Dec 4, 2012

What to get the coach for Christmas (redux)

I first posted this in 2010. Here are my thoughts on gifts for coaches, with some updates!

For some reason that escapes me, a lot of parents are hell-bent on giving gifts to their skating coaches. And it fills them with anxiety. It's a weird sort of relationship-- this is your employee, but on the other hand the coach is kind of the boss. Plus, she's your friend? Or not? Personally, I love getting those clumsy hand-made pictures from the little kids, or a "certificate" promising no back talk for a month from the teenagers. But parents persist-- they want to give presents.

So what do you get your skating coach?

A bonus.

That's right. Give your coach a bonus. Your coach is your employee. I do understand that he or she is also your friend, and that you entrust her with your precious child (I mean that in the best way, no sarcasm intended), but in general, this is not someone you would otherwise have much of a connection to.

Now, because of the intimate nature of the relationship, sometimes parents are uncomfortable with handing over extra cash. It seems so cold. So make it a gift card to a local department store like Target or Macy's, or a pre-paid Visa card that can be used anywhere. If there's a concession stand at your rink, see if you can set up an "account" for your coach with a set amount of money in it.

If you really insist on an item, make it coaching related: the latest hard cover "tell all" book about skating scandals, or a pair of gloves or a scarf. I wear those little trading pins all over my coaching jackets, and I had a student once get me a collection of Olympic figure skating ones. A very thoughtful gift. (I confess, while I personally don't care if you get me a gift, I do like swag as much as the next person.)

I knew a coach who had a system that just made me shudder: she actually steers her kids toward a certain store that she likes, and tells everyone to get her a gift card from there. I guess there's a certain practicality to that, but my grandmother would be rolling in her grave.

A Tweep asks: is there a formula for how much to give? And you'll be happy to hear that, yes, there is. A week's lesson fee. If you take one lesson per week, then Christmas or Hanukkah week, double the check, with a notation in the memo line "holiday bonus." This might seem like a lot if you're doing multiple lessons, for instance national qualifiers will be paying upwards of $500 per week for multiple lessons approaching unlimited. This seems like a big bonus, yes? On the other hand that coach got your skater to Nationals. Or helped her land her triple salchow. Or doubled her component score in a season. Or just spent a lot of time nurturing your child. Work it into the budget.

If your coach is only working with you once a week, then I think it's fine to just send a card, or yes, that $10 Starbucks gift card. (I confess, the $5 cards drive me crazy-- so, I spent a year with your kid, and you're, um, buying me a cup of coffee? I have gotten $2 cards, which doesn't EVEN pay for a cup of coffee. Really, folks, think about this. Better to do nothing but "Happy Holidays" and a hug.) The more lessons you're getting, the more progress your skater is making, the more you really should be considering this not as a Christmas present, but as a bonus for a job well done.

P.S. to my parents reading this: I like unmarked, non-sequential bills in small denominations and condo timeshares in Aruba. No no no, just kidding. Adorable pictures and hugs are fine.

Here's the late great Ice Mom on the topic, and some very specific suggestions from The Examiner (old article, internal links may not work).

Are you giving your coach a holiday gift?


  1. Yep, when I was able I gave a gift card around a week's "pay," usually to an upscale food store (everybody eats, yes?). Place it inside of a nice xMas card, of course. It's not the gift so much that counts, it's the thought you express inside the card. Something like "thanks for putting up with [child's name]." Ha ha kidding.

    But seriously, express your gratitude, just as you would to any other person who spends attention on teaching your kid. Teachers are special people.

    1. This is it. The point is letting the coach know you "see" her or him.

  2. With a permanent coach the formula "one weeks' fee" is easy and this is exactly what we are doing (thank you for posting this idea).

    But what about seasonal coaches? For example, we have one coach that we work a lot with during each summer, because we spend our summers in another area, and during the school year we visit that coach only once or twice a month?

    Or before a holiday show the girls took lessons from another coach who choreographed their program? But that was only for a couple of months, and now the show is over, so they are not taking lessons from that coach any more?

    Thanks in advance for your advice!

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: Basic 5 and pre-pre

    1. For a summer long coach I would get a gift, but maybe figure out a way to prorate it. For the occasional coach I don't really see the need to get a gift, or put her on the homemade goodies list.

  3. My daughter isn't taking lessons anymore, but I used to give her coach a week's pay. I always give cash to people who work for me throughout the year.

  4. My old coach was a big skier, so I gave her a gift card toward a skiing pass. Other than that, movie ticket gift cards are good too.

  5. We will be away for 3 weeks around Xmas. We gave my daughter's coach 2 weeks' pay and a gift.