(Note: This installment is dedicated to all the coaches who subject themselves to the Before-School Shift, a concept surely invented by a madman, or Lucifer himself.)
I am a wimp. I only coach one early morning per week, Wednesdays. One season, I scheduled lessons on Friday mornings, as well, and it just about killed me. Several of my colleagues rise at the crack of dawn three, four, five times per week. I’ll never understand how they do this. I suspect that, despite how human they seem, they are in fact robots specifically programmed to coach at ungodly hours, to also coach later in the day, and, to do all of this, miraculously, with their eyes open.
The reason to go in early is that the sessions are less crowded. Skaters can actually fit in a run-through of their program or an entire pattern of a dance. They can even skate the Spirals from the Novice Moves without beheading anyone or spraining their own necks trying to see who is behind them.
Okay, the main reason to go in early is that, strangely, some skaters want to take lessons at this time! This is also difficult for me to comprehend. When I was a kid, there wouldn’t have been enough money or chocolate to coax me to the rink before school. Granted, I skated early every Saturday and Sunday of my young life, which severely impacted my visibility on the slumber party circuit, took me out of the Saturday morning cartoon loop, and to repeat a refrain from above, just about killed me.
I’ve learned that there really are two kinds of people in this world – night owls and early birds – and it’s pretty obvious which category I’m in. Believe me, I’d go to sleep earlier if I could, but there’s so much to get done (both petty and profound) and insomnia has long been a loyal companion.
If Early Morning Coaching were a reality show, the producers would probably assign us three extreme, nearly-impossible challenges: Getting Up, Getting to the Rink, and Coaching Coherently. Here is what the viewing audience might see, in my case.
Challenge One: Getting up.
I have proven that I am incapable of using the so-called “snooze button” responsibly, therefore, I no longer purchase alarm clocks that offer this function. Instead, I set two alarms, 10 minutes apart and place them across the room so that, in order to stop their screeching, I have to actually stand up and take a few zombie-like steps. But after that first alarm rings at 5 AM, I promptly re-bury myself under the covers deep enough for a whole winter’s hibernation or, at least several more hours of slumber. After all, it’s so cold outside that bed, and the rink is at least 75 times colder.
Of course, sleep turns out be impossible since my brain is busy cataloguing legitimate reasons to cancel. Perhaps the weather is too bad (this may require a peek out the window). Perhaps all the north-bound streets in New York City are randomly closed. Maybe my garage guy has lost my car keys. Unable to come up with anything external that will get me off the hook, I decide each and every Wednesday morning that… I just can’t do it. Plain and simple.
Next, I compose a mental list of the phone calls I need to make. The problem is that my commute is longer than any of my students’ so even my first student probably isn’t awake yet and my later students won’t be up for hours. I imagine groggy, confused parents croaking the word, “Hello?” into the phone so I can tell them, “I just can’t do it.” In order to avoid waking them up, I plan to make one cancellation call every half hour. It takes me a few moments to realize that this means I definitely won’t get back to sleep. And right about now, it also starts to dawn on me how ridiculous my excuse is.
I eventually admit to myself that it’s easier to just go in. But, still, I am unable to get up. The only way I manage to finally get out of bed (and turn off that other alarm before it rings) would make Homer Simpson very proud: in my mind’s eye, I dangle a donut.
Challenge Two: Getting to the rink.
The good news is that it doesn’t matter what you wear in this business since it’s just going to get covered in several layers of fleece, Gore-tex, and down-feather coats, anyway. For the record, I’ve never worn my pajamas to the rink, but I have contemplated it. The only form of primping I can manage is deciding which baseball cap I’m going to hide under. I live in the illusion that this disguises how tired I look (and if not, please don’t burst my bubble.)
It’s weird how empty the sidewalks of New York are at this hour. It’s dark, quiet, and downright eerie: I swiftly cross the street and sneak around the block toward my garage with my eyes darting around nervously. In the three years I’ve lived in the city, I’ve only had one slightly distressing early-morning incident and this wasn’t nearly as harrowing as the time, back in the suburbs, I had a pre-dawn stare-down with a skunk.
I am fortunate that, as a customer of an indoor garage, I never have to warm up my car or scrape snow off the windshield. Though, sometimes I do have to wake up the attendant by pressing the obnoxious buzzer. If that doesn’t work, I call the garage phone located directly beside his ear. As he stumbles toward the security gate, I greet him apologetically and we both shake our heads, in mutual misery.
Once in my car, I ponder two things. 1) Who are all those people in the diner on the corner? Have they gotten up early just to beat the omelete rush or have they been partying all night? And: 2) Though the sidewalks are empty, the streets are teeming with traffic. Who are all these crazy people on the roads already and what could possibly be so important that they need to be getting to it this early?
To describe my state once I am out on the highway, I must once again conjure the image of Homer Simpson, who is prone to falling asleep at the wheel. In one episode, his eyelids slowly close as his car transforms into a plush, four-poster bed carried along on the wings of angels…
Thankfully, I’ve never dozed off while driving, but I have to constantly and vigilantly resist it. One of the ways I do so is by striking up the old Coffee Debate: Will I or will I not purchase it? And then: What size? And after that: Will I really indulge in a donut? I believe that coffee is unhealthy, so I’m not proud of this addiction. The styrofoam it’s served in is horrible for the environment. And, really, I need a donut about as bad as I need to install a spare tire around my waist, an eventuality to which a donut is only going to contribute. Then again, don’t I deserve some kind of reward for getting up this early?
Results: My car makes a right turn into Dunkin’ Donuts 100% of the time. I order a medium coffee without fail. I add a donut to my order about 1 out of 10 Wednesday mornings and gobble it down voraciously, messily, and guiltily before I even pull out of the parking lot.
Challenge Three: Coaching Coherently
Upon entering the rink, I make the morning’s first attempt at a smile. My target is the zamboni driver who seems to be in a trance at the front desk. The bags under his eyes are almost as large as mine. While lacing up my skates and chit chatting with whomever else is on the benches, I pretend I am awake. I pretend I am chipper. I pretend I am happy to be at the rink.
Once on the ice, I groan along with the sparse collection of other coaches, who would like me to believe they are struggling with this early hour as much as I am (and which is surely not the case.) We engage in a camaraderie that I’m only be able to fully appreciate after I open the little tab on my coffee cup and take exactly four swigs.
Fortunately, music is already playing. I have instructed my first two students that, on Wednesdays, they are not just skaters but also DJs. I don’t care what this music is, as long as it’s pumping loudly throughout the arena (and it’s not ice dance music). They happily oblige by queuing up the playlists on their ipods. The combination of music, caffeine, and the expectation that I am supposed to be a source of information is what finally snaps me fully awake.
Thus, the teaching begins. I find that, usually, the skaters are in much better shape than I (in more ways than one.) If, every once in a while, they complain about how tired they are, I look at them incredulously and take a few more sips of coffee. “Are you kidding me?” I cry with exaggeration. “This is the best time of the day! Are you saying you don’t love this as much as I do? This is the first day of the rest of our lives and we have the honor of starting it off in this beautiful rink!”
I rattle off a few more lies before I notice that they can see right through me. I might as well come clean. “Yup,” I back-peddle. “I know. This early morning stuff stinks.” I gesture toward the rink with my mitten. “…But at least we have clear ice?” On this point, they agree with me, and head out to skate upon it. I drink yet more coffee and embark upon what usually turns out to be, despite all the resistance and all the pain, some of the most productive lessons of the week.
Do you have any tips on surviving Early Morning Coaching for the rest of us? Please advise.
Note the newest CSOM addition: I have written a few articles for icenetwork.com and you can link to them, over there, in the column to the right.
Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving.