Mar 16, 2011

Who to talk to when you need to change coaches

I'm going to eat my words here. Pay attention, because I don't do this often. Well, not eat them, but amend them, embellish them, walk around them a little bit.

I've said in the past that if you think you need a coaching change you should research it a bit, and talk to people about who and how. But that advice was too broad, and a recent situation leads me to a more subtle recommendation.

As ever, if you are unhappy with your coach, for whatever reason--tardiness, scheduling issues, skater progress, et cetera-- always talk to the coach first. Remember to not be accusatory, and always to frame statements as they affect you or your skater, and not in terms of faulting anyone. (Lots of resources on the web about active listening and non-confrontational conflict resolution.) Then you need to listen to what the coach says; for instance, if the coach says the skater isn't on the ice enough to achieve his or her goals, this is probably a giant clue as to the source of your skater's lack of progress.

If you can't go to the coach, through either legitimate concerns or cowardice, then there are two people you cannot talk to. Do not go to another member of the coaching staff. First, it puts them in a very sketchy ethical position; they are obligated by the PSA to report to the current coach that they have had this conversation. Second, it damages your coach's reputation, which I'm going to assume you do not want to do.

Do not go to the parent of someone with a different coach. First, this drops you into the gossip mill, and second, it exposes that coach to an ethical violation as well, possibly without the coach even being aware of it. I'm a bit on the fence about whether you should talk to other parents with the current coach; again, this can have the effect of damaging that coach's reputation and livelihood.

So I've just taken away all your resources, haven't I. But there are people you can talk to.

The current coach
Most coaching issues are about communication-- both not talking and not listening. State the problem as succinctly as you can. "I am concerned about the schedule, our lessons don't seem to be a consistent length" (translation: I feel like you're always late, or talking to someone other than my skater during lessons); "I am concerned about my skater's lack of progress" (translation: I have not been following the coach's advice about how much she should be skating.) Then LISTEN to what the coach says. Sometimes just putting a concern in front of the person who can do something about it is all it takes.

The Skating Director
You don't have to have some giant criminal issue with the coach in order to go to the skating school director for advice. I've got a skating director who is notorious for staying behind the scenes, but is absolutely available for parents who want advice, as is every director I've ever worked for. Most facilities bar the skating school director from having private students at their facility, so they are about as neutral a source as you're going to get in your own house. Again, make sure you frame your concerns based on reality. If you ask her to keep it confidential, she will.

USFS Parents Committee/ISI
This is a wonderful resource that is underused by recreational skaters. They pretty much exist for this purpose. Call them up, explain the problem; they will connect you with someone who can help. I don't know if there is a direct counterpart at ISI, but if you call their membership office, I'm betting they will have someone you can talk to. USFS Parents Committee has a Facebook page (of course they do) with emails (under Info) of all committee members.

A former skating parent
Talk to someone who's done with the program. Better yet, someone who's done with a different skating school. Again, your skating director is a good resource for this, and will be able to steer you to someone receptive.
Icemom has an "advisory committee" that she taps for difficult skating problems. Check out "Ask the Icemoms" on her site. The panel consists of people like former champion skaters, current coaches, and skating moms, including one mother of an Olympic skater.


  1. Great information! One caveat in talking to your skating director. Check to see who the skating director is affiliated with. At our rink, the skating director works for the rink, not the skating club and has an adversarial relationship with most of the coaches. she also coaches students herself. It would be a huge mistake to confide in her as she has her own agenda and tends to make mountains out of every little mole hill if possible.

    I would also add to be very, very careful who you talk to among parents, all PSA-coach-ethical considerations aside. There are many "trolls" in sheep's clothing out there, and talking to them will cause lots of trouble for you, your child, your coach, and everyone.

    Check out your skating club board, and if they seem like they've been around skating a while, are cool headed and don't gossip, then one of them might be a great resource.

  2. sk8rmomp- agree with all. You have to know your rink. Always safer to go outside the family to a trusted source, or one that is ethically bound to keep confidence, like USFS or ISI. A rink where the skating director is at odds with most of the coaches is in so much trouble anyway, that our little problems pale in comparison!

  3. As a non-skating parent on the periphery, I have to wonder why the PSA feels the need for all these gag rules, because that's essentially what these "ethical rules" are. Does the PSA feel that the skating world is filled to the brim with unethical, back-stabbing coaches and parents? Why shouldn't all parents and coaches be allowed to talk with one another? Yes there are some unethical coaches and parents, there are unethical people in all sports and workplaces, but I believe that most of us just want what's best for our skaters. After all, we dump quite a bit of time and money into this sport.

  4. I totally agree with "non-skating parent on the periphery."

    Our daughter has been skating for 7 years and we have had a few bad experiences with coaches that could have been avoided if someone had been honest with us about the coach's reputation and coaching style when we inquired. Our daughter has been involved in other sports and we have never experienced the code of silence we have experienced in skating. This culture has created an environment where coaches often have no perceived reputation at all--either good or bad--because no one dares talk about them. This just means that parents have to waste time and money to find out for themselves what other parents have discovered before. The integrity and good reputation of the coaches' should keep them coaching, not some imposed gag order.

    I believe that coaches have different coaching styles and connect with students in different ways--not all students are the same. But, I also feel that parents know their kids and usually ask the right questions of the coaches hoping to find a good match for their skater. Twice we have experienced coaches who have told us what we wanted to hear but never delivered what they promised. They were only interested in taking on another student.

  5. Describing it as a "gag rule" is brilliant. I have often (in fact right now) had to stand by and watch a coach sell a bill of goods and/or give very very bad coaching advice to a parent and I cannot say anything. One can file a complaint with the PSA, but it cannot simply be "I think this coach is unethical" it has to be a grievance where you can demonstrate direct physical, emotional, or financial harm to you or your student. If it's the other coach's student that's getting taken for a ride, there's really nothing you can do.

    Check out the actual Code of Ethics from the PSA, in the prior post.

  6. "A rink where the skating director is at odds with most of the coaches is in so much trouble anyway"

    Yes, you are so right about a rink in trouble... :'(

  7. Ok, maybe I'm naive -- but couldn't it just be possible that the coach has limited time available (maybe only early and your child is having a tough time with that) or maybe your child could use someone with a bit of a different style (say he/she has gotten into interp or something that may work better with a different coach). I could see contacting ISI or the skating director if there is a problem but it doesn't seem appropriate if you just want to explore making a change. Does that make sense?

  8. Exactly Anonymous-- and the person to talk to about these sorts of non-personality problems is the coach. But you'd be amazed at the people who come to me and complain about these sorts of things, rather than just being up front with the coach. So people who really, for whatever reason, don't want to talk to the coach, need to know who they *can* talk to.