Monday, September 28, 2009

Would You Keep This Figure Skating Coach?

Thanks to my unofficial editorial advisory board: Ice Coach, Ice Dad, Ice Girl, Ice Friend, K.R. and C.L.

Please note: all e-mails below have been edited for length and usage.

A couple of weeks ago I received this question from reader L.L. in my InBox that said three things:
  1. L.L. likes her daughter’s figure skating coach.
  2. Competition problem #1: Skater and coach never practiced the compulsory at both ends of the rink. Skater was distressed at a competition when she had to skate at the other end of the rink.
  3. Competition problem #2: Weird problem where Skater was signed up for an interpretive figure skating event and thought it would be her normal program.
L.L. wanted to know: So why didn't our coach know about these things and what do I do now? Do I fire her or give her another chance? Isn’t that one of the reasons you have a coach and don't do it yourself?

I conducted a poll of my informal advisory board and it came out 6 to 1 in favor of keeping the coach on.

Here’s what some of us said:

  1. Yes, it's the coach's responsibility to know the rules – she should have known them.
  2. Is this a new coach? It sounds like she must be. Learning is hard, and that kind of mistake is likely only made once.
  3. I, personally, would give the coach one more chance assuming all else is good in the skater-coach relationship. If not, I would say that's a good reason to leave.

C.L: I think that the parent should have a heart-to-heart with the coach if she likes her. These seem like honest mistakes that maybe a newer coach would not be aware of. For the next competition, the parent and coach should review the rules together and schedule practice ice on the rink beforehand.

Ice Friend: I would say fire her, unless the kid wants to keep the coach. I know if it were me, I would not be happy, because it would make me feel like I’m not skating to my fullest. The coach should know about the competition’s rules, because they’re written in the competitions packets that they sign. It has all of the information, so maybe the coach read it, but she didn’t pay very much attention to the details.

Ice Mom: For me, the coaching relationship is more complicated than competition results. I look for a coach who loves to be on the ice, has good skating skills, is a good teacher, is nice to me and my kid, and is easy to communicate with. I want Ice Girl to do well at competitions and I sign her up for a lot of them. But at this level, I think that the competition thing is really about getting kids to understand what a competition is and how to mentally prepare for them. If your daughter freaked out or was thrown for a loop, that really didn't happen. It's obvious your coach let you down in the competition area, but you wrote that you really like her. Maybe the other criteria outweigh the competition fiascos. Maybe you're willing to take another chance with her because you believe she's a good coach and a good fit for your daughter and your family.

Ice Girl: Maybe the coach has really good skills and works well with the skater. I would sit down and talk with the coach, but I wouldn’t let her go just over this.

Most of us are willing to give this coach another chance, and that’s just what L.L. did.

Update: From Anonymous in the comments: I'm all for giving people a second chance, as long as you're confident that you're not being taken advantage of. If you think it was the kind of mistake you only make once, than give her another try. If, however, there are repeated missed details, then you should consider whether she is really serious about being a good coach. You need to be an advocate for your kids as well as a partner with the coach. Skating is too expensive not to be concerned about the details.

From reader Season: The main point of my post is that open communication with the coach is very important and if your coach is young and new to the profession she may need some time to get used to being a coach.

From reader Rosalie: One or two mistakes is fine, as long as they don't happen again, but you are paying your coach to help you/your skater progress, not to be your buddy.

What do you think? What would you recommend a parent do in this situation?


Helicopter Mom said...

I know that I read every event form like I'm going to find the secret to eternal life! I never do, but I always find something... like some event is on half ice, or there is no "+/- 10 seconds" in another event, or how long the skaters will have off and on ice in the interpretive or extemporaneous event, or that every level including pre-pre is judged with the new scoring rules!! Half the time, the coach doesn't know these things. He/she is working with several skaters on different levels who may be in several different competitions over the next few weeks. I know that ultimately I am responsible for my daughter, so I try to arm myself with as much information as possible. THEN I'll go to the coach and ask... "Did you mean for us to sign up for interpretive?" or "When they say it's on half ice, what do they mean?" or "She wants to know which side of the rink the judges will be on - do you know?"... you get the idea. It sounds to me like in L.L.'s case, there is a lot of trust in the coach (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) but not enough communication. I know when my daughter started skating, I felt like I needed a crash course in all this stuff! Sometimes I still do!!! That's why we all read YOUR blog, Ice Mom!!! Anyway, I say give the coach one more chance but voice these issues, read the event forms thoroughly and keep the lines of communications open!

ScrapAloha said...

I agree with the previous post, I read the competition forms backwards and forwards, but there are always things that come up. One competition stated in the forms that it was to take place on 1/2 ice, but turns out that the Intermediate level and above had full ice. Apparently no one knew that since all the competitors used only half the ice LOL.

There are always things that come up, and apparently the rules can change by the week.

We are very blessed to have a very experienced coach who works really well with my skater. I still read the forms and take care of a lot of the logistical things and ask about anything that I'm not sure of. It's a team effort, so I try to keep up with as much as I can with my limited knowledge. Coaches have many students and it really is our responsibility as a parent to get as informed as we can to support our children.

I totally agree that there is too much to the coach-skater relationship to switch from a well liked coaches without at least trying to work on the problem. If skatemom and skater like this coach and the coach is willing to learn from this experience and do better in the future, then I would be all for continuing to learn together.

Good luck to L.L.

ann said...

It's hard to find a good coach that works well with your child. When my child's long time coach decided to retire she made sure to find new coaches for her studends. We ended up with a very nice lady who my daughter really likes. She has improved a lot. Competitions are all run differently. ISI and USFS have different rules. Hopefully, when she competes again she'll know more what to do. I would give the coach another chance and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

We recently left a coach after having several competition issues. Our daughter liked the coach but was ready to move on because she felt that lately she was being ignored, so the switch wasn't difficult.

First major competition issue: Our daughter was registered to skate an interpretive program at an ISI competiition, an event she had never done before. Following her first event at that competition, our coach announced that she would not be coming to the interpretive event the next day and preceded to give our daughter tips and instructions for the event. Our daughter was petrified but was a real trooper and skated anyway. We thought she did a great job although she finished as "also skated." The coach felt that since she couldn't actually coach her in this type of event that she didn't need to be there. I feel that she should have been there to support our daughter because it was her first time and to critique the program so that our daughter would understand what she did well and what she could improve upon the next time she skated this event. This coach pulled this same move at the next ISI competition with another one of her skaters but didn't even tell the skater or her parents that she wouldn't be attending. She simply didn't show up. We happened to be at the competition, so we did our best to try to reassure the skater and her parents. A group of skaters from our club talked the skater thru it, put her on the ice and cheered her on.

Second competition issue resulted in the dismissal of our coach (otherwise known as the straw that broke the camel's back). Coach signed our daughter up for 5 events at a USFS competition. Our daughter had to learn a new freeskate program, an artistic program, a new compulsory program as well as learn how to do the jump and spin events because she had never competed in these events before. Annoyed and concerned because our daughter had just 4 weeks to learn and polish all the new programs and events, I asked the coach to please scratch 2 of the events because it was becoming very stressful for our daughter. She refused and said If I wanted to scratch events, I should go ahead and make the decision. Then, just a week before the competition she announced she was going out of town and would miss the 2 practice days before the competition and she would miss most of the first day of the competition. This meant she would miss 2 of our daughter's events. (Did I mention this was OUR club's annual competition that she would be missing?) Shouldn't she have mentioned her trip when I asked her to scratch 2 events? I would have chosen to scratch the events she wasn't available for. She did make arrangements for another pro at the club to put our daughter on the ice. This coach did a wonderful job and our daughter loved how she prepared her for her events. So, guess what, that coach is now our primary coach. So far, so good with this coach. Unfortunately, now I'm a pessimistic skating parent because we've let 2 coaches go within 2 years--both young and both lacking the level of professionalism I expect for the fees they are charging.

I'm all for giving people a second chance, as long as you're confident that you're not being taken advantage of. If you think it was the kind of mistake you only make once, than give her another try. If, however, there are repeated missed details, then you should consider whether she is really serious about being a good coach. You need to be an advocate for your kids as well as a partner with the coach. Skating is too expensive not to be concerned about the details.

Elisabeth said...

I think the most important thing is chemistry between coach & skater and coach & parent(s). It really sounds like the coach was new or maybe got flustered with competition prep. It happens. But if it becomes a constant thing, then it's time to talk to the coach or consider letting her go.

I'm glad to see L.L. gave the coach another chance.

Ice Mom said...

Very good point about the coach's willingness to work on stuff. I'm updating the post with it. Thanks!

Ice Mom

Anonymous said...

My daughter has been with her coach for 12 years and it has been great. When we go to a competition she usually has most of her skaters skating in the competition and when you have a large number of skaters in the competition it gets difficult to remember which events each skater has scheduled. There have been several times when I have had to review the competition rules and remind our coach what the rules says and which events my daughter is going to skate during the competion. Also many competitions change the rules for events that are nonqualifing events because the rules are not clearly defined in the USFSA rule book.
I always do my best to help my daughters coach as much as possible and communicate with her openly when there is a problem. For example, When she gives me a cometition form I will go on the event website and review all the rules for the events that my daughter will be skating and if I see a problem I will bring in a copy of the rules and highlight the problem. My daughter recently had a competition with this type of problem and her coach looked over her program and made the necessary adjustments. Another problem that can occur is if the coach is not the choreographer of your childs program. This is the case with my daughter. She has her main coach that works on free skate elements and a separte coach that works on choreography. That means that her main coach that puts her out for competition is not completely familar with all the elements of the program especially if her choreographer makes program changes before a competition. Her main coach will look at her program before the event and if she skates clean will not be aware that any additional changes need to be made to the program unless the choreographer lets her know or if I point out any discrepancies with the rules.
The main point of my post is that open communication with the coach is very important and if your coach is young and new to the profession she may need some time to get used to being a coach. Remember she is used to being a skater and not the coach. If you are not comfortable and feel you need a coach with more experience than you may need find a new coach. Season

Ateam On The Edge said...

I, for one, am enjoying reading your progression up this E Ticket ride as we are about to disengage the bar and depart. What I love about your blog, and the ones by HM, are the fact that you are already finding the humor in all of this. Just remember to keep the humor because there are times when that is all you have to cling to when you see your brains oozing from your ears and your eyes glazing over.

Ice Mom said...

Thanks for the kind words, ATeam! I've really enjoyed your blog and hope to learn a lot from you.

For those who haven't seen it, here's the perspective from parents who've been freezing in rinks for 20 years:

justpat said...

I agree with the other posters who check the competition packet carefully. Unfortunately, I learned this from experience. And another experience, and another experience.
My daughter's first coach was rarely prepared. She was very energetic and enthusiastic, but didn't believe in having a plan ("Because I would just have to change it"). She felt that she had been doing this for years and she knew what she was doing.
She didn't recognize that her students HADN'T been doing this for years. And the parents of her skaters were always nervous because they didn't know what to expect.
I vividly remember our 2nd competition. My daughter had completed her compulsory moves and was waiting for the skater on the other side of the ice to finish. Our coach was watching the other skater do a Salchow and suddenly yelled out across the ice to my daughter "Do a Salchow! Do a Salchow!!!" She had forgotten to put it in the program. Apparently since she hadn't yet left the ice it was acceptable to throw it in. She received a medal and the coach felt that all ended well, so it wasn't a problem. Nope. It was a warning sign.
There were times when the coach wasn't there for the warm-up before an event, would show up after the warm-up and try to coach (changing a program verbally) while the event progressed.
I ended up coaching my daughter more than was healthy for our relationship and we changed coaches.
What a breath of fresh air! Someone who was prepared. She planned ahead, shared her thoughts with us, listened to our concerns, and arrived at a competition on time and ready to take over.
So my advice is to read the packet and don't hang in there too long if a pattern develops.
It's difficult to make a change, but you are paying the coach to do her job. And that includes being prepared for competitions.

bethalice said...

My daughter is on her first coach and we love her. It has been a learning experience for both of us though. The coach came from primarily coaching ISI, to USFSA which my daughter is doing. One mistake was an element in her free skate that may have been considered above level, but it was caught in time before the competition. My learning experience is in trusting her coach that all will work out. (She deserves a medal for putting up with me. LOL) It is so important that all three (skater, parent, and coach) communicate. I also think the parent and skater should also educate themselves, not relying on the coach to cover every topic. We have learned so much by talking to experienced skaters & parents, and googling for info.

It turned out her coach missed my daughter's first competition, but she had a very good reason - she got married! Thankfully, my daughter's synchro coach was able to put her on the ice. We did schedule a private lesson with her just before the competition so she would be familiar with her program.

I selected this coach because of the way she and my daughter "clicked". My daughter is a perfectionist, and needed a coach who worked on every tiny detail. I guess we got lucky on our first pick. She took such a HUGE leap with this coach, in the approx. 5 weeks of lessons with this coach. She ended up competing below her level - not intentionally. When registering for the event, before starting the first private lesson with this coach, she was placed at the last level she passed. My daughter placed first in both of her events in her very first competition. So kudos to her coach! I also have to put a plug in for synchro which has really helped her with edges, power, and speed.

Rosalie said...

I've played the role of skater, coach, and fill-in parent (mine are typically not involved with my skating unless there is no other alternative). My first competition, I won second-to-last place. Later, the judges said that I should have won first, except for one problem: my pivot, a critical element, had been planned to be one rotation shy of the minimum requirement. I didn't think much of it, until I started to notice other indiscrepencies in my coach. She was regularly a few minutes late (which adds up very quickly when you have lessons twice a week!) and when working on test patterns, she focused on patterns with lower values than others that had major errors, ignored majors errors for errors that didn't even affect the testing, and missed other vital points for competition and testing. As a person, I absolutely adored her. But as a coach, she was holding me back, and I had to let her go. Keeping up with rules and requirements is not that difficult; I do it for friends, myself, and for my skaters, so there's no real reason to skip over something so vital. There are a lot of coaches out there. One or two mistakes is fine, as long as they don't happen again, but you are paying your coach to help you/your skater progress, not to be your buddy.