Mar 1, 2012

Are the good skaters mean?

As a follow up to the "Snotty Skater Girls" post, I think it's important to wonder why some skaters seem so mean.

It's a trope of the sport, ubiquitous in skating movies--the coach who sabotages the competition, the mother who destroys reputations through gossip, the "in" clique who haze new members and cruelly exclude all but the anointed ones.

Sadly, it's not entirely fiction. I'm particularly touchy about it because at the rink where my daughter grew up there was a so-called "top skaters" clique who in fact played all the 7th grade psychological games well into high school and beyond. It worked because of one skater whom everyone, including, oddly, the management, were afraid to offend. (We're talking about a little girl here. I'm not kidding.) Unfortunately this skater is now a coach and is encouraging the same behavior from her students. However, Synchro to the rescue--she doesn't have nearly the impact she used to have, because there are now Synchro teams which form instant "in groups" of their own.

But does skating have to be like this? And even more--is skating like this?

And I don't think it is. I truly believe that people are nice, and in fact what I've observed is that the really focused kids, both the competitive ones, and the ones just skating because they love it,  are actually really nice, and so are their parents.

There's a difference between "mean" and "focused"
The focused kids won't talk to you on the ice, and will skate with that "snotty skater girl" posture. They'll huff and puff if you get in their way. They may even kick the boards every now and then.

But they'll come up with the extra quarter you need at the concession stand. Their parents will be at the boards or in the stands with an eagle eye on the coach and touchy about every broken rule that gets in their skater's way, but they'll always be the first to volunteer, or introduce themselves to the new family.

Think about a business context--who's going to get ahead? The guy who makes fun of everyone, or the guy who brings coffee for the receptionist every day and always cleans up the kitchenette?

How does mom contribute?
I'm not sure that I think that parents can have more than marginal impact on the formation of cliques, but they can model proper behavior--helping newbies, volunteering, leaving the attitude at home. (People who know me are rolling their eyes, because I'm not best known for leaving the attitude at home). You're not there all the time, and it's hard to remember how important acceptance, even by (mostly  by) the mean girls can be to a 12 year old.

In the worst cases parents can exacerbate the problem by forming their own mirror-clique and never talking to other parents. You'll often see parents who only talk to "their" coaches parents.

Coaches can have an impact.  Allowing destructive behavior from your students--encouraging ice hogging, segregating them in the lobby and locker room, having a lot of exclusive events that you let everyone know about, "but you can't go, it's just for my students" are all ways that coaches foment this destructive behavior. In fact, I've even seen management play into this, through what I call "management by cronyism."

And all for what?
I am a firm believer in speaking truth to power. (You may have noticed this.) I have no problem pissing people off over stuff that matters--safety rules ignored, unfair judging, biased assignments, bad management. But making people hate you just so you can claim to be the "top clique" has never made any sense to me. People who derive their sense of importance (especially adults) from how many people they can exclude are just sad.

What's your experience? Do you have destructive cliques at your rink?


  1. Sadly, not just the realm of skaters. We encountered the same issues with swimming. I decided when my child cried before practice regularly it was time to go. At 9, she couldn't understand why she would have to lunge around the pool for talking to lanemate when on kickboard when other girls weren't. Of course,those were the superfast girls who made multiple regional meet cuts.

    I also decided my child did not need a coach who belittled her and criticized her for not being at the pool a minimum of 5 days a week for 2 hours at age 9.

    She's much happier playing softball. I think her temperament is better suited to a team sport.

  2. I don't see any coach-specific cliques at my daughter's club; I'm not even sure how that would happen. Perhaps our programs are structured differently or maybe it's because our coaches typically teach various levels.

    The bulk of the club is made up of CanSkate kids (learn to skate) where almost all of the lesson is taught in a group other than the last few minutes. Most of the coaches (other than a couple of the competitive skating coaches) teach at this level. No real cliques that I ever saw with my kids, but there can be a mean child anywhere.

    A smaller number end up in the StarSkate (freestyle) program that is then divided into several levels (but not as precisely as FS1, FS2, etc). Most of the coaches (other than those who do CanSkate only) have students on these sessions. This is really where private coaching kicks in. Typically there will be a coaches coming on and off the ice to coach their students. I've seen some kids get a bit snooty re what level of StarSkate someone is taking, but I've never seen it linked to which coach someone has.

    A subset of the StarSkate kids are part of the competitive program. There are specific coaches who teach that program, but almost all of them also coach StarSkate. Also heard the odd snotty comment about someone being or not being in the comp program, but again nothing to do with the coaches and it really isn't very prevalent (at least when adults are around) because it's seen to be poor sportmanship.

    Honestly, there's a lot less attitude (from the kids - the parents are a whole other story) than I might have expected. The competitive kids do bond (as do the synchro kids), that happens when you train and compete/travel together, but they also skate with the rest of the StarSkate kids other days of the week and make friends in those sessions too.

  3. Well, as far as "snotty" or "mean" girls go - we do have a few who go a bit snotty on competition days, especially when they don't win, but they are usually pretty cool the rest of the time. They are just hyper competitive, and I can deal with that.

    Of course, I think for one of these girls, it comes from the mom. Not to be all gossipy, but one of my good friends was running the awards area, and the mother of one of these girls came over and was all huffy because I had won the event. Honestly, when your kid has put in the hours I have then maybe you have a right to be huffy. Maybe. Even then, on the national, or even regional level, I am not that good. I am ok, but not great. So really, what bothers me are parents who don't really know anything, and don't even really watch the event get all upset about the results. I mean, unless you are there as one of the judges (especially for the circle figure events, where you have to be close to see anything), then don't be all whiny about results. Because you don't know!

    As for the whole cliques thing - well, we sort of came in with pre-formed cliques at the beginning of the year because essentially one whole club moved from one rink to merge with another. And you might think that this would cause issues among the skaters, but actually the skaters and the families have been pretty good about trying to merge, be inclusive, and get along. Most of our group activities outside of the rink have been organized by skaters and their families. However, the coach who used to be there as the (basically) only coach in the rink is not dealing well with other people coming in and needing more structure to practice, lesson times, and such. It is to the point where she is forbidding some of her skaters to do dance because she doesn't want them paying other coaches. She doesn't deal well with loss of control, and when things don't go her way she gets kind of huffy and doesn't really discuss the problems with others. So I don't know if I would consider her or her skaters a clique, but she is trying to segregate them somewhat (though it isn't really all that successful at the moment).

    1. This is exactly what I'm talking about. A coach can really turn the natural nastiness of middle school girls into destructive, cliquish behavior. Sadly, they'll grow up and realize what little snots they were, and wish they could have a do-over. I've seen it happen many times.

    2. ...and some won't ever realize it and perpetuate the problem to their own group of students.

  4. I can't speak much about parents since I don't talk to them much.

    My experience is that the upper level skaters I've worked with (Intermediate and above) are almost all, all the time, pretty nice. The lower level skaters (like preliminary and pre-pre) are usually pretty nice also -- when they do rude things it's usually from ignorance not malice.

    Where I see the most attitude is pre-juv and juv girls, but there it's hit or miss. Some of them can be real stinkers.

    1. "Where I see the most attitude is pre-juv and juv girls, but there it's hit or miss. Some of them can be real stinkers."

      Speaking of singles skaters only here....

      If I had to guess why, I'd say that most pre-jus/juv girls are between 9-12, the big "girl drama" years, lol. Also, in the USA, moving up to IJS means The Big Time in a lot of parents' and kids' heads, and they take on a bit of swagger. :-) Also - and last year was the last year for this - Juvenile skaters have a pretty good opportunity to place well in Regionals and go straight to Jr. Nationals. For a lot of kids, Jr. Nationals was the goal, and compared to regular Nationals, a fairly attainable goal. Again, if someone is prone to pointing their nose up in the air, saying "I'm going to Jr. Nationals" - or having a shot at it - might point that nose higher.

      Once kids get to Intermediate, well, I think there is a humbling effect. A competitive Juv skater needs a double lutz and good skating/performance skills to medal in bigger competitions; a competitive Intermediate skater needs stronger skating skills and double axel to medal in most bigger competitions.

      The learning curve between double lutz and double axel is one of the steepest in all jumps. Kids who can land double-doubles with ease will suddenly be back to landing on their butts (and hips and shoulders and heads) for 1-2 years before really getting a consistent 2axel. A few savants might get it sooner. Some never get it (for a lot of reasons.) I think that no matter the drama off ice, there is an element of "put up or shut up" once the blades go on. Suddenly skating with the big-big dogs, I think, is just too physically strenuous for kids to put much effort into rink drama.

      But I've seen most higher level skaters behave much better overall than younger kids - again, age and maturity - because the workload keeps them in line. Not that lower level skaters or kids 9-12yo don't work hard or aren't mature, courteous, lovely kids. Just trying to explain that somewhat borne-out stereotype of fussy pre/teen girls.

  5. My daughters's skate soakers disappeared - I was only away from them a few moments…. Hard to think it was an accident but I am willing to let it go.

    On another unrelated note (sorry xanboni!) We went to the sharpener today and were looking at the skates in stock. Ran across a used (well not really - they hadn't even had a sharpening yet.. probably a return) - pair of Harlick boots and blades … in a size youth 12!!!! You can only guess the "used" price. Yikes, what 5 or 6 year old needs such a thing. Are there kids in 12 size boots doing doubles?

    Back to the topic - I think sometimes seriousness gets mistaken for meanness… I have made this mistake myself.

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  7. Hi Xan,

    I can't make a blanket statement to describe rink psychics, as it varies so much by each rink, who happens to be skating, and the influence of the parents. Some rinks have a "queen," some have an in-clique. It varies year to year.

    A parent rather has the responsibility to provide some protective back scatter to the psychics. Volunteer to bring refreshments, work the check-in, contribute to the ice theater.

    Although my daughter complained sometimes of "too much drama" I never discussed her rink relationships directly. I think it's better for a parent to lend a strong invisible guiding hand: lead by example.

    And for what its worth, a skaters soul is more important than her scores.

    LA SkateDad

    1. "a skaters soul is more important than her scores"

      And that's the tagline of your first book. Brilliant.

    2. LOL. Well no, I already selected the subtitle:

      "The triumph of physics over sorrow."

      ... I don't have a title yet though (smile).

  8. Please describe this girl everyone was afraid to offend, she sounds terrible.

  9. I think the worst behaviour I have seen was completely caused by cliques of coaches - not only did the 2 sets of coaches not talk to each other but they would bitch about each other to their pupils, make sure they got in the way of each other's pupils (and tell their pupils to do the same). If you spoke to one of the "opposition" the coaches on "your side" would watch you and start bitching about you. Absolutely poisonous atmosphere.

    1. Do you skate at the Ice Rink of the Damned by any chance? (lol)

    2. No but the title would apply to the rink I (used to) skate at...

  10. Our daughter's former coach doesn't get along with other coaches at the rink. She is jealous of other coaches and their skaters. She can't understand why her students aren't the best at the rink. I can tell you why they aren't the best skaters because their coach is a very part-time coach with a full-time professional job and many responsibilities. She's overextended and that was one of the major reasons we left her. In addition to coaching and her full-time job, she's in charge of the bridge program at the club, synchro coach (2 teams) and skating school instructor (twice a week). She's not available for most ice sessions, so she doesn't work with her students much.

    Our DD receives the brunt of her jealousy because DD is her only former student who is still skating and DD has advanced further than her students. When our DD is not working with her coach but on the ice at the same time as former coach, former coach will take a student and chase DD around the rink. If DD is working at one end of the rink, former coach and student suddenly appear at that end, often working on the same element, and a little too close in proximity for comfort. DD will then move to the other end of the rink to avoid them and suddenly former coach and student are there...a little too close for comfort. This is clearly intimidation but very hard to prove. I don't think another coach would say anything if they witness this behavior because they wouldn't want to appear to be tampering with another coach's student. It's frustrating and disruptive to our daughter's training.

  11. I think a lot of the trouble stems from coaches and parents. I am on my second time through bringing up a skater at the same rink about 9yrs apart. I can honestly say the atmopshere is totally changed from our first time through. Why? I think two things. One a toxic coach who is now is rarely there. Two the parents are great and very inclusive rather than exclusive. Great parents = great kids. We are working hard as parents to build relationships between older/younger students and experienced/newbie parents. Another intersting difference we have several older/younger siblings skating. I think that does a lot to bring the skaters together.
    I hear very few negative remarks these days, aside from "why does hockey get the best ice" that will never go away. LOL

  12. I agree. In my experience most of the difficult situations at the rink can be traced to adults, parents or coaches. The skaters are usually pretty cool. They get along great with each other, even with their competitors.

    Kids will take on their parent's ideology, their behaviors, their opinions. Once a parent complains about a coach, skater, situation, then the suddenly, the skater thinks differently about the coach, skater, situation.

    If you are striving to be a "good" skate parent, then make sure you don't bad mouth the coach, skater, situation in front of your child. You might get over it, but your child might never know this and think it is reality. They will never look at their coach, the skater or the situation the same way again. We often spoil things for our kids. So sad. We need to remember that they are kids. They look to us for guidance and they don't think like adults. They don't know that what you say now in anger might not be the truth. Their world is still pretty black and white (yes, even teens).

    Yes, there are snotty skating kids out there, but really, if you knew their parents, or coach, you'd probably understand where they got the behavior from. It's usually the parents who say things like "you should have won, so and so was not as good as you, probably knows the judges..." or the like. {sigh}

    At our rink, we have one coach that spoils it for everyone. This one loves drama, craves it and no matter how well intentioned you are, this coach will take your words and twist them around and around. I was unaware of it until my words were twisted and became a member of the "wronged". There are many.

    Tensions are high, board members are quitting, skaters are not as friendly as they once were, coaches are at odds. It's no fun. I don't like to sit out in the lobby anymore. It's poisonous.

    We used to have an amazing rink culture. What a shame...

    The club is now actively trying to create a culture of acceptance and inclusion. No secrets, lots of information for parents. It's not easy. One little stray remark and it all gets derailed for a time. But we are really trying.

    1. "In my experience most of the difficult situations at the rink can be traced to adults, parents or coaches. The skaters are usually pretty cool. They get along great with each other, even with their competitors."

      Exactly. I compete against my friends sometimes, and we cheer each other on. I did interpretive/improv at a competition this past weekend, so no coaches allowed for the event, and before it started, the four of us competing were talking like BFFs. One of the girls competed at Junior Nationals, one of them was really shy, and the third girl and I know each other from Basic Skills days, but belong to different clubs now. Her coach and my coach do NOT get along (her coach essentially tried to sneak in and take control of all Skating Director duties from my coach, so my coach strongly dislikes her coach), and we don't particularly like each other's coaches, but we got along just fine. I consider her my friend. Point being, coaches created the conflict, yet we can get along when coaches aren't around.

  13. Regarding "Are the Good Skaters Mean"…. I teach a bit…. and well I would say the answer is "yes" the good skaters (and coaches) certainly have " think skin". My skin is pretty thin. I would love training in this category and I would love advice on how to help students develop a "skater attitude."

  14. That is a *great* topic-- I'll add it to my queue. In the meantime, I think the golden rule applies--do unto others.

  15. And another group of individuals who are usually not in the cliques (either parent ones or skater ones) who are sometimes seen as "mean" are the focused adults with the "snotty skater girl" attitude who are trying to improve their skills (MITF, FS, and/or Dance) and who have no one on the side to advocate for them. Perhaps a topic for another day....


    1. Per, such a good point. Adults often get a very bad reputation because of their focus. And the focus is often just "I do this on my lunch hour, I don't have time to schmooze." Added to the queue!

  16. Per, that is a GREAT point. As an adult skater I spend a lot of time and $$ on this sport, and I am focused while on the ice. I have priorities and goals for every practice so I make sure I cover everything I need to before my next lesson. I'm sure I probably look mean, but I'm really not! :) With that said, however, focus is no excuse for bad on-ice behavior.

    I will say that the kids here are similarly focused - the sessions are short, and you have to be on your game to get everything done. But I don't see a lot of attitude or bad sportsmanship; it just isn't tolerated.

    And that comes back to the point that the adults are the key. If coaches and parents encourage/tolerate bad-mouthing of judges/other skaters, etc. then the kids will think it's ok.

    My kid knows that I require 2 things from her: respect (for all other skaters, coaches, parents, judges) and follow-through on her commitments. I don't care if she ever learns an axel, but she will disrespect others over my dead body.

  17. In my rink, the very high level skaters are not to say mean, but very inclusive. I think this has more of a relation to the fact that they have been skating for a long time, and they all form groups with their fellow skaters who have skated for as long a time as them. So the friendship has been built over many many years, which is why they clique together I guess. Usually skaters form clique according to the time they joined skating, and they'll stick with each other for the years, until they quit skating. So it's not to say that the higher level skaters intentionally clique with other higher level skaters, but rather they have just been together for years.

    1. There's a distinction between a clique that is a long-established group of friends, and a clique that exists for the purpose of excluding and denigrating non-members. The former kind is going to form naturally--we can't be BFFs with the entire world. The latter is a construct formed by people with superficial commonalities in order to bolster their lacking self-esteem. My daughter put it really really well in about 7th grade, when I asked her how you can tell who the cool kids are. She answered "oh, those are the kids that nobody likes."