Apr 22, 2011

Should you be giving your skating coaches vacation pay?

I ask, because your skating coach is in fact paying you to take vacation, by foregoing his or her pay when you're out of town.

I had one of those weeks-- two students out of town for spring break, one sick, another more or less kidnapped by grandma "for Easter." Hope they had fun, because it meant my income was down 40% for the week, and I didn't know about it ahead of time. (Even the vacationers didn't tell me until last week.)

How would you like to never know, from week to week, what your income would be? I actually only plan for 40 weeks per year from any single student; even though I have to hold those lesson times for 52 weeks, I can only count on getting paid for 40 of them. Further, I can't take my own vacation, because then I lose another week or two of income.

High level coaches on retainer presumably don't have these issues because they've negotiated a season's retainer fee-- they get paid the same amount every week for a set range of lesson times. If they're smart they've worked days off into this.

But most of us don't have that luxury. We work week to week for casual, recreational skaters, who never realize that their Florida vacation is costing some hapless coach (or nanny, or piano teacher, or tutor) a couple of days groceries.

Take the poll-- do you think it's fair to have to cover your lesson fee even when you're on vacation?

27 comments:

  1. I had a deal with one coach that I paid ahead of time for all the lessons in the month (and got a discount for doing such)- as such, if I were to cancel a lesson, I would have already paid for it. I presume I got a discount for doing this because the coaches rate took into consideration that it was not guaranteed income. He was happy to drop the rate a bit for guaranteed income.

    I do think your students were inconsiderate to not tell you further ahead of time, so you could have made other plans (my current coach often offers me an additional lessons if another skater will be gone, if they told you, you could have done that.)

    I don't think skaters should pay when they don't take a lesson, either because they cancelled (appropriately according to the cancellation policy) or because the coach cancels. Coaches pick up extra fees elsewhere- test sessions and competitions, for example. I know the amount I pay a coach to come to a tests never seems worth it for the 5 minutes they spend with me- since they have so many other skaters there. (So now I ask my coaches not to come to tests)

    All contractors have this problem. When I was unemployed and my entire household income was freelance work, I was working 14-18 hour days because I wouldn't turn down work: I didn't know when the next job might come in, so I understand the frustration- but I think the high $$ per hour coaches charge is because this sort of thing happens. (And because self employment taxes suck.)

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  2. What if a coach has students who don't compete or don't take multiple lessons? In my experience, coaches are EXTREMELY liberal and understanding with these sorts of things, doing things like offering discounts, but don't get the same consideration back. Think about it-would someone with a full time, salaried job be giving their employer a "discount" since they get paid vacation (and health care, and sick days, none of which coaches get)?

    Further how how IS that pay that coaches are getting? They have to cover their own promotion, vacation, sick days, health care, liability insurance, taxes, and sometimes rink fees, as well as nearly $1,000 a year in USFS and PSA fees. I figure that after all that overhead I'm making about $7/hour.

    My solution is to budget for getting paid just 75% of the time, which I have to tell you, sucks.

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  3. I don't think you should have to pay for lessons missed while on vacation, as long as you give the coach enough notice that they can fill the slot with someone else. If you cancel at short notice though, I think it's fair to pay.

    I'm friends with coaches, and I know it's tough on them (especially the ones who don't have a job apart from coaching) if they get a few cancellations at short notice in a week. The snow we had in December meant a lot of lost income as skaters couldn't make it to the rink. But as it wasn't their fault, I don't think the coaches charged for the missed lessons.

    I know a woman whos daughter was too tired to make her lesson. She couldn't get in touch with the coach the night before, so drove down to the rink at 6am to pay for the missed lesson, and apologise that coach had to get up half an hour earlier than needed! I'm not saying we should all do this, but showing consideration for the coach definately!

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  4. Where is everyone finding all these extra students to fill these spots?

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  5. Also, if a coach has a skater who cancels on them a lot, especially if its at short notice and for silly reasons, they should be able to give their slot to someone else permanently. Let the flakey skater/family have the less conveient ice time or only get a lesson if someone else drops out

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  6. Oops, after reading your comments:

    At my rink all the coaches have at least a few skaters who are always happy to pick up an extra lesson, especially before a competition or test.

    Unfortunately, being self-employed sucks compared to employeed when it comes to holidays, sick pay, maternity etc. But I know at least one full time coach (not elite or anything), who makes twice what I make working in an office. And without being harsh to coaches, they chose to do this professionally, hopefully knowing the pros and cons when they made that choice.

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  7. Point taken, but frankly, I did NOT know that this was SOP when I started doing this.

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  8. As a full time, salaried employee, I do get vacation time for my job. But my hourly rate is MUCH lower than when I work freelance (somewhat lower when I take into account self-employment taxes, because only slightly lower if I were better about tracking my deductions, which I usualy don't take.). When taking any job, you have to make these considerations. It appears that a skating coach can't expect to be paid full time year round, and needs to take this into account when setting their rates (which you seem to do in your budget- so you should do it in your rate too.)

    When I've worked hourly jobs, I've had hours cut with no explanation, and had nothing I could do about it. I couldn't even try to fill it elsewhere- you can offer your existing students an additional slot that week, I can't go to another store and see if they need a cashier. I never had paid vacation or sick time in these positions. And while I got to choose what rate I'd accept, I didn't set my own rate, nor decide when I wanted a raise. It's a downfall to this type of work. At least a skating coach can give themselves a raise, and while I've seen grousing, most skaters understand. (God I hope my coach doesn't do that anytime soon- he's already $20/hr more expensive than my last coach, who no longer will teach on Saturday, thus I had to switch)

    "Where is everyone finding all these extra students to fill these spots?"

    Offer additional lessons to current students. Especially if shows or tests or competitions are coming up- many are happy to take them. Maybe your rink has tons of ice time and it's not an issue, but there just aren't enough lesson slots at my rink, and most people don't get as many lessons as they'd like. Skaters are happy to fill open slots around here.


    You asked about kids who don't compete or take lessons- some coaches create more opportunity for themselves by encouraging even basic skills kids to compete. We have one coach with a stable of kids who all take just one lesson each. We had a local competition recently, and I think he was coaching 80% of the competition.

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  9. woah- that's a lot longer than I thought it was going to be!

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  10. These are all great points, and the kind of dialog and understanding of the two opposing points of view that I was hoping for. I especially love the image of some hapless cashier hitting the streets looking for a register to run. :)

    A coach can set their fee only up to a point; they have to be stay within the range that is acceptable based on the area and their background. Because the universal perception is that "coaches make a really high hourly rate" you'd be surprised how difficult it is to give yourself a raise. It ALWAYS costs you students, even though they often move to a coach whose rated is even higher (like they're punishing you).

    As far as just getting students to take extra lessons, this assumes that there's a student with that time free, who can skate on that ice (some ice is restricted by level), has the money for an additional lesson, and that you know far enough in advance to make the change, among other variables I'm not even thinking of.

    Keep it coming folks, I'm learning a lot!

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  11. Well as a student both the coaches I have give me lessons each with the knowledge that for 9 months or 3 months I will not be in the same city.

    Both coaches never shown me annoyance over it, its something I had explained when asking them to coach me and that is accepted by them.

    One coach who takes me to tests and compertitions gets that money too and she knows that I try to go home as much as I can as we both live away from home and both miss them so she is very understanding.

    I take up the offer of more lessons if they fit in and if I can afford it at the time, but with both coaches they have quite a busy time anyway and my lessons are not at a fixed time it is fit it in when they can but making sure I fit one in each week which I am fine with.

    Although if I wasnt a student that lives the way I do, I would probably try and cover my holidays in terms of payment if they could not find someone to fill it as at the end of the day, espcially the university coach whos partner is also a full time coach, its thier life and the still need to be able to live.

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  12. to play a little devil's advocate here....

    Do coaches pay or reimburse their students for missed lessons when they are away at a competition with other students? Do they reimburse their students if they don't get a high placement in a competition? And, last but not least, if the coach goes on vacation, does he/she pay or reimburse their students for lost lessons?

    If I hire a lawn service to take care of my lawn once a week to be billed monthly and it rains 2 weeks in a row, my lawn service would NEVER think of billing me for those said weeks. They didn't perform the service I was paying them for.

    If the student goes on vacation I think it highly unethical to bill them for a lesson when indeed they didn't have a lesson. Regardless of how soon the coach was informed. It's the nature of the business! As a coach, it's the risk I take for having private students.

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  13. I think either way is fine, as long as it's agreed on in advance. It's just that if we don't pay for our coach's or our vacation, she'll have to take that into account when doing her budget. Just as she plans all those extra fees - PSA, her health insurance, taxes, etc. If we do pay during vacation time, then I'll just recalculate to find out (for myself) what the actual cost of each lesson would be. I personally prefer to pay a certain rate per lesson and never have to pay for vacation time, than a smaller rate per lesson but pay for vacation time, even if in the end, over the whole year, it's the same amount. It just makes more sense to me this way.

    Similarly, the cancellation policy should be very clear and explained when the student signes up for lessons. In our case, one absence per month is allowed, but we will reschedule the lesson (rather than just miss it and not pay at all). If we have to take a long vacation, we notify our coach well in advance.

    "Where is everyone finding all these extra students to fill these spots?"

    For example, we leave our town every summer, and so have to switch rinks. But we want our daughter to keep learning, so we have arranged with a coach at our summer place to take lessons over the summer. We are very flexible (I don't work during the summer - I am a teacher), so whenever her permanent students leave for vacation, we are ready to pick up any available time slots, even on a very short notice.

    But even when people don't go to a different place, some leave for vacation/spring break, but some might like extra lessons because they have more time when there is no school, dance studios/gyms/etc. are closed (in my town they are all closed during spring break, so we go to the rink almost every day).

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  14. I think it helps to pay attention to when skaters you know are typically on the ice. Take a quick look at who normally practices at the times you give lessons. Those are your best lesson fillers because they tend to be at the rink already during your newly open time(s) which makes a last-minute lesson convenient for you both. My coach does this, calling or texting me beforehand if he has been given notice, approaching me on the ice directly when he has not. He's very low key about it: "Hey, so-and-so is sick (or whatever) would you like to have a lesson at ____ (or now)?"

    If I've been able to I've taken it. When I haven't sometimes we've adjusted my lesson time last minute so that he can leave the rink early if he is lacking a skater. He may not get paid for it, but at least that way he's been able to get some errands done.

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  15. Devil's advocate anon-- not sure what expense a student is incurring when a coach misses a lesson? I don't know of a single coach who would dream of charging a student for a lesson that the coach misses; I wouldn't do that myself.

    Long term arrangements are ideal, and clearly working for people, as long as they are enforceable.

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  16. I think the real problem is not that skaters are not showing up for their lessons, it's that there are too many coaches in our area. If lessons were not in such plentiful supply, the inevitable missed lessons would be used by some other skater. Hopefully soon the new ice sheets will be constructed, and then the number of skaters will increase, and there will be more demand for lessons. Other rinks have fewer coaches, so the coaches get more business but the poor skaters don't get enough coaching.

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  17. For a low level recreational skater, no. If I tell a Coach in early June, "Hey, we'll be gone for two weeks in August," that's a polite way of saying, "We won't be needing your services for two weeks in August."

    Find someone from your current stable to fill the time. Know your clients; the starry eyed kids who can pester their parents for an extra or someone who needs a bump for an upcoming comp or test.

    I would assume that a seriously competitive skater, for whom a week's vacation would seriously impact a coach's standard of living, has any and all vacation pay built into their agreement from the get-go. THAT is the ONLY time I would consider paying a Coach for the downtime fair and just.

    Case point; Dad won't be getting paid for a show that cancelled their booking, even though he's already scheduled them in and now he must scramble for work. The Company says, "tough cookies." That's the price of what is essentially freelance work. (*sigh*)

    Besides, Coach doesn't reimburse me for my Valium expenses when she takes off for whatever and it's three weeks before the comp and the stroking is pick-o-rama. Yeesh.

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  18. I make my parents plan our vacations around skating lessons since I only have a lesson once a week and we normally don't go away for more than a week :D

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  19. Kristy-- I think you've got it.

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  20. When I know I'll be gone I have tried to schedule extra lessons to make up for it. I'm in a tough situation now because I am looking for a new coach (at the new club I joined one and a half hours away) but I can only afford a lesson once a month, when I visit that club. I haven't approached anyone yet because I don't know what to say. Would you be my coach? Oh and I can only come once a month, and you have to be available when I am here, and you're obviously not going to be making a lot of money from me. Just can't see anyone jumping at that deal.

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  21. OC, I think you've hit the situation in a nutshell; I've got it from the other side-- I mostly take students like you, only not quite as aware of the lack, if you will, of ongoing "value" (sorry!) It simply doesn't occur to occasional, recreational, or casual skaters as a rule, that the coach is NOT occasional, recreational or casual and needs a regular paycheck.

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  22. I think there is a balance here - if the pupil gives you fair warning then you don't charge - but anything less than 24 hours then they should pay up. Most coaches I know have a long list of people who would like extra lessons even if they aren't regular - I'm one of those! I see that you do want to be paid regularly - but I've been self employed and that's just part of the territory - you have to allow for not being fully utilised. I always allowed for 40 weeks of the year worth of money.

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  23. I am aware this is an old thread. Just adding my thoughts for future readers who like me are reading back. :D

    I pay my daughters coach for her slot. I pay even if we miss the lesson(camping/vacations/illness/you-name-it) I think its fair. We do a set number of lessons per week and I pay for the full month in advanced on the first.

    Years ago I owned a preschool- I charged for x number of slots. It did not matter to me that Sammy was there 7 hrs a day and Cathy for 4. I was licensed for a set number and I told families up front- they were paying for the slot. This just stuck with me.

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    1. This makes so much sense. Can you imagine if an office worker showed up to work and the boss told her, well I'm not going to be here today, so I'm not going to pay you." The culture of "no show no pay" is so entrenched that I think it would take serious support from the PSA, USFS AND rink operators to enforce this. Some rinks have made a good start, having all private lessons paid through the class system. It's a great idea. Bless you.

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  24. as a Pilates instructor, at my studio, when my clients cancel more than 24 hrs in advance, they are not charged for the lesson. if they late cancel, we charge them. yes, we take a hit when they travel and I too assume 40-45 weeks of lessons per client, rather than 52, but that is the nature of being in the service industry. I would never think to charge a client for vacation time, nor do I pay my kids' coach when we are gone, unless we cancelled last minute. I figure it takes 30 clients to make 25 hours of work a week, because a few always cancel.

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  25. I know this is an old thread but wanted to add for anyone else who may be working their way "through the cloud" like I am. We pay our coach for a set number of lessons each month whether we have the lesson or not. As someone who has some experience with being self employed and having X number of "slots" to fill I believe I am paying for that spot. Its easier for me to just budget a set amount every month for skating. Our coach is very devoted and IMO its the least we can do.

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    1. No worries, we get that a lot! This is a really great solution. Your coach is lucky to have you!

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