Nov 30, 2011

Should PSA membership be required?

I believe in the Professional Skaters Association.

Especially in a profession that comprises nearly universally self-taught "professionals," an organization that promotes continuing education, defines ethics, and sets national standards is vital.

No membership? You can sit in the stands and watch
PSA, partnering with US Figure Skating, has done an amazing job in the past five years basically forcing membership-meaning forcing acceptance (or at least awareness) of professional standards in teaching, ethics and continuing ed--upon people who coach students participating in the qualifying competitions. They've done this by establishing a credentials system. No membership? You can't get an ID allowing you to coach your student at the competition.

When I started in figure skating, just 13 years ago, and found out about the PSA, most coaches I talked to scoffed at the idea of a professional association for coaches. Thank goodness one of my early mentors was Jimmie Santee, who so believed in it that now he runs the place.

Now, all competitive coaches must be members, and they're working on extending that down to any coach who participates in any way in "sanctioned" activities. (A sanction is permission from US Figure Skating allowing competitors to skate in non-qualifying activities.) This covers local ice shows, programs, and competitions that includes skaters who participate in qualifying competitions.

Which is very nearly everyone.

Easy to sneak around the rules
But it's easy to not be a member. If you don't care about taking your own students to tests or competitions, or if you don't have private students, you don't have to join. I had a coach blatantly and knowingly solicit two of my students; when I called her on it and threatened to report her to the PSA, she smugly told me that she was not a member, so the ethical rules didn't apply to her.

This is how some coaches think--if I'm not a member, I don't have to be ethical.

Many coaches simply have friends who are members sign test and competition forms to get around the restriction. Clubs often don't enforce the credentials rule, especially for older venerable coaches, but or for young coaches if Daddy is a high level coach. Basic Skills competitions can also be very lax, and ISI has no rules whatsoever. I've had to fight off parents at the rink door at poorly run ISI competitions.

Skating directors are even worse. Many of them no longer disparage the idea of the PSA, but I know at least two who think that it is, and I quote, "stupid." Personally, I think if a rink wants its programs sanctioned by USFS, then the skating director should be required to be a member at the very least, and in fact should be required to have either a PSA rating or an iAIM certificate.

So what's the downside?
For elite coaches--the ones with the $125+ an hour fees and multiple students at Nationals, PSA membership makes sense. It professionalizes the job, and weeds out the less serious coaches. It protects you from solicitation at the elite ranks, where it really counts.  Plus, I'm betting that a lot of those coaches are having at least some of their fees covered by their programs.

For class coaches, maybe taking Suzy to a couple of local competitions a year, the benefits are less clear. The continuing education requirement is the main benefit, although nearly every coach I know considers it a burden and a joke. If you're not rated (the closest thing we've got to a degree in skating) the education requirements are extremely minimal-- 3 open book on line courses. Cheating is endemic. And the cost is considerable-- I once calculated that all my memberships and requirements cost me 2 months pay.

If PSA wants to be relevant down here at ground level, they need to have programs that help coaches and skating directors in local programs.  Support for unionization would be a nice start, or rating rinks according to the professional credentials of management, with real downsides for non-compliant programs.  Better scholarships for participating in continuing education, based on skating income and not on household income.  Extending the annual awards to local instructors, instead of just to coaches with a national profile.

I don't know what it's like up there in the Yuka Sato stratosphere, but down here in the trenches the profession is a mess.  Rife with poor management and incompetent instructors and plagued by low pay, completely absent any sort of employment benefits like paid sick or vacation days, pension or health care, you only do this if you love it. We need PSA so that at the very least no one in the profession can hide behind purported ignorance, or, like my colleague, claim that ethics are for the suckers who join.

As the Professional Skaters Association starts requiring more compliance with its rules, it needs to increase benefits to the vast majority of people in the profession.


  1. I wish we had something like this in the UK - even if it's not compulsory it would be a REALLY good start!

  2. We sort of do...

    No idea how much of a voice they actually have though.

  3. Coaches have to be NISA level 2 or above to enter skaters for competitions and tests. Level 1 coaches are also not supposed to coach unsupervised.

    BUT when we had issues at my rink, NISA basically said they couldn't do anything about level 1 coaches teaching private lessons on their own as its a privately owned rink, so its up to the rink management.

    Same goes as Xan said, Level 1 coaches can just get a level 2 coach to put their name on their skaters entry forms and test papers.