2012

Getting the class coach you want

 It's (relatively) easy getting the private coach you want-- you identify her/him, you work out the schedule, you pay the fee, done.

But class coaches are another problem. What if you want a particular class coach, or DON'T want a particular class coach? Are there options?

Don't sign up until you know the schedule
If you're in a program that keeps registration open, then just wait until they post the schedule so you know who is teaching what. If your rink doesn't post the coaches' schedule, just ask the coach you want. They will know a couple of weeks before the session starts.

There are three ways you can ask: A "will you please assign Coach Wonderful to X level class at [time] or, B "who teaches X level class at [time] or C "when does Coach Wonderful teach X class" (or what classes does Coach Wonderful teach).  Good luck with A.

There are all sorts of reasons that Coach Wonderful can't be assigned to Class X. They might not have that time available, or may want, or be needed on, a different level at the same time. They may not have the seniority to get assigned a class if someone else wants it. The Skating Director may be unreceptive to customer requests of this nature (even multiple customer requests, and especially if the SD doesn't like the coach in question or the parent doing the asking). This is especially common with the obverse-- "please stop assigning Coach Arschloch to Class X, everyone hates him, that's why no one ever signs up for that class."

But you can always ask.

What's the cost vs. benefit. Is it better to be in a large class with a beloved coach, or a small class with the coach you don't know?

Don't move up
If you really love a coach and you/your skater moves up but the coach doesn't, just stay in the class. There is almost no skater who can't benefit from another round at any level, and if they love the coach that much, they might be receptive to this.

Get over it
Your child is going to have to deal with a lot of people in his/her life that they don't click with, or that they in fact don't like, and certainly that they don't know. They're going to have to deal with people in authority who don't like/get them. Shyness/discomfort with new people is not an excuse, because it's completely unrealistic to control your child's contacts to that extent. So to some extent this is not just a skating, but also a parenting issue. Unless it's a question of abuse, inappropriate behavior, or actual shirking of responsibility on the teacher's part, a skater (child or adult) who refuses to get something out of a class because they don't like the teacher is not a disatisfied consumer, but rather a spoiled brat. 

It's wonderful to have that teacher whom you love, but not always possible. Go ahead and ask, but then just take the class with the new teacher. You might discover that they are wonderful, too.