(Feature image: American Coach Frank Carroll and Evan Lysacek during practice at the 2007-2008 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. Lysacek won bronze at that competition.)
Once a figure skater becomes interested in pursuing the sport further than once a year recreational skating, there’s no such thing as too early to start taking private lessons. In addition to the obvious reasons (for testing or competition), there are several reasons that even a beginning skater should consider hiring a coach.
Almost everyone, from beginners to advanced skaters, will benefit from extra time spent focusing on technique with a professional. Technique is the foundation of every athletic endeavor and skating is no different. With poor technique or even self-teaching, you will only be able to progress so far in your skating ability and may increase your chance of injury.
There’s also a natural progression from partaking in group lessons to transitioning to a coach. Maybe you are progressing faster than the curriculum of your local “Learn to Skate” program and you feel like you would get more out of a one-on-one set-up, or perhaps a private coach will help you go through your program at the right pace. Perhaps you’ve graduated from your group lesson track and you want to continue lessons at a more advanced level. Or, and this is the case more often than you think, you want to learn to skate but can’t get to the rink in time for the group lessons. Availability is a crucial consideration for any skater!
If you’re ready to make the transition to coaching, how do you go about finding a coach? It’s a great question and there’s no hard and fast rule to selecting one. That being said, there are steps you can take to make the process both easy and thorough.
My suggestion is to go to the rink during free skate sessions (not public sessions) and watch the coaches. See if you can observe how coaches interact with their students and how the students are interacting with their coaches. Style of instruction is important to assess because we each learn in a different way and to get the most bang for your buck, you should look for a coach whose teaching style matches your learning style. You can also talk to the parents about the coaches of their kids to gauge what they think of a particular coach. Questions to ask are: is the coach dependable? Do they show up on time to lessons? Are they patient? How does the coach teach familiar material? What’s the personality of the coach during session in terms of how strictly they teach? Does this coach take adult skaters or are they available only for children and teens? What is the coach’s specialty (ice dance, pairs, single)?
Group lessons are a great way to obliquely test out coaches and see if a coach is a good fit for you. The figure skating community tends to be a community so ask around! There’s a wealth of information other skaters can tell you about coaches. Sometimes picking a coach comes down to the coach’s availability and your own. If the coach you really want has a single spot open at 5.00am and you’re not a morning person, it’s possible that they’re not the coach for you.
Once you’ve narrowed it down for a few coaches, take them out for a test drive. As you go through your lesson with each coach look for a couple of things: are you two getting along? Do you like their teaching style? What are their rates and can you afford them? What is their coaching history? Is the lesson enjoyable for you? (If you’re not having fun, then you probably won’t stick with it). Don’t be afraid to try a couple lessons with each coach to do your due diligence, especially if you’re between two coaches.
Hope this helps! Good luck!