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How to Choose a Figure Skating Coach

How to Choose a Figure Skating Coach
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Unlike ballet, dance, or gymnastics where learning occurs in a group lesson format, most of the time, figure skating is mastered through private lessons.

So….if you are really interested in mastering figure skating, your first step is to select a private lesson coach.  Selecting a private figure skating coach should not be decided in haste; your private lesson instructor will be more than just a teacher: he or she will be a mentor, guide, and role model.

There are so many individuals giving skating lessons these days, so choosing the best figure skating coach can be confusing, so take your time before making a commitment to one particular coach.

What Kind of Skater Do You Want to Be?

First decide what kind of skater you wish to become: do you want to be a serious competitive skater, a semi-serious recreational skater, or just skate for fun? A coach that fits in with what goals you chose can be found, but may take time – yes, it is possible to make “a perfect match!”

Serious Competitive Skaters

Competitive skaters have made the decision to put many, many hours into practice on and off the ice, commit to several private lessons each week, and do give up “a normal life” to achieve the skating goals they desire. Champions are not produced by talent alone. Do you have the time and money to make your child a competitor?

If that is the route you choose, plan on being at the rink for two to three hours a day at a minimum. This will include at least two 45 to 60 minute intense practice sessions which are called “freestyles.” Freestyle sessions are more expensive than the public sessions that beginning skaters usually practice and have fun on. It is not necessary to have a private lesson on every freestyle session your child skates on, but normally, competitors have at least three to four lessons a week on these sessions. It is not unusual for competitive skaters to have at least one private lesson a day.

Are you willing to take the time to make sure your child is on the ice five to six days a week for at least two to three hours a day? Are you willing to commit to at least three to four private lessons per week? Are you willing to trust a competitive skating coach to make decisions regarding your child’s skating? Do you have the money to make such a commitment?

Serious Recreational Skaters

If you do not feel you can commit to being a serious competitive skater, it may be easier to commit to the lifestyle of a “serious recreational skater.”  You will still master many wonderful skating skills, have opportunities to take part in recreational figure skating competitions, perform in shows, and take skating tests. A serious recreational skater can skate two to four days a week, take one or two private lessons a week, and practice on either public skating sessions or freestyle sessions.

If you decide to keep skating fun and recreational, you will probably not progress as fast as a competitive skater, but will make steady progress and have a lot of fun. Also, this route is also much easier on the budget!

The “Serious Just For Fun” Skater

What if you just wants to skate for fun, but also master certain skills? There is nothing wrong with continuing in group lessons or supplementing group lessons with private lessons on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

How to find the coach that fits the needs of a recreational, but somewhat serious skater:

Once you make this important decision between serious recreational or serious competitive skating, then begin your search for the coach that fits your needs.

If you decide on recreational “just for fun” skating, your decision can be quite easy. Perhaps the instructor that has given you group lessons already seems to inspire you and make skating fun? Feel free to approach that instructor directly and ask if he or she has time to take you on.

Once a schedule has been set for lessons, plan on supplementing the time between lessons with some practice time. Piano teachers usually require daily practice and tell parents that no improvement will occur without practice; the same goes for skating. Plan on at least one practice session between each lesson, but if you can squeeze in two practice sessions, that would be better – do what you think you can handle at first.

As you begin to enjoy your lessons and begin to skate more often, it is very likely that your coach will suggest that you consider taking part in Basic Skills competitions and skating school exhibitions or shows. You may find yourself “naturally” becoming a serious recreational skater and want to increase your practice and lesson time.

Understand that your coach’s time is valuable. Stick to the schedule you’ve set. Don’t cancel lessons often and don’t skip practice time. Listen to your coach’s suggestions and allow your child’s skating to develop into something that makes both of you proud.

Finding a Coach for a Serious Competitive Skater

It is rare for a skater to just jump immediately into competitive skating. Usually a child has found group lessons, Basic Skills events, and recreational skating quite enjoyable, and then has a desire to be the best and do more. Watching skating on television can really excite a child and may light a “spark” that gives your child a reason to wish to excel at skating. Don’t let this spark go out if possible, but be realistic and be sure you and your child understand that success won’t happen instantly.

Now, once you desire to join the world of competitive figure skating, first ask your existing coach if he or she can “take your child all the way.” It is not uncommon for skaters to make “a switch” in coaches when the time comes to enter the competitive skating world, but it is possible that even someone who has just begun to coach can train champions. 1988 Olympic Champion, Brian Boitano, was trained by the same coach throughout his skating career.  2014 Olympic bronze medalist Jason Brown has been with his coach, Kori Ade, since his group lesson days.

It is not necessary to make a “drastic switch” or change rinks or change everything immediately. Taking your time is perfectly okay. You may find that staying with the coach your child first began lessons with for recreational skating is the best route to take, especially when you first enter the competitive skating world.

How to Switch Coaches

Parents need to be aware that there are some guidelines all skating coaches follow. The most important guideline is that coaches DO NOT teach a private student that is already working with another coach without permission. It may seem sensible to you as a parent to try out another coach before making a complete break from your existing coach, but that is just not acceptable in the skating world and will cause problems for all parties involved.

There are many “don’ts” when the time comes to make a switch. Don’t start working with someone else before telling your existing private lesson coach that you are going to make a switch. Don’t tell your existing coach you are going to take a break from lessons and then start working with someone else. Don’t leave a voice mail message or send an email or text saying you are changing coaches; you must make the effort to notify the coach you are leaving either by phone or in person. Once you do make personal contact, don’t make your coach feel bad by trying to explain or justify the reasons for making a change; that is not necessary.

Be aware that your coach may be very hurt and may not take losing your child as a student lightly, so thank your coach for all they’ve done for your child’s skating so far. Make sure all bills are paid before beginning lessons with someone else.

A True Story About a Skating Family

Once upon a time there were three children skating happily at a recreational rink. They skated every day after school for an hour or two and took one or two private lessons a week and group lessons with other skaters at the rink on Friday night. They passed some skating tests and entered some beginning competitions and took part in the rink’s ice shows. They earned awards. The children loved to skate and they loved skating at that little recreational ice rink.

As time went on, they visited other rinks where very advanced competitive skaters trained. Their parents observed the coaches of these skaters in action. The entire family decided that they wanted to be serious competitive skaters too.

So, after some serious thinking and observations, the children’s father decided to approach a coach who had been highly recommended by the parents of some of the advanced competitive skaters he met.

That coach did have the time to teach all three children. He explained that before beginning instruction, that the children’s parents would have to go to the recreational rink in person and tell the children’s existing instructor that the children were now making a switch to a new coach and a new rink.

The children’s life changed quickly after that. Soon, they were skating before and after school and on Saturday mornings for several hours. Soon, each child was taking three private lessons per week. The children no longer played on the ice while they were at the rink; there was no time.

What was great was the children did improve at their skating and did turn into really good skaters. Two of the children went on to compete at the United States National Championships and all three children won many competitions and earned many trophies and medals.

Note:  The above story is my story…the story of the Three Skating Schneiders!  And…my own three children, the Three Schneider-Farris kids, became very accomplished and high level figure skaters!

Happy Skating!

JO ANN Schneider Farris

Further Reading:

Jo Ann Schneider-Farris Jo Ann Schneider Farris has participated in figure skating for most of her life as a competitor, coach, and author. Jo Ann was the Figure Skating Expert for About.com for 10 years. Jo Ann began skating as a young child. She won a silver medal in the junior dance event at the United States National Figure Skating Championships and is a US Figure Skating Double Gold Medalist. She coached figure skating and has trained skaters of all ages and levels. In addition, Jo Ann taught hockey players to skate and gave instruction in power skating. She is the author of two skating books: How to Jump and Spin on In-Line Skates, the only book of its kind on inline figure skating, and a personal memoir, My Skating Life: Fifty Plus Years of Skating. Jo Ann also has contributed articles that have been included on the US Figure Skating website and the icenetwork.com website, in SKATING Magazine, Ice Skating Institute's magazine, the Professional Skaters Association magazine, and she also wrote about ice skating for Examiner.com. She is a member of the Professional Skaters Association, The Broadmoor Skating Club, and U.S. Figure Skating. Jo Ann is a graduate of the famous Hollywood Professional School, a school that once was in southern California where many serious figure skaters attended, including Peggy Fleming. She is also a graduate of Colorado College and holds a teaching credential from California State University Long Beach. As a figure skating competitor, she trained under World Ice Dance Champion and Olympic Coach Doreen Denny and also Darlene Gilbert, who has trained international and national teams. From JO ANN Schneider Farris: Hi and Happy Skating! Yes, Happy Skating is my motto. I hope to share my love of the sport and my knowledge of it with you and my goal is to link skaters from all over the world on this site. Happy Skating! Please join me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or follow me on Google+ and Pinterest. Email me at joannfarris@yahoo.com

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