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.


  1. This is helpful. One of the reasons I am willing to put in all this money is that my son will be able to use skating as a possible job option when he gets older. He has really bad ADHD and needs to be able to move, a lot. College may be very difficult and the ability to continue skating in one for or another could really be a good direction for him. We have many years to think about this though.

    1. I hear you! That DD hated coaching so much was a huge disappointment.