Jan 3, 2010

I have a great coach! You should talk to her!

I'd love to hear suggestions for titling this post, because I was afraid of the traffic I'd get for "what is s0liciting!" Reader MER asks
If I say good things about my coach or suggest he might be a good fit for someone, could that get him in trouble? Otherwise, how can referrals happen? I'm new to this, so I'm still getting a handle on the rules of engagement.

Do I run the risk of getting my coach in trouble by saying (and writing) good things about him?
This is where you should set rules aside and let your judgment kick in. Ask yourself why you're talking about the coach:

• Has the coach asked you to talk him up or tell other parents about him? This coach is violating ethical guidelines, especially if he has not told you to talk only to skaters who have no current coaching relationship. Stop doing it. If you're really brave, tell the coach you think he might be violating PSA ethics.

• Are you trying to convince this parent or skater to switch coaches? This is inappropriate, especially if the parent or skater has not asked for your advice. Ethical guidelines for coaches don't cover parents*, however, it can appear that a coach is encouraging or even training parents to solicit students, especially if there is a pattern of a given coach's parents engaging in these sorts of discussions. This is a very difficult reputation to overcome. There is club ice in town where I will not teach, because I got so sick of parents soliciting my kids away from me.

• Are you just proud of your kid? Then brag about the child and not the coach. This may not endear you to your fellow skating parents, but it's better than appearing to solicit on behalf of the coach.

• Are you just proud of your coach? Watch how you report this. Is it more "it's so great what Coach Xan has done for Katy" or is it more "everyone should work with Coach Xan because she's the only one who gets results." First one okay, second one is skirting the line.

Getting back to MER's question, there is no way you can possibly know that a given coach is a good fit for another skater. The most you can report is that the coach has been great for your child. If a parent asks for your advice, there are some steps you can take:
  • Give her an honest answer about why you like your coach. Don't say "you should switch."
  • Direct her to the US Figure Skating guidelines for parents, especially if the skater is competing in the qualified competitions, where parents can also start to get in trouble for appearing to solicit.*
  • Ask your coach, club president, or skating director for the general policies on soliciting at your rink or club, without naming names.
Circumspection is most important among competitive skaters due to the financial, ethical, and professional constraints under which coaches operate. (Losing a competitive skater is a serious financial blow to a coach, especially in developmental programs rather than big training centers where there just aren't that many highly competitive skaters.)

For recreational and lower level skaters, I wouldn't really get my knickers in a twist over this stuff. Don't say anything you don't want repeated. Don't say anything negative about anyone. Ever. Don't say anything you'll regret.

*For national competitors, parents actually do have to adhere to ethical guidelines, violations of which can impact the skater's standing. But it's better to practice good habits from the get-go.


  1. Thanks for the follow up post. Very helpful information. Cheers!

  2. I am guilty of this for a few times because I love my coaches.

    Suppose a skating parent complains to you about a lower level private coach but did not specifically ask for recommendation, would it be OK to say "in my opinion you should definitely change coaches, and I think so-and-so is a great fit for your skater"?

  3. OK I see I just screwed it up by saying "that's a great fit". The thing is, as a friend I should be able to advise a skating parent that her situation is not working, the question is how to make ethical recommendations. What about "based on my experience, coach so-and-so is great at this-and-that, keep her in mind if you are seeking for changes."

  4. Not just in skating, but in general, giving specific advice to a friend is a bad idea. If you tell a friend "this is a great coach for you" and then it's not, the friend is going to blame you. You might work with your friend to find out what attributes she values in a coach, and then suggest that she look for coaches with those attributes. More general statements "Coach Y is know as a good jump technician" "Coach M works well with adults" etc. is a better tactic.