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Suggestions to Increase SkateCanada Coach Satisfaction and Longevity

It happened again.

For what seems like the millionth time, I am watching a coaching colleague go through the ringer in their skating club. Devalued, underappreciated, and gas-lighted, my friend is on the verge of leaving behind a successful coaching career because of the anxiety that seems to surround the profession.

Two years ago, I wrote a similar blog about the experiences of another coaching friend. And here we are again.

I know how they feel.

Nearly a year ago now, I hung up my skates. I was so disillusioned and disenfranchised with our profession, and with SkateCanada as a whole, that I swore I would not pay another DIME of my hard-earned money toward an association that did not value their coaches.

So why do so many SkateCanada coaches fall by the wayside? Why are so many figure skating coaches victimized, traumatized and exploited by our association, our clubs, our executive, and sadly even our skating coworkers?

Well, it’s hard to come up with a short answer here. As you can imagine, there are many dynamics at play, and the answer is multi-layered. Before I proceed, I want to stipulate that I am only talking about my experiences with coaching for 30 years in the SkateCanada figure skating club system. I have mostly worked with smaller, less competitive clubs, and have no idea what it would be like to work in a larger, busier club that could offer more money and resources and boasts a positive club culture to boot…..(and blade…see what I did there?)

I also want to stress that what I am about to write is an honest, and unbiased (as unbiased as I can get) representation of my 30 years experience in the Canadian figure skating coaching industry, as well as a summary of the hardships I have witnessed my coaching friends endure over the years.

Read on to find out what problems figure skating coaches face while working in the SkateCanada figure skating club system, and what suggestions I have to fix them!

Problem 1: We Don’t Get Paid What We’re Worth

When you coach figure skating, you are a private contractor, so you are by definition self-employed. This means you don’t get sick days, you don’t get benefits, there is no pension for you to pay into, and there is no holiday pay.

In itself, this is not a problem, the number of things we can write off as expenses for our business helps greatly with regard to taxes, but the problem lies in the perception that people have of figure skating coaches in general.

AAANNNNDDD by people I am referring to those people who serve on the executives of figure skating clubs.

There seems to be an assumption by many people who volunteer to serve on the board/executive of skating clubs that coaches:

  1. Make so much money an hour that we must be rich.
  2. That coaching is our hobby, and not our main source of income.

Some coaches are lucky enough to coach as a hobby, (and how I wish I was one of them), but for many of us, coaching is our profession, our passion, and our main source of income.

Some of us, like me, are single parents to kids with special needs, who rely on that money we make from our coaching to feed and clothe our children and put a roof over their head.

The other misconception is that my fee, which currently is around $40 hourly for group work due to my qualifications, should be enough to sustain me.

Hmmm…..to check out the amount of hours I spent OFF the ice in preparation for my ON ICE time, I actually used a time tracker app from December to February last year. For three months, I scrupulously tracked every minute I spent running the SkateCanada Canskate program.

I spent 6 hours performing work off of the ice for every hour I spent on the ice. Now, to be fair, the club was paying me a higher hourly rate for coordinating the program. I was getting paid $80 an hour for every hour on the ice spent coordinating.

So, let’s do the math…..when all was said and done, I was being paid $11 an hour.

Now add to that that I was only teaching 2 hours of Canskate a week because it was a small club.

That means I was working 14 hours a week, for $11 an hour.

Think you could live on that?

How do you think your self worth would be if you worked for that after spending 30 years taking courses to better yourself in your craft?

But WAIT…it gets even better!

I was only paid that rate for each hour I was on the ice for coordinating. So, when we lost ice due to a holiday or a hockey tournament, even though I was still doing paperwork and admin work at home to make sure the program ran smoothly, I received….duh, duh, DUH…. NOTHING, because I was not ACTUALLY on the ice coaching.

I want to clarify something. These were not bad people. They honestly thought they were paying me a good and decent rate. The problem was, they had no idea what the job entailed, and unfortunately, they weren’t interested in finding out.

They got their moneys worth out of me, that’s for sure. But you know what? I was an idiot for accepting that hourly rate instead of a salary for coordinating, so that’s MY BAD.

Sometimes we get so caught up in wanting to create a great program, in showing loyalty to our club, and in wanting to create something good for the skaters that we forget to look after our own best interests…..

And it’s exactly this work ethic, attention to detail and love of skating that makes skating coaches easy prey for clubs that expect tons of work for little pay.

The other excuse figure skating coaches in small clubs hear constantly is that the club can’t afford to pay them the rate they should be paid at.

Really? I’ve seen the books for most of these small clubs. They could pay for us, they just don’t. The truth is, if you truly regard coaches as one of the most important assets of an organization, then you will move heaven and earth to figure out a way to price your programs and organize your ice time so you CAN pay them.

It’s all about priorities. Hiring and retaining good coaches should be the #1 first priority for a skating club.

A coach who actually cares about setting up a program that will promote excellence and longevity in your membership is an asset that skating clubs need to keep around, and figure skating clubs need to pay their good coaches whatever they need to remain in their clubs.

Solution to this Problem?

  1. Educate every. single. new. executive member about your SkateCanada coaches, their qualifications and years of experience, and the going rate for said qualifications.
  2. Pay your coaches what they are worth, then go back and pay them a little more. Seriously. Do it. According to this entrepreneur.com article, you should pay your good employees “anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent over market rate.”
  3. In order to afford paying your coaches what they are worth, price your programs intelligently, and book ice accordingly. If you don’t have good coaches, you won’t have good programs, and your club won’t grow, it’s that simple. Find the money, somehow. You’ll be glad you did when you have a healthy, sustainable membership.
  4. After you have figured out how to pay your coaches what they’re worth, throw in some perks. Pay for coaching courses they want to take. Did they do a good job? Give everyone a Christmas bonus of a few hundred dollars. Pay for their SkateCanada membership every year, or pay for their First Aid re-certification courses. When a coach feels supported in their organization, they become loyal to their organization and will move heaven and earth to see it succeed.

Summary of Problem 1: It’s not rocket science. Any and all time your coaches spend working for your organization they need to be compensated. Full stop. Nuff said. And as for you SkateCanada, asking for coaches to volunteer time and have it written into our contracts is nothing less than exploitation. You can’t train us to be business professionals, and then expect us to work for free. How and when we choose to volunteer is up to us, and should not be mandated.

Problem 2: The Power Lies in the Wrong Hands

Would Nike ask a group of people with no experience in marketing, fashion design, or business to come in and run their company? Would they put them in charge of the marketing decisions and products to be developed?

Sound crazy? Well, it is! But that’s how SkateCanada clubs are set up.

SkateCanada sets its figure skating clubs up as not-for-profit organizations, run by volunteers (mostly parents) of the skaters in the club, who have little to no knowledge of skating itself. Even if they have been skating parents forever, most have little to no coaching experience and have never taken a single course in how to run a SkateCanada program.

This is NOT to say we don’t need volunteers. In a club, we need people to take on the off-ice duties such as fundraising, ice-booking, signing up members, and behind the scenes organization.

The problem is, some executives feel they should have the power to tell coaches how to coach, what to coach and how to run their programs.

And they’re right. In the current SkateCanada system, all the power for hiring, firing and dictating what programs are run, how they are run, and when they are run lies in the hands of the executive.

Look, executives are full of highly capable, intelligent and talented people who willingly give their time and effort back to their community by providing a place for kids to skate.

I have known so many wonderful people on so many executives over the years. The purpose of this post is NOT to blame SkateCanada club executive members. The purpose is to show how silly this system is, and the burdens it puts on volunteers who simply don’t have the experience or training to make informed decisions about the on ice programming.

Now, on top of this lack of experience or training ADD A PERSONAL AGENDA into the mix.

The parents serving on the executives all usually have skaters training within the club. How is it possible to make objective decisions about what is best for the long term health of the club when you have a child that may lose ice due to your decision?

I’ve seen this too many times to count, the programs are all catered toward the best interests and emphasis of each current executive. If you have a good executive, you have good programs that are fair and balanced.

But it only takes one or two people who are misaligned in their approach and philosophies and…well…..all hell breaks loose.

C’mon my coaching friends, I know you’ve seen this before. Clubs can evaporate faster than a fart on the corner of Portage and Maine in the dead of winter when they are mismanaged.

Solution to this Problem?

SkateCanada should re-write the roles and responsibilities for each of it’s club members. They should delegate all off ice activities that do not involve athlete training to the executive, and delegate full authority for ice allocation, amount of ice bookings, and program execution to the coaches.

Let’s call these two branches: the Administrative Team and the Coaching Team

The people with the know-how and experience, in this case, the Coaching Team should be the people running the show on the ice.

Now, here’s where we have to be careful, because sadly, (and I am not excusing myself from this behavior at all, I ain’t all sunshine and rainbows either) sometimes the worst strife in a skating club is caused by coach-on-coach crime.

So, if the coaches are to have full authority and autonomy, how do they police themselves?

I would pose several suggestions:

  1. Clubs should be required to hire a skating administrator/head coach/skating coordinator/head wizard who is themselves a coach. This person is the one with the ultimate decision making authority for what goes on, on the ice. This person is also the one in charge of mediating conflict among coaches, and reaching for outside help to resolve situations when needed.
  2. Even though the head wizard/skating administrator/coaching coordinator has the ultimate decision making power, all coaching issues should first be decided democratically, with timely and recurring (paid) coaches meetings to discuss said issues. In the event of a deadlock on any issue, this is when the skating coordinator would step in to make the final decision.
  3. It goes without saying that the head wizard/coaching coordinator/skating administrator should be carefully vetted by both the Administrative Team AND the Coaching Team, and each should get a vote, but coaches votes should carry more weight.
  4. A hierarchy needs to be created where each coach knows exactly what their roles are, and who they report too. I’ve seen it happen too often where one coach is hired and told they are “in charge” of a program. Then another coach is hired and they are told by another executive member they are “in charge” of that program. As you can imagine, this leads to too many cooks in the kitchen, and much confusion as to who has the final say. This will also stop those coaches with big heads acting like they are the bosses out there when in fact they are NOT. (c’mon, I know you’ve ALL worked with these types….hell, on occasion I’ve BEEN this type.)
  5. All head wizards/coaching coordinators/head coaches should be expected to take leadership courses of their choosing and this should be paid for BY THE CLUB.
  6. SkateCanada should hire and TRAIN mediators whose sole job is to travel and help settle coaching disputes in clubs if they arise and a suitable solution is not able to be reached withing the coaching team. It is not realistic to expect the Administrative Team of an individual club to solve coaching conflicts in an unbiased manner when their skaters are actively engaged with the coaches involved in the conflict on a daily basis. I would also suggest we make these mediators part of a Coaches Union….read further down for more details.

Summary of Problem 2: By dividing up the power in a skating club, and giving coaches more autonomy concerning who they work with, as well as what ice is booked and which programs run, this would alleviate the stress placed on the Administrative Team. As a result, this could make the action of serving on the executive of a skating club a more enjoyable experience for all.

Problem 3: Coaches Are Not Treated In A Professional Manner

If I had a nickel for each time I was spoken to in a unprofessional manner, or talked down to, or admonished by an executive member as if I was a misbehaving child…….I’d have a LOT of nickels…seriously….WAY too many fucking nickels.

Well,” you’re probably saying….”maybe it’s you? I mean after all, what’s the common denominator here?

And to that I say, you’re right, I am certainly not perfect.

But it’s. not. just. me.

Countless numbers of coaching friends have shared that they consistently feel devalued, unheard, and often treated like mis-behaving children, all because they are simply attempting to navigate the treacherous political waters at their skating clubs.

I struggle to pinpoint why this occurs, and what makes volunteers in our sport feel they can micro-manage and second-guess professionals who have dedicated their lives to the sport in this manner, but I would propose this occurs because:

  1. Club executives, and particularly the vast majority of presidents, don’t have a working knowledge of coaching or athlete development. By this I mean that even if they have some experience in skating, this is still not equivalent to taking the myriad of coaching courses, seminars and university courses most of us have taken. And they certainly don’t have the years of experience that club coaches have.
  2. Many club executives don’t have a long term vision or goal for the development of the club after they are gone. For most volunteers, they serve on the executive for only a couple of years, some make it to four years, but they are the exception, and not the rule. Simply put-short-term volunteers don’t have the same stake in the success of the club as the coaches, who look to the club for their livelihoods and for job security.

Recently I ruminated to at friend that, that even though the names and faces change within the skating world, the issues all remain the same. And because of it I was becoming disenfranchised and disillusioned with the entire system.

I can’t begin to tell you how tiring it is to just get used to working with an executive; training and educating them regarding how the programs should be run, and finally proving your worth to them so they actually hear and value your opinions, only to have to turn around and repeat this process again in two years time when a new executive comes to power.

This endless cycle is exhausting, and it takes a toll on every coach I know. The stress of constantly having to explain our needs, actions or motivations is overwhelming and never-ending. What person wants to endure this kind of treatment year after year?

Yet this is how the SkateCanada club system is set up.

Solutions to this Problem?

I suggest that we go back to basics. In addition to re-distributing the power in Canadian Skating Clubs evenly between the Coaching and Administrative team alike, I propose:

  1. Clubs are mandated to appoint AND pay for a person to be the head of the administrative team. Their job description, first and foremost, will be to work with the head of the Coaching team to communicate what is being done in terms of membership, fundraising etc. and likewise to communicate the activities of the coaching team to the administrative team so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. If we can keep continuity in a club with a paid position for the Head Administrator, we then stop the vicious cycle of having to retrain new executive members when they are appointed.
  2. By paying the Head Administrator, we place value on the position, and we make them accountable to all the membership as well. This ensures that, as coaches, we will no longer hear the “I’m a volunteer, I don’t get paid to be here” excuse from board members when caught in conflict with executive who feel they can act how they please because we get paid and they don’t. Think I’m kidding? I wish I were. It happens.
  3. We TRAIN our leaders how to be better. Great leadership takes time, and support, to develop. Both the coaching coordinator and head coach should be attending leadership courses, and reading leadership books together. (which, goes without saying, should be paid for by the club.)
  4. Clear channels of communication should be opened and regular meetings need to be scheduled for both the Head Administrator and the Head Wizard Coach. Again, these meetings and all club-related work should be paid for.
  5. One week each season, each executive member should shadow a coach to see the difficulties of the job. Likewise, one week each season, each coach should shadow an executive member to get a better appreciation what life is like in their shoes.

Summary of Problem 3: By tweaking communication and asking for accountability to each other we will create a better understanding of the roles we fill. By seeing the value both the Administrative Team and the Coaching Team bring to the table, we create empathy, compassion and support for all stakeholders.

Problem 4: We Are Our Own Worst Enemy

Let’s pretend we are in the gymnasium scene in the movie Mean Girls. For those of you needing a refresher, here’s a link to the scene in question.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever put-down another coaching colleague during a conversation.

C’mon….be honest.

Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever been told by your students or parents that Coach X told their students you couldn’t teach (insert any skill here.)

If your hand isn’t up by now, you’re not being honest.

We do it all the time. Hell I do it. Now, I will clarify, it’s not like I go around openly dissing other coaches I’ve worked with, I usually reserve my criticisms or concerns about other coaches for private conversations with trusted friends whom I know would never divulge my words.

The point is, we all do it in one form or another.

The question is, why are we so fucking competitive with each other?

I mean, it’s not like there aren’t enough kids to find work for everyone. With the difficulties I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand in hiring competent and qualified coaches, particularly for smaller or remote clubs, there is MORE than enough work for everyone.

So why do our egos get in the way?

Why do we lash out and tear each other down?

I believe it’s fear. Fear of losing income. Fear of losing face in front of clients. Fear of not measuring up to our inner thoughts about our own abilities.

Now add to the constant messaging by SkateCanada that it’s our job to police each other.

That’s right, you’d better know that Coaches Code of Ethics, in fact, you’d better sign it every year, just in case you need to quote those conflicting and vaguely defined protocols to defend yourself against your coaching co-workers who step out of line.

SERIOUSLY.

According to SkateCanada, we are allowed to promote our services, indeed, we can advertise…but wait….BE CAREFUL, better make sure it’s not seen as soliciting, because that would be bad.

The problem with the whole soliciting issue is, there are so many gray areas that it’s difficult to know where the boundaries lie.

I’ve never intentionally solicited anyone, but when asked questions by parents about coaching philosophies, sometimes it becomes hard to know where the line is and how to NOT cross it.

And this whole thing about making sure a new client has paid their bills to their old coach before they accept them as a student?

Come on.

It’s a beautiful thought. Imagine it. Every coach as honest as the next. All working together in perfect harmony. All following protocols exactly and verifying full payment has been made before starting to teach.

Do you know how many times I’ve gone out of my way to make sure this is taken care of with new students. All the time.

Do you know how many times other coaches have EVER reached out to me to make sure my students have paid their invoices?

In thirty years….maybe 5 times?

And I remember taking a new client a few years back that I had asked the mother specifically if all bills were cleared up. Within 5 minutes of having this conversatiom I then told the coach involved that the student’s mom had approached me for lessons via email Said coach never responded, and she certainly didn’t say anything about having any unpaid invoices.

Suddenly after my first lesson on the ice with this new student, the coach literally berates me for teaching my new student when..(gasp) her final invoice wasn’t paid….even though she had plenty of opportunity to tell me it wasn’t paid before I started her lessons.

Here are my points, and I’m going to be pretty blunt.

Thinking that all coaches will act ethically with regard to how they treat other coaches is a candy-colored unicorn dream. Those of us who actually give a shit about acting ethically are the ones losing out to those who don’t.

And SkateCanada does absolutely nothing about it.

Oh, they say they have harassment and abuse of power clauses and protocols in place.

Has anyone use these and received a satisfactory result?

What about SafeSport through SkateCanada? Well, according to some of Canada’s top athletes, they don’t feel it’s working, and I have to agree. After 7 years of stress in one of the most hostile environments I had every worked in, I turned to SafeSport for help, and the process was a hollow waste of time and effort that produced no solution at all. In fact I ended up leaving my job as a result and suffering a year of financial hardship.

25 years of paying into the SkateCanada system. Of working myself to the bone to be the best coach I could be. Of paying for ALL those coaching courses. Of supporting the athletes and sacrificing so much.

And I was worth nothing to them.

The culture of an organization starts from the top and trickles down. Is it any wonder why coaches run into lack of respect in their own clubs when this happens at the highest level.

So, where do we go from here?

Solutions to this Problem?

  1. Stop expecting coaches to police each other. Pepsi doesn’t police Coca-Cola. And they certainly don’t hesitate to solicit business. Look I’m not saying it’s okay to be unethical, but the rules we have aren’t working. Why not put the resources and effort spent in throwing out vague and conflicting clauses of the dreaded Coaches Code of Ethics at each other and work on developing a system whereby we let our old-fashioned laws of the land handle things like slander.
  2. Each club should be mandated to have a fair and equitable system in place for student allocation. I don’t care how it works, but every single coach in each club should have a fair shot at earning new students.
  3. The Head Coach and Head Administrator should take an interest in coaches as people, sitting down each season and discussing the coaches personal goals, and asking how they can help them achieve these goals. Treat people like they matter, it’s amazing what can come of it.
  4. We need a Coaches Union. I remember decades ago, hearing that a group of coaches were starting one, but it failed to gain traction. Well, my coaching friends, wouldn’t it be nice to have a group of people who were entirely there for our support and defense in times of trouble. Whose ONLY JOB was to help coaches who are in trouble or mediate disputes. Would it be worth a few extra bucks each year in dues? I know I’d pay a little more.

Summing It All Up: I’ve been around long enough in the Canadian Figure Skating system to see figures banished, skills introduced, then revised, interpretive skating become artistic skating, then interpretive AGAIN. I’ve seen a new judging system, the introduction of the Long Term Development Plan, the inception and roll-out of Canskate, and finally, Starskate and coach evaluators all come into play.

SkateCanada has been ever-evolving over the years, and has accomplished some amazing things. So why haven’t any changes been made in how we treat our coaches?

Maybe you can answer that, because I can’t.

Do you have any thoughts on what I’ve written? Feel free to comment and share!

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