Jul 8, 2011

When do you tell the coach you're leaving?

The only really easy way to leave a coach is to actually leave town, and sometimes I think skating families actually consider this in order to avoid telling the coach there needs to be a change.

In the US skating families are hobbled by what I call the gag rule--it's very difficult to seek a new coach without the old coach finding out, because they're required by PSA rules to rat you out. If you're not a competitive skater the way around this is to quit for three months--just do classes and practice; as far as I'm concerned this cleans the slate. You no longer have a coach and can talk to anyone you want without them having to talk to the other guy. When you quit, make sure you have a final bill in writing, and that the coach physically signs it off as paid when you pay it. This ends your obligation and overrides the gag rule. You now have no coach. Sigh.

If you're competitive it's a little trickier because you can't be without a coach for that long. Of course, you can always just be honest and upfront and tell the coach that you want to change and that you'll be talking to other coaches. Let him know why-- we don't feel the relationship is working/the commute is too long/rink politics are making us uncomfortable/whatever.

Then the current coach can prove you right by being a jerk and making the skater miserable, or by refusing to teach you anymore, or s/he can be a mensch and support your search.

Since the gag rule is so stupid, I cannot believe coaches really follow it. I really think there have to be an awful lot of families out there talking to coaches and asking them to please not tell the current coach until they are ready to switch. Frankly, as far as I'm concerned this is the logical way to do this--talk to any coach you want to and prohibit them from telling your coach--after all talking to a coach is not the same thing as hiring a new coach. It's really no one's business but your own until you actually make the change, at which point you really do have to tell everyone.

It's never easy to "fire" someone, and you shouldn't put it like that; unless the coach has engaged in criminal or abusive behavior (rare) there is no need to burn the bridge. A coach being a jerk is not enough of a reason to destroy a relationship.

So, back to the original question: When do you tell the coach you're leaving?

The second you think it's going to get out anyway.


  1. "If you're not a competitive skater the way around this is to quit for three months--just do classes and practice; as far as I'm concerned this cleans the slate."

    haha- that's exactly how I left my first coach. I got hurt, stayed off the ice for 2 or 3 months, then told him I would just be doing group lessons and no longer required his services , 2 months later, I found a new coach. A few years later, I left that coach after a 6-month off ice due to injury- she would have taken me back, but was no longer coaching on the days I skate.

    I absolutely HATE the system that pretty much doesn't let you look for a coach without losing your current one (because if the coach knows you are looking, you are going to get dropped!) Since the grass is always greener, there might not actually be someone better out there, and maybe you decide not to change afterall, but they way the PSA requires coaches to interact screws over the skaters and parents who shouldn't have to be bound by their rules!

    In addition to the dumb gag rule, I think it's absolutely ridicululous that the PSA essentially forbids me from taking a lesson with another coach (because they forbid that coach from teaching it). As the paying customer, I should be able to take lessons from whomever I please- I know that means some coaches might not want a permanent relationship with me, but that should be up to me/the individual coaches to handle.

  2. It seems ridiculous to not have the freedom to study with other coaches. It's similar in the dance world too; although you are ostensibly free to go to many studios, sometimes your "main studio" will be upset if they find out about it (and maybe ask you to leave!)

  3. When my daughter started agitating for private lessons last year (in very early LTS), I put it on the back burner for months - partly because I felt private lessons were completely unnecessary for her at that time, but in large part because I was terrified of making a choice for this very reason. There are so many great coaches at the rink where we live now that it's overwhelming.

    She's only 7, is loving skating, and thinks she wants to go to nationals. But honestly, who can say where she will go with the sport, or how competitive she will really want to be as she learns more about it? It seems insane, but I felt a lot of pressure to choose a coach that would be a good fit for her both now and in some unknown future, in order to avoid the prospect of ever having to change.

    I spent a lot of time observing the coaches teach, considering personalities, etc., and I am really happy with the coach she has now. But talk about stressful...

    When I skated as a young adult (different area of the country) I had NO earthly idea what I was getting into, and just asked my group lesson coach to teach me privately. Thankfully it turned out to be a great relationship.

    I suppose I can - sort of - understand the rationale behind the gag rule, even if I don't agree with it. And I definitely feel that parents are sometimes too quick to blame a coach for poor performance or lack of progress, and should talk with their coach instead of looking to switch.

    But it irks me that I, as a consumer, cannot talk with other coaches in confidence if I feel I need to, AND moreover, that there is little to no guidance given to new skaters and parents about the challenges that can accompany changing coaches and how to pick one in the first place (and do not even get me started on some of that information in the parents section on the PSA website, my god).

    All this has to contribute to driving families away from skating, which is sad.

  4. Does anyone at the PSA follow your blog...I hope so. I hope they realize that many skaters and parents think the gag rule is ridiculous.

    In the business world it's "Don't leave your present job until you have a new job." I think the same should be true for coaching relationships. Why should the skater suffer through a period with no coach just because their prior coaching relationship wasn't working. When you know it's time to go, it should be OK to discreetly investigate other coaches so that there's an easier and quicker transition for the skater.

    The PSA is more concerned about the needs of the coaches than the needs of the skaters. We should always put the skater first.

  5. "A coach being a jerk is not enough of a reason to destroy a relationship." - Oops! Too late. I already did this : )
    The skating world, and the coach/student relationship is so strange to me. In perfect land it would all be transparent, no having to talk in confidence. i.e. this skater is talking to this coach about x problem, it did work out, it didn't workout, here's the reason. It's so hard to figure out what in a personality clicks right with a teacher of any profession, I think more choices can only be better for the skater. For individual coaches, maybe not so great but for skating in the long run, wouldn't happier skaters lead to more money coming in for all of the coaches?

  6. Skittle, my daughter worked with several different coaches; I never asked anyone, I just said "I want her to work with X" and then did it. If you want to work with another coach, just tell the current coach you're doing it and why. My reasoning was that she wasn't going to be a competitive skater but she probably *was* going to be a coach and needed different perspectives.

  7. The Original Anony-Mom. When my child started skating, it appeared that you just picked a coach off the ice. No one explained anything! And even after getting a coach, we made a switch a couple months later - we had no understanding of the first coach being OUR coach. If just felt like other sports soccer and baseball - sure you have a coach but if you want to become a better pitcher, go find a pitching coach. So we were having lessons and at the end we would set up the next lesson and when we couldn't get our ideal time we asked a different coach. Luckily, she was conscientious and talked to the first coach. We were just dumb about the whole process. It wasn't until almost three years later I got a parent handbook with the coach etiquette. I was SO embarrassed over our MAJOR faux pas. Thank goodness she is a really nice coach and still smiles and works with my kid wonderfully (all the coaches teach classes as well as privates).

  8. In the skating world, if you stop taking lessons (whether it's a skating break or a coach change), it it customary to give a severance pay? Or is there a standard of a 2 or a 4 week notice?

  9. I've always been curious to know; how long-standing are these PSA rules?

    OAM - that has to be incredibly common, I mean how on earth are parents supposed to know (unless they've found Xan's blog, that is)?! In most sports that I'm familiar with, that's exactly what you do - just find another coach/team.

    Anonymous, that is a really good question. Or what if you need to put lessons on hold, like for a vacation? Our rink has a 24 hr cancellation policy but it seems wrong to me to assume the coach can just absorb everyone's schedule variations.

  10. "I was SO embarrassed over our MAJOR faux pas."

    I don't think you made a faux pas. It is ridiculous to think that parents and skaters should be held to the standards of an organization they do not belong to. (2nd coach in question did do the right thing by checking with 1st coach though. The right thing for a coach.)

    "Or what if you need to put lessons on hold, like for a vacation?"
    Go back a few posts- there was a post about this just recently. Most non-coaches thought that as independent contractors coaches don't get paid if they don't perform work (a lesson), but that we all try to be good about giving them advanced notice.

    If new parents ask me about coaches at the rink I am honest and tell them "this is the fun coach", tthis is the "take kids to qualifying comps coach", "she is good and less expensive because she has fewer credentials". I don't recommend a specific coach though, but some people will say that even saying this much is too much, but I'm not a PSA member- they can't tell me what to do.

  11. For the most part the best way to get info about coaches at a new rink is just ask around, or to take classes and see who your kid connects with. It's perfectly reasonable to sign your kid up with her friend's coach. And no, parents are not bound by PSA rules, which is what makes the gag rule so impossible to understand, let alone enforce.

    Anon, I don't know when they instituted the ethics statement for PSA. I just wish it had a little more clarity, because as written it's unworkable.

  12. Hmm. I don't have these issues, maybe because I'm an adult skater, or maybe because I'm not that competitive.

    When I moved to a new rink, I set up lessons with several coaches (I told them I wanted a trial lesson). After a lesson with 4 different coaches, I chose one and worked with her for 3 years (until I moved). I still work with her when I am visiting that town; I tell my current coach "I'm going to be visiting X and I'm going to work with Y while I'm there." There are actually two coaches that I have that arrangement with. It's never been a problem.

    A coach that has a problem with you working with another coach (so long as *you* made the choice, not the other coach) is, IMHO an unprofessional coach and not one you want to work with.

    I understand and support the desire to keep coaches from "stealing" each other's students; but a coach whose students can be stolen is either not a very good coach, or the people being stolen are pretty dumb (I imagine there's a lot of the latter).

  13. Gordon, your attitude is the perfectly reasonable one, especially for an adult skater (and adult skaters generally have fewer issues with this, for many reasons). But I take exception with your final statement on behalf of both coaches and parents. Parents are not so much "dumb" as they are vulnerable and ill-informed. It is not the coaches and parents who are the victims who should be disparaged but rather the unscrupulous coaches who think nothing of telling a parent that their current coach is no good.

  14. Well, you are right. I didn't mean to sound so harsh.

  15. Oh I just get that way sometimes. Carry on! :) (I like your blog, btw)