Oct 20, 2011

The gag rule in action

As you know, I had to release all of my students last week because of moving to a different rink. All of them wanted to stay at the Ice Rink of the Damned, so they started looking for new coaches.

I got lots of calls from friends saying, "hey, Parent X called me about skating with Precious, is that okay? Also, what's going on?"

To review, what I call "the gag rule" is supposedly a protection against solicitation, defined as actively seeking to subvert a coaching relationship by suggesting a student move to a new coach. The Professional Skaters Association and USFS apply this rule rather broadly, encompassing pretty much all conversations around changing coaches. In other words, if a parent/skater is unhappy with their current coach, this rule makes it very difficult for them to quietly try to test the waters elsewhere, because other coaches are required to report the conversation to the current coach or face sanctions.

It apparently works, because several people called me.

Or maybe I just work for classy parents.

What will be interesting is to see if any of my students end up with coaches other than these, who followed the letter of the law and called me, highlighting another weakness of this rule: you have no way of knowing if someone is talking to your students unless they choose to self-regulate. In other words, in the hands of the unethical, the gag rule doesn't work, because they won't call. In the hands of the ethical, you don't need it. (Two of the people who called me are not members of the PSA and therefore not subject to this rule.)

As an opponent of these anti-solicitation measures, I appreciated getting these calls, but would not have faulted the coaches for not calling me. I would have liked calls from the parents,which I didn't get in every instance, because you should ALWAYS talk to your current coach once you've made the decision to move (okay to hunt around behind her back when you're deciding whether to move, but once the decision is made, common courtesy demands direct contact with the old coach).

One of the difficult things about bad situations like this one is having your convictions run right up against your emotional needs--I needed everyone to flip that place a giant bird and quit en masse. But my coaching philosophy says the most important person in the equation is the kids--their need for stability, adults who put their needs first, and a safe place to learn and have fun.


  1. Are students/parents explicitly told that they should always communicate their decisions to current coaches first? I guess you probably bring it up while explaining you are leaving the old rink, but did they know the gag rule beforehand?

  2. No, they tend to find out when they run up against it, which is another problem with it. You can't follow a rule that no one tells you about.

  3. jjane45- also consider that this rule does not govern parents, they are not members of the PSA, and do not have to abide by their rules.

    If a parent chooses to seek a new coach without telling the old coach, that is fine (though kind of rude once you switch- but I really think it is kind of preferable when you are looking.)

    However, if they are looking at other PSA coaches, those coaches are bound by the rule to tell original coach.

  4. Jessim, however, parents ARE bound by USFS rules if they compete in USFS events, and especially qualifying events, which binds them to the same rules. Here's how it SHOULD work: you should be able to talk to anyone you want to under any circumstances without anyone "outing" you. The obligation to report the conversation should happen only at the point at which you actually make the change, when it simply becomes common courtesy.