Nov 24, 2014

Skating school exhibitions that don't make you want to poke your eyes out

Anyone ever been to a 3-hour skating school exhibition?

How about an 8-hour one, where your skater is at 10:30, her best friend is at 11:15, her synchro team is at 1:30, her tot class is at 3 and her best-friends-group is at 6:30. So you have to sit there all day, because heaven-forbid you should miss a single precious moment.

How about the ones that front-load the tots and beginners, and lump all the high level skaters who can actually skate in a single flight starting at 9 p.m., so that the only people left in the stands are the other skaters (even the parents have gone home, let alone the little kids).

It's time for a revolution.

First, if your exhibition goes 2 hours or under, suck it up and sit through the whole thing-- the kids deserve an audience, even the tot who just sits on the ice and cries (there's always one). Personally, I think that "free" exhibitions should have a refundable ticket fee-- but it only gets refunded if you stay through the whole thing. If you come late or leave early, you've just made a donation to the rink.

If your exhibition lasts more than 2 hours, it's time for some creative thinking, because even with a refundable fee, no one is going to sit through three hours of alpha level skaters performing to "Let It Go".

An exhibition can be made interesting, like anything else, by mixing it up. Make sure each flight (defined however you want-- by number of skaters, or by time), has a nice range of skating, and no repeated music. For instance, segments  of 15 (two warm ups), with at least 2 high level skaters and one or two group numbers in each flight to guarantee audience and give people something to watch. Then people can choose which hour to attend. 

Put in some tots, both solo and group, in each flight for the awwww factor.

Make sure there are boys. If you don't have any boys, invite a hockey team to demonstrate drills, or speed skaters to stage a race. (Do this even if you do have boys.) 

If you've got Special Skaters, give them a spot as well.

Finish each couple of flights with a local star, to entice people to come, and to stay. And by star, I mean someone that non-affiliated people would want to see-- the kid who made it to Senior Nationals; the coach who is a former international medalist (if s/he's still skating), the award-winning synchro team. The definition of "star" should be decided by the skating staff, or else every coach is going to want their own "star" to be the "star" even if they're not a "star" and no one cares to see them any more than they want to watch the tots cry.

If you've got a small unusual program-- theater on ice, special disciplines like pairs or ice dance, make sure you highlight them, as well. These kids don't get a lot of credit, and you might help build the program (which is the reason you do exhibitions in the first place).

Sell tickets. Seriously folks, stop with the free exhibitions. Make it $5 for a single flight (at least 45 minutes), and a discount for multiple flights. If you need to make it palatable, use the money to fund skating scholarships.

People will stay and your program will grow.

And no one will want to poke their eyes out.

Nov 22, 2014

Follow Xanboni!

Don't forget I'm on Facebook and Twitter!

You'll get a lot more content, more regularly. On Facebook I like memes, skating news, and skating friends, as well as posting great content from some of my favorite blogs (see the resources page). I'm perfectly happy with "blog whoring" on there too-- if you know, or write, a great skating blog or site, post it! (I won't lie, it's the only place where I sometimes go a little fangirl.)

On Twitter I'm more intermittent, but I "live tweet" most championship-level competitions like the Grand Prix series, Nationals, etc that are on Ice Network, plus other competitions that I'm able to find streams that haven't been blocked by the money-men.

So come on, hundreds of Twitter followers, and thousands read this blog each month-- join me there too!

See you online!

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Nov 11, 2014

When should your child start coaching-- a guide for parents

That's right. This is not a "how to teach" post. It's how to support your child's budding career, and it's a great one. Coaching has gotten many a former skating princess through medical school, because there are always jobs, and it pays more than minimum wage (as much as double minimum wage, in fact), even more if you pick up private students.

Kids can start teaching (as opposed to coaching) as young as 12, and depending on your state's laws, can be hired as regular staff at 14 or 15, and anywhere at 16 (labor laws). I hunted around on the PSA and ISI sites last night and could not find any guidelines for starting young coaches. The closest I found was PSA's Intern membership level. PSA also has the apprenticeship program which is a great option for learning how to teach. (See my posts about learning to teach here and here.) Here's the USFS guide for coaching.

But this post is about you.

I would (and did) encourage, even push, my skater to try coaching. As I said, for the age group it's lucrative. Your skater may decide she or he hates coaching (mine did), but that's okay. It's important to keep this option open while they need it.

So how young?
The one rink I've ever encountered that does it right, Northbrook Ice Arena in Illinois, allows kids to junior coach as young as 12, and has "buddy" options in the ice show younger than that, based on skating level and audition. Most of the girls (it's all girls at Northbrook) start at 14.

So you just throw them on a class and hope for the best?
Sadly, at many rinks, yes. And they always seem, inexplicably, to put them with the tots, the absolute hardest level to teach. If your newly minted coach is teaching a class by her/himself, complain. This is not appropriate for so many reasons-- skill, trust (i.e. why should parents trust your 14 year old with 8 tots), and not least, liability.

Wait, liability?
Young coaches who are on staff, or junior coaches in a formal program, are covered by the rink's insurance. In a rink where junior coaches are just sort of "at discretion," it's less clear. Your skater cannot get their own liability insurance until they are 16, and they must be members of the PSA to get it.

What's the first step
If your skater is already 16 and skating at least FS4 (arbitrary level choice, but I wouldn't go any lower with a young skater), and has not expressed an interest in coaching, or been asked by the rink, bring it up. If you know that there are opportunities at the rink, push it. I really believe kids should do this.  Then have the skater (not you) talk to their coach, a coach on a class they'd like to teach, or to the skating director about how to become a junior coach.

If your skater is actually hired, they must receive the same pay as any other coach hired in their category (it will vary from rink to rink and municipality to municipality, but is a statutory limitation based on H.R. categories. This is a legal thing.) They MUST receive at least minimum wage; it is against the law to hire someone for a regular position and pay them less than minimum wage.

If it's part of a junior coaching program it might be for pay (again, if they are on payroll this must be at least minimum wage), it might be quid pro quo, it might be "point building" towards a regular hire. This will vary hugely; no two rinks are the same. This is a place where you as a parent can ask. If the answer is vague, or worse, "oh I don't know we'll think of something" or if you find out that your arrangement is different from the next junior coach over, complain. This is one area where I would say you don't have to let your skater take the lead.

Learning to teach
Teaching is not skating. Knowing how to skate does not mean you know how to teach. My daughter pointed out that she had no idea how to teach a swizzle, because she'd been 4 when she learned it. Encourage a high degree of humility. Let your skater know that a coach instructing them in teaching tips is no different than a coach instructing them in how to do a sit spin-- it's just another skill. Nothing sets my teeth on edge more than a 16 year old acting like she knows teaching better than I do.

Your child's coach
Lots of coaches will use their older or more advanced students to help with younger skaters working with the same coach, sometimes for pay, sometimes for quid pro quo (i.e. free lessons)

Instruction in instruction
Check your ISI District and the Basic Skills website for free seminars-- coaches can go to either, it doesn't matter what curriculum the rink uses. Don't go with your skater; you wouldn't want her at your professional continuing ed either.  This is the arrogance thing again-- even experienced coaches learn something at these; a young coach shouldn't assume that because she can skate, she can teach. Plus, there's a lot of bad technique being passed around out there-- it might be your skater who is getting it. Seminars are great places to learn about good technique. And they often have superstar cred-- I learned how to teach flips from Tom Zakrajsek, and have seen Jason Brown, Gracie Gold, and Evan Lysacek among others as demonstrators.

But the most important thing you can do for your young coach is the same for all aspects of their lives-- be vigilant, but stay out of the way. (After pushing them into this, that is.)  Don't stand in the rink door. Don't harass the pro on the class about giving your child more opportunities to teach; don't nag the skating director for "better" classes or more coaching time. Don't offer advice unless you are asked. (This is especially hard if you are also a skating coach.)

Don't be a "coaching parent" anymore than you should be a Skating Mom™. You know that Olympic dream your skater has? Coaching is another way to get there.

Nov 8, 2014

Where did Xanboni go?

Many of you know that I also have another profession-- I operate a consulting firm advising small and start-up nonprofits, which, miraculously and wonderfully, has gradually crept up to full time. A little over a year ago, combined with difficult life and health issues, something had to give, and as those of you who write blogs know, blogging is time consuming and hard.

Xanboni wasn't the only blog I write that suffered. Not Dabbling in Normal was also a casualty.

But the fans keep finding me.

On Facebook, on Twitter, by email, and yes, in the lobby of the ice rink.

So I'm planning some intermittent posts, aiming for about one per month. Because I'm only teaching about an hour a week now, my finger is not quite as much on the pulse as it was, but I'm just as opinionated as ever, so I welcome suggestions for posts.

In the meantime, watch for When Should Your Child Start Coaching- a Guide for Parents next week, and A New Approach to Exhibitions around Thanksgiving.