Nov 18, 2009

How to change coaches

An anonymous commenter despairs that they left what they felt was an ineffective coach, "now she's mad at us. How do we let her know there are no hard feelings?"

This is, hands down, the toughest thing in skating. Unlike other sorts of lessons and teachers, where when you leave, you leave-- you physically go somewhere else, and you don't have to see that person again, in skating, it's rare to actually leave the rink when you change coaches, so you have to keep dealing with that person.

So, first, be kind. Coaches invest a huge amount of ego (the good kind), time, and emotion in their kids. We get extremely attached, very quickly; most coaches I know feel actual affection if not love for their skaters approaching a parental feeling. Unless there is actual abuse or criminality going on, or the coach isn't showing up for lessons, try not to make it about the coach. Make it about you, or the progress, or life changes, whatever. Don't shut the door on a coach if you don't have to. Your skater is still going to have that coach for class, will have to interact with his or her other students, etc. Some good reasons to switch-- Schedule doesn't work. You want a coach with kids that are more/less competition-oriented. You want to work with a Pairs or Dance coach. You can't afford it (be prepared for some coaches to offer you a deal; this does happen). In other words, there are lots of ego- and relationship-saving ways to change coaches.

Usually people change coaches because they feel the current one isn't helping the skater progress. But never make this the reason, because unless you are the skater, you just don't know what it is about the coaching relationship that isn't working. Sometimes a new coach will say the exact identical thing to a kid that the old coach was saying, and for some reason, the kid does it for the new coach. So sometimes it's not something the coach has done or not done. And at any rate, you probably don't know enough about skating technique to make that judgment. Don't even bring it up.

Do it slowly. Tell the coach if you have a problem. "Mary's not progressing as quickly as other skaters," "Mary doesn't seem to be responding to you." (Even if this is what you mean, do not say "as quickly as I think she should." Unless you are a skating coach, the first thing that coach will think, is how do you know how fast she "should" be progressing?) Let him or her explain. Then tell them that you are considering a coaching change. Give them a chance to redeem themselves.

If you have already decided who you want to move to, talk to that coach privately, and tell them that you will talk to your current coach. An ethical coach will also speak to the current coach before taking on a new student. There are no secrets at an ice rink, and competitive and PSA rated coaches are bound by ethical rules that require us to disclose when a skater talks to us about switching coaches. Make sure both coaches know what is going on every step of the way. Don't be seen talking to the new coach if you haven't told the old coach yet.

Pay any outstanding bills. Do not skip this part. Please do not skip this part. Not paying the final billing is the single most effective way to ensure that your child will never again be given the time of day by any coach at the rink, because believe me, word will get around.

If the coach stops talking to you or your child, explain to the child that she's sad about the change, then tell the coach you understand if she doesn't want to talk to you, the parent, but please don't take it out on Mary, because she feels very hurt. This happened to my daughter, and it took a couple of years for us to make the old coach understand that we did not harbor any ill will. (She basically decided that lessons were for fighting with him, and I was paying $60 an hour to watch them argue.)

Don't let a coach drive you out of a rink, or worse, out of skating. I have seen this happen and it breaks my heart. Sometimes coaches don't know they're doing it, sometimes they do it with malicious intent. Don't give in. At worst, it builds character. You are the customer, you have a right to skate where you want to skate, and your child has a right to a safe and friendly environment. But the best way to avoid this is to listen to the coach. I recently was subjected to first, an overheard argument between a parent and a coach, and then both parties came to me separately to complain. Basically, the coach had been telling the parent for a year that the child needed to skate and practice at a certain level, which she was not doing, or this coach was not the right match. But she was a "prestige" coach and the parent didn't want to hear it. Eventually the child got so discouraged that she quit skating entirely. She was a recreational skater with a competitive coach. That girl would still be skating if the parent had heard what the coach was saying, namely "I'm not the right coach for your child."

Here is an overview of the PSA Guidelines for coaches when approached by a skater/parent about a coaching change, and an excellent pdf of Proper Procedures for Changing Coaches. More on coaches' and parents' ethics in a future post.

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