Nov 1, 2010

What to get the coach for Christmas

For some reason that escapes me, a lot of parents are hell-bent on giving gifts to their skating coaches. And it fills them with anxiety. It's a weird sort of relationship-- this is your employee, but on the other hand the coach is kind of the boss. Plus, she's your friend? Or not? Personally, I love getting those clumsy hand-made pictures from the little kids, or a "certificate" promising no back talk for a month from the teenagers. But parents persist-- they want to give presents.

So what do you get your skating coach?

A bonus.

That's right. Give your coach a bonus. Your coach is your employee. I do understand that he or she is also your friend, and that you entrust her with your precious child (I mean that in the best way, no sarcasm intended), but in general, this is not someone you would otherwise have much of a connection to.

Now, because of the intimate nature of the relationship, sometimes parents are uncomfortable with handing over extra cash. It seems so cold. So make it a gift card to a local department store like Target or Macy's, or a pre-paid Visa card that can be used anywhere. If there's a concession stand at your rink, see if you can set up an "account" for your coach with a set amount of money in it.

If you really insist on an item, make it coaching related: the latest hard cover "tell all" book about skating scandals, or a pair of gloves or a scarf. I wear those little trading pins all over my coaching jackets, and I had a student once get me a collection of Olympic figure skating ones. A very thoughtful gift. (I confess, while I personally don't care if you get me a gift, I do like swag as much as the next person.)

I had a conversation with a coaching friend recently that just made me shudder: she actually steers her kids toward a certain store that she likes, and tells everyone to get her a gift card from there. I guess there's a certain practicality to that, but my grandmother would be rolling in her grave.

A Tweep asks: is there a formula for how much to give? And you'll be happy to hear that, yes, there is. A week's lesson fee. If you take one lesson per week, then Christmas or Hanukkah week, double the check, with a notation in the memo line "holiday bonus." This might seem like a lot if you're doing multiple lessons, for instance national qualifiers will be paying upwards of $500 per week for multiple lessons approaching unlimited. This seems like a big bonus, yes? On the other hand that coach got your skater to Nationals. Or helped her land her triple salchow. Or doubled her component score in a season. Or just spent a lot of time nurturing your child. Work it into the budget.

If your coach is only working with you once a week, then I think it's fine to just send a card, or yes, that $10 Starbucks gift card. (I confess, the $5 cards drive me crazy-- so, I spent a year with your kid, and you're, um, buying me a cup of coffee? I have gotten $2 cards, which doesn't EVEN pay for a cup of coffee. Really, folks, think about this. Better to do nothing but "Happy Holidays" and a hug.) The more lessons you're getting, the more progress your skater is making, the more you really should be considering this not as a Christmas present, but as a bonus for a job well done.

P.S. to my parents reading this: I like unmarked, non-sequential bills in small denominations and condo timeshares in Aruba. No no no, just kidding. Adorable pictures and hugs are fine.

What do you get your coach for the holidays?


  1. (or does a huge variety of items and there are plenty of skating related ones. I got my coach a t-shirt from there last year that she loved :) is a treasure trove of little gifts.

    For new skaters and parents, I would suggest asking around at the rink to find out what other parents do. You don't wanna come off like a cheapskate with a $5 voucher when everyone else is giving $50. But you also don't wanna be the only one to spend $50 if everyone else is getting the $5 vouchers!

  2. We are taking a 3 weeks vacation in Xmas. Should we make a bigger bonus? My kid is taking 2 lessons with her coach per week. And we really appreciate her hard work. I am thinking to do a xmas gift + the 3 weeks of tuiton. Should I get her a gift card for to total sum? Or should I get her a gift card as a xmas gift and hand her a cheque for the 3 weeks of tuition while we are away for our trip?

  3. Anon, that would be a fantastic gift and one that shows a family that is really thinking about this. One of the most challenging things about any kind of freelance work is that all vacations are unpaid. Personally, I work out my budget assuming just 40 (out of a possible 52) lessons per year from any individual skater so that I'm not relying on the inevitable sick days (mine and theirs), vacation days, schools off so we're going to the museum days, etc.

  4. Last year I gave my coach a nice bottle of wine. I consider this coaching-related. Putting up with me...dude has earned a cocktail (or three!) I never thought of giving a bonus. I like it. Definitely a contender for this year. Thanks for the idea!

  5. I'm hoping you can answer a different question about paying coaches. My child will be competing for the first time this year. Should I budget for paying her coach for the time she spends with us at the competition?

  6. Anonymous, yes, there will definitely be a charge for the coach's presence at the competition. Some coaches do a "day rate" kind of thing, where they divide their total cost by the number of skaters/events; some do a full lesson fee per event, some do a lesson fee per student. It varies. Ask your coach, don't let it be a surprise! Just say "what is your fee for the competition itself."