coaching, figure skating, product review, Uncategorized

SkateCanada Canskate: Has It Lived Up to the Hype?

As a coach with 30 years experience working in the Canadian figure skating system, and a skater of 47 years who also amateur coached, (I can’t be that old, can I?) I’ve seen and coached in nearly every variation of learn-to-skate program offered by SkateCanada. From the N.S.T. program, to Parent-and-Tot, to Learn-to-Skate, and EVERYTHING in between, I’ve seen them, coached them, and in some cases coordinated them all.

This latest iteration is simply called Canskate, and has been presented to the SkateCanada membership as something akin to the second coming of Christ. Now, at nearly a decade since its introduction, we’ve all had a chance to get to know the program inside and out. After coaching the program for several years, and running it this past year, I thought I’d like to list my review of the best, and worst features of this heralded program. (in my humble opinion)

Interested in finding out if SkateCanada Canskate is worth the hype? Read on!

Organization

As the person who nearly orgasms just by walking into Staples at the beginning of the skating year with visions of file folders and binders and training plans -oh my!!-I have to admit, I am truly impressed with the level of organization the Canskate program brings to the table.

SkateCanada has created a manual that provides the clubs and coaches with everything you need to know to administrate the program, such as:

  • Founding philosophies behind the program.
  • An intensive list of “who” should be doing “what” and “when.”
  • Templates for EVERYTHING from program assistant (otherwise known as PA) training, to parent newsletters, to suggested time allocation for groupings depending on the length of your session, and so on and so on.

Seriously. Kudos to SkateCanada for the thought and level of organization they put into this program and the Canskate manual they created so the program can be re-produced by the clubs it is meant for.

As someone who thrives on organization (indeed, I am often accused of doing TOO much for my programs) the SkateCanada Canskate program hits a home-run with its level of organisation. If you have the resources, all you need to do is study the manual, follow the plan, and literally reap the rewards of a happy membership.

Rating for Organization 10/10

Fun

This program, done right, is CRAZY fun for the students. With the colorful props, constant movement, easy to follow circuits, group activities for warm-up and cool down, not to mention stimulating music, there is endless color, motion and challenge for young skaters.

Done correctly, the Canskate program should be a fun ride for neurotypical kids with no disabilities. However, if you are a child who struggles with sensory issues, neurodiversity, or disabilities, then this program may not be for you.

As the parent of a neurodiverse child, and a coach with years of experience, I can tell you that this program is simply “too much” for many children who are simply bombarded by all the sensory stimulation. Think of it. If you are already wired to perceive loud noises, lights, or too much movement as painful, then the Canskate program would be incredibly overwhelming.

We see this in many of the pre-skate students who are just starting out. Often, the slipperiness of the ice, the huge size of the surrounding space, the loud music we play for warm-up and the fluorescent lights are simply too much for them to process and they shut down.

Sadly, the prevailing attitude from many parents and many coaches is to let a child sit on the ice and cry rather than let them skate back to their parents at the boards for a much needed break. They think it’s tough love, or dealing with problematic behavior, often not realizing that some children may not actually have the capacity to listen, pay attention or regulate their emotions.

I feel strongly that blaming this behavior on the child for “being bad” or blaming the parents for a lack of stern parenting is simply…….well…..being ignorant of these issues.

Note: This never, ever happens on my watch. In my humble opinion, letting a child sit on the ice and cry until they skate, particularly for a child with unique needs and challenges, is nothing less than child abuse.

While some of this behaviour may indeed be acting out for “normal” kids (I use the term normal very warily, there really is no “normal” anymore), SkateCanada dropped the ball by not providing any information about how to recognize possible neurodiversity or disability.

Yes, I can already hear the defenders saying, “but there are waivers that parents are expected to sign before signing up for the Canskate program, and there certainly IS a question that asks for disclosure of special conditions!”

For that argument I would pose three statements.

  1. Many parents don’t disclose their child’s special needs.
  2. Many parents don’t know their child has special needs yet as they are still searching for a diagnosis.
  3. Most coaches and certainly most program assistants are not trained or qualified to coach special needs students.
  4. Often there is simply not enough man-power or volunteer helpers to give children requiring extra attention the help they desperately need.

All in all, while tailor made to be TONS OF FUN for typical kids, sadly, many kids that aren’t so typical may not find it as much fun.

Rating for Fun 5/10

Effectiveness

Next to fun for the skaters, this is perhaps the most important category. Does the SkateCanada Canskate program teach children how to skate effectively?

Well, YES……and…..no.

With it’s constant movement, the Canskate program is designed to keep the kids moving at minimum 90-95% of the time. This is a wonderful goal, given what we know about children’s attention spans these days. The Canskate program keeps the kids constantly learning and practicing their skating skills by virtue of carefully drawn out circuits, which the students follow repeatedly, with direction from their program assistants.

The sticking point here is not that they are moving or practicing, but that they are not purposefully practicing.

Here’s what we know about motor learning.

When we learn a new skill, we form connections from our brain to the muscles required to perform that skill. This connection is called a motor neuron. Think of it like a computer program.

Every time we perform that skill, the neuron we use to do so is coated with a fatty sheath called myelin.

Myelin makes the nerve signal travel faster down the motor neuron. The more we perform the skill, the more myelin is sent to encase that neuron, the easier and faster we are able to perform that particular skill. Not to mention more signals can now travel down that neuron because it keeps getting bigger.

If you’ve ever heard the terms “muscle memory” or “automaticity” then you’d realize that myelination is the mechanism by which we achieve the state of flow in our performance where we don’t actually have to think to accomplish a skill.

BUT HERE’S THE CATCH. IF YOU PERFORM THE SKILL INCORRECTLY, THE NEURON YOU USE FOR THE INCORRECT MOVEMENT WILL BECOME MYELINATED MORE THAN THE MOTOR NEURON FOR THE CORRECT TECHNIQUE.

This means you are developing a bad habit, because the brain and nervous system will always choose the faster, bigger, more myelinated neuron to perform the skill.

Bad habits acquired in Canskate will follow skaters through the rest of their career unless countless hours of practice are spent in constant repetition of the CORRECT technique.

Look, the optics are GREAT when there are 60 kids on the ice all moving around and never sitting still, but the truth is, for smaller clubs, often there is only one coach available, therefore the students are only receiving qualified instruction for 1/3 to 1/4 of the time.

The rest of the time skaters are left in the hands of program assistants whose job is expressly stated in the Canskate manual as “to guide” but “not to coach.”

This worries me. This means that for MOST of the time each skater performs a skill on a Canskate circuit, they may be performing it incorrectly, or with poor technique, therefore myelinating those sub-optimal pathways.

Given that most clubs have only fully implemented the new Canskate for approximately 8 years now, we haven’t seen the new crop of competitive elite skaters who have graduated from the program. It will be interesting to compare competitive results of those who started their skating careers in this new Canskate program with those who came before it.

Look, parents want their kids to be moving. As a parent of a competitive dancer AND a competitive coach, I expect to see my daughter moving instead of standing around. But, it’s the quality of instruction that we should also keep in mind. We need a program that allows us to provide an affordable way for kids learn to skate that is appealing to ALL involved.

This is how we build the base for club programs, and it is critical for a skating clubs survival that it is done effectively.

I realize that realistically, only a handful of skaters will continue from the Canskate program to StarSkate or the Competitive program, but surely, quality should start from the very beginning of our instruction?

If you are interested in learning more about how myelination affects motor learning, check out the book “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. You can read my book review here.

(I do NOT receive any money for reviewing books or advertising them. It’s incredibly important that I only recommend books that have helped me with my coaching journey and I feel could help you.)

Rating for Effectiveness 7/10

Ice Usage

I love, love, love the way the Canskate program is laid out on the ice. Done correctly, the program covers the entire ice by virtue of a well thought out structure and design.

Perhaps my favorite innovation in the SkateCanada Canskate program is the use of both inside circuits and outside circuits, so ALL areas of the ice are maximized for the skaters use.

For example, one circuit will be drawn outside the perimeter of the square of ice from the blue-line to the boards, providing one group of students a set of skills to follow and practice, and another circuit will be drawn utilizing the inside area of that square for a second group to use.

This allows coaches to put a maximum number of skaters in a small area in a safe and organized way. This is crucial for the success of programs in small clubs, for in order for them to be sustainable, they need to maximize participants to offset ice cost.

Combine the use of inside and outside circuits with a fast track surrounding the perimeter for use for warm-up, speed drills, transitions, and anything else the coordinator wants to use it for, and it makes for a tight, effective design for ice usage.

Some tips that we found that might help, ( I can’t take any credit for thinking of these things myself, I’ve been lucky enough to work with wonderful and innovative people than ensured the program ran smoothly.)

  1. When using inside and outside circuits, draw them on the ice with different colors of marker or bingo dabber, otherwise it’s too difficult for the kids to follow.
  2. Always allow a few feet between the inside and outside circuit so beginning skaters with little control don’t run the risk of colliding.
  3. Make sure you draw the start of the circuit CLEARLY and in big letters with BIG arrows for the direction of flow, then make sure to put the START of the inside and outside circuits that are sharing the same space in DIFFERENT places. If they are too close together, the skaters (and the PA’s) will get confused.
  4. During warm-up for the fast track for the Canskate students, take the Pre-Canskate students to a dressing room where they can practice basic skills like falling down, getting up, balancing on two feet, and marching on the stable ground in a quiet environment before hitting the ice. When the Canskate warm-up is done, and the students are in their groups and off the fast track, then it is safe and easy to guide the Pre-Canskate students across the fast track and into their allotted lesson area.

All in all, the SkateCanada Canskate program scores max points for ice usage. This is one smartly and efficiently designed program in terms of ice flow and usage.

Rating for Ice Usage 10/10

Implementation

Out of curiosity, I decided to download a time tracking app and track the time I spent outside of the regular Canskate lesson time for things such as set-up, take-down, organizing the weekly schedules, keeping track of PA’s, writing e-mails, creating music playlists, printing and updating attendance lists and group records, writing report cards, preparing for PA training and actually PA training, communicating with coaches, writing newsletters for parents, etc., etc., etc..

Want to know how much time it takes to run a Canskate program well? (Yes, we ran a stellar Canskate program, I could be humble here, but……why?)

For every hour on-ice for Canskate I was spending an average of 6 hours off ice to coordinate it.

Yes, you heard me, one hour on, and six hours off.

Even if you are getting paid an increased hourly wage of $40 or even $60 per session, that still works out to a shitload of work for WAAAAAYYYYYY less than minimum wage.

This is why IMPLEMENTATION is the area of greatest concern for me, and possibly for some of you that have struggled to deliver this program as it is outlined.

I’ve taught and coordinated a LOT of programs in my life, and this one was by far the most work I have ever encountered. With the drawing of circuits, to the daily retrieval and storage of huge amounts of props and learning aids, to keeping track of daily lessons and rotations, the list is never-ending and it takes a huge toll, both physically and mentally.

Now add to that the other issue when it comes to implementation.

You need to have enough people to do the Canskate program properly.

This means you NEED to have enough coaches on the ice, you NEED a coordinator, and you need TONS of good PA’s who are willing to learn, take direction and are committed to the training required to be a program assistant.

I think you can see where I’m going with this?

Look, with the increase in the cost of living, affordable housing skyrocketing and both parents in families working more and more, that means there is less time for volunteering and less ability for people to get their kids out to volunteer opportunities.

Not to mention, (and I know I may offend some people), but not all volunteers are created equal, and not all coaches are either. As coordinator, it is a never-ending and often thankless task to try and figure out how to best keep your volunteers happy so they will keep coming back, but to also make sure the lessons are taught with the coach or volunteer who is best suited to that level or that task.

Often, just managing the PA’s or volunteers, (some of whom are amazing and you wish you had 10 more of, and some of whom are never on time, never follow direction and require constant monitoring), is a job in and of itself.

The worst feeling in the world is looking at a full sheet of ice, knowing you have to draw 6 circuits, set up props for those circuits and re-organize your coaches, all within 5 minutes!

Now, add in the fact that you know your coaches and PA’s will be angry because they only want to teach their circuit. Why? Well, because it is within their comfort zone and they only want to be the “master” of their circuit, but you have no other choice because one coach has just called in to say they aren’t coming, three volunteers aren’t able to show, and you are now missing 5 PA’s with the flu.

Never mind that your back is breaking from the strain of already lugging all the props and materials out of storage, and you’re not getting anywhere near enough of the pay you should be for this, yet it’s all on you to figure it out for the 45 skaters who are about to hit the ice and expect a good lesson.

Oh yeah, and be supportive and set a good example for everyone while you’re doing this, ok?

Never-mind that after the fact everyone (parents and board members alike) will be a critic and feel they can weigh in on your performance, even though they have not even a tenth of an idea of how much work this program is to pull off.

See where I’m coming from?

Look, (and I’m looking squarely at you SkateCanada), this isn’t a club-level problem, it’s a problem with how you’ve got the club system set up and the way you expect coaches to be remunerated for their jobs for programs like Canskate.

Canskate coordinators do not get near enough pay for what they are doing, and I will say the same about any coach for group programs. It is customary for coaches to only charge half their hourly on-ice fee for off-ice work.

To this I say BOLLOCKS! Coaches with years of experience and solid credentials are highly skilled and rare individuals and should be paid what they’re worth both on and off the ice at the same rate.

When you pay a highly skilled individual only half the amount they should be paid for off-ice work, you de-value their work. When you incorporate things like “mandatory volunteer hours” into their contracts, it becomes exploitation, pure and simple.

So, all in all, while I am a big fan of this program, the systems in place to support it in most small to medium-sized clubs just aren’t there, and the expectation that coaches should work for nothing is frankly, unacceptable.

SkateCanada needs to do better. Yup, I said it, and I’ll keep saying it until changes are made.

Rating for Implementation 3/10

Buy-In

What does “buy-in” mean? Well, this means that the club membership, from coaches, down to board members all have to buy-in to the Canskate program and decide it is worth the effort it takes to run it, and worth the money it takes to pay for people to coordinate it and coach on it.

I personally think the Canskate program is the most important program the club has, and should be thought of as ‘long-term investment” for the longevity and success of the club.

I love the Canskate program. I believe that with a few minor tweaks, it could be phenomenal for helping young skaters develop a life-long love of skating, and even better, it could ignite that competitive spark for those who develop a passion for it, like I did.

The problem is, there are so many hurdles to overcome in order to run this program. When you factor in the workload, the volunteers and manpower required, and the knowledge and training that are mandatory to make it successful, many clubs either can’t run it the way it was meant to be run, or to be honest, some clubs and coaches simply choose not to run it.

SkateCanada has gone over and above with promoting the Canskate program. Opportunities for training abound, plus there are tons of incentives for those who run a great Canskate program, but let’s face it, even though they say that clubs are expected to follow the program as it was intended, and we know that a club could have it’s sanction revoked for not following it….this hasn’t happened yet.

Quite frankly, I don’t think SkateCanada has the money or the means to make visits to clubs and monitor and police how they implement their Canskate programs, and just as frankly, they shouldn’t have to.

But the sad fact is, many clubs, coaches and yes, even board members haven’t bought in to the benefits of this new program.

I hope in time this will change, I’ve seen the benefits it can have, and with the cost of ice increasing rapidly, the future of small clubs may come to depend on their ability to move away from single coaching and toward a group coaching format that can pack as many bodies safely on the ice for training.

I guess we’ll wait and see.

Rating for Buy-In 6/10

Content

When I say content, I am talking about the skating skills we teach on Canskate and the different areas of focus, such as warm-up and cool down.

My favorite thing about the SkateCanada Canskate program is its focus on teaching skating skills for all ice sports, so when a skater is done, they may choose figure skating, hockey, ringette, or speed skating. I love this approach, and salute the creative team who put together the stages, fundamental areas and skills. This is a well thought out and easily follow-able pathway to skating competency.

I love the way the Canskate program utilizes the fast track for developing speed, and I also love the circuits themselves, they are fun, and colorful.

One note I have found over the years, is that we shouldn’t allow the skaters to stay in a fundamental area on the same circuit for more than about 5-7 minutes. Kids these days simply get too bored and need more stimulation, so I have found that it’s better to do more rotations each session than the manual actually prescribes.

Keep in mind, this differs for differently-abled children or neurodivergent children who may need an entirely different learning plan than the one followed by the masses.

Another note: I found if you want to utilize the fast track during each allotted stage/circuit time frame, you might want to have large cardboard arrows placed on the glass around the rink with sticky putty, and as coordinator, you can switch these arrows during warm up and during each rotation to show the direction of movement on the fast track so everyone stays safe.

My only big concern with the content of the Canskate sessions is there is no allotted free time for the kids. Look, these little kids are structured from the moment they get up, throughout their school day, and for our entire Canskate session. Whey not allow for some free time for them to practice what they learn, explore the space they are in, and learn how to interact with each other for 10 minutes at the end of the session.

The science backs me up.

According to study after study, scientists are shouting from the rooftops about the need for unstructured play, and its benefits both socially, emotionally and cognitively cannot be understated.

I like this quote from Time Magazine: The Secret Power of Play best:

But scientists have learned that free play isn’t just something children like to do—it’s something they need to do. It exercises their minds and their creativity. More than anything else, play teaches children how to work together and, at the same time, how to be alone. It teaches them how to be human.”

Time Magazine: The Secrets of Childhood, Inside the Minds of Our Younger Selves

So while I love nearly everything about the content of the Canskate program, I would love to see some time allowed for fun, unstructured play for its participants.

Rating for Content 8/10

Opportunities for Mentorship

This topic is near and dear to my heart. I strongly feel that it is our duty to help mentor and guide young coaches as they start on their journey. Coaching is not an easy profession, and there are often more negatives than positives.

Canskate provides the perfect opportunity for young coaches and skaters to test the waters as they learn basic coaching techniques surrounded by supportive mentors.

In theory, every club should have a supportive culture and a philosophy of empowerment, but in practice, this is harder than it looks.

I feel that there should be more attention placed on the mentorship and guidance aspect of the Canskate (and the Star Program) and those coaches involved should be provided with paid leadership courses which can give them the tools necessary to create a positive and nurturing culture for PA’s and fledgling coaches alike.

Leadership ain’t easy. As a person who struggles with it, I can attest to the fact we need more emphasis on how to be positive, encouraging and supportive leaders for our membership. This would only benefit us all.

Interested in mentorship in coaching, why it’s important, and how you can get on board? Check out the Guide from from Coach.ca.

Rating for Membership Opportunities 6/10

Summing It All Up

As you can see, I am a fan of the SkateCanada Canskate program, but after working as a coach on it, and implementing it as a coordinator, I would love to see some small tweaks to both the program itself AND the underlying club system supporting it.

If feel that if we REALLY want to look toward the future growth and sustainability of our sport as we see prices rise and wages drop, we need to get more creative than ever, open ourselves up to feedback, and work together to make the SkateCanada Canskate even better for everyone involved.

Final Score for the SkateCanada Canskate program: 6/10

Any Canskate coaches or coordinators out there? What are your thoughts on the program? Do you agree with any of these ratings? Disagree? Sound off in the comments below and share to your friends! Let’s start a conversation!

2 thoughts on “SkateCanada Canskate: Has It Lived Up to the Hype?”

  1. 100% spot on!!!

    Good coaches who are going above and beyond, putting in the extra 6 hours of off ice administration, planning and communication with parents and PA’s should be valued like the Holy grail. When they are told they didn’t follow the manual exactly, like the expectations to give out badges and ribbons every session at the moment the skater achieves the skill requirements, this is where things go wrong! Leave the manual and the planning of the perfect program best suited for your individual club in the hands of the coach who is the expert in what they do and what they have been doing for the last 15 or more years. And again, no club has EVER been shut down because their CanSkate is not exactly like the manual, so don’t THREATEN your program coordinator with this bullshit outcome!!!

    Like

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