Are you aware that your skaters are somebody’s role models? That somewhere in the rink there are other skaters watching yours and learning from their behaviour?

Whether you have the crème de la crème of your rink or those still aspiring to be, it’s really important to be aware of the impact ‘your’ skaters have on the rest of the rink. It’s not easy dealing with challenging behaviour and if it isn’t handled carefully and dealt with quickly it can spread like an unchecked virus throughout the rink. Morale dips and positivity and motivation wanes, results take a tumble, jumps are ‘lost’ and the stress levels rise.  Worst case scenario before you know it full scale bullying starts up and the parents are wanting more time than you can give.

Nipping it in the bud – using your leadership qualities

It’s great to celebrate when a bunch of skaters are doing really well and getting fabulous results. Perhaps even a whole group qualifying for championship places.  A team leader will have every right to feel a sense of achievement. Recognise too that this achievement will have been made in part with the help of other skaters and coaches at the rink supporting you and yours on the way.  You may not have noticed, but there will have been coaches telling their skaters to be sure and get out of your skater’s way when they are practicing their programme, or trying to inspire their own skaters by looking to yours as role models. Whatever the particular set up at the rink, it is vital that some basic rules are in place:

Coaches working together

No matter how good a coach is, they can always learn from others. Even less experienced coaches might just have a real knack for teaching a particular jump which your skaters are having difficulty with.

If you’re at your wits end with something and no matter what you say, your skaters just don’t seem to get it, be open. Ditch the insecurity gremlin chatting away in your head, telling you there must be something wrong with your coaching if you can’t get your skaters to do this thing (it’s telling you porky-pies) and ask for help.  Even Einstein had help! Have faith in your own abilities to reciprocate when the time comes.

Why not start an ‘exchange’ of expertise among your coaching group and draw on each other’s strengths. Great coaches will see opportunities to learn in everything. The “I was taught this way and it didn’t do ME any harm” school of thought is not conducive to exponential development and progress.

We are all good at some things and not as effective in others. Teaming up with someone who complements your abilities can do wonders! A great leader will look to pass on their knowledge by helping and supporting others.

Be firm but fair

I so often hear about perceived unfairness, both from skaters and parents.  Be aware how your actions are perceived (rightly or wrongly!) by others. You may be tired in the early morning or after a long day on the ice and so perhaps let some bad behaviour by a skater go unchallenged, but you can be sure that the watching parents and the other skaters in the group or nearby will notice and have their own view of what you should or shouldn’t have done!

Of course they aren’t seeing the whole story, so whatever action you take (or don’t) needs to be firm and just. It should be the same for every skater in whatever those circumstances were. Youngsters (and parents!) are VERY quick to see what they perceive as unfairness and it can destroy relationships with both the coach and with other skaters. It also means the parents will get complaints from their child and before you know it, you have them to contend with too.

Keeping Everybody Happy = More time and less hassle for you (plus respect, love and admiration – what’s not to like?)

Identify the most challenging behaviours and typical situations and work out a fair system for dealing with them. If ice kicking tantrums go ‘unpunished’ you are unwittingly giving permission to the other skaters to behave badly too. Be sure the parents know too, if you start a system of ‘time out’ – because they will have their own take on what it’s costing them!

Some rinks have a handbook of rink etiquette or codes of practice. This is a great way to ensure everyone knows what is and what isn’t acceptable, but you must STICK to the rules – not applying them, or only choosing to apply them in certain cases and not others will land you in hot water with both skaters and parents!

Acknowledge the other skaters

Skaters can be very sensitive to words of praise or words of criticism coming from other coaches. To feel as a young athlete that another coach has noticed you for your hard work or a particular achievement is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t mean you are ‘poaching’ or that your skaters are being ‘poached’. It just lets a skater know that their hard work has been recognised beyond their own circle of support.

In some rinks where coaches are split according to the levels they teach, there may be skaters who aspire to work hard and make it into your group. In this case it’s even more important to have your skaters behave as role models of good behaviour and a solid work ethic.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun with your skaters from time to time – but do be aware that when your skaters are having fun, others might be trying to run their programme or work hard on something, so understand the potential impact it may have if you let your skaters run amok! And if larking around on the ice is affecting the morale of other skaters then that’s another thing to be tackled firmly. Teach them to respect everybody on the ice, no matter what their ability. After all, if the time comes when they’re on the world stage your team won’t be much liked or respected if they behave like that!

Well if you’ve read up to here, I can sense a few “it’s all very well saying that but…” comments coming on. And I know that there are lots of differences between rinks in terms of policies and leadership. But that’s life – and it doesn’t mean that one person can’t still make a positive change by inspiring others, demonstrating leadership qualities and encouraging motivation and a team spirit.

As the Dalai Lama once said, “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito”.  Within the constraints of your own working environment, what one small thing could you do today to start a chain reaction of positivity rink-wide?