Thursday, December 8, 2011

Selecting a coach

When the time comes that you decide you want a private coach,  I think you should look at yourself first, rather than the coaches. Ask yourself some questions.

 What's your goal with skating? Figures, hockey, dance moves? Knowing this can help you select a coach.

What's your commitment in time? Will you have time to practice? Or will you only skate during lessons? If you won't have time to practice, then look long and hard at yourself and your skating. You're going to need to practice. If you can't commit to practice, then getting a coach may not be the option for you. Just sayin', you might be wasting your money.

How much are you willing to spend?  It's not just the lesson cost, it's the ice time too. A rule of thumb, I've been told is 4 hours for every hour of coaching. Lot's of adults can't do that. Adults have commitments in time, and availability of ice. But 2 to 1 is still a useful planning ratio.

Is the ice time available? If you work, can you make time for lessons and practice? 

Once you have a sense of what you want, how much time and money you'll be able to spend, and your availability for practice, start looking for the person to be your coach.

1.  Are you ready for a private coach? Ask yourself that honestly.  Are your skills such that a coach would find you worth his/her time?  Would you actually be better off staying in group? If group is not working out, maybe a private coach plus group would be a good idea.
2. If you decide to go the  private route , have in mind either a number of lessons, or a period of time (say 3-6 months) as a trial period for your lessons. I've heard this called a try-out of a coach. Too short a time and the coach may not want to bother with you. 
3. Look at the available coaches. Do you like one of your group coaches? Lots of people go this route. Do you see a coach that teaches adults in the discipline you want? Another good option. Do any of your rink buddies have suggestions? 
4. Look the coach up on the bio page of the rink (if your rink has one). Find the lesson cost, and the skills listed. 
5. Have a lot of internal debates.
6. Pick one to approach. Ask the question.

I once switched rinks and approached the skating director about coach availability. (Failed to observe rule number 3-4, because I'd only been skating 6 months and didn't know how to get a coach) She snatched me up in a heart beat. It was not a good match.  I didn't obey rule number 2. I should have had a deadline.

After I broke my ankle and was off ice for a year, I returned to skating. What minor skills I had, were gone. The rink I had been at previously was gone now, so I went to Rink 2. I knew the rules now. I took my time.  I had two coaches in mind that I thought would work out. Both turned me down. Looking back, I think my post-injury skating was too awful. I should have just gone into group. Rule number 1.

Which is actually what happened. I went to Rink 3 and signed up for group. (Rink 2 disappeared. Literally. The roof collapsed under 6 feet of snow) I ran into a coach I knew from Rink 1 and we started lessons to supplement group. Then she decided to move to another part of the country. One day she said, "We need to think about another coach for you." She and I had been sharing the ice for 6 months with another coach and his students. He sounded pretty good (I could overhear him talking to his students), even though I'd never spoken to him, or even knew his name. "What about that guy?" I said pointing to him.

That's how I ended up with Dance Coach. See, perfectly planned out.


  1. "Are your skills such that a coach would find you worth his/her time?"

    I have heard this one before, and I think it is largely a myth. It is a very lucky coach indeed who makes enough money that they can turn down students (unless they have a "day job"). Most rinks don't have a Brian Orser. And the coach who is good at teaching adults is particularly unlikely to only teach very advanced students, since the intersection of the small set of adult skaters and the small set of advanced skaters is extremely small.

  2. I have found coaches that took me on as a raw beginner. I agree, there are lots of coaches that will take on an adult who can't do a crossover.

    My experience with Rink 2, I think, may have been due to rink culture. It was not an adult friendly rink. Rink 3 is a carnival of adult skating in comparison.

  3. @AMS- I think there are coaches who will turn down students (and not just adults) they don't find "worthy", but for the most part, there are also coaches who teach beginners.

    One of my previous coaches told me that she much prefered an adult beginner, whose hand she held as she shuffled around the rink (20 minutes a lap!) because they had interesting conversation, than the 3 year old whose parent wouldn't put her in groups. It is very difficult to keep a 3-year old, who can barely march, engaged for 30 minutes.

    Babbette- I think you are right that watching all the coaches is a good idea. As an adult, there is no need to jump right to a coach. You won't miss the Olympics for lack of training time. Figuring out each coaches style is a very good idea, even before approaching them for a trial. I like the idea of a trial 6 months, around here- we do a trial lesson with a few coaches, then let them know which one we'll be taking from. I'm on my third coach- the first coach was more of a "fun" coach, but I really want clean technique, so after a couple of years, when I was put off ice for an injury I found it a good time to make a break (it is SO difficult to leave a coach...), the second one was a great fit, but after another injury she told me she wasn't going to coach at all anymore (true to her word, she didn't just dump me, but everyone), now I'm with coach 3. This was a bit of a "who is left that I can afford" match, but I do think we work very well together. He graduates from college in 2 years, so I'll be coachless again...

  4. Once I decided I wanted to start one to one lessons in addition to group lessons, the most important things to me were...

    1) Level - only level 2 and above coaches can enter you for tests / competitions in the UK.
    2) Availability - the 1st coach I tried didn't have a slot free at a time I could make!
    3) Style of teaching! This was by far the most important thing to me!

    Between the drop in group Skate UK lessons and the block booked group lessons at my rink, I was taught by 85%+ of the coaches at my rink at some point in the 4/5 months it took me to complete Skate UK. I decided to look for a one to one coach in addition to group lessons once I started Passport levels.

    This meant I had a decent idea of their different styles of teaching. I didn't want a "shouty" coach as I find that demoralising. I wanted one that was very (very!) patient and who would be very calming (as I can get horribly frustrated with myself if things don't work). Them getting frustrated about it too would just make things worse. I also wanted a coach who would push me sometimes too!

    I also wanted one I understood! A couple of the coaches I had a lot in group lessons are very good but their way of explaining and my way of understanding things didn't mesh very well. Both are very visual teachers, who demonstrate things a lot. This can be very helpful... but I often need to understand the different parts of the move broken down into small bits, or explained several ways before I "get" it and they sometimes found this quite difficult to do. I was (and still am) quite friendly with one of them but it was a little awkward when I chose the coach I have now. I think she was disappointed that I didn't pick her but we are fine now!

    The 1st coach I asked (who teaches free only) didn't have a slot available I could make so I asked coach 2 (a dance coach who also teaches free too)! She is great and I now do more dance than free so that worked out well! :P

    I skated as a child at the same rink and have warm memories of my current coach from group lessons when I was wee. She doesn't remember me at all from then but we 1st met 31 years ago! I dread her ever retiring!

    Oh dear... Sorry for the essay! Taka

  5. I got my first coach entirely at random, at my rink the uninitiated are told to leave their details with the head coach, who then gets someone to call you (I'm unsure exactly how this is decided). Fortunately, she was a good fit for me, very patient and encouraging for an increadibly nervous beginner!

    Sadly, my first coach left the rink nearly two years ago now. This time, I knew more about the kind of coach i wanted and also had more experience of club and group lessons from most of the coaches. Admittedly, there a some coaches I would never consider due to rink politics.

    My current coach has taught me ever since. She is very patient with me, and calms me down when I get frustrated at not being able to do something. She pushes me to go further while understanding my limitations (or humouring them anyway!).