Jun 22, 2011

Coaching discounts

I'm having an argument with a young coach at my rink. A family wants her to take their skater through a competitive season, including qualifying events, but told her upfront "we can't pay your full rate." I maintain that this is unfair to the coach, especially a coach with whom they have no track record. My friend feels that a child who is motivated and talented deserves her shot and should not be hobbled by her financial situation.

Skating is an expensive sport. There is a fundamental unfairness because, unlike popular scholastic sports (especially boys' sports, hmmmm) it is inaccessible to families of lower means. It's not an NCAA sport, so you can't use the excuse that you'll end up with a college scholarship because of the skating. It's not a team sport so there are no economies of scale. In the U.S. skating talent is not subsidized at the developmental levels, let alone for beginners.

The truth is, no one can afford this sport. Even at the lower levels of qualifying--PreJuv through Novice, you're talking about upwards of $15,000 a year in costs. At the Junior and Senior international levels, it can skirt six figures.

So what's a coach, and a family to do? Can you ask for a coaching discount?

Negotiating a discount with a coach who is giving you a high volume of lessons makes sense, especially if there's either an established relationship, or a demonstrated level of success; for instance if you've already medaled at the national level (or have reasonable expectations to do so) and are switching coaches or ramping up an existing relationship. The coach knows that you are going to be taking a high volume of lessons; it's reasonable to set this up as a weekly fee on almost a salary basis-- the coach takes a bit of a hit on the hourly in exchange for guaranteed income and the prestige of a high performing student. "Volume" discounts or, essentially, retainers are common at high competitive levels.

You will, however, probably be paying full price for extras-- the choreographer, spin coach, stroking coach, dance coach, off-ice specialists, jump coach, etc. Make sure that you're not stiffing your primary coach unduly.

I believe that telling the coach up front that you have to have a discount, with no evidence that you will stick with the coach is exploitative. I would say instead, approach it as above-- if you're trying to compete at a national level, ask the coach how much time he or she thinks this would require and what the full fee for that would be. See if the coach offers a volume discount. If he doesn't, broach the subject yourself, and negotiate this. Do not present it as an ultimatum-- if you don't give me a discount we won't hire you. Especially young coaches need money and need to establish themselves; they're not really in a position to refuse. Don't take advantage of this.

You can also wait for a coach to offer. I have a very talented student that I knew was on scholarship at the rink; I offered to take the skater on for a private and any semi-private group class I set up for free. In fact, this mother refused to comply--she insisted that she pay something, so I charge them $10 an hour.

You also want to be careful not to set yourself up for future grief-- is this coach going to hold you hostage to your discount? What if you have to change coaches? Can you get the same discount from a new coach? Will the old coach tell the new coach that you actually "owe" him a lot of money because of unnegotiated discounts or because you didn't pay the full amount and he just said "pay me later." (This happens--watch out for discounts that aren't really discounts.)

Discounts are a way to pay for a competitive career. But be sure you know what you're buying.


  1. I disagree with you. I think that at least the lower levels of competition should be possible for all regardless of means. We would not say that elite colleges should be out of reach for the economically disadvantaged, that they should be content with community colleges (lets say the skating equivalent of group lessons and public ice). And skating plays such an important role with some disadvantaged kids in keeping them focused and goal oriented and motivated. Plus I think its good that the parents were upfront about the situation with the coach rather than blindsiding him/her later. But I do agree that the coaches should not bear the burden of this.
    What if the rink suggested an optional $5 fee to group lessons with the proceeds going into a fund to help needy skaters. Could also attached such a voluntary donation to ice show tickets and have a general request for such donations at other events.

  2. Private universities rely on contributions of rich alumni to support the financially disadvantaged. I can barely see a figure skating version of it happening. While education is seen as essential in our society, unfortunately figure skating is seen as an elite sport and thus considered optional by many.

    Back to discounted lessons. What if the coach generally teaches a longer lesson but the skater only pays for the agreed upon lesson length? Is it likely to cause disputes later on?

  3. Being in the olympics may be an elite sport. Having somewhere to go after school and something to focus hard on is an essential for many kids we can't afford as a society to lose. For the parents who can "afford" their Chloe Noel clad figure skating darling, is the price of one starbucks latte per session too much to ask to support kids less fortunate??

  4. For after school programs there are tons of less expensive yet decent alternatives, it does not have to be figure skating / piano / ballet / dressage... the "luxury" options.

    Sadly, skating funds are unlikely to become popular enough to fully support financially disadvantaged beginner skaters unless they show extremely exceptional talent.

  5. Its so easy to say "Then they should do something that they can afford"
    For sure then though we should close rinks located in community centers that serve large numbers of kids who won't be able to benefit from them. Lets face it, if you can afford that Zuca bag you can afford to help out kids less fortunate than your own...

  6. Anon, I don't think you do disagree with me! That sports like skating are out of reach to all but the wealthiest is a scandal. Your solution of, essentially, a "tax" (make it voluntary!) so that the rink can subsidize skaters is brilliant. USFS has support, but you already have to be at the Novice level to receive. Their college scholarship program is for kids who have medaled at Nationals, so you get the disgusting phenomenon of Olympic Gold Medalists, who I don't think are hurting for money, receiving $1000 college scholarships. I do think there need to be ways to help those students out. But I also think that sometimes you just can't do what the rich kids can do; asking an individual coach to subsidize you is not solving the societal problem.

    Other Anon (will you people please give yourself names! ;P)-- that's the one that gets me. The skaters who cry poor but then drive up in a Lexus and unload the kid with all the bells and whistles.

  7. Lula, your solution is one that I see a lot. Coaches will also slide these kids into their semi-privates free; basically the other skaters are subsidizing them. (Don't tell)

  8. I don't see any problem asking for a discount from a coach- I did it with my first coach. I paid upfront for all the lessons in a month, and ate the money for any lessons that I was unable to take (sick, vacation etc). To me, that was a good bargain, and offered a benefit to him as well- no having to track down payments, and guaranteed income, since I couldn't cancel lessons.

    He wasn't a young coach, nor one hurting for skaters (he has a whole herd! It's difficult to schedule with him sometimes) so I don't think it was explotative at all- he very easily could have just said no.

    My next coach's rate was the same as what I paid as the discounted rate, so I did not try to negotiate with her, that was a rate I could afford.

    My current coach is really more than I would like to pay, but I am in a much better place financially than I was before (my husband is no longer a student) and he is a college kid. I don't feel right negotiating... but I also don't add extra lessons.

    As for subsidizing others, I'm not interested.
    I think less fortunate kids probably need things other than private skating lessons. I will happily give to programs that ensure they are fed and clothed, and even support community programs that give them a place to hang out. I volunteer as a tuotor for after school programs, but do not have any children in these schools. But private skating lessons? I don't see that as a need. There are many activities that kids can do that will open way more doors for them than skating will. Chances are they can't afford these either, but they are less expensive to the community to subsidize these programs than skating is.

    As for a "tax", well USFS sort of has one already. Except it works the other way- the low level skaters subsidize the high level ones. USFS needs the income from the bottom of the pyramid (basic skills) to provide funding for the top (elite).

  9. An even better idea - a riff on the city's vehicle tax/sticker. The Rink should require a sticker for Zuca bags! The cost of the sticker, and the cost of the ticket for illegally parking an unregistered Zuca in the lobby could go into the fund for needy skaters

  10. @Skittl1321 - it is so easy to decide from a distance what less fortunate kids do and do not need. One might argue that a really talented skater who can't afford the lessons needs it a lot more than Chloe Noel clad once or twice a week skaters who are doing it as an "activity' as opposed to a passion.

  11. Anon, I'm not at a distance- I have done a lot of work throughout my career with children in poverty. They don't need ice skating, though it sure is fun. Children who are not living in poverty, but whose parents don't have a ton of extra money are really the ones who have it "tough" in regards to skating- they are the ones who have likely been able to take LTS, but can't continue further. It sucks to be told you can't live your dream, but there are other times to do it. Those kids can go back to skating as adults...it's what I've had to do. The chances of me making the olympics was zilch anyhow. I'm pretty good for an adult- I bet I would have been amazing as a kid.

    Unless they are fully sponsored, it is very unlikely that a "less fortunate" child will ever be able to find out they are a talented skater. Even group lessons are expensive...and the true talent isn't exposed until well after the levels basic skills covers.

    No one NEEDS ice skating. Not even rich kids. It is very firmly a "want". I don't think anyone should be expected to subsidize wants. If you want to subsidize it, feel free to find a kid and pay for all their skating needs.

    I've worked with children who do not eat unless the school provides meals - food is a need, and we worked very hard to ensure the city would allow schools to feed summer lunch programs. I've volunteered in after school programs where kids who have no place else to go can study, play basketball and soccer; education and companionship are needs, although above the basic food/shelter/clothing. Giving kids a "home" is important and gives them a sense of self and community. But many people already don't think these things are worth subsidizing. It costs a heck of a lot less for upkeep on a basketball court than an ice rink - I just absolutely do not think any child "needs" ice skating. There are lots of great lessons to be learned for those who are in ice skating, but those lessons can be learned elsewhere, at a much lesser cost.

    If society won't even agree to subsidize medical care, they sure aren't going to agree to subsidize ice skating. I am a pretty charitable person, but I draw a line.

    As for the Chloe Noel clad kid just doing it as an "activity" and not a passion. I think a lot of parents are wasting their money on their kids skating. A girl in my power class takes 4 privates a week with my coach and she HATES skating. They are just throwing money away. But if the place they want to throw their money is Chloe Noel's- that's their choice, though I agree with Xan that it's a slap in the face if they insist they can't pay their coach, but then where CN's. (For the record, I have one pair, a gift. My regular leggings were $4 at Target.)

    (Xan- you have the hardest blog to comment on! I tried my google account 4 times and it wouldn't let me through, then I tried anonymous and it still wouldn't...I'm trying this name/url thing now...)

  12. I agree that food and a place to study and hang out safely is super important. But its the lowest ledge. A goal and something to work toward, a talent to give you pride and confidence in yourself - thats what can be game changer in the game of life. An no probably the overall residents of the city should not be subsidizing this goal, but the people who use the rink and could afford to help a little - absolutely they should. The rink is a study in contrasts, particularly in the summer. A sea of mostly minority kids outside the double doors and mostly white little girls skating inside. Close the rink then and let the haves drive a little further north for ice.

  13. Skittl, I know about the commenting. I've got it as "open" as the preferences allow, don't know why it does that. I'm working with a designer to migrate the whole thing over to Word Press, but I need money to do that! (haha)

    I love that everyone has clearly thought about this issue. I think one of the things I left out of the entry is to consider WHY you are asking for a discount-- are you a legitimately competitive skater who is looking for ways to afford it? (Legit) Are you a talented skater wanting to do this either competitively or recreationally, but your family REALLY can't afford it and you've already exhausted other options? (Legit) Are you a parent who doesn't like the expense even though you have other options (dropping another activity, skipping the 3 lattes a day, hiring a nanny even tho you don't have a job?) Exploitive.

  14. I both do and don't agree with anon regarding choices that poor kids have to make, but at heart she's right. It sucks to not have the options that your middle class and wealthy classmates have and I think all kids need enrichment activities outside of academics. But find enrichment activities that don't put your family at financial risk. Plenty of rich kids don't skate either.

  15. @Skittl1321: nicely said, everyone has different soft spots when it comes to charitable giving. Sponsoring a sweet, super talented child that you personally know is whole other story.

    @Xan: love the (exercise) tax analogy. And the tax collected on tobacco/gambling has better purpose than buying the needy a pack of cigarette.

    @Anon: just out of curiosity, assume there is a local private fund, what exactly does it pay for? Gifted LTS skater's group lesson fees, private lessons, proper skates, or practice ice coupons? Competition fees at basic skills level? Is the purpose to identify the next Michelle Kwan or to attract low-income children who never stepped on the ice? What are the selection criteria?

    "...at least the lower levels of competition should be possible for all regardless of means." -- There was a question on skatingforums.com a while ago about whether to focus on lessons/testing or competitions for a basic skills skater with extremely small budget. The answer is clear to me. Inside the figure skating world lessons/skates are the needs, and testing/competitions are the wants. With proper coaching, talented children will shine through later without competing in 5 different events a year at the lower level.

  16. What does it pay for? On the recommendation of group class coach and the demonstration of need, it is matching funds for once a week private or semiprivate coach and specialty classes. Should also be used to allow a need based discount for group classes. Would be great if people could donate used skates that kids have outgrown to the rink so that they could be used to help kids who can't afford good equipment. I agree that there is no need for competitions at the LTS levels (honestly I think that true even of the kids who can afford it but thats another story). The coaches will be able to tell by FS2/3 if there is a super talented kid who deserves a shot at competitions. Bet could also get businesses behind something like this - whole foods will often have a cause that they will ask you if you want to donate a dollar or two toward at checkout for example. Bet Rainbo might do that too.

  17. I would love to be able to donate my old skates to my rink! That's a fab idea! I'm an adult, but they would fit a teenager.

    And hey, to the people dissing the zuca brigade, I scrimped and saved for mine because while it's not a need (even a skating need), it was something I reeeeeally wanted, and it has been my best non-essential skating purchase. I don't have Chloe Noels (or Gees Active which are the in thing at my rink), but might have if they made them for fat people. Mainly because I've seen the kids wear them forever without them ripping, unlike my cheapo leggings.

    I struggle to afford skating. But it's the last thing I would give up because it makes me HAPPY. For my mental health, skating is a need.

  18. We are spending a few hundred dollar a month on our daughter's skating lesson. We are both professionals and can afford the lesson. And we never ask the coach for discount. We have the same coach for the last 2yrs. Whenever the lesson overruns, I always offer to pay for the extra time. I believe the coach should get compensated for all the hard work.

    As far as the "donation" is concerned, I really don't see it as a "need". I donate to charity organizations both local and oversea for years. It's true that "less fortunate" kids don't always get all the "wants". It's not just skating. The same holds true for private schools, piano lessons, etc. The list could run forever

  19. It would seem that there are lessons you could be teaching your daughter that would be a lot more valuable than skating. Hopefully she will learn them somewhere else.

  20. My coworker pays $900 per season per child to belong to the Travel Baseball Teams on the Pony League. This does not include equipment, and he regularly complains about "needing" to buy $300 bats, gloves, shoes, etc. He chronically insists that he outspends me on Skates, Coaching, Ice Time and Comp fees. For now, he's right. In a year or two, he could be wrong. He is always asking for donations, and I always say no. He has the benefit of selling popcorn and magazine crap "for the team." I don't buy in unless he gives me money for skates, and he never has.

    Youth Sports in general has a Money Barrier, and the new fad of "Pro or Nothing" doesn't help. It feels that no kid can just do something without the unspoken leaning towards "Pro League" or "Scholarship" or "Olympics," and that's kinda sad. Take a trip to Sports Authority, and cry for the kids who won't play a game without Mom and Dad investing hundreds in "needed" equipment. An Underarmor tee shirt alone is $40. Centrifugal Bumblepuppy, anyone? And after that kind of buy in, who wouldn't want or expect their kid to excel?

    Yes, it's unfair that should Stitch ever change his mind about trying for the Olympics (right now he says he's not interested) that door will be closed to him. But perhaps that's another of Skating's life lessons; If you aren't happy with what's in your own backyard, you won't be happy with anything. As the song goes; it's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got.

    If you can't be happy with a few recreational comps, something's awry to begin with.

  21. How do donations work with most rinks or clubs?

    Storing and distributing donated used skates may become cumbersome. Our local pro shop takes used skates for sale on consignment, maybe it's possible to designate the sales proceeds to the rink or club.

    Administering the donation is another issue. My rink holds annual costume / skates sale and charges a portion of the proceeds, depending on how that income in handled, maybe monetary donations can go into the same fund?

    The biggest issue is probably fairness in the awarding process once private donations are involved. Rink life is already dramatic as is!

  22. After some of the NIMBY comments posted here if there were so many donations that it proved cumbersome I would be inclined to declare victory and hold a party! but seriously the pro shop option might work. And of course fairness is very important in many things rink related, but that is the job of the Skating Director and why she can't have her own students at the rink

  23. Xan, hope the skating director reads your blog!!

  24. Anon, everyone should be reading this. Absolutely amazing discussion. Thanks everyone, so much, and keep it going!

  25. Anony-mom - Without a discount my child could not skate regularly. Our coach knows our situation and offered it when I explained we would have to drop half her lessons. I can not wait to be able to give back that discount to her when my husband can return to work. My daughter loves skating, it is one of the few areas of challenge she has ever had. She loves her relationships at the rink and she loves her coach. We are incredibly grateful.

  26. ooh I like Anony-mom. OK Xan I will post with that from now on!

  27. To get back on topic of the coaching discount. IANAL but if a coach want to do that because a skater shows promise, then the coach and the parents should sign a contract with clauses for the family leaving the coach, a set period of time the contract is in force, and clauses related to bonus for the coach if the skater reaches a certain level by a certain date. In addition, the skater's parents should agree to a fixed amount of practice on the skater's part. Honestly, if the parents want to pay hardball, the coach should protect her/himself.

    Oh, and those girls with the zuca bags, chloe noel, or flavor of the month jacket--poseurs. What you wear won't make you a better skater.

  28. All sports have costs inherent in them. If your child plays school sports you get a small break, but you as a parent are still responsible for cleats, shoes, socks, under armor, etc. Having had both a skater and football/basketball player at my house I know the pain of paying for both. Skating far outweighs any costs we have incurred for our football player, including personal training. My husband was laid off recently and it is dramatically impacting her ability to continue skating. I am hopeful she will soon be able to coach some lower level students and earn enough to pay for her lessons. I know this is life, but it is painful none the less. Our coach has been patient with me, but I don't know how long that will continue, he has to earn a living too.

  29. But again the burden of helping struggling skaters should not fall solely on the coaches, many of which are on very tight budgets themselves. There should be a fund at the rink for helping needy kids while protecting the coaching staff.

  30. anony-mom for the win. This is my point. It's not that you should never get a break from the coach, but that your coach should not be the first place you go for a subsidy. And frankly, there should be a societal solution, i.e. government support, for helping needy but talented kids not just for skating but for other sports, and music lessons, and good summer programs, and college.

  31. Wow what a discussion!
    I totally agree with Skittl.

    Also, if a kid is getting a discount or being slipped into group lessons for free then it should not be broadcast. It could really piss off people who are paying the full amount to be coached and they might take their business elsewhere. And you have to remember figure skating is a business just like any other. Coaches don’t coach just because they love skating so much - they do it for the money! If they can’t make a living coaching skating they get a different job that does pay.

    There are exceptions to this.

    There are coaches who volunteer their time to Special Olympics and similar programs.

    Mirai Nagasu’s family wasn’t rolling in dough when she was coming up the ranks. They said on the broadcast of Nationals a few years ago that whatever coach had free time would work with her because her family couldn’t always afford extra lessons.

    And there was my first coach, who after spotting a young boy in rental skates doing double jumps he learned on TV (no, he wasn’t Johnnie Wier) took him on as a student for free, gave him free ice time (coach also owned the rink) and even got him proper figure skates. Much to my coach’s disappointment, the boy stopped skating after about two months. The boy loved skating, but his family (which was near poverty) didn’t encourage it.

    Also, there are discounts in figure skating. Some rinks offer military and multiple child discounts for Learn To Skate and summer camp. There was even a Groupon the other day for San Diego Ice Arena: $89 for three one-hour private lessons, a $210 value. But usually to get a discount, weather you need one of would just like one, you have to ask.

    Also, I knew a junior level ice dancer whose family was struggling to make ends meet. I don't know if her coaches gave her a discount but the rink traded her ice time for her cleaning the rink at night. If you want it badly enough you will clean toilets to skate.

  32. Quote: ...Also, if a kid is getting a discount or being slipped into group lessons for free then it should not be broadcast. End quote.

    If the coach is subsidizing the skater personally, I agree it should not be publicized. But if the rink / club is subsidizing some skaters out of scholarship fund, I think such opportunities should be publicized. There should be clear, measurable selection criteria. No need to broadcast the list of recipients, but people have the right to inquire. JMO.

  33. Most municipal rinks have posted scholarship criteria (usually in the catalog), and it's generally keyed to established poverty levels or qualification for federal school lunch program. I don't know about private rinks. Kids for whom the choice is skating or food should get scholarships. Kids for whom the choice is skating or ballet should not.

  34. "Most municipal rinks have posted scholarship criteria"

    Where's ours? I've seen the application form, but the criteria is not in the policy page of the recreation guide. Wiki has been wanting this information for a while.

  35. Right. I should probably have made that "well-run municipal rinks..."

  36. giggle (well run)
    But its on the city's web site because its for all the rec programs not just the rink

  37. If this is the case, probably no skater ever gets scholarship from the city, unless they have quota for each program.

    anyone heard of rink or club wide, need based assistance for skater training? from what I heard, subsidizing competition fees or discounting membership fees are more common with clubs, but those are not need based.

  38. no I meant that anyone that meets certain criteria gets rec classes at a discount

  39. I know of many skaters at my facility who are on city scholarship, and hear lots of anecdotal tales of quite high level skaters getting huge help from coaches and other sponsors. Some famous ones are Rudy Galindo, Calla Urbanski and Rohene Ward to name just a few. There's a current well-known developmental coach whose own coach carried this person through years of training.

  40. Just reinforces what great people so many of the coaches are - they are really there for the kids and the sport, often to their own disadvantage.
    (disclaimer - I am only a mom, I don't skate and I am definitely NOT a coach, just an admirer)