Oct 1, 2012

Skating standards

I've worked with  a couple of great skating directors-- creative and engaged, supportive of the staff, nurturing with the kids, firm but understanding with parents. Heck, they put up with me,  'nuff said.

I've also known several who have told me that the PSA (Professional Skaters Association) is bullshit, and that they don't need continuing education because they already know what they are doing. I've observed programs where the kids demonstrably are not skating to the passing standard, whether USFS or ISI.  And I've heard complaints about programs where they do insist on the passing standards as being "too tough."

This week I attended a Nationwide Seminar sponsored by the PSA. These are seminars staged annually and semi-annually, where all of the coaches across the nation are getting the same curriculum, in a largely successful effort to standardize teaching and outcomes across many diverse markets.  Years ago, when I was a baby coach and first started attending these things and others like them sponsored by USFS and ISI, there would be maybe maybe 20 people there-- I got amazing one-on-one coaching instruction from some very well known skaters.

Then PSA got serious about coaching education, using both carrots and sticks to encourage and even compel attendance at these things. There were more than 80 people at yesterday's event.

The main presenter, Diane Miller, spoke eloquently about her coaching methods, and the importance of instilling proper technique early. I believe she was talking, however, about kids who have already made that leap into competitive skating (not necessarily elite skating, but just kids who skate a lot, and do the non-quals and regionals).

And she made a statement that brought me up sharply. She said that "only 2% of skaters will ever achieve a double axel."

Now, there are all sorts of barriers to the double axel, starting with it's really hard. There are competing activities that take away from the level of commitment it requires. There are cultural barriers regarding hard work and focus. There's cost.

But there is one really key barrier that might help kids overcome all the other ones, and that is competent, consistent coaching by knowledgeable coaches at the real developmental level, that is, in learn-to-skate classes at skating schools.

Now. I have not met all that many coaches who don't know how to teach a proper cross over or three turn (I've met some, but mostly we're all pretty good at these). Nevertheless, I see lots of coaches who don't insist on the standards. Maybe they're passing their own students, since they're going to be fixing stuff in privates anyway (don't ask). Maybe they don't care about kids who aren't their students. Maybe they don't care about any of the students. Maybe they're "cuting" the kid up because they don't want to stand up to the parent, or because they're trying to solicit that parent.

And often, the skating directors let them get away with this stuff.

I seldom see the skating directors at these PSA events. A lot of them aren't even members. After all, what's in it for them? The coaches all had to join finally because USFS muscled them-- join PSA or you can't register your students for tests or competitions. It worked-- nearly every coach I know is now a member of the PSA.

Why not do something like this with the skating directors? You want kids from your facility to be able to register for tests and competitions? Then you have to join the PSA and/or attend continuing education.

But I would not make these educational events the same ones that the coaches get. These would be geared to skating directors, and cover things like staff management, safety issues, ice scheduling, and skating school testing standards. Especially skating school testing standards.

There is a skating management certification called iAIM, run by the Ice Skating Institute, and from all reports its excellent, but it's expensive and is not required by any of the federations. It can't be, because it's expensive. You could, however, require continuing education outside the iAIM certification at lower cost, but carrying a penalty for noncompliance. It worked brilliantly for the coaches.

Skating School directors are probably the least represented and most hidden part of the skating equation-- you hear lots about parents, kids, judges, and coaches. But you never hear about the person guiding all these efforts and herding all these cats.

It's time for USFS and PSA to professionalize this aspect of the industry, and give support to skating directors while also compelling these individuals to acknowledge that they are part of a nationwide industry that needs enforceable standards. Nearly all coaches are required to join PSA at this time, and not joining is pretty much tantamount to saying "I'm never going to have a student advanced enough to test." Why not have this same standard for skating directors? Give skating directors the tools and backup they need to enforce basic skills standards, and keep kids in the sport.

And maybe we'd see more kids getting double axels.


  1. See also this previous post:


    I have a couple page reply that I'm still wrassling with (smile) -- the "quality" of rinks and their programs is a large ocean that we are just dipping our toes into.

    1. Ack Jeff, and you had a post I was supposed to be looking at! Send the link again!

    2. No no no, the link is to *your* previous post about credentials LOL.

  2. Hi Xan,

    I feel I may have some very serious comments to make on this post, but I'm not sure yet what to say. My nebulous foggy impression is that as usual your heart is in the right place: you want skating to be "better" as a sport. I'm not sure however if a different "regulatory" environment would make it so.

    When I wax analytical I find all manner of conflicting forces in the icy wilds. (A couple paragraphs of enumeration here). Ultimately it would be wonderful to have some sort of bureau maintain standards of accreditation for rinks and their programs. Talk about boatloads of work though. And who would pay for it? We might have more of a chance if rinks were publicly owned or funded, but most are not.

    I'm all for the idea of more consistent coaching and rink management quality. There plenty of other ways to promote quality in the industry: segment the sport into leagues of varied and increasing seriousness, enforcing stricter quality at higher levels. Install a Commissioner. Require tiers of licensing for both the rinks and the coaches. Have a bevy of traveling inspectors. Have a more vigilant press. Yet I just don't see a viable express way to get there from here. What's getting in the way? Those (couple paragraphs) I didn't have the time to write out fully /smile/.

    Maybe a good alternative might be something like an online Zagat guide to rinks. Social pressure might then guide those rinks that care to improve their customer service. Guidebooks have their own quirks and liability issues, so that's no easily built panacea either.

    In the 21st century the concepts of promoting quality in manufacturing, logistics, retail, and foodservice are already well established and documented. Adhering to them takes time and money though, and ultimately sink or float dependent upon what the consumer demands and the additional cost they are willing to bear. Higher education, medicine, and figure skating still seem to be notably stubborn exceptions.

    I'm afraid for the most part it's just a kids sport, and will always remain that way. The top 1 per cent of your 2 per cent are off to train in Colorado Springs or Lake Placid anyhow.

    1. I hear what you're saying, but these are all the arguments that were made over the enforcement of PSA membership when USFS and PSA got together over it 3 years ago. And yet what I see now is a lot of coaches, in particular younger coaches, get a LOT more education than they ever did before-- in fact, as you know from many of my posts, I believe that as long as most skating instruction is supposedly done by professionals (as opposed to parent volunteers as in many other sports), education needs to be a requirement. FAR more young coaches are now getting this instruction because the federations put their foot down. But until the Skating Directors are also subject to oversight, it won't be consistent.

  3. The skating director at my rink is also a coach, is that not normal?

    1. That varies from rink to rink. Many rinks do not allow the skating director to teach privates *at that rink* (they may do so elsewhere), or to have students from their own program due to potential conflicts of interest. But there's no set rule.

  4. In Canada you can't coach anywhere unless you are certified. It costs approx $1000 to get your level one and there are written and practical assignments as well, you really have to be motivated and disciplined to get though it all. We also have to show that we attend continuing education workshops to maintain our accreditation.

  5. I just started skating again as an adult and have to say that if the coaching was as consistently good when I was a kid as it is now, I think I would have gone a lot farther. Although, I did switch to your rink because generally I think the coaches are better than at the rink that is closer to me in Chicago. Of course as an adult, it's been easier to pick a coach based on a personality type I know I respond to well. As a kid, my parent's and I picked coaches based upon the way their skaters skated rather than how I responded to them. This made for a bad match with my last coaching team. It killed my skating career that time. My new coach is inspiring me this time.