Apr 12, 2011


Is your coach comping you lessons? Is she letting you pay "when you can"? Is she sending bills infrequently, so that you don't have to worry about them? How about giving you "discounts"?

What a great deal. Here's what one coach told me about these practices.

According to this coach, high level coaches will comp, discount, or carry students to pay when they can, so that if they try to switch coaches, Coach Old can go to Coach New and say, y'know, they owe me a lot of money; if you take this student I will report you to the PSA". Taking on a student when there is an outstanding bill to the old coach is strongly discouraged by the Professional Skaters Association and USFS. Basically, by not insisting on full, timely payment, the coach is buying your indenture. As long as you owe money, you can't switch.

Here's the lowdown, in ascending order of bad idea:

Infrequent billing
Rating: not too bad, if you control it
This is the coach's problem. If they can somehow afford to live without getting regular paychecks, that's their worry. You don't have to play along. Simply write that check every week anyway, and when they finally bill you, you have, in effect already paid it.

Rating: get it in writing
If you are taking a lot of lessons, a couple to several hundred dollars per week, discounts make sense. You are a guaranteed income stream for the coach, you're reducing his administrative time, and you're a valuable customer. But beware of discounts that are too deep. I've heard of coaches reducing fees by as much as 70%, and then coming back when there's trouble in paradise and stating that the family "owes" them, not necessarily money, but loyalty. If you are getting a discount, get a contract that states the discount and exactly what the expectations are (for instance, I would say it's perfectly reasonable for a coach giving a significant discount to expect the student not to switch coaches mid season).

"Free" lessons
Rating: too good to be true
Again, this can be a way for an unethical coach to buy your loyalty, in effect to indenture you. Now, lots of coaches comp talented kids who legitimately can't afford lessons; I've done it myself. But if you're a well-off family, or have a competitive skater, beware. TANSTAAFL (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch).

Skate now, pay later
Rating: toxic
"Don't worry, just pay me when you can." Bad idea. Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad idea. If you cannot afford to pay now, you cannot afford to pay. Period. Cut back on lessons, raise money through community fundraisers or letters to friends and business associates, whatever. Do not buy what you cannot afford. That coach will never let you go. If you carry a large balance and want to switch coaches, your competitive career is over. And if you're not a competitive skater, what what what are you doing?


  1. What about paying cash for all lessons? Should I be getting a receipt or something?

  2. Anon, I never thought about that. Strictly speaking, yes it's probably not a bad idea, if you're concerned that your coach will claim you haven't paid. Maybe the thing to do would just have a sheet of paper with 10 lessons at a time on it, and have the coach initial it each time she gets paid. Tell her it's so you can keep track. A little gentler than saying "I don't trust you not to try to get paid twice."

  3. You told us a couple reasons that an unscrupulous coach would offer a deal. What would be the motivation for a good coach to offer such a deal? Is it to promote the sport? The benefit to the skater is obvious.

  4. I just don't trust deals, especially ones that appear to be saving you more money than is healthy for the coach's business. If you are not at the far ends of the spectrum-- either indigent or a very serious competitor taking multiple lessons per week, be suspicious. There are deals that look like discounts but aren't-- if your coach offers group rates, chances are that's a deal for you, but the coach is getting his or her full hourly rate, just spread out over several skaters.

  5. Our daughter's first coach was very young and she billed us irratically--approximately every 2-3 months. We would always pay her immediately upon receipt of the bill. She would always say that we didn't need to pay her right away because it was like a credit card statement, we could have 30 days to pay. I would remind her that our credit card statements didn't include charges incurred 3 months previously.

    Then she lost one of our checks. She had already credited us for the payment and didn't realize the check had not been deposited. I pointed out to her that the check had never cleared our account, although subsequent checks had. I offered to write her a new check minus the stop payment fee (I was worried because she had had a purse stolen). She said not to worry, it would show up. As the weeks went by, I kept asking about the check but she said she was still looking for it, not to worry. Six months later, we regretably had to leave her because she changed her availability and cancelled our daughter's contracted lesson time, but couldn't come up with a convenient alternative time to coach our daughter. We thanked her for everything she had done for our daughter and asked for an invoice ASAP. We did not receive a final invoice from her until nearly 3 weeks later, although she knew we were looking for a new coach. (PS, she would not refer us to another coach at the club when we asked for a referral to a coach that would work well with our daughter.) When the final invoice arrived by email (while we were on vacation), it was accompanied by an insinuation that we were deadbeats because we had not replaced the missing payment and an accusation that both we and our new coach were unethical for not paying her before we contracted for ice at a new club because she suspected we had already had a lesson with the new coach. In reality, we had not had any lessons with the new coach before we received her invoice, only phone conversations. Our new coach had tried to contact the old coach but she didn't respond--I suspect that was the catalyst for receiving the final invoice. I again offered to replace the lost check minus the stop payment fee but she said that if we didn't pay the full amount she would report us and our new coach to the board of the club where she coached because our new coach also had coaching privileges there. (She even forwarded me the PSA guidelines for changing coaches--what nerve!). I reluctantly paid her the full amount to avoid a hassle, reminded her that we would still see her at skating school, pointed out that we acted in good faith because we were the ones who had alerted her to the fact the check had not cleared our account and had offered on several occasions to replace the payment, and assured her that neither we nor our new coach had done anything unethical and no lessons had been given.

    I feel like she was holding us hostage--no lessons with a new coach until you pay me but I'm not going to send you an invoice so that you have time to think about what you've done and maybe you'll come crawling back to me.

    Ironically, we had a great relationship with this coach until we HAD to leave because of her limited availability, and she was very attached to our daughter. Two years later, she still won't talk to us or our daughter, who she sees every week. This should have been an easy split because SHE changed her availability. This situation still bothers me. I feel we followed the PSA guidelines for changing coaches. Should we have handled it differently? Our current coach recently lost a check and I replaced it immediately.

  6. You followed the guidelines to the letter; not a bad idea to keep a paper trail in a situation like that. You went above and beyond in fact. Most would have simply replaced the check less the stop payment in the first place.

    It's important to note that the no-new-coach until the old one is paid is not a rule, it is a guideline to protect coaches. If your coach is abusing it to prevent you from getting lessons with a new coach that is also a reportable ethical violation.

    Put everything in time-stamped written form, like email.

    Shit like this just kills me. What is wrong with people?

  7. In the UK it seems to be the norm to pay in cash on the day. Sometimes if people have a few kids having lessons with a coach, or several lessons a week, they might pay once a week, but generally it's cash at the beginning or end of the lesson.

    The only "deal" I have is at one rink where i don't pay for ice time. The coaches there keep the patch ice fee and use it for their ice rent, and my coach there is my close friend, so she doesn't charge me. I'm only there a few times a year though.

    At my home rink patch ice fees go through the coaches to the rink, but there are one or two of the top kids who don't pay for this.

  8. I've never gotten a bill. Ever. Doubtless Stitch only gets one lesson a week, which isn't much by comparison, but so far it's been up to me to keep track of things. This isn't a problem with me at all, just my experience so far.

    Occasionally I'll get a "freebie," but it's usually shared with two or three other kids. Again, fine by me. If I got too many of them, yes, I'd question that.

  9. I have a coach that lets me pay when I can. I've never had bills that get over $150 though. I've been her student for a long time and I think she just knows that some weeks I can pay her and some weeks I can't pay her until the next week when I might be working more. I really don't think there is anything toxic about it or the student/coach relationship I have with her.

  10. last Anonymous-- you hit the nail on the head. You have to start with a relationship of trust. If you have a good relationship with open communitcation, none of this is an issue.