Saturday, August 27, 2011

Parent-Coach Relationships Part 1: In the Beginning..

I have to start by saying not every coach is "one size fits all" for every skater. It is a rare situation when one coach can do it all over the lifetime of a skater's career. As a matter of fact, I can only think of a few.
That being said, as a parent you can expect to deal with a number of coaching styles and personalities through the years; the question is how do you know who will be the best fit? The answer is you don't. The other answer is do your homework.
Initially, choosing a coach is like pushing the Easy Button. Your child starts in Learn to Skate. The "coach" (who is most likely an apprentice or a competitive skater trying to help pay bills) is enthusiastic, upbeat and is telling you how much progress is being made, and how much more would be made with "a few private lessons." Your personalities click . Your kid is happy. Visions of Olympics dance in your head. This is going to be a lifelong relationship that will take all of you to the top of the podium. Also, it's not costing you a lot at this point. You're paying for group lessons. You're coming to the rink a few times a week. You have rental skates and sweat pants, or a little ballerina skirt and sweater, for your child. How bad can this be? Life's good.
You agree to a private lesson a week. Progress is made.
Your child does a Basic Skills competition. You frame a ribbon or first medal.
More lessons. More competitions. Now you're traveling to other cities. You're spending time daily in the rink watching. It all seems so simple. Your young coach is telling you what wonderful progress your skater is making.
But now you are looking at the other kids. Little Sally is always winning. John is already working on axel and he started at the same time as your skater. What's going on here? You have a talk with the coach. Shouldn't your skater be doing these things? Are more lessons necessary? You are sitting in session after session analyzing every move, every spin, every fall. You're spending money and not seeing a return on your investment. You are doubting your coach's ability to take your child all the way to the top.  Maybe it's time to have "The Talk."
Maybe it is. Just make sure it's for the right reasons. Young people all develop differently. The skills and techniques they need seem simple on the surface, but like any foundation, if it is not level; if it isn't complete, over time it will not support the framework of this competitive house you envision. There is a reason it is called Basic Skills.
But for the sake of argument (and a shorter blog), let's say your skater has truly outgrown the coach. A great coach will be proactive and tell you it is time to move on. We were fortunate enough to have several coaches who did that over the years. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for knowing their limitations and recognizing our skater's potential. That is truly the exception and not the rule. Instead, you find yourself at a crossroads and you know you need to make a change. It isn't easy. It must be done. Do it with kindness and respect, even if the situation warrants something different in your opinion. The skating world is small and that young coach may end up a club president, director of skating or a skating official in the future. Try not to burn bridges.
Now you find yourself looking for the next person who can do it all for your skater. What do you do? Where do you go? How do you know? I hate to tell you this but you don't.
Now that Easy Button security is gone. Your role has changed from bright-eyed parent to one of employer. That's what you are. You pay the bills. Time to start interviewing. After all, your next coach has to meet your expectations. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Make sure those expectations are realistic.

(Next up: Checks and Balances)

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