Mar 3, 2013

Getting into coaching, part 1

In the late 90s, when I was still just a half-committed recreational skater, I was in a freestyle one class and was having murderous difficulty with the jumps. Years later a coach who was actually paying attention figured out that I'm a lefty jumper, but no one in that FS1 class was paying close enough attention to notice this.

Who cares about the stupid adult after all?

One day I asked the coach if she could help me figure out why I was having so much trouble with this jump. She asked me to demonstrate it, so I did, badly, and asked her if she could tell what the problem was.

She shrugged.

That was it. She shrugged.

I stood there and literally thought "I could not possibly be a worse teacher than this."

And that is how I started thinking about coaching.

Most people get into coaching because it's a pretty lucrative gig for a college kid who's spent her whole life inside a skating rink. This is the easy path-- many kids end up teaching at the rink where they grew up.  Move to a new city and there's bound to be a rink that needs a moderately credentialed coach.

And there's the rub. As I've written about before (although it's getting better since that was written), credentialing for coaching is a sad joke, namely, that you don't really need any credentials to be a coach.

Before all the coaches and PSA spies on here go ballistic over that statement, here's the rundown on steps to take to get into coaching.

Through at least Intermediate, Moves and Freeskate, or ISI FS6.  If you test through Senior/FS8, that pretty much guarantees you a coaching job. In markets where practice ice is run by the local club there will sometimes be a minimum test level, usually Intermediate or ISI FS6, to be allowed to teach on the club ice. However, you don't need to be a "good" skater to coach-- plenty of less than stellar skaters pass these test levels, and I see lots of funky technique at coaching seminars (pot, meet kettle).

While I was originally hired by a quite visionary (some would say crazy) skating director who had a "hire the smile" philosophy, my route into coaching was very unusual, as I actually did not have any reasonable qualification. If you are a low skater (FS3 or under) and want to teach, I highly recommend going the PSA Ratings route as I did.  Ratings are expensive to pursue-- I basically stopped testing so that I could afford the ratings, which is why I topped out testing at PreBronze/Prelim Dance, Moves and Figures, but you will learn how to teach through the seminars and other opportunities, and rink management like rated coaches.

Skating is one of the few youth sports where volunteer parents do not dominate coaching in recreational programs. That said, if you are a strong recreational skater, call up the skating director and offer to volunteer in tot and PreAlpha classes, or for ice show rehearsals, which always need extra hands for bathroom breaks, non-gliders and boys who can't stand still.  I volunteered at the Ice Rink of the Damned for three years before they hired me, which is how I learned how to teach.

These three routes give you the resume you need to be credible in applying for a coaching job. Getting the job is the easy part. Part 2 will discuss how to actually learn how to coach.


  1. "Skating is one of the few youth sports where volunteer parents do not dominate coaching in recreational programs."

    Good thing too. The number of parents prepared to teach stroking, edges, etc. is insufficient. I'm imagining a rink where everyone pushes with their toepick, has limp arms, and looks at their feet.

    1. The thing is, no one expects volunteers soccer coach dads, or girl scout art project moms, to have a professional level of expertise. I'm not really sure how a competent parent skater could really be harmful teaching kindergartners skating.

  2. It's the same reason why there aren't volunteer parents coaching gymnastics or ballet. Figure skating is a specialized skill, and without someone who knows what they are doing someone's kid is going to end up hurt.

    1. I stand by my statement. There is no reason why a volunteer parent should not teach tot and basic level skating classes, or ballet classes for that matter. I'm not talking about teaching technique. I'm talking about tots.

  3. Not sure if I agree with parents or low level skaters teaching figure skating. I would not want to teach a parent my kid ballet or dance unless they are really good at it themselves. Maybe at a really low level this works like you say, tot or beginner. But then again, do you really need a coach at this level? Your tot could just skate around the rink until they are comfortable. They'll start doing their one-foot glides on their own when they feel safe and capable to do this. My DD currently pre-pre and in a ISI FS4 class in addition to her private lessons has a teenager from her synchro team help out. The girl is pre-pre as well and one level above in ISI. My DD has a higher chance than this girl to move beyond FS5, because she is very athletic and only 8 (vs this teenager being 16). I don't have a problem with the teenager helping in the class but the past two lessons she was alone with 3 kids in FS4 because they had staff missing. This doesn't sound right!

  4. I agree that at the technical levels, in which I include the "named" levels starting with Learn to Skate, you need a trained teacher. As you can see from the entire rest of the post which talks about how to learn how to teach, my support for volunteers at the lower levels is a small part of what I feel would help on the ice. In general, committed, trained, competent instruction should be available in all youth sports and other after school activities.

    I would talk to your skating director about a young teen who is apparently not on staff, and is barely more advanced than her students being "alone with 3 kids in FS4" because there's a huge liability issue there. I would be surprised if this was either in line with the rink's standards or, frankly, entirely legal. (IANAL)

    I'm not advocating volunteers taking over all of skating instruction by any means. I also think you need a basic level of competence just for safety. But given that there's no reason not to recruit parents to help on the ice.

    It's always interesting to see what strikes a nerve in these posts.

  5. I always read these "instructor" information posts with interest because DS is starting to coach LTS. I always share the posts with him. Thanks for the great information.

    I agree with you, I think that depending on the skating competence, parents can help in many ways. Snowplow Sam 1 for sure, even at low levels of competence. When you have 12 kids and only 2 instructors and no junior coaches. I would much rather have my little tot get some attention and encouragement from someone to help give them a fun and enjoyable experience. Too often the kids are left crawling on the ice by themselves while one teacher runs from one tot to the other.

    Parents can be "ice helpers" that shuttle new skater kids on and off the ice between their parents and classes at the beginning of class, end of class and for potty breaks. That would help keep the instructor in class teaching rather than disrupting class.

    Also depending on the level of the parents, if there is a lack of volunteer Junior Coaches or whatever you call them at your rink, then parents can help to encourage the slow ones or the quick ones, there are always such a variety of abilities in the Basic 1 classes. Don't really need to know a lot of skills, just help boost confidence and give some attention. That way no one is left on their own for too long.

    In many ways a parent, even if not a competitive skater, can be a better teacher (at low levels) than a young junior coach because they know how to teach, how to motivate and how to keep structure. This is something that a junior coach needs to learn and like you say, it's trial and error because there is no set curriculum, in the US.

    After each class he teaches, DS and I talk about what happened, how he can plan and organize better, how to manage situations that come up, how to make it fun. It's a wonderful learning experience for him, but he really sees how the Canadian system prepares their coaches much better, with tests and a curriculum, and levels etc.

    Other things that parents can do is to help with registering and guiding new parents and skaters to the correct place on the first day of class. This helps free up the coaches and director to work with the skaters.

    BTW, I started skating and because I have been watching DS with the classes he teaches, I have a better understanding of what goes on in classes. I think what you propose is very reasonable. But of course, "they" never seem to consult you...LOL.