Apr 14, 2013

It doesn't have to be boring

There is nothing worse in the day of a figure skating coach than 15 minutes before the end of a Pre Alpha class.

More than any other level, Pre-alpha (Snowplow Sam 4, Basic 1) is going to have wildly divergent speeds and engagement from the students.

Once they get into the true Learn-to-Skate levels, most kids can at least "keep up"-- that is, move at the same speed as everyone else.  By the time they get into low freestyle, they've self-selected to just kids who are really motivated to skate.

But at Pre Alpha there are days when you just know you shouldn't check the clock because you have another 15 minutes of trying to get the whole class across the ice together.

As far as I can tell, it's worse for the kids.

They get this glazed look.

They start looking wistfully at the Beta class next door that seem to be having so much fun.

They have to go to the bathroom, or give their hat to their mom.

They're tired.

And the classic clue that you are being boring: "how much longer?"

Here's the thing-- if coach is bored (boring), the kids are bored.

And why do that to yourself?  There is simply no reason to run a boring class. Every time I'm helping in a class with a teacher whose lesson plan is "okay one foot glide, right foot. Okay, let's do it again. and again. Couple more times! Now let's do the other foot." For. Forty. Minutes.

I want to poke my eyes out with a skate.

Put the kids on a circle. Have a contest. Make up a pattern. Play a game. Do a challenge. Sing a freaking song.  Make up a program.

It's not only boring to the kids. It's boring to you-- if you're boring them you're also boring yourself.  Being boring, or disengaged, or unimaginative is not going to make Pre Alpha class go away. So you might as well have fun.

Have you had a boring coach? What has a coach done with basic skating that made it interesting?


  1. So like I wandered into my daughter's old rink a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday (Pickwick, Burbank) and sure enough the little tikes were out there on the ice doing their twizzles and such. After about a half an hour the teacher slid out a barrel of stuffed toys and started throwing them onto the ice. Some sort of random game ensued.

    Now I understand (smile).

  2. At our rink, we're lucky enough to have two mornings of Tots Only lessons (6yo and under.)

    Coaches play kid friendly music, throw ping pong balls on the ice to go retrieve, use a marker to draw train tracks and an "obstacle courses" through picture mountains and around lakes, draw words on the ice that children skate to and spell, play red light/ green light and NASCAR races, musical "chairs." It's not the whole lesson, but a sort of fun controlled chaos that focuses on skills without the kids realizing they're focusing on skills.

  3. Collecting toys from the ice and putting them back into the bucket was my and my girls' favourite. Red light/green light and obstacle courses are fun unless it takes too much time to start the game. I've seen teachers drawing VERY good pictures of mountains, lakes, fish, etc. for 10 minutes and kids just standing there with their mouths open and watching the teacher draw. They were not moving at all for 1/3 of the class! And I was thinking "why am I paying for this?" But there was one game I absolutely hated. It's duck-duck-goose. I don't think it's a good idea for kids to sit on the cold ice for a few minutes. In addition to the fact that they were not moving, it's just no healthy to sit on such a cold surface. So I was very glad when they passed that tot class and moved up to Basic 2 where they were moving all the time.

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: pre-pre and FreeSkate 1

  4. I'm wondering is it really necessary to have all the children moving at the same pace? My daughter probably had a fairly comprehensive sports background before she started skating and probably would have been bored out of her mind if the instructor did not tell have her working on "advanced" one foot glides and dips (i.e. forward spirals and shoot the ducks). In general do you believe that group instructors should tailor to the individual needs of each student or try to have everyone moving together?

    1. It's not an issue of whether they "should" be moving at the same pace-- kids are going to move at the pace that is comfortable to them. The issue is class management. You can't have a class of very young children where half the class is on one side of the ice and half on the other. You have to come up with creative ways to keep them together without scaring the slow ones and boring the speed demons.

  5. As Group Instructor, while drawing obstacle courses, fishes (for forward swizzles), pinwheels (for turning around in place)Smilies (for stationary jumps), railroad tracks, Stop signs, tunnels for dips, etc., I have my students skate forward slowly on the obstacle course-that way no time is wasted standing around, plus the class is controlled (especially if/when they're Tot level).

    About 5 mins. before class ends we'll play either "What Time Is It, Mrs. Fox?" "Chase The Instructor" (forces them to stop, or "Red Light, Green Light." Never had a kid ask: "When will this lesson end?"

  6. Lot's of "red light, green light" and "Simon Says" can be fun. We also use cones to teach swizzles and slalom shapes, and draw fish on the ice for swizzles and rocking horses. I help out with Learn to Skate classes once a week, and I've definitely had a range of teachers. Even just having a coach who is enthusiastic about teaching can make a huge difference. I think the main thing is to make sure skating feels exciting and interesting even when it's not.

  7. At the Fairfax Ice Arena where I taught many a pre and post Alpha class, a lot of the instructors had giant magic markers for drawing on the ice. Clouds, ice cream cones, puppies, you name it ... and they incorporated games or skills into skating from one drawing to the next. It worked well with young skaters.

    1. One of my favorite tot games is to draw a Chutes and Ladders type pattern on the ice that forces kids to use marching, glides, swizzles, backward wiggles etc. Kids will g around and around and around for an entire class.