All the World’s a Stage: Coaching as Performance

By: Claudia Brown
Thomas Amon

February 1, 2013

   In The Loop Extended Articles

Whether you are a new coach or a seasoned professional, approaching your teaching as a performance can improve your success rate and increase enjoyment for you and your students. Use any or all of the performance techniques below to enhance your coaching experience.

Develop your character.        

What is your coaching style? Are you a strict disciplinarian? Are you a cheerleader? Are you firm, but caring? How do you want others to perceive you? Answer that question first, and the rest may fall into place.

Dress the part.

Your appearance makes an immediate impression that can be difficult to erase. Your dress should be an extension of how you wish to be perceived. 

Know your lines.

While an actor in a local, amateur production may be forgiven for forgetting his lines, a professional Broadway performer would not be so easily excused. Preparing brief lesson plans, staying up to date with rule changes, and consulting with your coaching peers will enhance your professionalism and make the most out of your lesson time with your students.

Warm up backstage.

Have you ever seen a Broadway dancer stretch onstage during intermission or a vocalist sing scales while audience members are taking their seats? Arriving early to put your skates on in the Pro Room (instead of in the hockey box) as well as to review your teaching notes and rulebook criteria will maintain your mystique as a performer.

Get in the zone.

In the middle of a great performance, nothing else matters. Time seems to stand still as the performer is in her element and the audience is in her hands. There are no ringing cell phones or casual conversations on stage to distract the audience’s attention. A coach should also limit such distractions, turning off cell phones and avoiding side conversations with other coaches or other skaters in the middle of a lesson. Let your student have your full, undivided attention and he/she will also get in the zone and perform their best.

Have a hook (or be hooked).

In the days of vaudeville, a performer had a brief time to ingratiate himself to an audience before being hooked, literally, from the stage. What is your hook, your opening interaction with your students? And what is your hook as a coach; what special quality sets you apart? If you don’t have an answer, you may find yourself lacking clientele.

Play to the crowd.

Whether you are you teaching a Snowplow Sam class of beginner four-year-olds or a Senior level pairs team, your coaching vocabulary and delivery should be appropriate to the situation. Vary your presentation style based on the age, skill level, and number of skaters.

Tug on their heartstrings.

An emotional appeal can have a profound impact when a student is struggling on an element. Sharing a personal anecdote or an acknowledgement of what the student is feeling may allow him/her to relax and lead to a breakthrough.

Pull out all the stops.

At the end of the day, ask yourself if you have done everything you can for your student. Have you used demonstration and video? Have you shared patterns in the rulebook? Have you drawn the patterns on the ice? Have you asked your student to teach the element to you, allowing you to spot the flaw in his/her process? If you have exhausted every teaching resource you have and a student is still struggling, then it may be time to bring in another coach for support.

The show must go on.

Broadway show performers have mood swings, health problems, and family concerns just like everyone else – but that never comes through during a performance. With rare exception, your personal life should also stay personal and not become an item of discussion - especially during lessons when time means money.

Pace yourself.

A good coach may have the opportunity to work their whole life, but only if they have their health. Take on as many students as you can realistically handle, factoring in the time and energy needed for competitions, shows, test sessions, and planning meetings. If you overcommit, you may end up doing less than your best – sacrificing your students’ progress and your coaching credibility.

Keep it fresh.

Broadway performers say the same lines every day for weeks, months, and sometimes years on end. While the script may be old to them, the lines are new to the audience – just as they are to your students. Research different methods to reach your students and keep yourself entertained in the process. Connect with your students and focus on their development instead of the fact that you are teaching Basic 1 for the tenth series in a row. Use their enthusiasm from learning something new as your inspiration.

Never give up on your audience.

Believing in your students’ success has a powerful impact on their achievements.  Every experienced coach can share a story of a student who defied all odds. In most cases, that student succeeded because a coach believed she would, and never gave up that belief.  Keep your standards high and inspire your students to reach them.
Finish strong.
How you end the lesson will be the last thing that remains with your student. Review the highlights of the lesson, what you want your student to take away, and what your student should practice. Focus on the positive, emphasizing with your skater what he/she did well, and providing constructive feedback on areas needing improvement. Whenever possible, turn the negative (falling on every jump attempt) into a positive (rotating the jump). End the lesson on a high note so your skater feels good about his/her efforts.

Take a bow.

Time your lesson so you are not in a rush to meet your next student or to leave the ice. Ask your skater if he/she has any questions and thank them for their time. Most likely, they will respond in kind.

Always leave them wanting more.

Make your student eager for future lessons with a sense of what is to come, by sharing what you plan to work on next week , next month, or next year. This will keep skaters motivated and help instill your belief in their potential. Also be aware of a student’s attention span and time lessons accordingly. Better to end a 20-minute lesson on a high note than have a student constantly asking when a 40-minute lesson will be over.

Read the reviews.

Feedback is crucial for growth. Initiate conversations and listen to the concerns of your students and their parents. Develop a tough skin and welcome opportunities for professional improvement.

Know that you can’t win them all.

According to Hollywood legend, the comments following Fred Astaire’s first screen test were less than encouraging: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Despite this less than stellar start, Astaire went on to appear in 41 films and is considered one of the greatest performers of the last century. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you also won’t win over a student, or a student’s parents, or the skating director, or a coaching peer. You just can’t win them all. No one can.

Love what you do.

Passion is the driving force of any performer. Above all, love your sport and all that figure skating offers and that will come across in your coaching.

I hope these performance techniques have offered some inspiration so that the next time you enter the rink you remember: The spotlight is on you, so shine!

Claudia Brown is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communications at Harford Community College where she teaches visual and performing arts and journalism and advises the student publication, Owl Magazine. She is also a part-time skating coach and choreographer at Ice World in Abingdon, Maryland. Claudia shares her passion for skating and theater with her six-year-old daughter, Tacy.