I have a couple of little skaters competing in a competition this weekend in the Star 1 category. This is the first time competing for one of them, and the other has only competed once previously. I always look forward to these competitions with my littlest skaters because they are such a great opportunity to have fun and learn so much about themselves as people and athletes.
My skaters are ready. They have been fully prepped on the elements they need to perform. We have worked extensively on knowing what they need to do to get the highest marks, and we have emphasized the small details like presentation and finesse.
I’ve sent out emails double checking and verifying schedules with their parents, as well as our competition check list so they have a concrete list they can use to help them organize themselves.
In short, we are fully prepared to handle just about anything that may or may not happen on the day, and it’s a good feeling to know that all the HARD work is done and now they get to simply go and enjoy their skate.
As the weekend draws closer, I can’t help but think back to all the other competitions at the many different levels I have attended. It’s been a rewarding and exciting coaching journey so far, and I hope it continues forever. As I look back this week, I am realizing how much I have changed as a coach from the mistakes I have made and the experiences I have been lucky enough to share with my students.
If I could go back in time and give advice to my younger coaching self as she was starting out, here are the things I would tell her.
The Longer You Coach, the More You Will Realize You Know NOTHING About Coaching
Our sport is ever evolving and always changing, a statement fully illustrated by the infuriating number of updates we must read and study each year as the never-ending list of amendments filter down to us from the powers that be. Just when you think you have the rules memorized for spin, jump or program requirements for a level, they will change.
Get used to it and stop stressing about it.
Also, there will ALWAYS be new techniques to learn for each skill you teach. Someone, somewhere will come up with a new exercise, or a new way of packaging an old technique that will be ALL the rage for a few years. Embrace it, learn it, add it to your coaching tool kit, but do NOT forsake all the old techniques, they are useful too. The more you can pull out of your toolbox when you are in the field, the better you will be able to get results from your athletes.
There is NO Right Way or Wrong Way to Teach a Skill
Of course, the basic bio-mechanical principles and the laws of physics will hold true for everything you teach. What I’m talking about are the coaches that steadfastly teach their jumps (or spins, or field moves, or any other skill) one way, and will not attempt to modify their approach if it isn’t working. If you have tried for 4-6 weeks (which coincidentally is about the length of time of a small to average macrocycle when you start to periodize your training) to make progress with a student in a jump, spin or any other element, and it’s not happening, then you had better find another way to teach it, describe it, or show it to that student.
I am going to tell an athlete whatever it takes to get results in that skill, no matter how wacky it may sound. Why? Well…this is where the next point is important.
Every Student is Different, and You Must Adapt Your Instruction and Teaching Style Accordingly
Well, DUH, you are probably thinking. But this point is SO important it bears repeating often and adamantly.
No two students are alike and will differ in every possible way: from size, to shape, to muscle fibre type, to learning styles, to aggressiveness, to their stage of development, to how quickly they process information, to how sensitive they may be, to confidence, to anxiety levels, to kinesthetic awareness, to strength to flexibility…..and on…..and on…..and on….
So why on earth would you teach the same thing in the same way to each student. The answer is, you can, but it won’t get you results from each student.
Some students I am loud, vivacious, gregarious and jokey with and they respond to this teaching style. I may teach an axel with an “h” position on the take off simply because when I teach the karate kick or get-on-the-horse method they aren’t bringing the free knee through at all.
Some students I am serious, firm but kind with and this is the teaching style that works best with them. And I may teach the axel to these students by telling them not to move their free leg at all because they can’t control the swing or the trajectory of it and that’s the technique that works best for them.
Others are extremely sensitive, and I must treat ever-so-softly so they are nurtured and supported every step of the way. And you know what? I may teach the axel in a completely different way to these students if that is what they require to attain proficiency in the skill.
It’s your job to adapt to them, not their job to adapt to you.
Some Students and Parents (and even other coaches) Will Love you, Some Will Hate You, and That’s OK
You be you. Keep growing, learning and striving to be the best coach you can be and the best person you can be. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up about them, just own them and do better next time. Identify and work with the people who you respect and who respect you.
As for the rest? Don’t sweat it, there are enough students out there to keep every coach busy, and frankly, if someone doesn’t like you and see all you have to offer, it’s their loss.
Change is Part of The Game
If you are lucky, you will have the honor of guiding some of your skaters for a long period of time. Some for a decade or more. But, this is not the norm. As our sport evolves, skaters change coaches more and more. This is simply how the learning process works. Spend the time you have with each of your charges wisely. Do your best, teach them to the best of your abilities, support them and help them grow as people and wish them well when they move on. The best feeling in the world is to look back on your time with an athlete and KNOW that you gave them the best you had to give.
Set Your Boundaries Early and Be Firm
From finances, to free time, to discipline on the ice. It is EASY to be EASY and HARD to be HARD. Always start out being FIRM. Set rules for payment, fees, discipline, and expectations early and CLEARLY in your relationships. Follow these rules and do not allow your parents or your students to take advantage of them.
Too often you will want to overlook money owed to you, or bad behaviour on the ice because you want to help others, even at your own expense.
It is human nature to push boundaries. Students will act out as much as they can to test their boundaries. Parents will allow an invoice to go unpaid as often as they can until you impose restrictions on your time or late fees because of it. An executive will pay you as little as they can get away with because it will help the bottom line for their club IF YOU ALLOW IT. Speak up, set the rules and stick with them. Trust me, this will save you untold amounts of grief and financial hardship.
Skating Ain’t Life, Find Other Interests
You can love skating, you can love coaching, but you had better work hard to find other interests in your life outside of skating. It is too easy to be caught up in the drama that seems to always go hand in hand with our sport and our profession.
But there is so much in this world that is so much more important.
Spend time with your friends. Cherish your family time and guard it zealously. Find your tribe of coaches you trust and when you get together, make sure you talk about things OTHER than skating. Find a balance in your life and work hard to maintain it. This will keep you a more grounded and happier person and a better coach in the long run.
These are a few of the things I WISH I had known when I first started coaching all those many years ago. As my journey continues, I look forward to the new lessons I will learn and the students I will get to meet.
What advice would you give your younger self about coaching? Share below in the comments!