September-October 2007, PS Magazine
I have to say I am getting quite good at spewing out all of the problems in our sport, but I think it is time for me to put my money where my mouth is. It is time to start talking about how we are going to change… how we are going to improve our image and ourselves! One of the issues that consistently comes up in our lives, and I am frequently questioned about, is what happens when we gain or lose a student. Here is a portion of an e-mail we received at PSA:
"… Could you please clarify an ethical situation for me: I was approached by a parent to coach her skater. They are no longer taking lessons from a previous coach. I spoke with her and she says they have an outstanding bill yet to pay. My understanding is that I must wait until this is paid prior to starting lessons. There also seems to be some controversy over some charges. What is my role in all this? Your website says: Prior to acting as a coach the member shall determine the nature and extent of any earlier teaching relationship with that skater and other members. However, I don’t see any guidelines regarding the financial part. Can you please help me follow the correct procedure?"
The issue is one of professionalism and not automatically one of ethics. Our tenants of professionalism dictate how we wish to act with each other within our coaching community. Teaching a new client before his or her final bill is paid is not necessarily a breach of the PSA’s code of ethics, but a behavior referred to in some PSA communications as unprofessional. Regardless of the PSA’s interpretation, your peers alone could determine this to be unprofessional, which would not only create tension in the rink, but undermine your credibility as well. Your reputation will be tarnished and regaining the trust of the other coaches in the rink will be a time consuming act. I believe the best way to handle this issue is to open a dialogue with the previous coach to work out a compromise. Obviously, the controversial charges will be the question that needs to be answered. A coach who keeps immaculate records of lesson times, bills regularly, and doesn’t allow balances to get too high, will be in a much better position to collect his or her final payment. When a former coach hands an invoice to a parent for $1000, how many can pay that off in one chunk? For a coach who charges $60 an hour, $1000 represents 16 hours of lessons. Three lessons a week could mean that the coach hadn’t billed in 4 months. How accurate is that statement going to be? Did the skater show up for all the lessons? Did the coach show up for all the lessons? (Here’s a hint. Check with the rink and ask for copies of the attendance forms. Most rinks know who is on the ice.) Another issue is the coach who provides services such as editing music, etc and doesn’t charge…until the skater leaves them. I received one letter where coaches were teaching a skater for “free.” When the skater decided to move on, the family was given a bill for $6000! Motivational speaker Brian Dodge says, “People presume that because dishonesty often brings short-term advantages, it does not have long-term consequences; but time always tells the truth.”
If you are the coach on the losing end of this arrangement, please think of your own image in the eyes of your peers. Your actions will scream loudly if you act childishly. Losing a skater is never fun; our pride takes a hit and we feel all eyes are upon us. The truth of the matter is that we all lose students. In fact, how many times did you change coaches as an amateur? As a young man, I was very hurt personally by a coach I left who called me a has-been from the day I left until I finally said something to her only a few years ago. Is it the child’s fault or the new coach’s fault that the parents have terminated your services? Why make a thorny situation worse by being difficult? We promote and teach sportsmanship; be a good sport!
To prevent much of this from transpiring, a good idea is to have a written policy regarding your lesson fee structure, payment procedures, missed lessons and in the event of a parting of the ways, a termination policy. A termination policy could be worded to include that all balances must be paid before beginning with a new professional. Another clause could be to include the option of an independent arbitrator for disputed charges. You should have a signed copy of the policies from the parents. This will help you in the recovery of payment for services. It’s also cheaper than going to court or using a collection agency.
In reference to any one of the examples in this editorial, here’s a closing thought: assume that you will be teaching in your arena, as will the other coach, for years to come. Your relationship with your fellow coaches will span an extensive period of time. The students come and go. The actions you take will have consequences either way.
“Try not to become a person of success but a person of value.”
Albert Einstein 1875-1955)