Oct 24, 2010

Arguing in front of the children

Announcing the Worst Coach Behavior of the Year: two non-involved coaches loudly arguing about a student's ability, during her ISI test and in earshot of the coach who was judging. When they discovered that they both agreed about this student's lack of ability and the judge's incompetence, they moved on to criticizing each others' students and coaching ability.

With any luck, the premature announcement will not be trumped by even worse behavior. Every time I think I've seen it all, someone comes up with a new way to give this sport a bad name.

It is vitally important when working with children, that you keep one phrase in mind, and it's a phrase that comes up in every ethics statement from every coaching organization you could name: ISI, USFS, PSA, Positive Coaching Alliance, you name it:

"The best interest of the child."

Clearly, it was not in the best interest of this child to disrupt her test, nor in the best interest of the other children that these coaches may have to teach in class or a show, should their opinion get back to them or their parents (and trust me, it will). One has to assume that these coaches knew that, so what were they thinking?

Well, they weren't thinking. They were being frail humans and were confronted with a situation that was frustrating to them in terms of this child's test readiness, the wisdom of putting a test on a practice session, and general non-collegiality. But coaches and teachers cannot do that. You cannot give in to human frailty when a child's feelings are involved. Take it to your therapist, or your spouse, or dig a hole in the ground like King Midas' tailor and whisper your frustration into the earth (although that did not turn out so well for him).

Before you shoot your mouth off in front of a child, ask yourself these questions:

Do you have all the information?
Why was a judge passing a child that other competent coaches did not consider ready? There's a big red flag right there; clearly there was something happening here that they did not understand. If you see something suspicious, hold your gob until later, then, assuming that it's any of your damn business, ask someone in a position to know what was going on.

Did the situation warrant any comment at all?
See above, "is it any of your damn business."

Is there a rulebook or ethical violation?
First, this is not the child's fault, and should not be brought up in her or his presence, or in her or his parents' presence. Because you might be wrong. Once you publicly question someone's ethics or competence, it's out there, and will reflect badly on both of you in the end. If you suspect an ethical violation, talk to the person in private, explain your concern and ask for clarification. If it's a rule violation first check the rule and make sure your understanding of it is correct, then take it to the rule breaker and ask for clarification. If it's simply that you don't agree with the rule, tough. Take it through the system and try to get it changed.

Would you tolerate this if it was your own student?
'nuff said.

Would you want someone behaving like this in front of your child?

If the answer is yes, please stop coaching, and for that matter, having children.

Would you behave like this in front of your mother?

Ah, the mother test. No, you would not. Your mother would likely smack you up side the head and send you to bed without supper.

What horrible coach behavior have you observed? I suppose I should start taking nominations for next year! UPDATE: See today's Ice Pact for a post on when it's appropriate to say inappropriate things!


  1. "Ah, the mother test. No, you would not. Your mother would likely smack you up side the head and send you to bed without supper."

    Love it! I actually had a nurse who used the mother test to get a young doctor in line. She called him on his behavior and threatened to call and tell his mother what he had been saying to and about patients. Result? Sudden and drastic change in his bedside manner. And the best part? It actually stuck. The power of mothers!

    Great post, Xan.

  2. i had an actual incompetent coach. and now i don't no what to do. she had told me that i landed jumps when they were 1/2 turns cheated. she taught me the complete wrong teqnique on everything. i have had to undergo an intensive 6 month correction of the teqnique with a new, very high end coach. my new coach is wonderful and trys her best to not say anything bad about the old coach,but i can tell that she is furious at her for not preforming her duties correctly. I was watching an old video of my self and was shocked but the teqnique errors that i saw and the things that she said were correct. like flexing the feet in the air, she didn't correct the flutz, all jumps were a half turn cheated and she aid that they were clean ect. now that coach has students like me who think that they are doing everything perfectly. what should i do? would it be wrong to tell them the truth. and how should i control my anger with her about the situation? after all she almost ruined my career.

  3. Anonymous-- your situation is an unfortunate side effect of a completely unregulated industry, and is common across the entire youth sports landscape. Few rinks require any kind of coaching education; and most 'junior coaching' programs are just to be a way for rinks to stretch the budget by hiring cheap staff- no one's actually training these kids.

    The best way to vet a coach is to find out if they are *rated* members of the PSA (most coaches must be members now, the true indication of a commitment to good teaching is that they've put themselves through the rating process). Not all good coaches are rated, and not all rated coaches are good, but it's the only thing we've got right now.

  4. Great post Xan! There was a situation recently where a spin coach criticized the actions of the primary coach. These two coaches are from "rival" rinks and there were questionable ethics many years ago on the part of the spin coaches' partner. At any rate, the spin coach questioned the wisdom of the primary coach's actions in front of the skater who loves her primary coach. Well, the skater left this spin coach. Unfortunately it would have been good for the skater to continue with this spin coach because the primary coach is not the best in this discipline. (He is great in another one, but wants to make a switch.)

    In the interest of the skater, had the spin coach kept her opinions to herself, she could have helped the skater get better despite her primary coach. Not to mention that she shouldn't have said what she did in front of the skater to begin with.

    Don't know what these coaches are thinking. They are high level, but that doesn't mean they should be arrogant.

  5. @anonymous: This is a situation we see at our rink all the time. Skaters with tremendous potential don't ever move forward because they are with a coach who doesn't have the right skill.

    It is very difficult for me to stand by and watch and listen the the parents of the skater with all their dreams and plans, but know inside that the skater is not going to be able to achieve those goals with the coach they have.

    However, there are codes of conduct that if violated can cause your coach a lot of problems. Coaches as well as students and parents of coaches can not say anything that might be taken by the other person as "recruiting" for your coach.

    You have to be very careful in what you say to others.

    I just listen and if there is an opening talk about my experiences with my son and his coach. If they are curious, I'll say more, but what I say has to do with my child, not theirs and it is never a direct statement of what I think they should do or derogatory about their coach.

    You don't want to get your coach in trouble, on the other hand if someone asks you for help, be diplomatic, don't point fingers or call names and tell them truthfully about your story, and how happy you are now. Have them talk to your parents if they have specific questions, so that you are not put in the middle of any coach/student/parent problems.

    Continued success to you! I'm so glad you are with the right coach now!

  6. My worst coach ever story- I took a power class for the first time, caught my toepick and slammed into the boards. Mostly with my head. The coach ignored me, as she had been doing all class. After class I didn't feel so well and passsed out in the lobby. No one checked on me. I had a concussion, as we found out later when I finally did get medical attention. I don't know how I got home but when my husband got home he was a tad concerned that I didn't know where I was. I thought about who I could file a complaint to (usfsa? psa? rink management?) and decided it wouldn't help, especially since the bigger problem would be all the people that had to have walked past me and didn't check on me. I confronted the coach the next time I saw her and she sort of grudgingly apologized by saying she didn't know I had hit my head. I had headaches for 3 months afterwards. I'm probably a lot stupider now. And people trust their kids with her!!???

  7. Whoa! Our posts really are in sync today! Want me to send my Kid over to teach those bickering coaches a lesson?

    Seriously though, this is a really important post. My heart just breaks thinking about what the poor kid in this post was going through during that test. Ugh! As a mom, I can't agree more with the need to do what's "in the best interest of the child." Thanks for giving folks that reminder.

  8. Head coach have a screaming row a more junior coach in reception in front of parents and skaters. Nuff said.

  9. OrangeChiffon-
    I have a similar story of coach indifference. At an off-ice jump class, I torn my ACL because I didn't know I was supposed to hop the landing. Hobbled out of class & never went back.

    I wonder if the coach was so used to me falling hard and bouncing up that it didn't occur to him I was actually hurt. He should have taught me the proper way to land but it isn't his fault that I am an inexperienced 42 year old Kamikaze skater.

  10. Xan, I love reading your blog! It's so applicable to parenting in general, not just skating! Long time no see and hope all is well. - Nancy from the Garden

  11. Beth- you give me a great idea for a post about when it's whining and when it's serious, especially visavis adults!