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The Truth About Coaching Secrets

I want to preface this “musing” with the understanding that I am in no way pointing fingers at anyone or any group of people here. This post is meant solely as my impressions which I would like to share in order to encourage productive/thoughtful conversation among us…and maybe even positive change within the system. I’m from NYC…so I tend to be frank both when I speak and when I write, lol! So, please just take it as that.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the unfortunate phenomenon in both the skating and dance world on the sparsity of solid technical information being shared by seasoned professionals in the field.

For instance – I see adult skaters asking each other how to do a specific element or jump better instead of asking their coaches; coaches going to seminars in hopes of getting the latest lowdown on specific training techniques and coming away with just a rehash of what they already know plus a few little extras to keep them happy. Coaches afraid to ask question on training with other coaches for fear of looking “unprofessional”.

Ballet is like this too, although to a lesser extent these days, as more methodology courses are being made available to the general public – but even there you will find famous dancers and teachers talking more about their past glories than about any real or useful information.

It’s frustrating for both coaches and dance teachers when you’re looking for real information and all you get is an overview – I know because I’ve been there and I know many in both fields who continue to struggle with this problem of hoarding so called “secrets”.

It’s been long understood that coaches tend to keep their “training secrets” to themselves – usually things they’ve learned from their coaches, overheard in a conversation or even found in a long out of print book – to present themselves to the public as someone who has unique information. But this kind of hoarding of vital training information is (IMO) the very basis of what causes division at the rink and in the skating community at large. Yes, whole careers are built upon the illusion of “secret” or proprietary information, but this kind of thinking puts the focus on the coach/teacher instead of on the student – teaching is a vocation and as such it is NOT about the teacher, rather, it is about how well and how carefully you grow your student – it’s about giving your student every possible opportunity to succeed – and this takes humility. Both teaching as well as learning take humility.

The funny thing is, as witnessed by my students as well as ballet teachers around the world, one can have access to the exact same and complete arsenal of information and still be a mediocre teacher! Likewise, a teacher or coach can also have an extremely gifted student which they tout as being solely a product of their teaching (which in reality may or may not be the case!) So, there are many factors – not just the “secrets” themselves which make for a good coach/teacher, but it is the idea/perception of these secrets which make skaters and dancers susceptible to changing coaches.

When I was first starting out in teaching ballet to figure skaters, I asked every coach I knew: “so what is your methodology” and “where can I get information on the pedagogy of skating?” and not a one (not even high-level coaches) could answer my question clearly. They told me about the “Learn to Skate” program and (of course USFS and the PSA) of ratings and seminars….but no pedagogical methodology. There is a huge difference between a syllabus and a Method. And here’s the clincher – ALL “secrets” are actually PART of a method taken out of context.

As a teacher to teachers, I am saddened that instead of having a comprehensive teacher/coach training program available to all, coaches often have to piecemeal information together and, in some cases, have to flounder until they find techniques and “tips” which work for them. The crux of the problem here is that there is no real teacher training for coaches on how to implement the vast amount of information given – it is just assumed that somehow it will somehow “work”. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles – information is only useful if you know HOW to impart it to your students and how it fits into the whole.

It’s great that this gap is being filled by many resources outside of the “powers that be” but it would be even better (IMO) if there were comprehensive teacher training courses for coaches which included both off and on-ice application, practical anatomy and physiology (with a focus on injury prevention), and basic music training. In Russia an aspiring ballet teacher must not only go through all 8 years of ballet training plus performance experience – they also must go for at least 2 years of university study on dance pedagogy, anatomy, kinesiology, music training, character dance etc. as teacher training (not as performers) before they are allowed to teach in a prestigious school. Here, nothing like this is even offered as, passing ratings is not the same thing as learning how to impart that information in a methodical, scientific and meaningful way to a group or to individual skaters with varying abilities, body types and ways of learning.

Equipping coaches to better prepare them for every circumstance in teaching could not only level the playing field it *could* possibly bring about more cooperation, better rink relations and students and parents who have every confidence that ALL the coaches at the rink are well equipped and on the same page – for the benefit and health (both physical and mental) of ALL the skaters.

(c) 2023 Annette T. Thomas and Prime Radiant Press LLC.

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