We've all seen it. Some of us have experienced it. Coaches who do all their instruction from the boards. All. Of. It.
Now, I understand that there may be circumstances under which a coach may have to not wear skates. Injury. Pregnancy. Illness. I get it, and I completely understand.
But a coach who does not consistently wear skates is questionable to me. Here's why:
Words only get you so far. Sometimes a skater has to see an element to understand the desired result. Youtube can fill in the gaps, but seeing it right then and there is so much better. ("Coach YouTube," I would frequently joke when I'd been coached from the boards.) Plus, it's inspiring to see your coach performing something beautifully. Even working at the boards, a coach can serve as a "mirror image" to help you understand what you're aiming for.
When you're halfway across the rink, flying fast and hard, it's hard to hear correction that's being shouted at you from forty feet away. You literally have to stop what you're doing, truck back to the boards, get the correction, and start over. This is time wasted. Remember, private lessons are a dollar a minute. You're paying a dollar for every minute you're trucking back and forth, just because your coach doesn't feel like wearing skates. Who is benefiting from this arrangement? Not you.
3. Hand holding
Yes, for some of the newer elements, I have hands to hold. It helps. I like to let go as soon as I can, but for those first few tries, a hand helps. A coach at the boards cannot hold your hand. Also, my coach is a gentleman. He takes my hand like a lady's, which is nice. Theatre work taught me that physical contact establishes trust, and trust is absolutely essential for a solid working coaching relationship. If coach is behind the boards, there is a literal barrier.
4. Physical correction
And sometimes words are not enough. A coach out on the ice with you can literally correct you physically. This was unnerving for me at first (because I'd been coached from the boards for two years) but it goes back to the Trust issue. I can now trust to be touched and moved while at speed and know that Coach isn't going to upset my balance. And it has carried over into other coaches, too. A class coach threw me into a spin and pairs coach threw me rather high by surprise, and I didn't freak out. A year ago I wouldn't let anyone near me.
5. General encouragement.
One of my favorite lessons was when I was trying edge pulls while Coach told me all about Alexi Yagudin, his style and the person. My head was exploding, because Alexi is one of my all time favorite skaters. And I didn't mind the talk because he would throw in "do this better" while going on about Alexi. Such a thing would have been unthinkable if he were in shoes and behind the boards.
I can't explain it, but my confidence took a huge upswing when I got a coach who wore skates. He was right there, talking, moving, demonstrating, pushing, pulling and working magic. I had to move fast, too, just to keep up. "Pretty soon, you'll skate like this," and off he'll go looking like a rockstar and I think, "Yeah, let's look like that!" and I'll try my rockstar best. It was a huge psychological boost.
6. What are you doing over there?
It's all too easy to check a phone under those boards. Or have a conversation with another coach, or check out other skaters. Especially while you, the skater, are forty feet away and trying something hard. Is that coach really paying attention? Remember, this is time you have purchased. If they're spending it doing other business on other skaters, catching up on rink gossip or (the worst) encouraging their other students, you're getting ripped off.
I heard some rumor that some Skating Insider Folks believe that Coaching without Skates is somehow better. As a Skater, I could not disagree more. I've been coached from the boards and coached from skates, and being coached from skates is 1000% better. A coach in skates shows investment in you and your goals.