Dec 20, 2014

Goodbye to the gag rule

In 2011, I stated that the Professional Skaters Association rules governing so-called "solicitation" were restraint of trade.  This did not make me popular at PSA seminars, where people in this insular industry could not be made to understand the singularity and bizarreness of the anti-soliciting rules.

Turns out the FTC agrees with me.

To review, the PSA had an anti-solicitation rule stating roughly that no PSA member coach can knowingly directly solicit another coach's student, or tamper with a coaching relationship either directly or indirectly. What this meant was that you could not approach a student who was already working with someone else. You had to be careful about talking to the parents and friends of someone else's student. If a student came to you privately about switching coaches, you were supposed to report this to the other coach if the student had not already done so.

Until a few years ago, when USFS and PSA colluded to impose membership on all coaches doing testing or competing, it wasn't even particularly enforceable, because if you weren't a member of PSA it didn't even apply to you. You could be as big a jerk as you wanted, and if you weren't a member, there was no one to report you to.

If you were a PSA member, it still didn't matter, because the unethical coaches ignored it, and the ethical coaches didn't need it.

There are all sorts of nuanced minefields to this. Kid's parent bragging in the stands? Better be prepared that you have told the parents that you do not encourage this. Got a talented kid in class? Don't praise them too much, either to the kid or the parent if someone else is their coach. Parents in arrears with fees? An "ethical" coach is supposed to refuse to take you until you pay up the prior coach. (Even if the other coach has actively encouraged parents to stay in arrears to keep them from leaving.) Kid in your class been taught incorrect technique on a skill? Careful how you tell the kid their technique is wrong-- that's tampering.

Coming from a business and music background, this sounded absolutely insane to me. Imagine if you had a contractor for your house that wasn't doing the job-- by the standards of this rule, if you went to someone else, they would be ethically required to report you to the guy who was messing up.

Further, it didn't stop unethical coaches, it was used to intimidate students and parents (I knew people who quit skating rather than have to tell a coach they wanted to switch) as well as less experienced coaches and made the whole coach switching thing a nightmarish balancing act.

At the urging of the FTC in another industry, the rules have been changed. It is now only considered statutorily (by PSA statute) unethical to solicit a student actively engaged in competition or a test session. I would call this the "don't be an asshole" rule. The new language is here.

Now, what this means is not that there are no more ethics in coaching. It means that the foolishness of expecting parents to know the esoteric ethical constraints of coaching is over.

In other words, now, if you actively solicit another coach's kid in secret, or start telling parents that you would do better, or bragging to them about how great your kids did at regionals, or telling the kids they would get farther faster with you, you're not strictly unethical according to the rewritten PSA definitions.

You're just an asshole.

The good news: coaches no longer have to report a parent (seriously wtf) to the old coach if they come to you about switching (not that anyone ever did this). The whole team-- parent, skater, coach-- no longer has to tiptoe around hoping that the other coach doesn't file an ethics complaint while you navigate the switch.

It means that skaters and coaches no longer have to fear PSA or USFS sanctioned retaliation if a coach decides to be a jerk about it.

Switching coaches will still be an emotional minefield and you still have to do it with a lot of thought and care, keeping the best interest of the skater at the forefront. There are still ethical issues regarding actively approaching someone else's student (seriously-- don't do this).

Try to work out the issues with the original coach.  Talk to the new coach off the premises. Make sure you're paid up. Don't flaunt the change-- no bragging, trashing, or airing of dirty laundry. If you're a coach, always ask someone who comes to you about lessons if they already have a coach, and if so why they want to switch. Give it a week between the final lesson with the old coach and the first lesson with the new one. Keep it friendly with the old coach.

And goodbye to the gag rule. Now we all get to be civilized because it's the right thing to do.

Dec 10, 2014

How can you be a coach if you aren't coaching?

Last April I had to quit teaching classes because life threw me several curveballs and I'm a skater not a sportsballer. I don't know how to catch, or hit, a curveball.

Something had to give, and it needed to be as much a financial decision as anything else. I was teaching at a remote rink and it was costing me as much in gas as I was earning. The commute was an agonizing 2+ hours, reducing my "hourly" to less than minimum wage. The combined professional fees were further eroding the financials. (Skater professional fees are upwards of $600 per year, a burdensome level for people like me who don't do it full time.)

It was a very difficult decision-- I'd been struggling with it for months, but just couldn't give it up. I derive huge emotional satisfaction from teaching, especially from my kids with special needs. I'm very good at it. I miss those kids in particular.

There is fall out-- because I have only one regular and a couple of occasional students, I don't have the income to justify the professional fees. I stuck with the cheaper option–ISI–so that I could still get coaching insurance. But I dropped USFS (!) and PSA, which means I also put my hard-earned rating in abeyance.

So you will now see my rating listed as "I have earned a Senior rating in group instruction" rather than "I have a Senior rating in group instruction." Unlike other professional credentials, PSA says the rating doesn't count if you're not a member. I believe I'm not even supposed to couch it as I have. (This is bullsh*t. Imagine if you were told you don't get to say you have a law degree if you're not practicing law, or that your senior freestyle test doesn't count any more if you're no longer a member of USFS. But that's for another rant on another day.)

It is challenging to reinstate a rating-- it takes up to three years, because you have to re-earn continuing education credit, and they won't count credit earned while you're not a member (I asked).  Technically, you're supposed to be teaching an average of 5 hours per week even to qualify as a professional member, and you need a skating director to attest this.

Fortunately for me, coaching is not a very heavily regulated profession. I have my insurance, and the good will of local rinks. I may get back to it on a more regular basis-- I had always figured that coaching would be my retirement job, and it may yet be.

So how can I be a coach if I'm not coaching? Well, I'll be here, coaching parents on navigating the insanity that is skating culture and the reward and beauty that is the sport of figure skating.

Dec 2, 2014

Sink or swim warm ups: 5 ideas to keep your head above water

It's been seven months since I dropped all my group classes due to health and business pressures. (Oops, did I forget to mention that? Last April I had to drop all my staff positions due to health and business concerns. I guess I'll do a post about that!)

The result is that I haven't seen a freestyle warm up in seven months. And I haven't seen a warm up at a rink that doesn't train its beginning freestyle students in the challenging warm up skills in even longer than that.

A couple of weeks ago I went to watch my student H, who passed into Freestyle One this session. His mother was a little concerned, because both I and his class teacher had told her he'd be fine with the skills, it was the warm up that she should be worried about.

He, and the other baby freestylers actually do fine. They stumble through the skills, sometimes badly and fast, sometimes well, but slow, but pretty much clueless throughout.

The Ice Rink of the Damned actually got this one right-- they inserted a level between Delta and FS1 called "Pre Freestyle" with the express mandate of teaching the kids the warm up patterns.  At my last rink, you didn't get out of Delta (or out of Beta for that matter) without the flow, speed and skating knowledge to handle the warm up.  (Yes, all those kids skated better than me. It was a little intimidating. Fortunately I'm extremely arrogant.)

H's rink-- man, they just throw them in the deep end, or would have, if it wasn't frozen. Because those kids were drowning.

I don't think the kids knew this, and the coaches were handling it reasonably well, but I don't really understand the point of having kids try to figure out a complex skill like power 3-turns. They're just getting it wrong and are going to have to unlearn it, or they'll feel incompetent and will check out. (haha skating joke).

Here are some solutions:

As I noted, you can simply add a level. The Basic Skills and ISI curricula are not governed by force of law. You can mess around with them. The problem moving from Learn to Skate into Freestyle is that LTS teaches the skills in isolation; Freestyle requires flow, and the ability to move from one skill to another. (This is actually one of the areas where Basic Skills gets it better than ISI, because it does teach more flow than ISI.)

The skills that kids should learn are alternating 3-turns, waltz 3-turns, power 3-turns, alternating mohawks, stopping drills, cross rolls and cross steps, perimeter stroking (PrePre pattern), perimeter cross overs (forwards and backwards), 3-turn tap toes.  That'll do it. Once they have these in their muscle memory, other warm up patterns will become more intuitive.

Divide the ice
If your rink doesn't have enough available ice to add a level, and you've got mixed high/mid and low in a single class, put the new freestylers on one side of the blue line (about a quarter of the rink), with the rest of the class sharing the remainder. Yes, the high skaters will be somewhat restricted, but on the other hand they won't be tripping over the low skaters anymore.  You don't even need to do it for the whole session-- maybe the first month, until the newbies learn the moves.

Add it to Delta
Delta Is So Boring. Start teaching the kids to put the skills together. They'll be more engaged and they'll be more ready for freestyle.

Rearrange the classes
Instead of putting Gamma and Delta on the same ice, put Gamma with the Betas, and create a Delta-FS1-FS2 level. this is another place where Basic Skills gets it right, by putting beginning spins and jumps in their learn to skate curriculum.  FS1 and FS2 (and maybe FS3) shouldn't even be considered "Freestyle" but should still be counted in Learn to Skate, because they are still introducing basic concepts. But nobody asks me.

Divide the ice, part duo
To get around the full-ice problem created by dividing the ice along the short axis, put the high freestyle kids on the perimeter, and run the beginners up the center so they can both learn the skills and go at their own speed.  You won't be able to run any "five circle" warm ups using this traffic pattern, but on the other hand you won't have the highs tripping over the lows. You'll also teach the high freestyle kids to use the whole ice. It makes me insane when skaters avoid the end zone like there's a force field blocking it.

How does your rink integrate or prepare low freestyle into the freestyle curriculum?