Feb 13, 2013

The coach with the best skaters

I recently watched a painful transition.

The parent of a supremely untalented child switched from the nurturing beginner coach to the competitive popular coach.

Who spent the next year complaining to other coaches about how much she hated teaching this child, and trying to pass her off to someone else, but without telling the parent that she didn't want her. She basically tried to get other coaches to solicit the family away.

My guess is that the parent switched because she believed that this other coach, with all the great skaters, was a brilliant instructor who could get anyone to skate like that.

The truth is this coach is brilliant at attracting talented skaters. They come to her with the chops, the money and the time already in their favor.

The coach you want for your skater is the one that works best with your type of skater. A coach who only works with talented, motivated top performers is not going to turn your child magically into one of those kids. But a coach who works well with workaday skaters, or timid skaters, or skaters with limited time, just might be able to get your skater performing at a top level. Conversely, the workaday coach with all the Pre Alpha students (that would be me) is not going to get your highly motivated, supremely talented jumper to Nationals.

Don't look for the coach with the best skaters. Look for the coach who understands kids like yours. Be honest about it, because deluding yourself about your child's level of talent will land you with a coach who complains behind your back about how awful your child is.

How did you choose your child's coach?


  1. AMEN! Thank you for this post, Xan. At my old rink I watched a transition where a bunch of girls that were all friends all switched to the same coach because that coach was popular and young and would treat them like their buddy rather than their coach.

    Within the year almost every one of those girls that switched were working on axel and doubles, and within that same time frame most of the girls had stopped skating and haven't come back to it.

  2. We have a nice team of coaches. They understand our limited budget, but never make my skater (or us) feel less important than the families with much more to spend on skating.

    Our first coach was the coach who could take us when we wanted lessons. Funny how as a LTS parent, you think you will never need more than 1 20 minute lesson a week and visiting the rink TWICE a week seemed like a HUGE step (and final) step.

    Our coach has grown with our skater, first moving from ISI to adding USFS and then taking the kids through USFS.

    I am sure if we went in to it knowing we had resources to fund a skater with the goal of nationals, we would have went directly to the top coaches.

    We do hang out with coaches on occasion, but I never hear real negative comments. I'd like to think they are above that level of unkindness. There are cute/funny/silly stories that they share.

    I will say from Olympic coach to LTS coaches that they seem very positive about each other and the highest level of coaches do coach kids who may never make it into USFS, let alone regionals and they seem to put in the same coaching efforts.

    Maybe that attitude comes from the rink manager on down to the coaching staff or from the top coaches to the LTS only coaches. Or maybe we just surround ourselves with the people who are nice. ~Meg

    1. But that's the point-- you don't know going in who the "top" coach is for your child. And you've nailed what makes a "top" coach-- it's the one who gives her all to every skater, regardless of potential.

  3. I'm going to sort-of disagree, mostly because I think your post lacks some coherence.

    You said "The coach you want for your skater is the one that works best with your type of skater." and I entirely agree. But I disagree on "type of skater", perhaps.

    To me type of skater isn't at all defined on one's current level, be it pre-Alpha or Juv or Senior. It's all about goals and aspirations, what the skater wants and is will to put in the blood, sweat and tears to accomplish.

    So, it may well be that your pre-Alpha skater should go with the coach with all the top skaters. Or not. It depends on the coach, and the skater. That coach with all the top skaters probably didn't start out that way; he/she probably started teaching LTS like everyone else.

    My current FS coach is also the skating director, and I suppose that people who are ignorant of the history might somehow think that I choose him because of that. In actuality I chose him because a) when I relocated here, he was highly recommended to me by my previous coach, and b) when I had a lesson with him I thought we would work well together (and we have). And, he wasn't skating director then!

    As another example, my first coach was a younger coach (she was 22 I think) and one of the "newbies" on the staff, relatively. But she had a good background (she'd competed nationally in dance), she had a great attitude, and we really clicked. Besides which, I quickly came to notice that the most dedicated skaters (not highest level), the ones who were *always* there practicing early in the morning, were almost all her students.

    It just really depends. I do have to agree somewhat with Shauna's comment above, at a previous rink I observed this phenomenon with a coach and the adult skaters (most of them) who all went to this coach. Alas he didn't stick around very long and they were left high and dry (for a while).

    Choose a coach that works for you, don't get excited about what others think.

    1. It does lack coherence, then, because that's exactly what I mean. At the elite levels, you do indeed define the coach by the "stable"-- elite coaches have elite skaters. But many so-called elite coaches also have beginners; Frank Carroll teaches beginning adults.

      But at the recreational level, it's absurd to think that an elite coach is the right fit, absent all other evidence, or to conflate popularity with coaching expertise, or to define "elite" as the coach who goes to a lot of competitions.

  4. I love my daughter's coach. When my daughter decided she needed to work harder and skate more to pass her basics I asked the woman who runs our Learn to Skate program if she could "fix us up" with someone who would be a good fit for my peculiar, sweet, not especially talented, hard working child and she suggested a coach who had had my daughter in LTS before so knew her and who liked working with beginners. I suspect she will eventually have some elite skaters (our local rink, randomly, is one of those "people move here to train here" rinks) but she is incredibly sweet with my child and manages to encourage her without being pushy and has gotten her pretty far in the short time she's been "our" coach.

    The Learn to Skate manager told me, upon fixing us up, to see if it was a good fit and if it didn't feel right no one would be offended if I came back and asked her to suggest someone else. But she was exactly right in who she suggested. I'm really glad she had a suggestion because I would have been lost as to how to find someone.

  5. In our case, my daughter (7) asked her group lesson instructor to become her private teacher. She did it all by herself. Next thing I knew was he asked me when to start a lesson!

    I have no objections with my daughter’s decision because she is happy to learn from him. They have the same personality and it seems to be a good fit for both of them.

    What else can I ask for?

    1. That is the most adorable thing I have ever read.

  6. You are right - I might not have known going in who the elite coaches were, but after 6 months, you see the top skaters and the same coaches with them. Maybe if I had a big skating budget, I would have probably let our coach go and inquired with those coaches.

    I don't know for sure though since it is hypothetical.

    I do know we had the opportunity to add one as a coaching partner and decided on someone else. At the time, I had a pretty sensitive kid and I'm not sure she would have held up well.

    But now she is older, stronger and more confident so it would be okay.

    I guess that is why coach changes happen. The skater isn't a static being and neither are the coaches. ~meg

  7. We're about eight years into this with an Intermediate level skater, and yes, my advice would be to go with the coach best suited to your child's temperament. Temperament doesn't change much over time, and this is affects the day-to-day of skating most of all.

    But, I'd also recommend talking with coaches early on about what they do when any skater hits the inevitable walls, whether in gaining a technical skill or just emotionally or psychologically. There may be times when a normally driven and self-motivated skater suddenly starts lagging or feeling "blue" about his skating - and this is kind of inevitable in pre-teen/teen years - and a coach with a long-view plan is a keeper. Also, a coach who knows his/her own deficits. I don't care how big name a coach is, they probably aren't aces in every ares or aren't aces with your child in every area. I'd say a coach who is willing to say, "You know, let's talk to Coach Y and see about a lesson once a week focusing on spins/moves/presentations/getting over the fear of double loop/dance/developing a good practice routine," etc. is also a keeper.

    1. I really agree with your last paragraph. My freestyle coach doesn't choreograph for women/girls -- he just doesn't feel a particular competence for that. No one is good at everything but a good coach is not so insecure that they can't work with others.

  8. Josette - could not agree more. If you find a coach who is willing to add another coach/specialist into the mix, even temporarily, that's fantastic. I think everybody benefits from another perspective from time to time. It can be very intense working with your coach every day - and while I don't mean that in a negative way, I find it helpful to work with other specialists on certain things, such as moves.

    The coaches at our rink do a lot of team teaching (organized by the head coach for each skater), and I think it benefits everyone in many ways. So one thing I looked at when choosing a coach for my daughter, and later myself, was who the different head coaches had on their teams.

    In addition to matching temperaments, I would also suggest asking the skater about his/her goals. I had this conversation with my daughter when we were choosing her coach, and she was surprisingly articulate about what she wanted to accomplish even at 7. And that ties into having the kids 'own' their skating, which I think is incredibly important.

    Also, Josette is right, the walls are inevitable. Even as an adult skater long past pre-teen/teen years :) So having an idea of how a coach handles them would be very helpful to know in advance.

  9. I think some of it is asking WHY does such and such coach have a certain type of skater-- do they ONLY take competitive kids? Do they only take rich kids? (don't doubt it, this happens) Do they like to take beginners all the way through? Do they seem to pick up kids at a certain level, or drop them at a certain level? (For instance I don't take kids past FS3-- I pass them on, which was always why I found it so puzzling that people were such jerks to me at the Ice Rink of the Damned. They never got any of my kids!)

  10. When I chose my coach I admit that I went to one that some would call popular. Lucky for me it seemed to be a good choiceHowever, this coach is amazing. She is able to work with my schedule and even stops to comment on things when I'm not in a lesson. The say I took my first lesson with her I landed a clean axel. Before, I couldn't cross my legs in the air. She is a miracle worker and I love her to bits :D I'm taking my freestyle 5 test (ISI) in three weeks because of her.

    1. Sometimes the coach is popular because they're an amazing coach. Sometimes they're popular for no discernable reason.