Athlete Centered Skating

What exactly does ‘athlete centered’ mean?  What is the difference between an athlete centered and traditional coach centered training environments?  This blog will highlight some of, but not nearly all, the key distinctions between athlete centered and traditional training methods.  While we strongly position ourselves as athlete centered there are a few important points to make: It is possible to be traditional in some of the distinctions and athlete centered in others.  It is also possible for a training environment to slide from one end of the spectrum to the other depending on the context. Lastly, not all forms of traditional styles are negative, wrong, or bad- though research argues that they are less effective, especially over the long-term, for an athlete’s physical and psychological development.  Each of the distinctions below are discussed in more detail in future blogs.


Communication is a vital part of an athlete centered training environment’s success and this includes ongoing dialogue between coaches involved, coaches and parents, and coaches and skaters.  Communication with parents (and skaters) in a traditional training environment is very limited. The goal is to keep parents both in the dark and far removed from the learning environment.


An athlete centered environment recognizes that the skillset and developmental trajectory of each athlete is unique.  Programming is personalized to the individual needs of each athlete.

Traditional training programs are “one-size-fits-all”.  Each athlete must accommodate the same prerequisites, the same progression, and the same style of learning.  Accordingly, each athlete must adapt to the needs of the program.


Athlete centered environments are holistic in that all facets of an athlete’s programming are integrated and contribute to a greater whole than the sum of each individual facet alone.  Traditional training environments are compartmentalized. This means that each component of training, no matter how few or many, is unrelated to the other and any similarities in techniques or other emphases are accidental.  

How Learning is Accomplished

Athlete centered environments encourage athletes to seek and to explore variable conditions, approaches, and solutions to their skills so that learning never stops.  Athlete centered skaters strive to be adaptable and resilient. Traditionally, athletes are expected to repeat their skills over and over again as a mechanism to perform more perfectly over time.  Skaters, therefore, must strive to be perfect, which is an impossible goal.

Driver of learning

An athlete centered training environment develops the athlete’s wisdom.  Therefore, the athlete is the driver of his or her own learning. Since athletes learn how to learn, the training experience can transfer to other commitments including school and work.  In a traditional training environment, the coach demonstrates his or her wisdom. Therefore, the coach is the driver of the athlete’s learning.  Athletes must then rely on others to tell them what to do and how to do it.

Perspective of mistakes

Mistakes are a vital part of learning in athlete centered training.  In fact, mistakes are crucial for athletes to make sustainable improvements.  Traditionally, mistakes are not recognized as a learning tool and are even punished.  Often, coaches will demand two goals that are impossible to achieve at the same time: for athletes to practice without mistakes but to improve by doing something different than before.  


Athlete centered feedback is a dialogue between coach and skater; it is a transaction between coach and athlete.  This makes the athlete more responsible for, and more involved in, his or her learning and it also allows the coach to learn exactly what and how the athlete is learning.  Traditionally, feedback is used to represent the coach’s wisdom. Information is transmitted one way: from coach to student. The coach must guess what and how the athlete is learning.

Goal Emphasis

Athlete centered goal setting always considers long-term goals first.  Short-term goals are adapted according to how they impact long-term goals.  Traditional environments emphasize short-term goals – especially those that involve doing what it takes to win right now with a disregard for how those short-term decisions will impact the future.  

Direction of Learning

Athlete centered training environments embrace the reality that learning is impacted by many factors and is nonlinear in nature.  Learning can appear seemingly rapid, stagnant, and even backwards at times. This understanding establishes realistic and feasible expectations.  Traditionally, learning is recognized as a linear process. The coach shares information; the athlete practices and makes steady improvements. This sets up unrealistic and unfair expectations of the athlete.