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.