Jun 26, 2013

Ain't Misbehavin'

As far as I'm concerned there are no bad kids, there are only mismatched (I won't say bad) teachers.

Any group of children, even one with no behavior issues, is hard to manage and control. As I mentioned in a previous post, a 16 to 1 student teacher ratio is not unheard of in a skating class, and there are no chairs to put them in so they stand still. On skates, you can move and a lot of kids really really want to.



Especially boys.

If you luck into a Learn to Skate level class with a lot of sweet girls who stand and listen when you speak, hooray. It does happen, but it's pretty rare.

More common are classes where about half to 2/3s are kids who can focus and stand still even on the ice. The rest of the kids will be what I call noodles (no muscle control), exploding brains (Must. Say. All. Words. Constantly.) and astronauts-- they're in outer space. You have to radio them to get their attention. "Earth to Suzy! Come in Suzy!"

I recently watched a coach explain at length how to create beautiful stroking using the entire blade and stretching then pointing the toe to create power, grace and line. It was a brilliant description of the art of stroking.

Delivered in monotone, with no eye contact, to a group of 8 year olds.

Who all wanted to just watch the tots next door playing some sort of boisterous and obviously engaging game.

I've seen sweet young coaches make kids stand still for 5 or 6 minutes while taking attendance. Five or six minutes is an eternity in a skating class, especially for a child with what I call the "exploding brain"-- they cannot stand still. Cannot. Not "will not." Not "don't want to." They Cannot Stand Still.

Don't make them. Let them move. Give them something to do that isn't "oka-ay. Let's do one foot glides. Oka-ay. Let's do that again. Now lets do swizzles! I'm not going to offer any specific advice for those of you struggling with this, we're just going to keep going back and forth until Xan claws her eyeballs out!"

Like the trope says, you don't teach the skating class you wish you had, you teach the skating class you get. If you get one with an astronaut, two noodles, an exploding brain and a kid with oppositional defiant disorder, you better have strategies ready to keep that class engaging for all of them.

Jun 23, 2013

Baby pairs and dance

If you have a boy in figure skating, sooner or later someone is going to approach you about pairs or dance. If you have the time and financial wherewithall, think about it.

Especially if you have Nationals ambitions, pairs and dance is a great route, because the field is so small. While the rules have recently been changed to make Sectionals more competitive in these disciplines, you're still up against maybe 10 or 12 teams in your level, rather than hundreds (girls) or dozens (boys) of other skaters.

Thank you to Christopher Hyland, national dance coach (and good friend), for help with this post.

Here are some issues you might encounter: 

Ew, girls
Coaches will start eyeballing boys for the team disciplines as early as Delta, but more commonly around FS4-5/Pre Juvenile. When a boy lasts in figure skating long enough to reach low freestyle  he's generally over the ew-girl factor, because he spends all his time in the girl zone.

When do you need a coach who specializes in pairs and dance?  
For beginners, especially if you're doing something like ISI "Couples", your freestyle coach is probably fine for the very beginner skills. For dance you will need a dance coach from the outset to teach the patterns. As you progress, competitive teams will have a multitude of coaches-- personal coach, team coach, spin coach, jump coach, choreographer.  This is because the elements in dance and pairs are highly specialized.  However, at ISI Pairs 1, most coaches with competence through high freestyle know the basic lifts and pairs spins.  Kids that low are not doing throws, but even throw waltz jumps are generally within the capability of many coaches.

How do I know if my coach really knows what they're doing?
Ask the coaches whether they have taught or competed the following elements-- simple pairs/couples spin, throw waltz jump, lasso lift, drapes. Over Couples/Pairs 3 you must have a specialized Pairs coach, for safety if nothing else. Ask for the resume and check the resume. I hate to tell you but coaches have been known to exaggerate their background. If you are competing at USFS Pairs or Dance you need a coach who has either competed or had competitive teams in the discipline.

How does the coaching fee work when there are two kids in the lesson?
 It is typical for Pairs and Dance coaches to split a lesson fee between the skaters for joint lessons. You can expect coaches in specialty disciplines to charge a higher fee than non-specialty coaches (although they don't always). Sometimes a coach will add a small premium of 10-20% for joint lessons, but are still splitting the hourly fee.  I do hear of specialty Pairs/Dance coaches charging full fee to both parties (and thereby getting double their regular hourly rate). I asked Chris about this and he thought it was an abusive practice, and should be questioned, especially if your coach is not a pairs/dance specialist.

You will also still need to continue your freestyle lessons (with the same or a different coach), and will have to work off-ice, either with the pairs/dance coach or an off-ice specialist.

Off Ice training
For dance and pairs, because of the lifts, and in pairs the throws, strength training is an absolute must. Teams will also need to do additional off-ice artistic training to learn the lifts and throws on the floor first, before taking them onto the ice.

I hear stories of Lobby Parents accusing boys of being out of control, of "stealing" the idea of doing Pairs or Dance, as well as crueler insinuations about children's sexuality (really) and more.  And here's the only thing I can say: Stay. Out. Of. The. Stands.  When parents accost you with bullshit just smile and say, "Oh? uh hunh, uh hunh, I see." over and over. As someone said to me the other day, dealing with figure skating parents is like dealing with panhandlers-- do not make eye contact, do not engage.

Copycatting? People say that? Really?
Yes, apparently. But even if you got the idea of doing pairs because you saw someone at the rink doing pairs (or dance), it's not exactly a secret that this is a skating discipline. If you copy choreography, music or costuming, shame on you. But deciding to do pairs because that little team at the rink looked like they were having so much fun is not copycatting, it's flattery.

Issues involved with training are largely concerned with cost and scheduling-- you now have another family to coordinate with, and you've added a discipline that needs its own hours. Some free style time can be dedicated to the new discipline but there is no question that your skaters will be on the ice more.

Where do you find ice?
This is a huge problem, even in large markets. We used to drive our daughter more than 30 miles to the rink that gave us dance ice. Many rinks restrict pairs and especially dance teams-- they're not allowed to work together on freestyle sessions.  Large districts will have dedicated dance ice, usually run by the clubs, but I've never heard of dedicated pairs ice outside a major training facility. Your best strategy is to always be really really nice to everyone--other coaches, club leadership, rink management--so they think of your problem as their problem and work with you.

What about jealousy from other coaches?
This also happens, sadly, and is a harder problem to overcome than jealous parents. Coaches can sometimes try to undermine a team by getting management to restrict the use of freestyle ice, by refusing to yield (a team executing a lift for instance, by standard accepted protocols always has the right of way), etc. This is another instance where being super nice to management and club leadership will pay off.  

Have you considered or done Pairs or Dance? Tell us about your experience.

Jun 11, 2013

Sharing the class

Fifteen to one.

That's the generally accepted maximum ratio of students to teacher in learn to skate.

For tots it's 8 to 1; for the 3 and 4 year olds four to one.

Some municipalities base the ratio on statutory classroom ratios, some on their own metrics, and some just fill classes until no one else wants to sign up. In practice, most rinks will try to keep the ratio low, with multiple coaches on a single class.

Personally I like a higher student/teacher ratio. I find the class flows better when you have to deal with more kids. (I had 27 all by myself in a PreAlpha class once. That was a bit much.)

Multiple coaches are helpful not just to keep the student/teacher ratio reasonable, but also because if one coach can't be there on any given week due to scheduling conflicts or illness the students still get a "regular" coach rather than a sub. Back in the day, when coaching staffs were larger however, you'd sometimes get the agonizing phenomenon of 2 teachers on a class with only 4 or 5 kids.

It can be tricky to find a rhythm with a second teacher. There are rinks with rigid week-by-week syllabuses (syllabi?), but generally you're sort of making it up as you go along within the general constraints of the USFS or ISI curriculum.

So how do you "share" the class?

If I'm new to a program, or the other teacher is the 'main' teacher, I 'll let them set the stage. Just tell me what to teach, and for how long.

If I'm the main teacher, I'll sometimes tell the other teacher what to do, or just turn the class over to them for some period each week. (I'm really bad at this; I always want to jump in.)

Double Act
When you've been on a staff for a while, you start to know the other coaches well enough to really develop a rhythm, and they know enough to trust you. This is the best way to share a class; where  you understand each other's strengths, and know when you can jump in and when you should hold back.

Once the kids are skating, competent teachers, however many there are, will simply move from student to student and give personal advice. If I start to see common errors or questions, I'll stop the class and bring up the point for everyone to hear.

Student teachers
At rinks with serious student teaching programs, you get to teach the student teachers as well, letting them know when to jump in, when to help kids individually, and when to take over.  I feel that from the stands, parents should not be able to distinguish student teachers from staff coaches by the level of involvement-- every coach on the ice should be engaged in the class.

Hang on, have to pick myself up off the floor, where I fell down laughing. You could actually sit down with your co-teacher and create a syllabus, although I've never seen this happen in the regular classes. (I actually do have syllabuses for every level through FS4, which I pull out mostly when I'm teaching a level I'm less familiar with, or when I have a class that's struggling.) In specialty classes like dance or power, however, this is fairly common.

Do the classes at your rink use more than one teacher per class? What successful (or failed) strategies have you used or observed?