Oct 3, 2010

Who do you ask?

Life on the Edge has a great post today about how a figure skating blog turns you into the go-to guy for all sorts of questions (in fact, watch for my new email account, coming up in a few days). She poses the question-- where are our resources for these questions? Why are so many people turning to strangers on line, when there are clubs, rink management, PSA, USFS and ISI.

Over the last several weeks I've attended a major PSA event, a PSA seminar and an ISI seminar. At all, the event leaders urged the attending coaches to get involved, to bring them problems and ideas, and to use these resources to help us.

And all of these entities are great--responsive, kind, and competent-- when dealing with logistical problems of billing, registering, testing, etc.

But when it comes to accepting criticism or actually acting on suggestions, my experience has been that these same people close ranks around the upper echelons. The PSA has no place for you if you're not a Master rated coach. When I asked to get involved in the ratings committees, I was told that you have to be a Master rated coach. Lower rated coaches' voices are excluded from this process. So until and if you achieve that Master rating, you are shut out of committees and leadership roles.

ISI in my district is a closed club of rink managers. I recently attended a district meeting, out of curiosity, and because all coaches are ostensibly invited, and no one tried to introduce him or herself, or allow me to do so. The printed agenda did not include a single open discussion item, or any indication that coaches' input might be solicited, assuming any ever showed up. Coaches had not been asked for input into the agenda beforehand. I'm sure others who have attended got the same message I got, loud and clear-- we say we want your input, but we're not going to provide any mechanism to accept it. Last year when I offered free services from my day job as an experienced fundraising and marketing professional, I did not get so much as a thank you but no thank you. No response at all.

At USFS, the first question has always been whether I have students at qualifying competitions. No? Then we don't care about you. Don't even start me on the moms who run the clubs.

Many times on this blog I have urged readers to do just what I'm complaining about now-- to take your problems to rink management, to federation management and committees, to whoever is next in line for the issue. And I continue to believe that it's important for those of us out in the trenches to try to make our voices heard.

But I understand the frustration and trepidation when you feel that your input is an annoyance or a burden.

Life on the Edge points out what many have--not all information on the web can be trusted. Bloggers have no editors; some are more reliable than others. You must always check information you find on line for accuracy. Especially when young athletes are involved--with their fragile bodies, psyches and financial resources--it is the readers responsibility to make sure that the online source is responsible.

There is a perception among coaches that being a squeaky wheel won't get you greased, it will get you fired. Among parents, that they'll be labeled troublemakers and their kids will suffer from the parent's unpopularity. I don't feel safe making complaints, or respected when making suggestions, and I know I'm not alone. I feel this way because of the negative feedback from when I used to try to get my voice heard. I feel this way because of many of the rink managers I've worked for who never ask their coaches for their observations, let alone their opinions or advice. Many coaches have given up because it's not really worth the risk; there's simply no benefit to getting a reputation for sticking your nose in.

I applaud PSA, ISI, and USFS for always at least soliciting coach's input. But until I see evidence that they mean it--that my input is both protected and acted upon, that my needs and opinions as a beginners' coach are respected, I will continue to seek the wisdom of people like Allison Scott, Deb Chitwood, and Icemom on line, where I know that I'll be heard.


  1. Thank you so much, Xan, for the mention and for this post.

    I think you and Allison bring up very useful ideas.

    You know, it's been niggling at me for a while now: the PSA is the voice of the coach (well, it's supposed to be) and USFSA represents the skater. ISI represents rink owners.

    Who represents the parents? We foot the bill, but no one takes the time to make sure that we know what we're buying. We're craving parent education, but it's not easy to find.

    I know that USFSA has a parent committee, but they've not affected my life as a rink mom at all.

    Someday I'll have to tell you about my nefarious plot. Or, you could call me and hear my evil laugh. :)

    Anyway, thank you, Xan, for this great post. It's obvious that we parents need more of a voice.

  2. Just remember that in my other life, I have a consulting business to help nfp start ups!