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.

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