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?