Feb 8, 2012

When should you say something? (and a prize)

We've all witnessed it:

The mom standing in the door, "coaching"
The mom pushing her kid to finish her ISI tests, so she can compete at US Nationals (true story)
The new skater who wears her tights OVER her spanky pants
The beginner tot in the freestyle blades
The beginner in "we found them in granny's garage" four sizes too big and with blades so rusty they're black

And then there's the bad behavior: The mom screaming at, or worse, hitting her skater because of an error, or getting off the ice early, or losing her guards, or whatever; the monitor who breaks the rules for her kids, or her coach's other students; the overheard conversation of a coach telling some clueless mom a pack of myths and lies; the dad explaining that "only girls figure skate; men play hockey."

It's an enormous social gaffe in our culture to "get involved" but it's painful to watch especially newbies to the sport having to figure all this stuff out for themselves, or to have to tolerate bad behavior, knowing that these idiots are modeling this behavior for our children, or knowing that they're being fed a line of hooey.

I can't tell you how many comments I've gotten on this blog that start "I wish someone had told me...." I've said it often myself. It was one of the reasons I started the blog. 

The problem is, that the classy moms, the ones from whom you'd get really good information, stay out it, while the evil moms feed you horse hockey ("Coach Mine only works with the best students, and if you're not with Coach Mine, clearly he doesn't think you're up to snuff", or like the coach I overheard telling her very very talented student that ISI tests were the way to get to USFS Nationals.)

And I confess, I don't have the solution. I see a lot of well-meaning mothers offering bad advice, like  Mom A with an advanced little one (skater about 7, working on PreJuv test) telling a beginner 7 year old's Mom B that she needed to get "good" skates, rather than the perfectly acceptable beginner skates that she already had. She then showed her the freestyle blade, explaining that this was a "proper" figure skate. And yes, I stepped in, and yes, I got reprimanded for it–by Mom A's coach. (!! She claimed I was trying to solicit that skater, rather than that I was trying to correct misinformation. My guess is Coach had sent Mom A, in fact, to solicit Mom B.)

So this is the minefield we're all skating through.

A coach hearing another coach lie to skaters has literally no recourse. If you say something to the coach, they can make your life miserable; if you say something to the mom, you're tampering. You can't file a grievance with the PSA unless a child is in risk of harm, or the situation directly affects you. Otherwise they'll just laugh you out of court.

A mom on the skate-tying thread was thankful for a more experienced mother stepping in over aging out of mom's help, but another mother would have been offended (as in fact, several people in that thread clearly were, and I'm not even confronting them directly!).

So I'll open it up to you–what advice do you wish you'd gotten from a trustworthy mom? Did you ever get unsolicited advice that you needed, or had someone step in to help? Have you been the victim of bad information, or had an intercession that annoyed you? Tell us your stories.

Oh, did I say prize?  On Valentine's Day I'll select from the comments using the widget at random.org. Winner will get a "Yes I'm THAT Mom" t-shirt (designed by @rinksidedamned from Why Me, St. Lidwina).


  1. The most important thing I wish someone would have told me is ALWAYS trust your intuition. If something doesn't seem right, there is probably something wrong. Dig for information online, ask questions of those you respect, and don't be bamboozled by a coach who isn't doing their job. It's OK to expect accountability from a coach for keeping you and your skater informed and on schedule with the goals that have been identified. You've hired them and they are accountable to you. Yes, sadly, there are coaches out there who aren't serious about coaching and are only interested in the money.

    Secondly, beware! Don't expect that the club board is there to help you or is doing what is best for the club (sad, but true). The board is often comprised of the out-of-control, loud mouth parents who are there to push their own points. If you want an effective board, identify the skaters at the rink who are the most respectful, diligent, and supportive of others; as well as those skaters who are doing well in school and other activities. Then, approach their parents about serving on the board (I think Xan referred to them as the "classy moms"). And, if you ask the clueless loud mouths to serve on the board, don't expect them to suddenly keep their mouths shut and listen to others. They will not work well with others.

    Finally, a suggestion...Recently, I discovered the Manleywoman skater podcast, and I must say I've learned more about skating from her podcasts than I've learned in 8 years of dealing with coaches. So my recommendation is to listen to those podcasts...they're informational and entertaining. You get the perspectives of coaches, technical specialists, skaters, and parents.

    1. ManleyWoman's great! (Also-- hometown hero!)

  2. What advice do you wish you'd gotten from a trustworthy mom?
    I wish I had received info on selecting a coach and how to work with a coach before dd had her first private lessons. I don't care where it came from (flyer, parent, coach, skating program director, poster on the wall). We started with ISI and that info was lacking.

    Did you ever get unsolicited advice that you needed, or had someone step in to help?
    Yes! And I love it - I'm an adult and can talk to our coach and glean the best info from what I get. I have had hair advice, costume advice, skate tying advice, how to sit back and enjoy dd's skating vs second guessing the coach, where to get deals, etc. I have to say i love the skating moms at our rink. It's a wholesome atmosphere.

    Have you been the victim of bad information, or had an intercession that annoyed you?
    Call it what you will but dd was skating in a level that permits a specific jump but it isn't required. A mom came up and asked how long dd had that jump. I let her know that she didn't have it and she told me that my dd was in the wrong level. I learned to just tell these parents "I don't know, but you can talk to her coach, do you want me to get her for you?". They NEVER want to talk to the coach. :P I'm sure it isn't a surprise that her dd was competing against my dd. :P ~Meg

    1. hah, Meg, that's great "they never want to talk to the coach."


  3. Hm...unless it's truly egregious behaviour towards their own child, they're somehow negatively impacting my child or the person is already a buddy, I vote for not interfering.

    I'm someone who doesn't like unsolicited advice (particularly when someone is positioning their opinion as a fact). I already have opinions of my own, thanks. I'm not at all averse to asking for advice or opinions, but I ask those I've watched in action and think actually know what they're talking about.

    If your one of my daughter's coaches, yes absolutely and thank you. If you just want to offer that your Bundle takes x hours of coaching programs x, y and z and bless our little hearts we don't appear to realize that's the Path to Greatness (not something we're seeking, kthxbye), on a good day I'll smile and nod vaguely and just tune you out. If I'm a little punchy I'll be more direct. ;)

    Unsolicited criticisms are often not a good idea. A stranger offering that my daughter should be able to tie her own skates by now (she can, but for instance) would probably make me pissy (shouldn't they be able to mind their own business by now?) and get reciprocal 'feedback'.

    It's hard to define, but the spirit in which the advice is offered and the tone it's conveyed in makes a big difference.

    1. I understanding not wanting well-meaning strangers interfering, but I have done so a couple of times with tweens or teens at open stake who have clearly never been on skates before. One was barely toddling along skating next to a friend, and she had one skate untied. No helmet. I told her about the dragging lace and mentioned that it could seriously trip her up. She did get off the ice to tie the stake. But 15 minutes later, it was dragging again. At that point, I might have said something for a second time, but I didn't.

      Another teen was heading to the rink door in skates clearly several sizes too big, laced only across her instep, with the whole ankle left flapping. I stopped her (she was with a friend and an adult) and told her that her skates looked too big. She replied that no, they were not. And I said, "well, skates do run differently than shoes -- but even if you don't think they are too big, you really do need to lace them up all the way. You can break your ankle trying to skate like that." It was very mom of me, I realize. But she certainly would have hurt herself. Teen looked pissed. Adult with her did make her sit down and tie up.

      I always struggle with these mom-ish moments because I don't want to be nosy, but at the same time, I don't see the need for rink accidents that could be prevented by one nosy comment by a stranger. We have no rink monitors during public skate, so no one else would be looking out for safety.

      Am I being critical in an unsolicted way? Perhaps. But I think I'm okay with that -- though I'm open to being told I should just back off.

  4. Alice In WonderlandFebruary 8, 2012 at 8:26 PM

    I've received unsolicited advice. At the time, the very experienced, no nonsense Mom scared the living daylights out of me. However, some of what she said struck a chord deep inside, thoughts that were just developing in my head that I had shared with no one. So I watched more carefully. I listened to the broad spectrum of rink chatter. I observed competitions more carefully. I even one day questioned the coach. Eventually I made decisions that were in alignment with my skaters hopes/desires/dreams. To this day, when I see that very experienced Mom, I thank her. I believe I would have taken the same path eventually, but her perspective made me more attentive.

  5. Hoping these are these anonymous….I would love to tell a mom about having her child wear some type of pant with her mondor tights…. even a bathing suit bottom would work.

    1. Yes they are! Really, truly anonymous. I discovered that I cannot even track the IP address when I had a troll posting venom on a post!

      And I would just mention it to her. Something like "it looks really cute when the girls where skirts or spanky pants over their tights."

  6. Not sure I feel free to share some of the stories as people at our rink might read this blog and identify me. Overall good experience with lots of supportive skating parents. - I feel the competition among the coaches and the stress it causes for them. It makes me sad for my skatergirl's coach who is now also my friend. Love the coach and lucked out, but wish I too had known more about what to look for when picking a private coach and what the private lesson etiquette is (i.e to you pay for missed lessons, are there make-ups, what about vacations from either side?). I still struggle with them at times. Also, wish I had known more about competitions and what it means to have your coach present there, even if it's only at your own rink. DD is doing sync too which has been a great experience, but I wish I had known how quickly my then only 7-year-old would be sucked into commitments to the team to perform repeatedly and do back to back competitions and exhibitions. I feel for the newbies and yet, I'm still tapping in the dark after 1.5 years and DD now in freestyle classes. I should probably catch on soon...!

    1. The ridiculous thing is that every one of the issues you mention has a common practice solution used nearly universally by every skating professional-- the coaches know these answers, the rink management knows these answers, USFS knows these answers.

      Yet it never seems to occur to anyone to make it a requirement that USFS and PSA coaches reveal these things to parents when they sign on. Yes, it's a pain in the neck to get a parent to sign a disclosure statement (I hesitate to call it a contract) when they start lessons. But how wonderful to have these questions answered up front!

      Contracts are a great topic; I've just added it to the queue!

  7. What advice do you wish you'd gotten from a trustworthy mom?
    I wish I had gotten more information from a mom on: (i)private lesson etiquette (some of it is common sense, but have learned a number of things from this blog that I would have never picked up on my own); (ii) level of commitment entailed for ice show, competitions, synchro (decided not to try out once I figured out what it would entail, which was not workable for us, given other obligations); (iii) how/where to get competition dresses; (iv) what the overall "track" for progression is. I pretty much figured all of this stuff out on my own, but it was like pulling teeth to get any kinds of details (in a timely manner) out of anyone at our rink. Ultimately, I did get some of the info I was after from coaches - just had to figure out the right questions to ask. Got the rest online.

    Did you ever get unsolicited advice that you needed, or had someone step in to help?
    No. I would have been open to some, but the majority of the moms aren't very interested in talking to me (and I don't think I am a difficult person). I have to say that at our rink, the hockey parents are much easier to talk to and get to know.

    Have you been the victim of bad information, or had an intercession that annoyed you? No. See above.

    I still don't feel like I am any kind of expert, but I do try to volunteer basic information if I hear someone wondering about it. I also speak up when I see kids stepping on concrete surfaces or metal bleachers with no guards (makes me cringe, and it happens with great frequency).