All about “The Why.”
It’s amazing that even after more than 50 years on the ice, when someone asks, “can you write a little blog for us?”, your brain turns to mush, you instantly forget anything you ever thought you might like to say, and the thought of moving to a remote region of Siberia where there is no internet connection becomes attractive in the extreme. This, dear friends is known as panic, a term totally familiar on a daily basis to anyone involved in skating in any way. So having had the mandatory 10mns of gibbering in a dark corner while I compose myself, and remembering that spell check is in fact available to everyone, I shall press on!
I recently attended a coaches workshop offered by Own The Podium, where 2 lovely ladies encouraged us to all have a very good think about why we became coaches. I pondered. Started with the obvious, everyone has to earn a living unless they are either independently wealthy or marry a millionaire. Hmmmn, scratch both of those. So, at least one reason is having a job. But, no heath care, no pension plan, no holiday or sick pay, no tenure, no guaranteed salary, so on paper, perhaps not the best financial option. So, passion for the sport? Check. Desire to win? Check. Working with young people? Er, sometimes:)
The more I thought about it, the more it crystallized into 2 quite distinct areas, the first one quite clearly highlighting my inner shallows. It was the absolute glamour of the female coaching staff at Silver Blades, Streatham, where I began to skate at the age of 7. I grew up skating in England in the ‘60’s, and it was a very different world then. Female coaches always wore skating dresses, and the coaches, or instructors, as we knew them then, even had a badge on their skirts, letting you know that they were a “Silver Blades Instructor.” The top instructors earned the princely amount of 12/6, or twelve shillings and sixpence for a twenty minute lesson, which seemed to me a magnificent sum. These women took their appearance very seriously, always featuring picture perfect hair and make-up, and oh golly, I wanted that badge, and I wanted to look exactly like that. My first eyeshadow, purchased furtively at the age of 12, was a particularly lurid shade of blue by Outdoor Girl, which I was convinced one of the instructors was using. I was sure that if I too could only figure out what to do with that stuff, I too could become that goddess of the ice, an instructor!
And then, there were the dance intervals. All skating in England was run around 3 public sessions every day, and in each of these session there would be 2 or 3 dance intervals, where everybody had to get off, and they would play 15 minutes of dance music for the good skaters. It would start with the easier dances, and work up to the hard ones through the 15 minutes.You could not skate alone, only with a partner, and to dance with an instructor, you had to purchase a book of dance tickets and book the instructor for that dance, handing over your ticket as you belted down the rink trying to keep up with the flow of the dance and not be mowed down by the next couple. The goal was to try to do every dance. And everybody wanted to dance with the instructors, so competition was hot! Of course, the female instructors outnumbered the males, and all of them knew both men’s and women’s steps, so as long as you had your ticket, and knew the dance, you were in! And of course it was live music, the legendary John Bowery at the Hammond organ, ruling his kingdom from the stage upon which the organ sat. Sometimes you could convince him to play a favourite song. Sometimes on test day (yes, live music for tests too) he might accidentally play something a little slower to help you out:) Ice dancing was huge in England, more popular than singles, and all the kids wanted to be out on those dance intervals, so we made sure we learned all the dances as quickly as possible, all the steps, not just our own, so that we were never wall flowers. And sometimes the instructors would dance together and put on a show, and they were all so good, and looked like they were having so much fun, and it just made you want to do it too. I couldn’t imagine anything better than being at the rink, sailing round the dance intervals, wearing blue eyeshadow, and earning 12/6. My sights were set.
Then, at age 11, the ultimate glamazon entered my little world. 4 time world champion Diane Towler came to teach at Streatham, and my fate was sealed. Diane was blond. Diane wore black eyeliner in just a certain way that no-one else could. Diane wore Miss Dior perfume. Diane wore a certain shade of nail polish that I was never able to find and to this day I still covet. Diane drove a Cortina. And Diane became my instructor. My first partner was a red head, and Diane thought I should be too, so I was. Diane thought green was unlucky, so we never wore it. As far as I was concerned, Diane was professional, polished and perfect, and come hell or high water, I was going to be the same.
Many years later, I read a quote from a famous Russian ballerina, who, at quite an advanced age, still showed up to teach, with make-up, hair, jewellery, all immaculate on every occasion. When she was asked why she did this, her reply was, “you have to show the little girls it’s worth it.” Couldn’t agree more. So to all the glamorous ladies who inspired me on my coaching journey, thank you.
It’s been worth it.
Next time: The second “Why”