Jun 29, 2012

Coach? Xan

Joanne Schneider-Farris is usin' fightin' words, by trying to draw a distinction among the various levels of "commitment" to skating professionals. While she uses the terms "coach," "pro," "instructor," and "teacher," the gist of the article seems to be that you're only a "coach" if you are a serious, full-time skating professional with competitive students.

Everyone else is "just" a teacher.

I have fought this attitude throughout my career as, yes, a skating coach.

Painting with a broad brush, Joanne's definition does not take into account the coach's own motivations, the constraints of the market she's in, or the nature of the students she is best with.

I see what she's getting at-- just being on the ice with students doesn't make you a "coach" with all the connotations of that word. But she then goes on to define the term with almost purely mechanical definitions, and by defining out anyone who doesn't have competitive students.

I did fine on two of her bullet points:
"A Figure Skating Coach Does More Than Just Teach:
• A figure skating coach is more than just a teacher: he or she is a figure skater's mentor, guide, and role model.
• A successful figure skating coach will draw figure skaters to a rink or a figure skating club".
but then, oops!
"Figure skating coaches teach lessons and manage figure skaters' lifestyles and training".
I leave their lifestyle and training alone. This is because I don't teach competitive skaters. I take beginners, special needs, and other kids that a lot of coaches turn up their noses at, especially the "coaches" (by Joanne's definition). I turn them into skaters. I can always see that moment when suddenly I'm not just that adult skater who thought she could teach figure skating. It's when Coach World Famous suddenly notices that the awkward little boy whom he wouldn't have slowed for at a stop sign looks like a skater. And starts offering me tips in the middle of my lesson.

But he's a "mentor, guide, and role model" who "draws skaters to a rink." And also "tampers with an existing coaching relationship" otherwise known as "poaching students."

So how about ethics? Do you get to call yourself a coach if you violate one of the most basic tenets of the profession? I guess so, because Joanne doesn't mention it.

Nor is there a word about credentials, which I consider the marker between a weekend teacher and a committed coach. PSA ratings and ISI judge credentials is the first thing I ask any coach about. An ethical coach takes the continuing education. That Gold at Sectionals in 1994 is great and all, and I honor you for it, but it's time to move on and get some current credentials.

Then there's this one:
"Skating Instructors and Teachers Give Group and Private Ice Skating Lessons [implied 'but'] These people may or may not also take on the skating coach role. "
Oops. That's me again, and lots of other really great coaches that I know. She goes on to talk about 5 a.m. lessons, traveling to competitions, managing the training, and yes, even what they charge. (But no guidance for us mere "teachers" on what we can charge.)

And then there's the real killer:
A Skating Instructor Can Teach Part-Time, But a Skating Coach Must Teach Full-Time:
Nail in the coffin. I do this part time. Of course I work in a market where only the most competitive coaches with the wealthiest students have a prayer of making a full time living at this, but that's just my bad luck. I don't get to call myself a coach. I'm just a teacher.

Fine. I'll wear it proudly. I'm a teacher, who has changed the lives of countless children through my love, skill, commitment and support of the sport. I guess I'll have to stop my students now when they call me, as they affectionately do, "Coach Xan."


28 comments:

  1. Wow- we have CER A coaches in our area who aren't coaches by her definition. That's absurd to think a coach must be full time. Plenty of part-time coaches take kids to regionals, some even do kind of well... Part time coaches prepare kids for senior tests.

    I think anyone who takes kids to competition is a coach, not an instructor. Even if they are 'just' ISI lessons. Heck- anyone who does private lessons is a coach. Instructors teach group lessons, only.


    But I've always thought her view of figure skating is very limited. Maybe it is because she has only seen it from a training center environment.

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    1. I agree her ideas are limited. Read below. What's the expression I'm thinking of? "Unintentionally self revealing"?

      FROM THE ARTICLE: "Getting away from skating or thinking about skating may be difficult for a skating coach. It takes a conscious effort on a coach's part to give his or her family attention."

      That's not dedication; that's sad. Never love your job, 'cause it will never love you back.

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  2. Hi Xan,

    I'd have to say out here on the Left Coast it's more or less a continuum... teaching blends into coaching (with a smattering overlap of mentoring) and there's a full panoply of in-between.

    Generally I'd say a capital-C coach has 3 or more skaters at her sponsoring rink's Open competition, but a serious coach still has 2 skaters, and even the gal with just 1 skater could be a Coach from another rink.

    I would say a Teacher only does group classes and nothing else. But as soon as you start giving private lessons you're coaching technically speaking (whether you are qualified or not).

    Reading these blogs I'm often curious and impressed by regional differences; this may be one of those instances.

    Best,
    -- Jeff

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  3. Jeff and Jessim, I think it's destuctive to make the distinction at all-- let the individual decide if they're a "coach" (i.e. serious, committed professional) or "just a teacher" (weekend job for fun). Trying to impose definitions sets up people, like me, who take a very different approach to the profession, for accusations of dillettantism, lack of professionalism, etc. It's just another way of judging individuals in a field that already makes too many superficial judgments.

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    1. I'm surprised JoAnn Schneider-Farris even uses the word 'skater' for us lowly recreational skaters. Maybe she'll come out with a post that only 'competitors' are skaters and everyone else is a 'hobbyist'.

      I don't get where she's coming from unless it's to puff up her ego.

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    2. I agree the distinctions are both meaningless and come across as mean-spirited, but I take exception to personal remarks about the blogger herself. Let's keep the comments to the content (thanks).

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  4. I make the distinction because USFS makes the distinction. Look at their registration materials. Basic Skills groups are taught by people they call instructors. Students are brought to non-basic skills competitions, or to test sessions by people they call coaches.

    USFS makes no distinction on full or part time.

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  5. Full vs. part-time has (IMHO) nothing to do with qualifications and a lot more to do with the local skating environment. If you are in a one-rink town, especially (and maybe even if you aren't), you are limited to whatever ice time is available to teach. If you only have 10 hours of FS time a week, then even with LTS and some lessons on public you aren't going to be full-time.

    I don't get that excited about PSA ratings, and I don't care at all about ISI stuff, frankly. I am much more interested in my own experience with a prospective coach -- can she teach? Does she have the background to take me where I want to go? Since I'm only a Pre-Bronze Adult, having someone who could teach me triples is (while nice) not necessary. It's much more important that the person I can be someone I can relate to and who is willing to push me when and as needed.

    Just my 2 cents.

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  6. Oh, and I love this point from the article Xan linked: "Figure skating coaches put in long hours. They usually work six days a week. Their day may start at 4 or 5 am, and may not end until 6 or 7 am. "

    Um...most people would consider a 2 to 3 hour workday not long hours at all....

    Lol!

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  7. IMHO a coach is "created" by their students. When your skater/parents calls you "coach," then you are a Coach. Everything else is just semantics.

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    1. "everything else is just semantics"

      This.

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  8. I read Joanne's blog and her 'about' articles and while some of them are interesting, it isn't hard to see how highly she thinks of 'elite' figure skating and that nothing else compares or is worth while. Her own page says something ridiculous like she won't take students who don't skate four hours a day. I dunno about you, but I've been around the skating block and I can't name one supposedly 'elite' skater she's coached in order to start making these ridiculous claims. I know of much more highly rated coaches who love taking ANY skater who really wants to learn.

    My point? Take her info with a grain of salt. She's up on her high horse most of the time, too far away to see how the rest of the world works :P

    You're certainly a coach. Don't let some woman with a couple of kids and a blog make you feel like you have to define that.

    Teacher... coach... lines get blurry. Coaches certainly teach. Teachers often coach. You call yourself what you want to call yourself.

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  9. Oh good grief! What is this all about? Ridiculousness.

    You know what, Xan? I'll do you one better:

    As far as I'm concerned, you're a Skating Guru. A Skating Firebrand. Beyond teaching kids at whatever level, you promote the sport without prejudice for ranking, and that's a whole lot of what figure skating could use these days.

    You get a special star. Mere coach? Bah!

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  10. I disagree, if you teach private lessons that does not make you a coach. I know a few "coaches" who I would consider to be only instructors since they just instruct. To be a coach you need to think about the skaters development, what is the skater's goals, should they try ice dance, should they try pairs, would they be good as a competitive figure skater. A coach that just shows up and works on the same thing year after year with their students - with their minds kind of on auto-pilot, are not coaches to me, they are instructors. Coaches have to have a mentoring role, a role model role, a promoting the sports role and have a development strategy. This is just my opinion.

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    1. And this is exactly what I'm saying. It's not the mechanics, it's the attitude. Judging someone on externals is the entire problem with this and other "pageant" sports (I say that with all due respect for the athletics of it). And in particular I think you have to be especially careful *because* of the pageant aspect, not to focus your definitions so narrowly.

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    2. Xan, I completely agree. Defining by attitude, I know plenty of lessons "teachers" and low-competitive "teachers" who have been huge influences in skaters' lives as mentors, role models, people to bounce ideas off, etc. I know some coaches who specialize in one thing - jumps, spins, MIF - over and over. Are they just "teachers"? I don't think so. They may not be a primary coach, but they are coaches/teachers/instructors in every other way.

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  11. Joann Shneider-Farris is a complete idiot! Does she even know how to skate?

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    1. Again, let's watch the personal remarks about the blogger. The content of her blog is in discussion; the content of her character cannot be extrapolated from it.

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  12. I don't understand why skating would be so different in this regard from other sports. My kids have done a variety of activities including soccer, baseball, gymnastics, hockey, basketball, etc. and the person teaching the kids how to do the activity has always been called "Coach" Even when that person is a parent coaching for the first time (Y sports). I view it as a title of respect and certainly appropriate for my daughter's figure skating coach even though I don't know of her coaching anyone competitive at this time and she still does testing/competition herself.

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  13. It also rules out the possibility of a small rink ever having any coaches. Our rink has about 1 1/2 hours of freestyle time a day which at $20 an hour would be making $60 a day. There are 5 public sessions a week for 1 1/2 for that's another $300 a week. Not much money and no way to be available or coach the 10 hours a day she discusses.

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    1. Even in small markets, where they have to travel far, coaches often teach in more than one rink. But you make an excellent point. Do you not get to be a "coach" if you live someplace where you simply cannot meet these criteria?

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  14. Okay, that is just silly. I live in Colorado Springs (where Joanne lives and her kids skate)and believe you me there are plenty of coaches who may or may not fit her definition. There are plenty of folks who are instructors and what's wrong with that-that is how most kids are introduced to skating and some of those instructors are also coaches. Some take the time to coach outside of lessons and some don't-who cares-all are contributing to developing skaters on some level. I read the article and am guessing she was talking about elite level skaters, but the article does smack of elitism. Of course, National level skaters will (for the most part)have full time coaches who do manage more than their on ice time, but trust me they get paid for it! I know how much those families are paying for "elite coaches." Many of those coaches do sacrifice their families, but many have found a way to balance both. Personally, I wouldn't put my daughter with a coach who routinely sacrifices his/her family (obviously those coaching kids on a National level will sometimes have to make sacrifices) for their students-not good mentoring in my book. For those who wonder if she was a skater-she was an ice dancer and her kids are ice dancers. After reading the article, my daughter's coach may or may not be a "coach", but she is a coach in my eyes and in my daughter's eyes and really it is semantics. Sorry she got you ruffled-when you are in a town with a storied club, some tend to get an elitist attitude, but trust me, there are plenty of kids in this town with coaches (by her definition) who aren't any more successful than kids here and elsewhere with coach/instructor/teachers. Living here you see all sides and some folks do have a little peacock syndrome at times-to me it is funny that she would even think defining a coach is necessary. I guess because I am a parent and not an instructor/coach/teacher, I think it just a silly article and quite frankly, there must have been something else she could've written about.Sometimes I think my daughter's coach could be called a lot of things besides coach: teacher, magician, psychologist, mentor, role model, miracle worker, skater, student and COACH even though b/c she is still a college student I guess she is part time and doesn't qualify, but according to the dictionary, a coach is a "private tutor" so what do you know...she is a coach!

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  15. Many of the changes that PSA and USFSA have made recently seem to be oriented toward the goal of regularizing and "professionalizing" coaches in America. While I generally think that's a good thing it does seem that one side effect is to crowd out the coaches who don't have many students and who just want to do it as a side job. The PSA overhead can be pretty burdensome if you are only teaching two or three students a week. It's unfortunate.

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    1. I think PSA is becoming more aware of this as well. There are now levels for "Basic Skills Instructor" which are less burdensome than the former one-size-fits-all approach. My point is that sometimes your side job can be as important and meaningful (or more so) than your 9to5.

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    2. Eh, this :-)

      (or even your blogging "job")

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  16. I stumbled on this discussion while doing a Google search today. It makes me sad to read that an anonymous person called me a "complete idiot." I have been involved in our sport for fifty years now and admit there is always something new to learn about skating, and not everyone will agree with my thoughts. I write about the sport to help, not hurt. My goal is for everyone who reads what I have to say to learn all they can about the "crazy skating world." I will write more about recreational skating after reading these comments and did not realize until now that my articles had an elitist tone.

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    1. JoAnn, so glad you found this discussion. I had left you a Facebook message when I first posted hoping you would drop in and try to explain more clearly the distinction you were making. As far as people making inappropriate remarks, I try, as you saw, to suppress that. Your blog is often a source of inspiration for this site; sometimes positive and sometimes getting my dander up! Keep on keeping on-- we need every voice.

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  17. Alexandra: Sorry I didn't see your Facebook message earlier and thank you for your encouragement. Happy Skating! JO ANN

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