Feb 20, 2011

A conversation with a coach

Here’s a conversation I had with a coach who was about to lose a student that she felt she had gone above-and-beyond with. I have many conversations with coaching friends who reach the point that this coach reached. In fact, we talk about you all the time. The way to not be the mom in this conversation is first of all to remember to trust your coach, and second, to always talk to the coach when you have a concern, and then to listen to the responses. Don't go into a conversation with a coach thinking you know the answer.

Coach: It’s messed up because of how the mom handled this... so I think it would be best to just get the hell out.

Me: I think the mom needs a clean break, too. Not sure she knows it.

Coach: I just don't feel like she really appreciated or trusted anything I did for her skater. And I really feel like more of this is coming from the mom than the skater. The mom puts all these ideas in the skater’s head... and the skater believes it because it's mom.

Me: I know exactly what you’re saying. It’s really powerful; I destroyed my daughter’s ability to work with Dance Coach because I couldn't work with him. I should write a post.

Coach: Just about your experience as a parent/coach?

Me: yeah-- about how I sabotaged DD and Dance Coach without meaning or wanting to and how long it took me to really come to terms with that, if I ever have. Not that he or she were blameless, but I certainly was a trigger.

Coach: I think it's great that you were able to see that about yourself. A lot of other parents wouldn't, I don't think. They see it as caring or worrying or some other sort of parental feeling.

Coach: The mom is insisting on having this "conversation" away from the rink... I told her I had 15 minutes between freestyles I could give her in person, but apparently she didn't understand that it was only 15 minutes.

Me: Make her buy you coffee before work. It will be less stressful to do it on neutral ground away from both party's support systems. Off site is a good idea.

Coach: I just don't feel like donating the time anymore. She pretty much ruined it. I've been more than accommodating to her and their schedules and their constantly canceling last minute, answering all of the ridiculous questions while trying to steer her in the right direction.

Me: No, don't burn bridges. Keep the friendship. Nothing deteriorates only on one side, plus you lose nothing by eating a little crow.

Coach This was a one-sided thing, Xan.

Me: I agree. But it gains you nothing to fight it out anymore.

Coach: For all the reasons I mentioned before, I stayed consistent, I kept the mom informed of the things she needed to know about, I've pushed that kid to the point of tears and spent, now, hours answering her many emails. Then she cancels several lessons and I’m still supposed to set aside my free time to talk to her. I have to talk on my terms, when I have the time now. If she does not want to take the time out of her schedule and truly do something when it's convenient for me, I'm not going to waste my time anymore.

Coach: I'm tired of all these parents making coaches jump through hoops. Coaching relationships have really changed. The current generation of parents is not willing to let the coach be the coach.

NB: This skater has since worked with 4 different coaches, and is having trouble with the same elements and with progress in general for the same reason: the mom won't leave the coaching to the coaches, won't maintain a consistent practice schedule, and tells the skater that the lack of progress is because the coaches don't understand the skater. The lesson being learned here is all on the side of the coaches-- don't take this skater seriously, and avoid the mom at all costs.

Have you had a coaching relationship spiral out of control? Share your experience--where did you go wrong, where did the coach go wrong, where did it get away from both parties?


  1. I am only less than one month into private lessons and have been really conscious about occupying coach's time outside of class for conversations like testing procedures or lesson plans. I did, however, hand coach an one page letter after the first class detailing my skating background and goals.

    I imagine allowing emails will further increase the coach's off-ice communication burden. Would a few sentences after every lesson to express the skater's general opinion be over-the-top?

    Just out of curiosity, do some coaches hand out written policies or FAQ sheets when they first take on students? Guess that would cut down the number of very basic questions but coach then loses some opportunities to build relationship with skaters/parents?

  2. I would say, yes, an email after every lesson is more communication than is needed; better to use the time to practice more! Talking about lessons or skills is not the way to improve them.

    Many coaches have written contracts for their students. I have one myself; however I usually don't provide it until I know that a student is committed, usually after 3-4 lessons.

  3. When I start my private lessons (real soon now, honest!) I think I'll have to have a coach who can tolerate some emails since I'm a bit forgetful. However, I wouldn't expect the coach to answer a question more complicated than confirming the next lesson by email, since they could answer better in lessons.

    Now what was it I was going to ask Xan in class on Wednesday night???


  4. That's what email is for-- setting up schedules, confirming changes, tests and what not. Not for endless hand wringing over skills, attitudes, careers, etc. My contention is, if en email goes "below the fold" or a conversation lasts more than 3 times back and forth, it needs to happen in person.

  5. Occasional, casual emails should take less than 2 minutes to write but if coach has many students it could become a real burden to clear emails daily. I am actually handling this email-less coach-student relationship much better than I originally thought. After being accustomed to make email confirmations, not doing so makes me a little restless.

    Following my original comment I thought: if coach does not mind emails what would I write about outside of simple confirmations? Most likely it will be "Thank you for another great lesson, I love the drill on so and so skill", which I would have expressed immediately after lesson anyways so it's redundant. Technique questions? Not really helpful. I do think I will give coach a short note every 3-4 lessons to thank him and to review the progress in 3 sentences.

    OTOH, customers who send me emails at work tend to have more afterthoughts on average and hence little more demanding. Maybe the mindset is different?

  6. Where I get hung up as a parent is that if I happen to be at the rink, my daughter is suddenly a different skater, more prone to having good days and bad days. 99% of that time, this has NOTHING to do with skating and EVERYTHING to do with a mother and a pre-teen daughter figuring things out.

    So, sometimes, I "freak out" and will pull skater child off the ice because she's being a ninny, or threaten to not let her compete if she doesn't show me she can work without whining.

    After (too) numerous conversations with our (sainted) coach, the coach convinced me that my kiddo is, really, working to her ability and not messing around when I'm not there. That she is truly earning her competition privileges even though she's pulling hissy fits when I'm there because theiceistooslipperytherinktoocrowdedthebarometricpressureislow etc.

    Skating is hard. We figured out that when mom is there, it's easier to complain to mom or not try hard enough because mom is a handy punching bag. (Ouch.) It's easier than being hard on herself and motoring through.

    Anyway...not an exact situation, but yes, I've been guilty of being That Mom at times. I'm glad I didn't cross any lines and really tick off our wonderful coach beyond what her patience could bear.

    I miss my mom friends at the rink, but honestly, dropping off the kiddo and me going to have a coffee and read a book works fine for all of us. ;-)

  7. Josette, the difference is that this mom was assuring the child that the problem lay with the coach, and not with the child's or the mother's behavior. So the communication was all "what are you, the coach, going to do about this" and not how can the team make this work.