Can figure skating be anything other than a young kid’s sport? What careers are available through figure skating? Are there lasting benefits? I’d like to weigh in on these issues since figure skating has been a huge part of my life for the last 25 years.
The Cliff Notes version of my path through skating goes something like this: Fell into the sport on accident while trying to play hockey; spent several years in recreational skating while doing a thousand other activities; other activities slowly got the boot as skating took center stage; by the time I was in middle school I found success in skating (it was anything but a straight line!); I had the privilege of representing the U.S. at many international competitions over 10 years including the 2003 World Championships; and currently I am coaching full-time. As you can see, I have been fortunate to experience many of the different stages that skating can offer.
David McCullough said, “Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.” Perhaps that is why I have chosen to stay in this sport for my career. Or maybe it is because it is so complex that I never could master it and I was NEVER bored of it. My dad tells people that he thinks I chose skating because it is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. That is so true!
So how does one get into coaching? As early as possible, start volunteering in your local basic skills program to learn teaching skills and PATIENCE. More importantly, it should be lots of fun. I HIGHLY recommended that you pass your Senior tests in the discipline that you want to teach. Many rinks and ice shows will not hire you without this credential. Down the road find a coaching mentor(s) who will let you apprentice with them. This will frequently include standing in on lessons that the mentor teaches, keeping a journal, and some one-on-one mentoring time. The Professional Skaters Association (PSA) has a great Apprenticing program which is a must do. Around the time of the mentoring, you will also need to complete the PSA’s Basic Accreditation Exam. Many rinks require this credential before allowing coaches to teach at the facility. Pursue PSA rating exams as early as possible and work towards a Master Rating. The majority of top coaches have followed this path. Becoming a great coach has everything to do with from whom you can learn. Be willing to travel to PSA educational events and visit top coaches at their home rinks. Try to visit a major training center with top coaches if at all possible. You can learn a great deal by being around others who are pushing the envelope.
If you have aspirations of becoming a choreographer, get as much practice creating programs as possible. Put your own competition or show numbers together. Help friends and younger skaters with their programs. The education for this skill is much less formal and more organic. Take lots of office dance classes like ballet, jazz, and modern dance. The more exposure you get to different dance forms, the better choreographer you will become! Get as many influences as you can by attending stage dance and theater productions. It is important to realize that only a handful of people can make a living through skating choreography alone. You will likely need to teach another skating discipline so prepare yourself for that fact.
If not coaching, then what? With well-rounded skating skills, you can be hired by a touring ice show like Disney on Ice, Holiday on Ice, or cruise ships. If this sounds interesting to you, learn basic pair skating skills to help make yourself more marketable. It is a challenge to make a full-time income coaching figure skating in most areas of the country. It is a good thing that skaters tend to be resourceful people! Plenty of other jobs can be combined with coaching. For example, one coach where I work produces corporate ice shows.Others get involved with music editing, outfit design, or coach part-time while having another career. There are numerous options if one is committed.
Involvement as a volunteer is a greatly rewarding option for skaters. There is a great need for trained technical specialists since most competitions are using the International Judging System. Becoming a specialist, a judge, an official, or club volunteer are all ways to stay involved. I have been a member of the Athlete’s Advisory Committee through U.S. Figure Skating for many years now. This committee of athletes plays a huge role in the governance of our sport and makes up 20% of all members on U.S. Figure Skating committees. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Skating can give one much more than a way to make a living. I feel like I can accomplish anything now and that nothing that I can come across in life will be harder than what I’ve already done in skating. Something very special happens when skaters force their comfort zones to grow each day rather than living life “comfortable”. The character is the return on an investment in figure skating.