Thursday, December 22, 2011

"No one can Progress!"

Last Saturday I was watching the kids, saying hello to some people and joining in the wondering chorus of "Why bother" for the one lesson that the kids get before a two week holiday break.

I'm sure it's a scheduling thing, and was about to say how glad I was for the private lessons in the interim, when some Plastic Mom appears by the door and begins a tirade.

"Look at this! Look at these coaches! They stand in the corner and talk while the kids goof off during warm ups!"

Other Mom agrees. "Oh, I know. It's terrible!"

"They need to have a coach at each corner to direct the kids! But they just stand there and talk!" Plastic Mom hurries off, and a moment later, a coach gets paged to the office.

Plastic Mom and Coach come out the door, with Plastic Mom railing and Coach saying she'd talk to people. But Plastic Mom is not satisfied. "Look at this. This is ridiculous. They aren't learning anything!"

Now, I have problems with the warmup, too. But I'm pretty confident that 90% of the warmup problems are Stitch not taking it seriously, so I'm talking with him about that.

But Other Mom and Plastic Mom were on a roll. "It's awful," says Plastic Mom. "How are they supposed to progress on an hour a week? And then They'll tell you that you have to buy private lessons and special ice to progress, and it's just not fair! They should progress in the regular classes we pay for!"

Okay. Let's review.

Plastic Mom is sporting a Prada Bag, a BMW key fob, a fur trimmed jacket and some pricey looking boots. Her daughter is sporting a full Chloe Noel getup complete with the Crystal accents. I'm pretty sure she can afford a private lesson and some practice ice.

Regardless of any of that, it's silly to say that "no one can progress" on weekly skating lessons. There's a boy in Stitch's FS3 class who's never seen a private coach or practice ice, skates about once a week, and he does fine. (He also has a big brother who is a killer ice dancer as powerful motivation.) But he's progressed. He spent two rounds in Pre-Free, two rounds in FS1, and a half round in FS2. He also got lucky in a lot of his classes, as he ended up being alone a lot. Score!

I've never heard of any kid languishing in any level for longer than two or three rounds, and it's usually one niggly thing that's hanging them up. (Except Shuffles, who is still in Alpha 1 after a year. But he's the lone exception.) Since the coaches will teach higher skills to break the monotony, by the time they do pass, they're halfway through the subsequent level anyway.

But your kid will progress. Will they progress as fast as you want them to? Who's to say? Why the rush? What are you after?

If you're just wanting your kid to skate recreationally, have some fun skills to show off to friends, or "to skate on dates" (the reason boys skate, according to the parents I talk to), I think a once weekly lesson and some practice time on public sessions is fine. But like any challenging skill, they won't get it unless they work at it. A Coach can't give your child a gift wrapped Waltz Jump.

I really wanted to ask Plastic why it mattered. But since I was someone who was getting Privates and "special ice," I decided to keep out of it. I noted that the FS3 coach was spending an inordinate amount of time talking himself, and I mentioned it to Coach Y later. She said she'd help.

But what if I didn't have a Coach to help me? What would my options be?

Talk to Problem Coach? I've seen this have mixed results. As a parent, you have to handle this with a lot of diplomacy. You don't want to come across as telling someone how to do their job, but you do want to bring up an issue. I'd use the "compliment sandwich" method. "Hey, those scratch spins look great! Everyone's doing so well! But my kid's having a problem with dance step, can you help him with that? And his toe loop is getting so much better these days! Thank you!" The trick to a compliment sandwich is that you have to be sincere. Don't BS it, and don't be combative yourself.

Some coaches will get all prickly and weird anyway, though, so good luck!

Switch classes? If Coach Talksalot teaches the Saturday Group, and Coach GitRDone teaches Tuesday nights, I'd try to make Tuesdays work and discretely switch classes.

Go ahead and supplement with Privates? I see nothing wrong with this. A Booster Lesson on a low key Public Session is no admission of defeat. I'd just make it clear to the Coach that "we're just trying to get those three turns down." I also think a Junior Coach at a lower rate is perfect choice for this problem.

Switch Rinks? If the problem is ongoing, and I'm chronically getting stuck with a talker, I could move to another rink. Other Mom does this. She supplements with lessons at CityRink down the road. For me, my other option is farther away and more expensive. Right now, this is not a good option.

But what about you? What would you do? Or what have you done when Coach Talksalot is talking, talking, talking...


  1. When I was in Basic 7/8 I passed both levels of the course in one 8 week session. Two of the kids were very jealous, and told me it was "only because I was an adult and friends with the teacher". What it really was is that I practiced 3 hours a week (no privates then) and then only skated the 30 minute lesson each week.

    I do think that there comes a point where you cannot progress on only group lessons. I don't think you have to have privates, but you really do need practice.

    Our group lessons include practice passes to public ice (or freestyle ice if you are in freestyle groups) so money isn't the excuse, time is. Kids want to show up to the rink for 30 minutes every Saturday. And then wonder why they can't do a loop or a backspin.

  2. I'm so glad we don't have people like this at my rink. The moms are nice and the freestyle skaters are really sweet to me when I'm on freestyle ice.

    But at my rink, the coaches are on practice ice, and even though there are safety issues, they don't intervene. I wish that would change.

  3. The point where I could not progress on only group lessons: back crossovers in beta.
    The point where I could not progress on only group lessons and independent practices: lutz jump in FS5 (still haven't got it...)

    There is a very talented adult skater at our rink who only had very little group or private lessons, he is sometimes rotating axels after skating for couple years and practicing hard. So it could be done.

    But wasting valuable time and energy building bad technique into muscle memory is really not a good idea/deal, at some point a serious skater needs more quality time with coach, which group lesssons often cannot offer.

    The boy who advanced to FS3 with no practices outside of class must be very talented, wonder how far will he go with at least some practices, and *gasp* a good coach?

  4. I had Coach Talksalot for a whole session and had him occassionally here and there in group / seminar. he talks about both technique and mental toughness, to me the lecture/practice ratio was OK, definitely within the 1:4 ratio suggested by Xan (in the What is that coach *talking* about? post). For Stich's class is the ratio more than 1:4?

  5. Agree with JJane - coach talker does a great job. Once you get to FS3 you really do need much more talk about what you should be doing and how it should feel etc - show then do just doesn't suffice.

  6. The problem is the Coach Talker is he spends a lot of time talking bs, flirting with the teenage girls and being generally creepy rather than talking about skating and mental toughness. When he talks about skating he's spot on, and he's one of the best coaches for adults when he actually lets them skate, instead of standing around being bathed in his glory. But he needs to let people skate.

  7. maybe for adult classes but not too many kids over 11 in FS3 so I have never witnessed that. My daughter has had him twice though, and most of the other coaches at least once, and I think he is probably the second best coach working at that rink at the moment. Plus the kids love him so he must be doing something right!

  8. Guys, this post was never intended to be a coach bashing post, either in content or comments. I assumed the talking problem to be universal, hence the "what would you do" question at the end. Believe it or not, this little blog gets a lot of hits from around the world, so centering your comments around our rink is not helpful and must be terribly confusing for them. If you like him, great. I do, too. He's just not the best teacher for a "gotta move" little boy.

    I'll have to start removing comments that center on our rink, since they don't forward the discussion. And I really don't want to hurt feelings in a public sphere like this. I hang out at Cobra Lounge, feel free to join me.

  9. We have a Coach Talksalot at my rink. She's a dear, but there comes a point when you just want to skate. At one point she and her two assistants spent half a group lesson talking and focused on one student who was doing very well. I took her aside after the lesson and said, "Were you aware you and your two assistants spent half the lesson on one person?" She was horrified. She didn't recognize the time had been speeding by. It never happened again.