Not too long ago, the only true advertising for a coach was to tack up fliers at the ice rink or hope for positive word-of-mouth from rink moms.
The times- they have changed.
Now, with 1.73 billion people on social media last year and two billion people using the Internet regularly, the World Wide Web is, without a doubt, the place to be.
“All of my business comes from social media,” said Doug Mattis, choreographer and social media philanthropist. “People see what I’m about and what I’ve done and that’s how I get hired.”
Mattis is a big proponent of what social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can do for a coach’s profile.
“Creating a page for yourself and your business is so easy,” Mattis said. “You can make comments and repost things from other coaches that you admire or agree with. If they get to know your personality from what you post, they are more likely to be a long-time client rather than hiring you based solely on competition or test session results.”
Known in the 1990s as the “information superhighway,” the web isn’t just a hardwired encyclopedia anymore; it is a vast marketplace for interaction and communication.
Olympic coach Tom Zakrajsek decided he wanted something more interactive than the standard website he had when it came to his attention that his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts were being followed - and some in a big way.
“I was doing (posts) for the PSA and assumed only PSA coaches would see it; I had no idea what ‘going viral’ meant,” said Zakrajsek, of a periodization model for figure skaters he posted in 2013. “Then I realized that my posts were being circulated all over the world - some with less but some with as many as 225,000 people reading it.”
Encouraged by Merry Neitlich, a marketing consultant and director of Coach’s Edge, to brand himself, Zakrajsek wanted to create a tool to forward his business, but also to be an avenue to help other coaches.
“I put a survey on Facebook asking for suggestions for different topics I could write about and got a great response,” he said. “My coaches were big supporters of the PSA and they passed along to me that it was important to give some information for free as a way of giving back to the sport.”
Zakrajsek’s CoachTomZ website has a wealth of complimentary advice, as well as the opportunity to sign up to be a member, which offers different levels of access to increased information and discounts on lessons, consultations, and products. It also has almost 100,000 hits and 140 memberships since June 2014.
“I’ve been expanding my consulting through FaceTime with coaches and skaters and even parents,” Zakrajsek said. “It’s all very transparent. It isn’t about soliciting; it’s about supporting what the coaches do. They can have access to me without having to travel to Colorado.”
The ability to get in touch with high-level coaches or to further a skater’s training no matter how far away one might be from an elite training facility is one of the charms of the internet.
Kat Arbour, owner and operator of Ice Dynamics for off-ice training, used to assess clients who came to her and would spend hours formulating highly specialized workout programs for individual skaters - workouts that were somewhat limited in that they covered only a portion of a training season.
“I thought, ‘How can I make this reach more people?’” Arbour said. “I needed to come up with a better way to do it. I realized there was a lot of crossover between skaters. Everyone needs core and ankle strength, everyone needs some flexibility and everyone needs be able to jump high enough to complete rotations in the air.”
With that in mind, Arbour took her “6 Training Phases” that coincide with a skater’s on-ice training, and broke it down into four tracks that fit with a skater’s level - from skaters just starting to compete through internationally elite skaters - and therefore how many days a week the off-ice program covers.
“Every competitive skater goes through different training cycles throughout the year,” Arbour said. “It’s often very obvious for coaches what needs to happen on the ice, but they don’t always realize there needs to be the same kind of cyclical training off the ice. The overall concept of the program is that, if you’re a competitive skater, you need to be doing some type of periodic plan to help get in peak shape for competition without over training.”
And one of the coolest things about the Ice Dynamics workout is its user friendly feature: There is a mobile version of the website where members can access their workouts on their phone or iPad for when they’re at the gym or the rink.
“This would not exist without the internet and I could not have grown to this level,” said Arbour, who is also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “It’s the way to reach young people now; they do everything online. If you can reach the kids, the information will trickle to the coaches and the parents.”
Oftentimes, growth is something a working coach is highly interested in.
“There are thousands of basic skills coaches and they’re critical to our sport,” Mattis said. “Like elementary school teachers, they are so important. All of those champions come from somewhere. I think every young coach probably knows what they do well and they should put it out there.”
Mattis stumbled upon the benefits of social media. His original goal for attracting followers was to help raise money for various skating charities he was passionate about.
“The fact I got business out of it was a pleasant surprise, but then I realized that would obviously follow,” Mattis said. “Getting the word out there about who you are is vital. Be as positive as possible and don’t talk down about people. Creating an online persona is no more soul-searching than just being yourself. And now, thanks to social media, coaches can make people know about them.”
There are no restraints anymore when it comes to where a message can travel and who might be able to benefit from it.
Lauren Downes has been doing off-ice training since 2000. Founder of SK8STRONG, her age- and level-based off-ice videos are now used in 45 countries. Downes is also involved in the Everything Figure Skating website, a comprehensive site where there are posts from professionals in all areas of skating, such as on-ice, off-ice, sports nutrition, and sports psychology. She is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and also posts new articles on her website based on suggested topics.
“Social media is a wonderful way to get a lot of information out there without paying for advertising,” Downes said. “It’s such an important tool when it comes to interacting with people in the skating world from all over.”
The global aspect is a huge draw to the internet, but there also comes responsibility with putting a message out there that can travel far and wide.
“There are pitfalls. It’s not always used positively, but it can be positive in an educational way,” Zakrajsek said. “I would encourage all of the coaches to be a part of it. Take the time to research it and choose to participate in your own way. It’s what you make of it. But there is the opportunity there to connect with skating coaches around the world and we’re really all one big family.”
And this family has a lot of different perspectives and backgrounds and theories and methodologies and philosophies and, to that end, a whole lot of information to share that can be helpful to other coaches.
“A lot of people are interested and follow me,” Zakrajsek said. “I always said that if just a handful of people get the information, I will be happy. I have a certain way of working and if it helps people, then great.”
Tom Zakrajsek’s website is http://coachtomz.com
Kat Arbour’s website is http://icedynamics.net
Lauren Downes’ website is www.sk8strong.com/home.html
Zakrajsek, Arbour, Downes and Doug Mattis can all be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.