May 2, 2011

Why I can't take your suggestions

Why you and not the mom next to you?
If I take your suggestion, and word gets out, I've pretty much lost all claim to control over my curriculum or choreography, unless you have an unassailable credential that everyone will accept.

What if I was going to do that anyway?
Now I'm afraid if I do it, because you'll think you I did it for you and I'll never get you off my back. So your great idea, which I had already thought of, just got trashed.

What if your idea is not technically feasible?
Either I have to bring you up to speed on a lifetime of figure skating, I have to be patronizing, or I have to call you an idiot.

Would you let me walk into your office and tell you how to do your job?
'nuff said.

What in the world gives you the idea that you know better than me?
You have one, maybe two skaters-- your kids. I've known thousands. Do the math.

What have I done that makes you think I'm not paying attention?
Did another problem you noticed not get fixed? Did a child get hurt, or ignored? Is the class or rehearsal out of control? Are other mothers complaining?

At our old rink, we did it this way
Right. You want me to do it the way they did it at the rink that for some reason you don't go to anymore.

Update: Anonymous' comment, (first comment below) has made me think a little more about this, so I'll amend a bit. Verbally assaulting a coach with a long string of suggestions about how the choreo or class can be improved, even with a smile on your face, the second she steps off the ice, is not going to elicit a positive response from the coach. You are basically marching into my "office" and proclaiming that you know better than me. You have given the coach no time to process or consider the class, and now you want to "fix" it. Write it down, send me an email, ask if you can talk to me.

In general in negotiations, simply saying "here's my idea, it's better than your idea, why aren't you doing it this way" is not going to get you the result you want. Ask a question--why is it like that? Can you tell me what effect you're going for? State your concern "I'm afraid it won't be polished by the end of the rehearsal period." Simply saying "do it my way" is sure to elicit a defensive response, and then the problem, if indeed there is one, doesn't get fixed, the coach has now flagged you as "one of those moms," and you don't get what you want. Everyone loses.

I probably have taken lots of parent suggestions, when the parents exhibited some professionalism, sensitivity and good timing in how they approached me. Parents expect coaches to behave in this way, after all.


  1. "Would you let me walk into your office and tell you how to do your job?"

    Not tell me, but offer ideas - sure! I often take parents' suggestions at my job. And most of the time they are really god suggestions! Yes, some are not technically feasible (in which case I try to explain in a couple of words, why), some just don't make much sense to me (in which case I just say "thanks for your idea, we'll think about it" and then do nothing).

    "What in the world gives you the idea that you know better than me?"
    Most of the time I don't. But sometimes I may have a good idea. Two heads are better than one.

    "What have I done that makes you think I'm not paying attention?"
    Nothing. You are paying attention and are trying your best, I have no doubt about it. But sometimes you do not notice something. And sometimes parents just have great ideas, that's all.

    "You want me to do it the way they did it at the rink that for some reason you don't go to anymore."
    May be we just moved. May be we really loved our old rink. Or may be not, but there were some things they did great. I don't tell you about the things they did badly, just about the things they did well.

  2. (Same Anonymous as above, after reading the update. BTW, sorry about posting anonymously, I just don't have an account here.)

    I never just tell a coach "Do it my way". Although sometimes I kind of mean "Let's do it my way, please", Let me give you one example. Please, let me know what you think. Last year my daughter learned some program for a competition (I made it, we didn't have a coach at that time). Then we wanted to go to another competition with basically the same program. We started working with a coach. Coach wanted to change the program a lot. I let her make some changes, but at some point I said "I'm afraid adding more new elements to her old program will confuse her". I have no doubt that our coach is great, she really is, she is very experienced, but I know my kid well, and my kid was only 4 yearls old then, and for us the competition was just fun. I wanted my daughter to do well and enjoy herself, not maximize the amount of skating skills she'd learn. Yes, I realize she'd learn something new if more new elements were added to her program, and yes, I realize she'd learn changing stuff too, but that was not my goal then. I totally respect the coach, but I still view it as I hire the coach to attain my goals, and only I know what my current goals are right now. At least in private lessons I feel I (and the skater, if they are mature enough) should have control. As far as group classes are concerned, I never make any suggestions. I agree the coach knows better. And she/he knows the other kids, while I don't.

    Another comment: it takes time for parents to learn how things are done in skating and what the etiquette is. It takes time for them to learn that ice skating coaches don't really like suggestions :-) I am a totally different parent now than I was when my daughter just started. When she just started, I basically told our coach before their first lesson what I'd like them to work on! Can you imagine that?
    But I did it not because I didn't think much of the coach, but just because I felt I needed to tell the coach why I was hiring her.

    When I worked as a math tutor some years ago, I asked kids' parents why they were hiring a tutor: help with school or prepare for SAT or something else, what grade their kid was in, what textbook they used at school, etc. I needed all that info! I just assumed it was the same in skating.

    Sorry for such long comments :-)

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: Basic 7 and Snow Plow Sam

  3. Maria, this sort of situation I would say you handled exactly right, and in fact, I do a lot more give and take with private students, where the child is more of a collaboration than in a group class situation. Your comments are actually excellent, and as you can see have made me stop and remember what it's like to be on the other side of the equation. I suppose it's more that I want acknowledgement of my expertise along with the parents' ideas; otherwise it feels like criticism over something I haven't done wrong. Does that make sense?

  4. Xan, it does make sense. However, figure skating is really a very unusual business as far as parent's involvement is concerned. Everywhere else - in school, in other sports, in music school, parents' involvement and supervision of at home practices is encouraged. But in figure skating, many coaches don't want to explain anything to the parents, don't want parents to supervise practices, and don't want parents' ideas on music or costumes... Now that my kid is learning spins and jumps, I do understand why I should not comment on her technique (I don't know what the proper technique is), and I don't do that anymore, but it took me time to get there. When she was doing swizzles and one foot glides on a straight line, I really did not see why I could not comment something like "keep your head up".

    I am really thankful to our coach who was very patient with me in the beginning and gave me the time I needed. I hope we will continue with this coach for many years. I know that I will have fewer and fewer suggestions (if any) as the stuff they are doing gets more and more complicated.