Friday, February 13, 2009

The Nature of the Beast

May-June-2008, PS Magizine

I can’t stress enough as a former arena manager, the importance of having qualified, well trained skating school and competitive figure skating coaches. Having an untrained professional on staff is like handing over the key to the ice resurfacer (or someone) just because they have a driver’s license. Furthermore, being a good competitive skater did not necessarily guarantee that I would be a good coach. Arguably, arena owners and managers, who are frequently hockey enthusiasts, have difficulty understanding the business of figure skating; they often hire 16 year old skaters or former competitors who have no formal training. The same goes with US Figure Skating Clubs. Club Boards are often filled with parents whose only mission is to look out for the best interest of THEIR child. How many coaches encourage their skaters' parents to join the board? More significantly, these are the people who hire the skating school staff.
I hear increasingly how coaches feel that they are being treated unfairly, either by their club or rink management. Some of this I can chalk up to personality conflicts but as I hear of more and more “issues,” I’m wondering if there isn’t a bigger problem.

Here is an excerpt of one recent e-mail.

“…you have unqualified teachers watering the sport down, … who are interfering with “real coaches” livelihoods to teachers who can’t do a three-turn well, literally, who are teaching freestyle private lessons, because some Club let them, due to the fact that they don’t have to have accomplished anything in skating to be able to join the PSA in the first place. If they are book smart and talk to enough Pros, they can learn enough to pass a PSA exam, but still can’t skate worth a darn.”

My first thought was that Gus Lussi was a Ski Jumper. Arguably the greatest technical coach of any time, a member of the PSA Hall of Fame, Mr. Lussi taught from a stool, no skates. My second thought was that I had recently taken my first exams; the BA followed by the Certified Program Director. I don’t believe that by having a few “conversations” with a coach is going to help someone pass a PSA certification test. What I do know is not having a certification program would be worse. We must have standards. We all know that not every judge’s panel will judge a Moves test the same. How many times have we heard of skaters going to a particular club because “they pass everything.” Comparatively, we know that not all Master rated coaches are great teachers just as we know there are great teachers who have no ratings. There are plenty of doctors in the world. Would you allow any of them to operate on you or a loved one? NO, you would ask for referrals and if you are smart would ask them if they have been recently recertified in the area of their expertise. We must have a way to establish the coaches from the pretenders. The PSA continues to work hard on improving our profession, the key to all relationships.
Two more important cogs in this wheel are education and communication. The education of rink management and clubs on our business practices and what to expect from a Figure Skating program are essential. A PSA rated coach is going to be an asset to their facility. They will keep skaters in their programs longer and provide a professional level of stability that will create a revenue stream during non-prime hours. Although many managers believe that their hourly rate must be achieved in order to be successful, competitive figure skaters will spend on average $3600 on ice and programs annually (2 sessions daily @ $7, M-F for twelve months). One coach, PSA rated hopefully, with 20 students can generate annual revenue for non- prime ice in excess of $70,000. If you compare that to one hockey team who has an average of 3 hours of ice a week from September to March and at a rate of $200 per hour, revenue will top out at $16,800. The difference is obviously the amount of ice used, but a well balanced program can see equal revenue between hockey and the LTS/Competitive Figure Skating program. Even more importantly, coaches need to understand what the rinks and clubs expect and need from us. Rinks and Clubs expect coaches to sell their programs, not just promote private lessons. In the words of PSA Master rated Coach Janice Forbes, “A rink can’t be successful without you; you can’t be successful without the rink.”

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