February 2, 2013

A Skating Career: An Introduction To Jobs In Skating

Hi guys, I hope you're doing great this weekend. A young woman recently messaged me asking for some advice with regard to her options within the skating industry, and it got me thinking about the skating career path. I put a lot of though in to my reply, and the more I read over what I wrote, the more I thought there may be others out there who are doing some soul/job searching, and who might also benefit from an introduction to all things skating-career. So if you want to read about the 5 major ways you can craft a professional life in the world of figure skating, then read on!

Obviously any professional path should take into account multiple factors, such as your happiness with your (potential) job, whether the income and lifestyle are satisfactory for your needs, whether your health is satisfactory for the role (I personally don't think I could stand 5+ hours/day in the rink environment with my asthma), and whether it fulfils your career development expectations (to name but a few). You should view a career in skating as you would any other: think about the pros and cons, and follow your head as well as your heart. I think the single most important thing to remember is that despite the fact that you love skating, there will be plenty days when you just hate it. Don't make the mistake of seeing your prospective skating career through rose-tinted glasses. It's a job, and sometimes it'll be hard. If you can handle this reality, and still know that skating is the environment in which you want to work, then go, go, go after your dreams!

So you've decided you want to work in skating? Check out these 5 main areas in which you could get involved, and hopefully something will hit your eye and get you inspired!

Competitive Skater  ♥
Yes I'm leading with this one because it's the first thing that pops in to people's heads when you think "career in skating". Obviously, if you belong in this category, chances are you already know it! Being a competitive skater is a long and arduous road, with many sacrifices coupled to the many joys of living through what you love. However, it should be noted that one has to reach a very high level in order to make a living doing it. Considering the enormous amounts of money that must be spent to achieve this level (if you took 2 hours of lessons, 6 days a week, during 45 weeks of the year, and paid $60 an hour for tuition, you're already up to a staggering $32,400 in tuition alone for one year), even if you win medals in several international events, you may only just start to break even.

Of course the darlings of skating nowadays enjoy advertisement endorsements and helpful sponsorships from multinational companies, but to attract watch campaigns or sport a Mercedes Benz logo on your warm up jacket, you're going to need to be the cream of the crop.

The bottom line is getting to that level is hard, and few do. However, this should not deter you! Many skaters take years to peak to their best level, making many a coach and training-centre change before realising their potential. Anna Capellini & Luca Lanotte of Italy just won their first European medal (bronze) in the 2013 European championships, after having debuted in that event in 2007.

Coach  ♥
One long-standing belief seems to be that if you aren't a high profile skater yourself, you cannot amount to anything as a coach. This is total poppycock, as we Brits say. Many wonderful coaches never had the opportunity, or the luck (yes, luck: you could have been an up-coming star and broken your leg or ripped a tendon in that key season, and never gotten back on top. Sadly, this happens all the time) to be their best. This does not mean that don't know how to skate, and less still that they don't know how to coach.

It is true that the ex-champions-turned-coaches make the best money, because they charge exorbitant prices for an hour of their time. They have experience that they can relay to high level skaters: they've been in Euros and Worlds, they understand the pressure, they know how hard it is from a personal perspective. And if they've been through a triple-lutz themselves, they may have a better intrinsic capacity to relay information about a hip position, or how to check the arms in the lead-up to the jump. They will have first-hand experience, on top of understanding the theory.

But guess what? The majority of coaches aren't ex-Olympic champions, they are people who have given their life to our wonderful sport, and who (most of the time, obviously unfortunately there are always exceptions and charlatans) know the industry like the back of their hands. If you never placed in nationals, but want to be a coach, you can.

Call or visit your country's skating federation, and ask about coaching training and certification. Each country has its own regimen, and testing system to become a qualified coach. Most involve some sort of shadowing process, where you will be mentored by a current coach from whom you can pull knowledge, real-life practical situation-resolving skills, and hopefully a passionate feel for the job.

Don't forget that if you excel in a particular domain within skating, you can try to make that a speciality area of your coaching. If you are a master spinner, but never got anywhere in competition because jumps aren't your strong suit, then once qualified, you can put an emphasis on offering spin classes, a skill of ever-growing importance with today's COP judging system.

Pro Show Skater  ♥
If you fancy seeing the world while you skate, this could be the perfect choice for you. You'll need varying levels of skating skill depending on the type of role that you're content with. If you're looking to become the leading lady, you'll need a solid double axel, possibly one triple, and strong spins. Flexbility is a huge plus, because guess what? Sasha Cohen-esque spirals wow the crowd, and that's what puts butts on seats! You need to see yourself as a product, and sell yourself to the production company accordingly. What can you bring to the ice that no one else can? Play on your strong points.

There are a few production companies that tour world wide (mainly Disney On Ice, which is produced by Feld Entertainment, and Holiday On Ice, produced by Stage Entertainment), and many others which organise local shows in a fixed place. One active area of show production is theme parks: several of these offer seasonal contracts to skaters, with the majority being based in America.

You should remember that you won't be able to make a life-long career out of show skating. Depending on your sign-up age, you may spend 15-20 years touring though, seeing the world with a large group of friends. It's right up a lot of people's street, and it could be right for you! You should remember however that you do need a back-up plan. If it's between going with Disney On Ice or going to college at age 18, I'd say go to college first, then tour. That way you lose nothing, and spend your prime skating years making a living out of it, and seeing the world. When you get back to the more conventional job market, you'll have your degree, and a personal experience to light up any CV and intrigue recruiters (although you should keep in mind that you won't have relevant experience in that job that your peers will).

To get to grips with what's out there in terms of job offers, I thoroughly suggest you pay (to the tune of $65 for a years membership) to join the ProSkaters website, which will keep you up to date with the industry and provides a great casting list too. I was a member of ProSkaters for 2 years during my show days, and the site was easy to use, and it was really enthusing to see what jobs were out there for the picking!

Choreographer  ♥
If you've got that dance bug, and you have an innate ability to move to music in a way not many others can, this might be the right choice for you. You're going to find it hard getting out there though. There is no diploma for becoming a skating choreographer, and many do so by coaching while choreographing their pupils routine, slowly spending more of their time on program creation as the work flows in.

Being highly proficient in any and all dance styles is going to help. Take classes in every style you can, even things you don't think are relevant. Drawing inspiration from all aspects of movement is a crucial point in the success of a choreographer's ability to adapt to many changing variables in today's skating scene: more and more skaters want to try something "out of the ordinary", music themes for short dances change every year, and choreographers needs to be comfortable with a huge range of styles to accommodate the modern skater's needs.

Knowing the skating rules and regulations is also key. It's all very well crafting a beautiful ode to Chopin, but if you've put a straight step sequence when this season's regionals rules stipulate a serpentine, you're not going to do your client any favours. Know your niche within the industry, and use your strengths to market yourself ahead of others in your area.

Everything Else  ♥
There are other ways you can be involved in the skating industry too. Perhaps you've been scarred by a bad injury (I know fine well what that feels like) or you no longer consider yourself someone who can cavort around the rink for 5+ hours per day (yep, sounds like me too!). 

Just some of the areas that you could move into, but which go beyond the scope of this post in terms of writing about each one, include:

♥ Judge
♥ Technical specialist
♥ Dressmaker
♥ Music editor
♥ Club/committee member
♥ Competition organiser
♥ Ice rink worker (inc. zamboni driver)
♥ Pro skating shop advisor / sales person 
♥ Boot & blade specialist / brand ambassador
♥ Personal trainer (pilates/yoga instructor, etc.) specialised in working with skaters
♥ Nutritionist for skaters

Obviously all these professions, especially the last two, require the relevant education, but hopefully I have illustrated the point that there are many wonderful ways in which you can touch skating lives through your professional career.

If you work in the skating industry I'd love to hear all about it, so please let us know what you do, and how you got into it! You might just influence someone's life choices!

Until next time, keep on being fabulous!

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