January 21, 2012

How To: Suss-Out New Rinks

Perhaps you've recently got into figure skating, and are looking for more information about what's on offer in your local area. Or perhaps, like the situation I was in some 2 and a bit years ago, you've just moved to a new area and are looking to suss-out the local skating scene.

Whatever your situation, breaking into a new rink can be difficult. Psychologically, and literally! Here we're going to look at how to find a (new) coach.

Finding A Coach
So you're looking to hire a coach, but have no idea what's on offer or who to contact. When I was a kid starting out, my local rink (if you can call it that, at 25miles one way!) had a board in the lobby with pictures of all the current coaches and their qualifications. This was a great help. I've noticed over the years of traipsing around rinks that they don't all offer this easy port-of-skating-coach-call, especially the less luxurious of facilities. So what to do?

Call the rink. Ask for any information possible on private lessons, coaches names etc. If you're unlucky like me, chances are you'll not get much out of a conversation like this. Time for step 2.
2) Visit the rink. Find out via the internet or by calling the box office when the practice sessions take place, or even the learn-to-skate programs, which most coaches in a given rink teach on. This will inform you as to the best time to visit the rink in order to have pick of the coach crop and present yourself face-to-face.
3) If your trip turned out a disappointment, don't despair. Just by turning up and being in contact with other skaters/skating parents, you may be able to find out more information in general. Don't expect miracles though, and most definitely don't mention what your/your kid's skating level is. I guarantee you someone will have a kid, or be, skating at that or a similar level, and have no desire to help incoming competition. Sad as it is, intra-rink advice can be about as useful as a chocolate fire guard.
4) Websites are becoming more and more useful in terms of finding out about possible coaches in your area. The amount of clubs online is forever growing, and many of these websites offer information on coaches, and sometimes even their contact information. Do beware of the pitfall of contacting coaches by email however, as many don't often read their emails (in any case that has been my personal experience, but perhaps Stateside coaches are more "plugged-in" in terms of technology!) or may simply prefer a more real contact with a potential new client.

So you've managed to pin-point a coach you're interested in working with. Great! What now?

- Ask their prices straight up. This will save you disappointment if you fall in love with the coach (figuratively...) but simply cannot afford their time.
- Ask what times they coach at.
- Ask whether they favour one testing track or another (recreational vs. competitive, etc.)
- Ask to watch a lesson they give from the stands, in order to get a feel for their style.
- Buy the coach his/her coffee. The coach is giving you time out of a busy schedule, and you may not even hire him/her. It is common courtesy.
- If you are hiring a coach for your kid, make sure your child is with you at the meeting! You may thing the coach is great, but if the basic rapport between coach and pupil is not one of trust and confidence, you are putting your little skater at a disadvantage competitively, and in an emotionally awkward situation.
- Arrange for your first lesson to take place on a quieter session. If you are hoping to skate in-lesson for 15 mins, book 2 x 15 mins in order to be able to chat at the beginning and end of the lesson, and get to know each other.

- Take hours of the coach's time up (prepare for your meeting in advance and know what you have to say, and ask).
- Say you are hiring a coach and then interview others. You will appear in-consistent and untrustworthy.
- Hire the coach for 10 hours/week before knowing whether your learning dynamic will work.
- Listen to petty gossip from perfect strangers about one coach or another. Make your own decisions.

Once you've hired a pro and start attending the rink regularly for lessons, people will start to notice you (this is not necessarily synonymous with talking to you, unfortunately). The next step of your new-rink journey is to feel comfortable in your new surroundings and make friends (or at least know who to steer clear of, dare I say...). This subject will no doubt form the body of another blog post in the near future.

In the meantime, good luck finding your new skating home, and please don't hesitate to leave comments, opinions, or advice for other readers!

Have any questions, want to know more, don't agree? Please leave me a comment!

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