Nov 22, 2009

Parent ethics

An odd concept, yes? Professional ethics for parents.

But in figure skating, it's tremendously important. While I believe that, as a youth sport, figure skating has tremendous potential for helping kids grow, as a "monetized" sport, it also has hideous potential for abuse.

I started thinking about this because of an incident this morning at an ice show rehearsal, for the tots and toddlers. One of the children, formerly quite enthusiastic, has been reluctant to the point of screaming tantrums to get on the ice for these sessions. This morning the mother, in front of me, threatened this 4 year-old with a spanking if he didn't skate. Please parents, don't make me your enabler.

So here's some ethics for figure skating parents.

Be positive. Whether at class, rehearsal, lesson or competition, put a smile on your face and praise the child's efforts and enjoyment. Skaters get enough criticism from their coaches.

Focus on your own area of expertise, not the coach's. The only thing it is acceptable to criticize your child about skating is their attitude. If they disrespect the ice (such as kicking it in frustration or taking up a spot on a practice session and then just hanging out by the boards), other skaters, or coaches, it's appropriate for a parent to put in their two cents. Do not ever criticize the child's skating, even if you are also a skater. That is not your job.

Never, ever, yell at a child in front of others, including in the types of situations above. Take it somewhere private. Who hasn't heard a child getting yelled at for placing low in a competition? It's painful to witness, and humiliating for the skater. (For one thing, placements at competition are never enitrely the skater's fault, even for a bad skate. You have very little control over competition outcomes. Also, not your job, see above.)

Follow rink and club rules, even when they are inconvenient for you. Know the rules! If you challenge a rule, and I by no means discourage this, accept the rink's or club's judgment. If you think a rule needs changing make an appointment with the rink manager or the club board and ask how you can help make the rule better for everyone, not just for you.

Do not solicit for your coach. This means don't sit in the stands telling parents of other skaters how much better your coach is, and keep private conversations on the subject circumspect as well. Believe it or not, this can get the coach in trouble, because it creates the appearance of soliciting, coaching's biggest no-no. Soliciting is seeking to acquire a student who already has a coach. Some unethical coaches try to get around this by encouraging, or not discouraging, parents trying to get skaters to switch.

Don't coach from the sidelines. Don't stand in the door during class or lesson. For heaven's sake, don't shout to your child during class or a lesson (I can't believe I have to say that). There's a wonderful photo that makes the rounds every now and then. It shows an old Soviet-era rink that had painted over its windows. Parents were required to drop the children at the door--they were not even allowed inside. The mothers had scratched little peep holes through the paint so they could peer in with one eye. We like to joke that that is the way to run an ice skating program!

Remember, especially at the learn-to-skate levels, that it is figure skating, not world peace. Even if you have realistic ambitions of high level competition, you have lots of time. A skater who gets through the basic levels (up to single jumps) by age 9 or 10 can reasonably expect to pass the Senior tests before getting out of high school.

The US Figure Skating site has some good guidelines for parents.


  1. Xan, I love your blog! I appreciate your common sense approach to this sport where common sense is often lacking. Thanks from all us parents who are trying to keep things in perspective. It's just too easy to get caught up in the hype of skating and lose sight of what's really important: teaching life lessons.

  2. Anon, thanks for the kind words!

  3. It hurts me to see skaters that have parents like those you described here. There is a skater I know who had just gotten off the ice after an evaluation and her mom asked her how she did, she looked at the ground and told her mom that she thought she had failed. Her mom snapped at her and told her that she would not be able to do the session that was coming up. If it were me I would want my skater to do the session so she could work on whatever it was she thought she did bad on. Or at least it would make me personally feel better to work on it afterward.