Aug 23, 2012

"It wasn't a fit"

How many coaches has your skater had in the last 5 years?  If it's more than about 3, and the changes weren't forced by external circumstances (somebody moved, or quit for instance), then you might be a coach hopper.

Here are some of the excuses reasons people give for coach hopping.

Not really a serious skater
A lot of kids start private lessons for help passing a level, or nailing a specific element. Then, when they have that element, they quit the lessons. Next time they need specific help, they get amnesia, completely forgetting the coach they worked with before. Coaches hate this. At least let the former coach know that you're going to work with someone else. Then when the inevitable "I thought Suzy was your kid?" question comes along, they're not caught blindsides.

"It wasn't a fit"
This is the number one reason given by coaches and parents when they can't give the real reason. The translation is (if coach says it), "that mother is a nightmare." If the parent says it "we realized that coach was not the fashionable one." Seriously, though, sometimes it really isn't a fit for numerous reasons-- schedule (see below), personality, cost, differing expectations. Of course, if it's one of these, just say so. Otherwise people will assume one of the first reasons. (Better yet, if asked, just say "we decided to make a change." If pressed, continue to say this, for which the translation is "it's none of your business.")

UPDATE: There are a lot of replies in the comments suggesting that ALL reasons fit under this excuse, including gross unprofessionalism including habitual tardiness, inappropriate attitude ("being mean"), emotional abuse ("you're stupid, you're fat), and financial shenanigans (short lessons, full price). Folks, when coaches act like this it is everyone's business. There is absolutely no reason to hide behind social lies when there is a legitimate consumer reason for the split. If you were habitually overcharged at a store, or yelled at by the clerks, would you tell people you don't go there because "it wasn't a fit?"

This is a tough one. In a market like mine, schedule is a non-reason. There is so much ice that you will be able to find the time. Plus, I've often had parents tell me the schedule won't work, just to see them with the new coach on the exact ice I offered.  In smaller markets, schedule (which includes necessary travel time) does sometimes necessitate a change in coaches. However, you cannot blame the schedule if your idea of scheduling is "we can have a lesson during this single 30-minute window and are not flexible on this." If that is the case, you're not looking for a coach, you're looking for a babysitter.

For competitive students, all other things being equal, it makes no sense to change a coach who has been successful with your skater (as measured not by wins, but by accomplishment, skill increase, and personal best scores).  If you're skater's doing well, but you switch anyway,  then you're a "it wasn't a fit" parent.

Number one reason people drop in and out. See "not a serious skater" about which coach to go back to.

Competitive skaters
If you're making your ambitious skater switch coaches every 6 months or more, you are destroying your skater's career. For one thing, strong competitive coaching relationships take years to build. For another, different coaches have different, usually equally acceptable techniques and practice protocols. You will lose a season every time you switch. Further, if you're showing up at the non-quals in late summer with Coach Success, then turning up at Regionals with Coach Whosit, but then at Nationals with Coach Fashionable, the judges are just going to roll their eyes and move on, unless you're really blowing them out of the water. Which if you switch coaches like this, you won't.

Finally, to zero in on the serious side of this issue:

If this is your reason for switching coaches, for god's sake tell the skating director, or if you don't trust the skating director, then tell your doctor, and be prepared to back it up with documentation (names, dates, places).  Involve the skater in this decision. Abuse includes inappropriate touching, questionable language, insistence on excessive dieting, and emotional abuse.

The downside of constantly switching coaches is that people stop taking the skater seriously. One of the most common sights at the rink is the talented 17 or 18 year old who has never made it out of the preliminary rounds at Regionals but has decided to put off college to give it one more shot, with her 8th coach. We all shake our heads and blame the parents.

I'm not saying never switch coaches. My daughter had 4 coaches in her 11 years of semi-competitive skating. Her first coach moved to Florida. Her second coach quit to run her family's business. She developed a serious personal dislike for the third one, for reasons which did not become clear until years later. She still works with her last coach (going on 10 years).

Do the math. Are you a coach hopper? What's your excuse?

Aug 15, 2012

Ice time

If there's one common refrain at every rink I've ever skated at it's "Why doesn't [my skating discipline] get more ice?"
Hockey thinks Freestyle is a waste of valuable ice ("there are only 25 kids out there-- why isn't this hockey ice? We'd have 10 kids on the ice at a time, at a discounted price! Uh, wait...")

Freestyle thinks hockey gets free ice ("They schedule ice that they never use! We  should make that dance ice, which would have at least 4 people on it! Maybe. Unless we decide to do off-ice that day.")

Beginner coaches think the freestyle skaters mentally paint targets on the tots. ("They have more ice than anyone! Maybe they could have one session a week without high level kids? And it needs to be the most premium ice right after school. Except I don't need it until after soccer ends. But please reserve it.")
The truth is there isn't enough ice in a typical rink. Private rinks are going to go for the biggest bang for the buck, which is usually hockey because it's cost effective to schedule, even though it's less lucrative on a per-skater basis. Training rinks are going to want enough freestyle ice at premium times to attract high level skaters. Skating schools need practice ice during or after class sessions, to maximize use. Everyone needs public, because that's where most of your new customers come from.

Don't even get me started on the bastard child of skating programs, in other words, Synchro.

The truth is, that rinks need to allocate ice for the best return on investment--how can they maximize use and retain customers? This means that tournament ice needs to be reserved, even if the home team bombs out in the quarter finals, so that the big game never happens. The freestyle skaters need extra ice before the big competitions. Classes and public are cash cows-- you can fit a lot of paying customers onto class ice (as noted above, hockey's going to have 10 kids on the ice, and maybe 20 kids on the boards; freestyle tops out around 30. Classes or public might have 200. Do the math.)

If you're in a small market, you're stuck with the schedule at one or two rinks. If you're in a big market like Chicago, where there are 50 rinks in a 25 mile radius, stop complaining, and start driving.

You can make the schedule at your home rink work, or you can find ice that fits your schedule.

What you can't do is change the equation.

How do you deal with less than optimum scheduling at your home rink?

Aug 11, 2012

Conflict in class

There's nothing like a mean little girl and a clueless coach to bring out the Tiger Mom in all of us.  Especially if the mean girl's mom is blaming your blameless angel (ahem). Directly. As in, yelling at her without involving you.

Kids in skating classes can get into it, especially where the class is run by the less engaged and experienced, or more clueless and uncaring coach. One mother writes:
A mother yelled at my 5-year old after a class, while I was elsewhere. When I challenged her about it, she claimed my daughter was mean (the kids had been jostling each other to secure their favorite spots). My daughter claims the mom physically grabbed her to stop her leaving the ice, and yelled at her (daughter was crying, and didn't understand what the problem was.
She went on to ask what she should do-- talk to the mother? The coach? The Skating Director? Switch classes?

My first reaction was "yank her from the class" but on consideration I think that no one really learns anything from this tactic. First, unless you are in the room, you don't actually know what happened. It could have been entirely misconstrued by the offending mother, or she might be way overprotective. It's hard to really know which child is at fault if you don't witness it yourself (whatever "at fault" means in a young child, I mean, kids are mean to each all the time and survive).

This being said, it's never okay to discipline someone else's child (unless you're the coach!)

So here are some actions to consider:

First, if two kids are going at each other repeatedly in class, think about setting up a play date. It seems counter intuitive, but these kids are already aware of each other. So make the kids friends. If the mother objects, tell her it's so that they aren't mean to each other any more.

Talk to the coach privately. Ask her if she knows what happened. Tell her the other mother's story (that the kids were fighting in class-- leave off whose fault it was). Express concern that the kids are not being disciplined for unacceptable behavior in class and ask the coach to be alert. Tell her you don't want to change classes, but will have to go to the skating director to request that if the situation doesn't improve. Leave out personal opinions about the other mother's parenting, psychology, and irrelevant externals like race or income.

Don't confront the mother, but don't leave the rink for a second during class, especially at the beginning and end of class. This is especially imporant with very young children in beginning classes. If your child is 6-7 or younger, you need to be watching. (NOT standing in the door. Just be in the stands, or at the observation window. You can pee after class.)

If your child's nemesis continues to be a problem, or the offending mother continues her assaults, let the coach know that you are reporting the mother's behavior (NOT the coach's behavior) to the Skating Director, and asking that your daughter be placed in a different class.

This will take a few weeks to cycle through, but I think is a solution that offers a better long term outcome--the coach is alerted to the problem, the mother is on notice that her behavior is unacceptable, and maybe the kids become friends.

How have you dealt with conflict in class?

Aug 3, 2012

How does the parent plan for the lesson?

Skaters in individual lessons actually have two teachers-- the coach, and the parent.

But the parent's job has very little to do with the skating. The worst thing you can do as a parent is to ever talk about technical skills. Your job is greasing the skids, whether it's getting the kid to practice, mediating coaching disputes, or, yes, paying the bills.

Not that I was this sort of parent, but the best way you can help your skater is on the sly.

By this I don't mean sneak around the skater's back, exactly. (Okay, there's a little bit of sneaking around his back.)  I mean create an environment that rewards good skating behavior.

The schedule
Your skater needs to own her schedule, but kids think about this minute, not the next minute, and tomorrow never comes. Twelve hours ahead of the lesson, ask about the lesson. Very innocently, butter wouldn't melt in your mouth-- "when's your next practice/lesson, honey?" For after school skaters, you're asking this in the morning over breakfast. For early morning skaters, you're asking at dinner, or bedtime. Make the kid think about it.

A great idea is to have a calendar on the fridge with nothing but skating on it, so the skater can go check. Tie a bright red sharpie to the calendar, so she can put an X through the practice or lesson once it's done. Put the calendar in a public and accessible place, not the skaters room. The message is "we all support/make space for this" and "it's easy to keep track of."

The idea is to make sure the skater has the schedule in his or her head. You don't want to say "don't forget you have to skate in the morning." Very confrontational, and implying that without you the skater will forget. (This may be true, but don't rub it in.) Ask "when is your practice/lesson?" or ask what they'll be working on, or bring up the new dress or tights (if appropriate).

Speaking of tights
It drives me absolutely insane to see parents 1- rifling through the skater's bag, and 2-complaining about it.  The skater's bag is her personal space at a rink. Serious skaters in particular live their lives in public. They can't practice by themselves, eat by themselves, cry by themselves or even dress by themselves. Give them that small bit of privacy, and let them rifle through their own bags. Of course, since we're being sneaky here, this does not mean you have to always be going to the rink with only one glove.  Give the skater 10 extra minutes (I know that's hard) to go through the bag before you leave the house. Tape a checklist onto the top, or laminate one and hang it off the handle.  Make it part of the bedtime ritual--"check your skating bag!"

And if she forgets her tights, or her gloves or her practice journal? Let her figure it out at the rink. If you're always rescuing her (or him), you're not teaching self-reliance, a crucial skill for a skater. Believe it or not, they can find a solution to the missing tights--other skaters, lost and found, the costume room, or the tights that they in fact know are stashed under the back seat of the car, which you didn't know about.

Everyone is overbooked. But late-for-lessons is THE number one complaint I hear from coaches. Especially when the parents then expect the coach to do the full lesson anyway. Not going to happen. You don't pay for 30 minutes. You pay for a time slot. It's only 30 minutes if you're there at the start of it. If your lesson is 3:30 to 4:00 and you're not on the ice until 3:45, that doesn't mean you get a lesson until 4:15, because someone else has the 4:00 time slot. It also doesn't mean the coach only charges you for 15 minutes.

But you know all that. And you're always late anyway. Which stresses out everyone.

And here's the solution-- Do. Not. Schedule. Lessons...if there is even a chance that you're going to have trouble getting there. Not a morning person? Please don't schedule 6 a.m. lessons. School gets out at 3:15? 3:45 lesson is NOT going to happen unless the school is next door. And you know it. It's like a diet. Don't set an impossible goal, however noble it is.

Post hoc, propter hoc, ad hoc
We're talking about the lesson review. Don't talk about what happened in the lesson. Not after, not before, not about. You can ask "did you have fun" "did you learn anything new" "is there anything I need to ask Coach about." You cannot make the child preview the practice "what are you going to work on today." You can make sure the practice journal is on the bag checklist. You cannot (cannot cannot) make the child talk about the lesson, the practice, the competition on the ride home. Ask any former student athlete the thing they hated most about growing up as an athlete and the ride home Monday morning quarterbacking tops the list. Never do this. It's that private space again--let the kid own it.

But I need to know stuff
Ask the coach. Better yet, ask the coach if she has "office hours" when you can call or sit down, without the child present. Use email. Don't try to get the low down just before or just after the lesson. Chances are the coach has another student and won't be able to give you the attention you want (or deserve). If your skater is right there you won't be able to be as honest, or if you are honest, you're embarrassing the skater.

What are your best tips for sneaky parenting?