Friday, February 13, 2009

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

January –February 2009, PS Magazine

HAVE YOU EVER OPENED a desk drawer and found some notes or maybe a book that has been long forgotten? Searching in vain for a new place to put it, you stuff it back in the same drawer to once again be found at some moment in time when you say to yourself again, “I might need this.” Well, every time I get to cleaning up my office, I find piles of interesting tidbits that I think will make a good article or maybe a presentation… I move it to a new pile …only to be discovered again the next time I decide to clean up. I am always amazed at the plethora of information that we all have right under our very noses.
Case in point: earlier this year, I was reading an article in USA Today about Bill Sands of the US Olympic Training Center, who has been a frequent speaker at PSA Conferences and Seminars. It seems that he was going through some files collected from the Stasi (East German Secret Police) and he found some drawings of a device to improve flexibility. After some trial and error, he developed it and was amazed at the results. It got me thinking. What stuff do we have lying around the PSA office in files that haven’t seen the light of day in years and might have invaluable information? Not to stop there, I began to think about all the knowledge that has been passed down from coach to student regarding figures and how in a short time this information is going to be gone. I started to think that it might make some good reading if the PSA started to research our history, and as we go along see if there are some older, forgotten techniques that could still be relevant today. Our first installment of our history is in this issue and it covers the inception of the PSA in 1938 up to World War II. The interesting morsel that really caught my attention was a quote from an article written in Skating Magazine in 1938.
It was the strong feeling of those present at the meeting that some very definite action should be taken to put an end to the practice of professional show promoters in inducing amateurs to turn professional for the purpose of skating in haphazard skating shows which failed and left them stranded as professionals without experience in teaching ...
As Kent McDill writes in his article, “… hearkens back to a time when skaters were being drawn into the ‘professional’ ranks for reasons considered improper by the figure skating establishment.” After Tonya whacked Nancy, it wasn’t the show promoters we had to worry about but the ‘agents.’ Like sharks circling in for the kill, agents signed anyone and everyone. Televised specials by the dozen, professional competitions, endorsements all made a select few wealthy. Even though record numbers of children began to skate, did anyone else get rich?
In order to save our “amateur” sport (and themselves), the ISU made the only decision it could to survive - cash prizes and the Grand Prix Series. Competitors could now be “professional” and this dysfunctional family known as the “skating industry,” stood by and counted the cash as our rinks filled, memberships soared, not by design but simply by being the right sport at the right time.
Now we swim among new prey: a global recession. Where are those agents now? Many have abandoned the industry and moved on, leaving those behind to try and pick up the pieces. Our top skaters who have been earning a good living as “amateurs” and spending large sums of money on training, choreography and costumes, suddenly are in jeopardy of losing the revenue required to compete as an elite skater. The ISU this year is reducing the number of judges at four of its premier events, citing economic reasons. IJS is not killing our sport… it’s been on life support for a long time. As observed so long ago in 1938, we have allowed money to cloud our judgment. Skating has once again become about money…perhaps it always has and always will.

COACH DRIVEN

November-December 2008,PS Magazine

Going over the minutes from the May Board of Governors meeting in Chicago, I found a gem of an analogy from then PSA Vice President, Christy Krall, “…with so much to know…Coaches now feel like a plate spinner on the Sullivan show.” For those of us that remember the Ed Sullivan show, I can hear the Sabre Dance playing in the background as the tuxedoed circus performer ran from plate to plate, frantically trying to keep the china from hitting the floor. Well, as our industry becomes more competitive in an unstable market, coaches are running from rink to rink, trying to find ice time and students, learn the IJS, and fulfill their Continuing Education Requirement, I can see her point. What we have to remember is that if we are going to keep those plates from crashing to the floor, we must learn to work together; arena’s, coaches, parents, skater’s, clubs, PSA, U.S. Figure Skating, ISI, STAR, and the U.S Olympic Committee. As I have often pointed out, it is the coaches who drive our industry. Rinks may provide the ice, skaters may provide the TV ratings, clubs may provide the testing, and U.S. Figure Skating provides the stage…but it is the coaches that find the talent, nurture the talent and mold them into tomorrow’s champions, all the while providing a vital lifeline of income to the rinks and clubs. Guiding skaters through a mine field of issues takes a skill set that must be learned. Although many feel pressured from both the PSA and U.S. Figure Skating to spend more of their hard earned money on education and registration, it is imperative that coaches take advantage of what is offered. Last year, the PSA asked our members to invest in yourself. Most purchased liability insurance, attended educational programs, took ratings, applied for rankings, and networked with fellow coaches…all of these programs are here to help you.
For this year, PSA and one of our insurance partner’s, Association Marketing Group (AMG) is working on affordable health care plans with savings in many areas of up to 50%. By January 1, AMG will hope to be making available this insurance in over 18 states. AMG now offer’s PSA members dental and vision plans in all 50 states. The PSA has worked hard to improve communication to members through the Area Representative Outreach program, mass e-mails from the office and IJS alerts to your telephone. As CER classes come online, the joint PSA and U.S. Figure Skating CER committee plans to launch up to 36 more online courses in which to choose from. The key word although is “choose.” For you to be successful, you as a coach must “choose” to participate. The USOC calls this model for victory, “Athlete Centered, Coach Driven.” Coaches must make the decision to participate. Coaches must make the decision to be ethical. Coaches must make the decision to take the steps necessary to ensure their own achievement and the success of their athletes. The PSA, U.S. Figure Skating, ISI, STAR, and the USOC will provide you with the opportunities and tools required. You have to make the choice to accept it.

WE FALL, WE GET UP, and WE TRY AGAIN

September-October 2008, PS Magazine

Like a true competitor, the beginning of every season starts off full of hope and excitement. Programs are completed, tests passed, and this time every year, skaters across the country are beginning their final preparations for Regionals. This year, sitting in the stands is a single parent staring at her checkbook… 342 miles to Regionals at .58 cents a mile, $14 in tolls, and $417 for 3 nights lodging. Coaching fees of $300, costume and music…lessons, ice time…and maybe there will be something left over for food. Looking up from her checkbook, she watches for the umpteenth time as her daughter gears up for what is going to be another attempt at a double splat. How can she fall and fall and fall, and keep getting up? Because skating is life; we fall, we get up, and we try again. This is why I love skating. In times of adversity, we always get up, wipe the snow from our backside and do it again. Everything I have learned and achieved in life is because of skating.
The current state of the skating economy both real and imagined has us all nervous. Gas at $4.41 a gallon, the stock market down, airfare up 30%, war; will anyone come to skate? But when I think I’m at the breaking point, I close my eyes and think of the words of my coach… “Ya big baby!” Ok, well not that one particularly, but there are so many to choose from; “do it again until it's perfect”, “one thing at a time”, “practice as you compete, compete as you practice”, and one of my favorites, “you want to meet your toughest competitor? Go look in the mirror.” The principles I learned at the rink are the ones that will help me get through the times. They will for you too, and it all revolves around effort and education. Just like competing as a skater, we are competing for skaters. Only those who do everything it takes to be the best will make it. It is so important to give yourself every advantage. Can you believe 12% of those who replied to the PSA survey don’t believe it is worthwhile to be rated? Ratings are about what you know and how well you can communicate your philosophy of coaching to a group of Master rated peers. Also, many coaches are upset at having to submit to a background check. My thoughts are that passing a background check is something to add to your resume. I have used the analogy before regarding Doctors and the certificates that they have hanging in their office. Doesn’t that make you feel a little better when you see Harvard Medical School instead of the Grenada School of Medicine?

It’s Just Not Funny Anymore!

July-August 2008, PS Magizine

Those of you who frequently read my editorials know that I often use quotes to drive home certain points within my column. Recently, while putting some quotes together for the awards dinner at conference, I began to realize that often in current history, Figure Skating has become the target of late night humorists, bloggers, and columnists.


Here are examples of three recent quotes:

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, under U.S. indictment for allegedly creating the skating judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, gave an interview for ESPN’s Outside the Lines. He said “…all that’s being written about me is completely untrue.” Responded Dennis Bolles, of the FBI: “Well, John Gotti said that. Although Gotti never specifically denied rigging figure-skating.”

Wrote Janice Hough, a frequent blogger on NYtimes.com, “With the steroids in Major League Baseball, the dog fighting and other arrests in the NFL, the disqualification of so many Tour de France riders, the game-fixing in the NBA, who knows, maybe the least controversial sport might just turn out to be figure skating.”

Ray Ratto, a CBS.com columnist wrote in reference to Tim Donaghy, a National Basketball Association Referee who claimed that other Championship series had been fixed by officials, “They’re like figure skating fans, who learned to factor in the idea that the judges were straight from Enron Central Casting, and kept coming back for more.”

As often with humor, there in itself lies the truth. We have become the joke. Although much of what is written centers around the reputation of our Judges, Tiffany Chin laid it out plainly when during the Governing Council of U.S. Figure Skating in May said, “…the reputation of coaches is not what it should be.” Based on the countless calls and e-mail I have been receiving recently, I unfortunately have to agree. But it’s not just the coaches and judges. We ALL have to look to ourselves and know that we are doing everything in our power to act morally and ethically. The internet makes this a small world…too small. Another recent article to make its way around is the alleged rape of a 13 year old skater by her coach in Japan. This year, a former World Champion was involved in a fatal car accident while driving drunk. Another skater was drugged with a date rape drug by a business partner. Also in Japan, a national competitor arrested for drunk driving and of course the untimely death of Christopher Bowman which had initially reported to be under suspicious circumstances. As a group we have become selfish; the great enablers who believe that all press is good press. Does the end justify the means? What type of people are we going to attract to this sport when this is the perception of who we are? We need to turn this ship around NOW…immediately. We may not get a second chance! I’ll leave you with this final quote:
Two Wolves
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The Nature of the Beast

May-June-2008, PS Magizine

I can’t stress enough as a former arena manager, the importance of having qualified, well trained skating school and competitive figure skating coaches. Having an untrained professional on staff is like handing over the key to the ice resurfacer (or someone) just because they have a driver’s license. Furthermore, being a good competitive skater did not necessarily guarantee that I would be a good coach. Arguably, arena owners and managers, who are frequently hockey enthusiasts, have difficulty understanding the business of figure skating; they often hire 16 year old skaters or former competitors who have no formal training. The same goes with US Figure Skating Clubs. Club Boards are often filled with parents whose only mission is to look out for the best interest of THEIR child. How many coaches encourage their skaters' parents to join the board? More significantly, these are the people who hire the skating school staff.
I hear increasingly how coaches feel that they are being treated unfairly, either by their club or rink management. Some of this I can chalk up to personality conflicts but as I hear of more and more “issues,” I’m wondering if there isn’t a bigger problem.

Here is an excerpt of one recent e-mail.

“…you have unqualified teachers watering the sport down, … who are interfering with “real coaches” livelihoods to teachers who can’t do a three-turn well, literally, who are teaching freestyle private lessons, because some Club let them, due to the fact that they don’t have to have accomplished anything in skating to be able to join the PSA in the first place. If they are book smart and talk to enough Pros, they can learn enough to pass a PSA exam, but still can’t skate worth a darn.”

My first thought was that Gus Lussi was a Ski Jumper. Arguably the greatest technical coach of any time, a member of the PSA Hall of Fame, Mr. Lussi taught from a stool, no skates. My second thought was that I had recently taken my first exams; the BA followed by the Certified Program Director. I don’t believe that by having a few “conversations” with a coach is going to help someone pass a PSA certification test. What I do know is not having a certification program would be worse. We must have standards. We all know that not every judge’s panel will judge a Moves test the same. How many times have we heard of skaters going to a particular club because “they pass everything.” Comparatively, we know that not all Master rated coaches are great teachers just as we know there are great teachers who have no ratings. There are plenty of doctors in the world. Would you allow any of them to operate on you or a loved one? NO, you would ask for referrals and if you are smart would ask them if they have been recently recertified in the area of their expertise. We must have a way to establish the coaches from the pretenders. The PSA continues to work hard on improving our profession, the key to all relationships.
Two more important cogs in this wheel are education and communication. The education of rink management and clubs on our business practices and what to expect from a Figure Skating program are essential. A PSA rated coach is going to be an asset to their facility. They will keep skaters in their programs longer and provide a professional level of stability that will create a revenue stream during non-prime hours. Although many managers believe that their hourly rate must be achieved in order to be successful, competitive figure skaters will spend on average $3600 on ice and programs annually (2 sessions daily @ $7, M-F for twelve months). One coach, PSA rated hopefully, with 20 students can generate annual revenue for non- prime ice in excess of $70,000. If you compare that to one hockey team who has an average of 3 hours of ice a week from September to March and at a rate of $200 per hour, revenue will top out at $16,800. The difference is obviously the amount of ice used, but a well balanced program can see equal revenue between hockey and the LTS/Competitive Figure Skating program. Even more importantly, coaches need to understand what the rinks and clubs expect and need from us. Rinks and Clubs expect coaches to sell their programs, not just promote private lessons. In the words of PSA Master rated Coach Janice Forbes, “A rink can’t be successful without you; you can’t be successful without the rink.”

Is This the Last Tango?

March-April 2008, PS Magazine

If rumors heard at Nationals are correct, the ISU is contemplating the end of compulsory dances at ISU events. Although I could find no written record anywhere, enough people in the know believe that it will happen. When or if it does, will that spell the end of compulsory dances as it did for figures everywhere else in the world? Piece by piece, skating’s identity is slipping away, one discipline at a time. But more importantly, who is deciding all these changes? I can’t imagine it is someone who knows anything about skating and our reliance on tradition. As it did with the elimination of figures, removing compulsory dance will only accelerate the gymnastic aspects of figure skating while destroying the artistry and maturity that sets our sport apart from most. With the possible removal of compulsory dances and the way current rules are written, dancers could easily compete in pairs as well. Sitting at Nationals this year I had to ask Robbie Kaine if I was watching the OD or Free Dance. I couldn’t tell the difference. If you take away compulsory dances, you might as well combine dance and pairs into one event… we could call it two people synchronized skating. Bob Mock and Carol Rossignol suggest that we put up to four teams on the ice at once during compulsories. Kind of a “Roller Derby” meets “Dancing with the Stars.” But seriously, this is not a knock at the IJS, nor dancers, pairs, or Synchro, but at the leadership of the ISU. I understand the need to accommodate the TV crowd by changing dates or schedules, but are we going to allow them to reshape our sport to such an extreme degree? These are the same small screen people dictating the direction of our sport that gave us Hee Haw. Comparatively, if the ISU is so concerned about appeasing television, why don’t they get rid of long track speed skating? Come on, they just skate in circles against the clock…tick…tock…snore! (My apologies in advance to Bob Crowley, Executive Director of US Speed Skating and former PSA Governor). TV didn’t want figures. Now they don’t want compulsory dance. All but the purest skating enthusiasts know that compulsories don’t sell more Campbell’s soup, but arguably, even American Idol shows the compulsory “a cappella” auditions. If someone doesn’t stand up at some point, we won’t be skating at all!

Just a Few Thoughts…

January-February 2008, PS Magazine

Last January, right after Nationals, Chicago Tribune writer Philip Hersch forecast a bleak future for our sport in the United States due to dwindling TV money and ratings, and the lack of recognizable skating superstars. Less than a year later, Hersch wrote in an article published December 5 in various Tribune Co. newspapers that the “Dearth of new talent is what ails ice skating. While the focus is on judging issues, the fact that the U.S. is so dominant while other countries’ programs falter threatens the future of the sport.” Hmm, interesting…first, I had to look up dearth (–noun 1. an inadequate supply; scarcity; lack). So I guess he’s clarifying his statement from last winter, it’s not the lack of talent in the US, but the rest of the world. OK…Maybe someone can help me here...I’m not too clear on the good/bad thing. I thought that the object was to dominate. I’m curious, do you think there were many Soviet sports writers who complained about the lack of competition for the last 30 or so years in pairs? Just asking.
Another mania that has been bothering me is the continued badgering of the international judging system on the internet. I admit that I have taken a few shots at it, but really can we just get over it? Here is an excerpt from an open letter from Sonia Bianchetti published in Tom Sobell’s Skating Group on Yahoo.
…Is it conceivable that a World or Olympic title may depend on the personal impression (because it can only be an impression) of a couple of callers that there was or was not “a weight transfer” in the touch down or in the three turns between two jumps? Crazy! And so unfair to the skaters. Wasn’t the new system invented to limit personal opinions of the individual judges?... A tragic comedy!...
First, you can blow any amount of smoke, but it is a competition ultimately scored by judges regardless of ANY system we have used in the past, present or future. The truth is people do not like to lose and when they do, they will blame anyone, least of all themselves, but mostly the judges. If you are keeping scores, that only makes about six people who are happy after each competition. Comparing the old to the new, the two scores in the 6.0 system reveal nothing of how the numbers were reached. When coaching under that system and a parent asked why their child received their particular marks, the coach could only guess what was wrong. At least IJS shows the math. Just looking at the protocol will tell you exactly where someone won or lost.
Secondly, as it has always been, a great program is easy to judge… in any system. Nevertheless, if three technical panellists cannot decide whether a “transfer of weight” has happened while looking at a replay just as Ms. Bianchetti refers, are the judges better suited to make a judgment from memory? The IJS system gives the panel multiple opportunities to get it right, the 6.0 system only ONE.
Another vocal critic of the IJS is National Judge Jack Curtis. Although his style of writing is amusingly sarcastic, I believe some of his statements are misleading, inaccurate or at least tweaked a little to help him make a point (I know I like to do this too). Jack writes in his article, The Emperor’s New Judging System, that at last year’s world championships, Asada attained 38% of her score from jumping. In the 6.0, 50% of the mark was the technical score. Comparatively using Jack’s 38% figure, that leaves 12% for spins and any other technical element. Considering there are only four spins allowed compared to seven jump elements at the senior level, I don’t see the issue. Some will recall that last year I did a study of over 295 Jr. Ladies Long Programs. Quoting myself from the IJS article from the February/March 2007 PS Magazine, “The average Jr. Lady’s PCS (Program Component Score) is 4.12 points greater than the Total Element Score.” If the jumps are overtaking the programs, shouldn’t the TES be greater than the component scores?
Finally, Mr. Curtis adds, “For jumping, it helps to be juvenile and skinny. A good orthopedist will come in handy too as Lipinski, Galindo, Yagudin, Plushenko and others have learned while shopping for their joint repairs.” What does this have to do with the IJS? Especially when three of the four mentioned skated in the 6.0 system.
Judging competitions are just that…judging. Getting out my dictionary again, a judge is, “a person appointed to decide any competition, contest or matter at issue.” Whether the criteria for judging are decided by the ISU, or the judges themselves, whether it’s the 6.0 or the IJS, it is supposed to be fair and unbiased…but under any system, those who have been in this sport for a lifetime know the truth. Just as Tom Weir wrote a long time ago in USA Today, “skating is not a sport, it is an opinion.” Like Sonia Bianchetti, Jack Curtis holds the same opinion that the old system provides accountability for the judges. “With 6.0, the judges’ names come with their work. If you want to bother, you can compute the outcome yourself. You know exactly who is doing what to whom.” Yes, maybe the “who,” but never the “why!”
For a copy of the entire Jack Curtis’s, The Emperor’s New Judging System article and the Sonia Bianchetti letter please e-mail me at jsantee@skatepsa.com or you can Google them.

+1

November-December 2007, PS Magazine

Making dinner earlier this fall, (yes, I make dinner) a commercial came on for Planters Peanuts in which the Planters mascot is break dancing. My son, Ryan, say’s to me, “Dad, did you see the broken leg spin” to which I responded 'no'. My wife Jamie chimes in, “Did it count?” “Yes,” Ryan say’s, “he was definitely low enough.” “I don’t think he achieved the 2 full turns,” she says. Ryan replies, “I don’t know Mom…” I put down the meat, turned and gave my wife Jamie “the look”; you know, the one with one eyebrow raised and the head tilted slightly to the right. I was thinking that it might be a little early for her to be drinking…10 minutes later the commercial plays again. “I told you Mom, he made the turns” to which Jamie replies that he didn’t get enough upper body twist to get the core body change. At this point, I am thinking that IJS has made us all just a little too crazy. It has consumed the lives of many and I am not sure that we can recover. Another example; I was driving home from work this past summer and saw two bicyclists run into each other. One went flying over the handlebars superman style then tucked and rolled and came up with out a scratch. I’m thinking Level II, + one (he was a little out of control in the air!). I can’t go a day without cracking wise about someone outside of skating achieving some level of difficulty.
All joking aside, it has consumed us. Although many of us are frustrated with the system, it is here to stay and we had better get used to it. Think about it this way. During the late spring and summer, while the Europeans are resting, we are hard at work competing with the new and untested IJS changes. Thousands of American coaches, judges, callers, and skaters begin attacking the changes, pushing the envelope and seeking clarifications. When clarifications do come out, more often than not, they create more questions. When we do finally get it, the Europeans will start competing, all with the benefit of the “beta testing” completed by the North Americans.
Here are some changes I’d like to see:
•  Make footwork a component and not an element to be “boxed.” As it is now, it is too labor intensive for the callers and too easy for them to miss something. And really, aren’t judges qualified to do this?
• Get rid of jump sequences altogether. Sequences are not difficult. Each full rotation jump in a sequence should be a box, period
• Limit the levels for spins in a program at the lower levels Juvenile should be made to do developing spins, i.e. sit change sit or camel change camel.
I’m just wondering…why is the elevated crotch in the face position illegal in ice dance but legal in pairs? If it’s offensive in one discipline, it’s offensive period.
As a final point, I wonder if the same people who pushed to have figures eliminated, are the same ones who believe that the IJS doesn’t work? I hear the complaints often about the poor quality of turns, brackets, counters, rockers, etc in footwork. One positive note; the current rules are forcing skaters to learn proper turns…just remember, for those of us who did figures, it took us thousands of hours over a period of years to get them right.
I guess what I’m saying is that this sport is making me crazy!

When it’s Time to Say Goodbye

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)

Where are we heading?

July-August 2007, PS Magazine

The image of the coaching profession must improve. Recently, I was talking with a coach from Southern California. She relayed to me that there are unaffiliated coaches in her area who charge up to $95 per lesson. These coaches have neither teaching credentials nor experience, but just charge what the market will bear; more likely what they can get. This is an issue that hurts us all as coaches. Really, why bother to educate ourselves when others do nothing and charge the same or more? The reality of the matter is that if the skating market declines, only those professional coaches who produce quality skaters will survive. Those who misrepresent themselves will find their business shrinking as parents question their professionalism or their child’s lack of progress and performance.
Bob Mock wrote in his March/April 2007 article entitled ‘Is Coaching Figure Skating Still an Honorable Profession’, he states, “…it is our responsibility to approach every day as a new opportunity to raise the standards of coaching.” As usual, Bob’s writings always generate an abundance of debate. One response to Bob’s article was from this coach:

We have had three skating directors in the 10 years that our rink has been open. Each director has continued to successfully build the program where the other has left off. We took pride in our profession and our coaching staff of seven has attended seminars, workshops and the last PSA Conference together. Instructors new to coaching were expected to apprentice in group classes until the director felt they were ready to take on their own class. They would have to teach up to one year in group classes during which time they were expected to attend available seminars/workshops and complete their written exam [basic accreditation] successfully before being eligible to teach private lessons. We earned an [Excellence on Ice] certificate to proudly display in our rink.
Management (a hockey mom driven to be at the rink because of her two children) has decided this year that the rink does not need a Skating Director and has promoted and positioned five teens to start teaching groups classes and now private lessons with no real apprenticing or accreditation all within two months time. One of these teens has now been positioned to run the Learn to Skate classes and now responsible to continue the skate camps and competitions that have been organized and run by experienced and knowledgeable Skating Directors. These girls have given up competing, testing and have not shown any interest in participating or assisting the skating camps or ice shows/productions during the past 2-4 years. Yet, here they are back as if they’ve never left to add respect and credibility to the profession and build the program. The parents of these girls feel that their girls are finally where they belong … entitled to join the coaching staff. There have been many parents who have expressed concern and disappointment to see the direction the Skating School has taken yet management seems intent on proving that these girls can replace the credible coaching staff that has developed respectably during the employment of the past three Skating Directors.

Another story; a coach who handed out her resume complete with a web based article about herself featuring her “professional” relationship with Toller Cranston, complete with a picture of the two. One of the rink moms was curious about Toller and “googled” his name. You can imagine her shock when she found the article and it contained a different name and picture. It was alleged that the coach had photo-shopped her face over the girl in the picture and inserted her own name in place of the girls. I couldn’t confirm this story, but which is worse: the alleged misconduct of the coach or maybe a parent who made up the story. Regardless, all coaches pay the price. I truly wish people would just take responsibility for their own actions. The ice skating world would be a better place. I could say that these are isolated cases but unfortunately, I receive many calls and e-mails each week regarding the behavior of our members.
As discerning as these examples are, not all is lost. We can change. To accomplish that ideal, there will be no one more important than you. Each and every one of us must take up the torch and move forward. For most of us, just being a member of the Professional Skaters Association has shown that we have already chosen to make an investment in our future and to be part of the solution. Investing in your education empowers you to become the best coach that you can be. The time and resources we devote will not only directly increase our value to the skaters, clubs and arenas we represent, but will improve the image of the coaching profession as well.
And finally, it is that positive image that we must sell. Do you promote yourself? The PSA offers a variety of ways to promote and sell you as a competent professional. A PSA accredited coach is certified for basic skills and knowledge. A PSA rated coach has experience and proven skills to earn Registered, Certified, Senior and Master Ratings. PSA regional, national and international rankings are also a useful tool in proving your proficiency. Ratings and Rankings are standardized methods for proving to the consumers that you care enough about them to invest in yourself. How else can you convince them to spend their hard earned money on your professional knowledge?

Is the Sky Falling?

March-April 2007, PS Magazine

If you were to have read any of the US national articles by Chicago Tribune writer Philip Hersch or USA Today’s Christine Brennan, you might think that the sky is falling on US Figure Skating. Dwindling TV money and ratings, the lack of recognizable skating stars forecast a bleak future for our sport. The fact that we were in Spokane, a small market they wrote, predicted the fall of the empire. I might have actually believed it if I had not had the chance to be in Spokane and observe the record breaking attendance, and what was one of the best skated Nationals of all time.
First and foremost, Spokane is a wonderful city whose entire population embraced the event. Being a Chicago guy it took me a few days to get over the over the top friendliness. People were so nice that it was nearly uncomfortable. Not only did the people of Spokane, self-proclaimed “Skate City, USA,” display a “can do” attitude they came to the events in record numbers. Ticket sales topped 154,000 fans shattering the previous record of 125,000 set in LA in 2002. Ted Miller of the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER quoted Scott Hamilton who said, “The sport right now is healthy. It’s the networks that are changing more than skating is changing. ESPN swallowed ABC whole.” I always knew that Scott was a smart guy!
The skating itself was unbelievable! Never have there been so many great performances. From Novice to Senior; singles, dance, or pairs, it was just incredible. Choosing the winners of the PSA’s “Edi” award for the best performances of each discipline proved easier said than done only by the volume of great programs. That being said the winners were; Evan Lysachek, Alissa Czisney, Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski for Pairs and Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov for Dance. Other notable favorites were junior ladies Mirai Nagasu and Caroline Zhang, U.S. junior men’s champion Eliot Halverson, Naomi Nari Nam & Themi Leftheris , U.S. junior pair champions Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker, dancers Meryl Davis & Charlie White, and my personal favorite Ryan Bradley.
It’s hard for me to buy into the doom and gloom spin the national media writes. In contrast, Ted Miller also wrote, “The real problem with figure skating is the belief the sport has a problem...” I agree with this. Of skating’s lack of a super star, Amy Rosewater, a contributor to ESPN.com wrote, “Life went on in football after Johnny Unitas. Baseball moved ahead without the Babe. Basketball even survived without Michael Jordan. Skating moved ahead after Peggy Fleming. After Dorothy. After Kristi. After Scott. After Brian. Even after Tonya and Nancy.” Yes we have issues, but it’s no where as bad as the print and TV media have portrayed it. The bottom line is that learn to skate classes are growing across the country, the bridge program is making a difference, we’ve just broken the National attendance record, and we swept the junior grand prix finals, and a novice man landed a triple Axel. I’d say the future looks bright!

There’s Always Next Year!

November-December 2006

About this time each year, coaches have returned from Regionals; the culmination of 12 months of blood, sweat and tears. The skilled (parents perspective) or lucky (fellow coaches perspective) coaches are continuing the competitive season, getting ready for Jr. Nationals or for Sectionals, but unfortunately most are planning for next year. Being a Chicago Cub fan, I have always been a huge believer in next year.

Each year after Regionals, I would always take a step back, evaluating not only my students’ weaknesses and strengths, but the strengths and weaknesses of my own coaching philosophy and technique. This self evaluation was critical in my improvement as a coach. How many coaches actually go through this process of self evaluation? If you were a believer of the 20-60-20 theory (20% does the work, 20% won’t work, and 60% row with the current) referenced in my first editorial in the July/August issue of PS Magazine, I would say 20 percent or even less. Why would we think that only our students are making mistakes? Is it possible that some coaches will misinterpret the rules for the IJS or maybe have a fatal flaw in a jump technique?

A popular buzz word for evaluation is critical thinking. Critical thinking: who, what, where, and why of the thought process. Who will help me improve? Where is my technique lacking? Why do my skaters cheat jumps? This process allowed me to set goals and to create a plan to improve my teaching skills. To improve as a coach, you MUST WANT to improve as a coach. And that means doing whatever it takes to learn. I continue to preach about attending continuing educational programs. “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach him to fish; feed him for life.”

In response, I continue to hear how difficult it is to attend, how expensive it is to participate. The income of many professional coaches is tied to the performance of their skaters at competition. Most would agree that the week after Regionals can be the most nerve-racking. A poor performance or placement gets coaches fired. One skater who takes a lesson a day would cost a loss of over $5000 annually ($60 per hour). THAT is expensive!

Our skaters go through a rigorous testing procedure to qualify to compete at a particular level. Our judges and officials go through schools and test annually to achieve their various appointments and are annually re-tested to keep those appointments. Interesting thought when you think about it. Skaters pay for the privilege; Judges give up most of their vacation time, volunteer to judge…the only professionals are the coaches and many choose to have no training at all or, if at all, want it for free. I just don’t understand why coaches don’t want to get better or at least SHARE their knowledge with their peers. As professionals it is time to give back to the group. Get involved. You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.

Remembering our Sports Past to Inspire its Future

September-October 2006

Recently, one of our interns came across an original copy of a Memorial Service program. This program was for the official USFSA services in memory of our 1961 World team held at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City, May 6, 1961. Inside that program was a type written, slightly yellowed, but remarkably well preserved copy of the eulogy written by the acting President, Ritter Shumway. I decided to reprint the speech in its entirety, as I felt an overwhelming sense of both sorrow and, more importantly, pride in our sport. Change a line or two and it could have been written for those who fell on 9/11.

I grew up skating in Memorial Fund Shows and sold more than my fair share of booster buttons. I heard stories of the crash, the tragedy of losing so many skaters and family, coaches and officials. I sat on the memorial bench out front of the original Broadmoor arena and I've seen our own memorial here at our offices yet, until I read Mr. Shumway's eulogy I just didn't get it. His words painted a clear picture, one that I didn't see before. One particular paragraph that really struck home is the third from the end. "… to a deeper dedication to serving our fellows through serving our sport, can we start to build a living memorial, not of brick and mortar and silver trophies… appropriate as these might be… but of what they expect of us …" I believe this to be serving others, not for our own self-serving goals, but in making a difference in someone's life, our community, our sport, our earth.

USFSA Memorial Service
New York City, May 6, 1961

"On the table before us are 36 American Beauty Roses - - one for each of our dear friends whose memory we have gathered here today to honor."

These were our friends, our loved ones, the flower of America’s young manhood and womanhood, their devoted mentors: teachers, leaders, parents, relatives, friends, and admirers - - the finest that our nation, our culture, our way of life can produce, not only as technicians of consummate skill in their chosen field, their beloved sport of figure skating, but also the finest in character, in lovable personality and in sportsmanship. And they were on a mission, not only to match their skill against that of their opposite numbers from many lands throughout the world, in demonstration of what excellence in art and athletic ability our way of life can develop, but more importantly, through their natural friendliness, to be true representatives to of America and thereby to helping their own and most important way - person to person - to dispel some of the misunderstanding that is such a source of friction that it threatens to envelop us in a war that could destroy our whole civilization. No less important than this was their mission. And so it is understandable that our Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, should have said in his telegram to us that this "only increases the tragedy of their loss"… a loss from which our sport will be years in recovering, and a personal loss which will never be erased from our consciousness. Our feelings and our sympathies have gone out, and will always continue to go out, to their families to whom they were so particularly dear and precious.

We came here, however, not to grieve, but to honor, not to look back upon what cannot be changed, but to look forward to a future which lies within our power to shape, not to lament but to try to find in this experience the lessons for life that God wants us who remain to learn.
To do this, we must re-examine and re-confirm our faith, for only on this foundation can our life be renewed and built into a tower of strength, to honor our friends and our loved ones.

If we truly believe what God would teach us through the scriptures, of the miracles wrought, and the strength that we can find by faith, we must understand that what for us is a sorrowful human parting from friends and loved ones is for them a release from the weights and errors that beset them here, and prevented them from realizing that perfection… that perfect circle 8… that perfect judgment… that perfect understanding for which they were always striving, and which they can now experience. Just as they, and we too, rejoiced greatly as they took each step closer and closer to perfection, and passed each test in their progress, from the preliminary to the eighth or the gold test in skating, from Low Test to World Judge, from member to top officer, so should we also rejoice for them… now that they have passed the Supreme Test and are at the very fountain-head of perfect judgment, discernment and understanding.

They have attained the perfection that they wanted so much.
If such be our faith, then what happens now to our friends and loved ones, we can, with that faith, and with complete confidence, entrust entirely to God and His love and care. What should concern us, and what is of concern to God, is what happens to us who remain; for He has given us freedom to choose whether we go forward or go backward, whether we allow these experiences to make us finer, more useful people, or whether we allow them to crush us.

I know that those who are represented here by these roses want us to go forward. Should we not, then, with our faith, dry our tears, turning our thoughts not in upon ourselves and on what has happened to us, but outward to them and their friends as we did when they were materially with us. This as we know from life, is the way of true love and devotion - - not to think of ourselves, but of others.

On this foundation, then, of lives that are not consumed in sorrow grief, but on lives that have been challenged and spurred by these experiences, to a deeper resolution to seeing God's will and to a deeper dedication to serving our fellows through serving our sport, can we start to build a living memorial, not of brick and mortar and silver trophies… appropriate as these might be… but of what they expect of us - - finer, more understanding, more tender, more useful and more loving people to honor them and to serve their memory in our lives.

Wherefore, seeing that we are encompassed by so great a cloud of witnesses, thirty-six of our friends whom we would honor and cherish, let us put aside all weights and hindrances that so easily beset us, and let us run the race that is set before us. Let us accept, like true competitors, and in the spirit of our 1961 World Team, the challenge that is presented to us. Let us here dedicate ourselves in their memory to carry on the high traditions of excellence, of sportsmanship, of devotion, that they so well exemplified and have now entrusted to us.

For their sake, in their memory, to do honor and glory, and to the honor and glory of God, let us go forward as they would have us go.

Ritter F. Shumway, President
U.S.F.S.A.