Tuesday, November 29, 2011
As a father I used to worry about the influence of drinking and drugs to my children…as a culture, we turn to the church, the scouts, school activities, or sports to help keep our children off the streets and away from harm. But that seems not to be the case… and quite honestly, it is very difficult if not impossible to protect our children from the “landmines” that surround them. It’s not these activities that are the root of the evil…it’s the fact that that’s where the children are. If you are a drunk, you know where to get the booze. If you are an addict you know where to get your fix. For pedophiles they go where the children are. Six years ago I managed an ice rink and all the outdoor pools for my community. While the rink had its own unique problems, they were nothing like the pool business. You not only have to protect the swimmers from drowning but the scantily dressed patrons from the sick-minded people whom prey upon unsuspecting children. More than once I had to chase away adults who were taking photos of children in swimwear from outside the fence. I have worse stories that I choose not to share…the point is wherever there are kids, especially unattended, these people will be there.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the following: Seventy-one percent of children were classified as victims of child neglect; 16 percent as victims of physical abuse; 9 percent as victims of sexual abuse; and 7 percent as victims of emotional abuse (http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/CM-DataSheet-a.pdf) . My question…how many of the 71% of children who are victims of neglect, make up the victims of sexual abuse? Another thought is that these are NOT specifically children who participate in any one sport or activity…this is a problem of society as a whole!
If any good can come of these continued crises, it is that we as that same community must be vigilant in the protection of our children. As a parent, your really have to think hard about who you allow access to your children, especially unattended. The CDC also reported that the vast majority of abusers (90%) are male, and 71% of the time, the abuser knows the victim. As written in the new PSA CER course on abuse, 2 GRO-W Champions, “It stands to reason that skating as an industry would be no different than the general population, especially when there is ample opportunity for predators to assert authority over a victim.”
Dr. Max Trenerry, a friend and colleague from the Mayo Clinic and co-author of the 2 GRO-W Champions course, has said that it is important as coaches not to put ourselves in circumstances that can be questioned…driving skaters from school to the rink, traveling to competitions, sharing accommodations with your students. No matter how noble the gesture, the appearance to others is suspect and the danger of damaging your reputation or worse is not worth the risk. Honestly, coaches should never be in a closed room or in an environment that is unobserved.
Coaches and all those who assist them have a special obligation to protect children and adolescents from any form of exploitation. Given the abuse that has occurred, coaches, judges and club officials should go out of their way to protect all young people from potentially harmful situations.
"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." - Nelson Mandela
Monday, October 31, 2011
"Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn't listening" - Emma Thompson
I just returned from a business trip to find ten voice messages awaiting my attention. Eight of those messages were from coaches or skating directors seeking my counsel regarding a wide range of topics but all centering on poor ethical behavior. Some were perpetrated by management, some by parents and few; by fellow coaches… this is not an unusual occurrence. Most Mondays I spend the morning talking on the phone. That being said, eight messages are a little more than typical. I have to reason that as the economy continues to sputter, anxiety among the general skating population grows. Honestly, some of the skating community, PSA members AND non-members alike, are doing whatever it takes to stay in business, regardless of ethics.
There lies the problem. As we have all heard, "Adversity does not build character, it reveals it." It seems in a number of instances it is revealing a lack of character. Why does this happen? This can not be a phenomenon exclusive to the skating industry. A study conducted in January of 2010 by the Police Executive Research Forum reported that 44% of police departments believed that they were seeing an increase in crimes that were directly related to the poor state of the economy…Ok, it’s a stretch from high crime to ethical issues in figure skating but tight funds create bad decisions.
And bad decisions almost always come from poor or no communication at all. The reality as I see it is when times get tough, we stop communicating. A major majority of those problems come from a lack of direct communication. Would you believe something you heard from Sarah’s brother’s girlfriend’s hairdresser who was talking to a client who told her that Jimmie was talking smack about Jamie’s teaching style…really? But this is what I often hear and my advice is almost always to do the following – communicate!
Remove all emotion from the equation
Write down the facts and review
Sleep on it…a good decision today is a better one tomorrow!
Ask for a one on one meeting with the opposite party. Invite a third party as a mediator if warranted
Lay out the issues, again leaving out the emotion…don’t make it personal.
Listen and don’t interrupt
Listen some more
Hopefully come to a resolution that works
Even if you don’t come to a mutual decision, at least you have done your due diligence.
This works when your problem is with the arena as well. Poor communication is not exclusive to coach to coach tribulations. Often a lack of information to coaches from their club or rink management is just as much to blame. Your arena or club has an obligation to tell the coaches what is expected of them; a written “job description” and the policies and procedures of the organization. How can you be expected to follow those rules if you have never seen them? The coach should know what to expect from the arena and vice verse.
There are some other unique issues when dealing with a club or rink. In fact the list is long. Is your rink public or private? Is it a school or co-op? Does the club buy the ice or is it sold by the rink? Each ownership type will have its own style of management and rules to follow.
State laws are another matter. Do you teach in an “at-will” state? According to Employeeissues.com, it essentially means that employers may fire employees for any reasons, no reasons and even unfair reasons, as long as they are not illegal reasons. One thing we know for certain, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
To cut a long story short, communication is the key to any successful relationship. If you don’t communicate, or even more importantly, make yourself available for communication, you should not be surprised when you find yourself in the middle of a huge predicament.
Monday, October 24, 2011
It also reminded me of an interview I conducted for the soon to be released online course, 2 GRO-W Champions, with Dr. Max Trenerry, a noted consultant in Psychology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a Sport Psychology Consultant for US Youth Soccer’s Region II Girls Olympic Development Program.
The course which explores the topic of abuse, exposes a unique consequence of being a bystander to an abusive relationship. Dr. Trenerry say's, "The issue of secondhand abuse or background anger or unresolved anger in the coaching or training environment is really important, especially for young athletes. ... And we know that when young athletes, that are not even involved in the situation, witness and experience, an angry conversation between two adults or between a coach and another athlete, that the athletes around that are adversely affected. What seems to happen is that if the situation is left unresolved so that the anger and the issue surrounding it are not brought to some sort of resolution; there isn’t some sort of agreement and the relationship is left hanging, hanging and angry. That adversely affects the athlete's mood and that will affect their performance. It will be diminished by that. So in situations where a coach has an angry interaction with an athlete, or for that matter a parent having an angry interaction with a coach, another parent, their own child, or another athlete, that will affect everyone around them. It affects the younger athletes more, of course, because they have less experience in life. So their sense of themselves isn't as secure as an adult. An adult might walk away from one of these things, and may feel bad about it. But the child is left in a situation where the authorities around them have been angry and they haven't brought the issue to any kind of focus or resolution that's productive, and so it turns out to be harmful."
After conducting the interview with Dr. Trenerry, I talked to my youngest daughter asking her about how she feels when a coach yells at a skater on a session in which she is practicing. "It makes me sad for them (the skater) and I try to stay away from that end of the ice," she said. When I asked her about future session, she said she just stays away. Interestingly enough I recalled telling her she needed to use all the ice and not just one end one time and I remember her telling me she didn't like skating on the other side. I really didn't put two and two together until today.
This is an interesting concept. Does anyone out there have an opinion on this?
Friday, October 21, 2011
ISU Communication No. 1700 just came out and the US has just one judge at this year's ISU World Championships...in pairs no less. Yes you read that right...one judge... although that pair judge gets to judge the preliminary round of ladies as well. Great...in comparison, Turkey has 2 judges, as does Russia, Japan, Italy, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and Israel. Belarus, Germany, and Great Britain have 3 each. But the big winner is China with 4! FOUR! How does this happen? This is how that happens ...
ISU Rule 582.4 states:
Principles of entries and restrictions
a) Each ISU Member may enter one Judge by number (not by name) in each discipline in which Judges of this Member are qualified to judge and in which that Member has participated with at least one (1) Skater/Couple in the same Championships or its Preliminary Rounds (see subparagraphs 6.d), 7.c) and 8.d)) of the preceding year, who has/have finished at least one segment of the individual competition or reached in the Preliminary Round the minimal number of points established for that year.
b) An ISU Member can be represented with Judges in all four (4) disciplines within one Championships (This rule does not apply for the World Synchronized Championships).
Is this really the best way to judge our most important event? In my opinion this selection process is more like a lottery and you have about the same odds of winning. I'm sure this is done so the ISU can stand back and throw up their arms in defense and say it's a fair and impartial draw. I understand that...they go to great lengths to convince everyone that this is a fair process....even going so far as to pay for an independent certified Swiss auditor to witness the draw, but by doing that the ISU have introduced randomness to this very important process.
Also, is this the best way to get the best judges to evaluate an event? Maybe this needs tweaking a bit.
How about the way the NBA does its lottery? The basketball team with the worst win/loss record gets more ping pong balls in the hopper than the team that has the best record, increasing there chances of the number one pick in the draft. We could reverse that and countries with the best skaters could have better odds of having a judge drawn. It could be exactly the way they do it for the number of skaters each country gets to send! If we get 3 competitors at worlds, then we get to put up to three judges in the pool. It's not a guarantee but it would increase the odds.
How about tracking the deviations (the number of places between the actual placement of the entire judging panel compared to the placement by the particular judge) over a required number of competitions and then taking the top judges regardless of nationality? This would reward the most consistent judges. What is one of the most important attributes of excellence...experience!
Regardless of the process, the outcome of the draw DOES influence the makeup of the panels. Just because everyone gets an even shot at a spot does not mean that we get the best panel. It's left to chance and although it protects the integrity of the leadership from media scrutiny, I don't think this helps the outcome. We all expect our leadership to stand tall and lead...not to hide behind a process that gives the same odds as you get in Vegas.
Friday, September 23, 2011
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.”
While often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson or Robert Louis Stevenson or Hallmark, it was actually written by Bessie Stanley in 1904…I think. I have the readers digest version painted on walls all over my house, “live well, laugh often, love much.” I’ve even used it as the toast at 5 different marriages. While I would like to know who really wrote it in order to give credit where credit is due, the important part is the words themselves. They have a deep meaning for me, one that brings tears to my eyes every time I read it…it is that powerful.
I think we all struggle from time to time to find meaning in our lives. What is our purpose here? Five years ago I took on the position of executive director here at PSA…I wanted to make a profound difference on a larger scale for both myself and the sport I love. What I found is that many of you feel the same way… just looking for an opportunity to make a difference, either large or small.
The words to live by written above are beautiful, but as we all know I like to do, I need to tweak it just a little bit. In the magazine industry we call it editorial license…
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of coaching peers and the affection of my students; to earn the approbation of honest officials and endure the betrayal of solicitation; to appreciate the beauty of skating; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a better person, a better skater or both; to have skated and laughed with enthusiasm and performed with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have transferred the love of skating to others—this is to have succeeded.”
Friday, May 06, 2011
Here’s another one - to skate or not to skate…compete or not to compete. As I write this, a decision was made regarding the staging of the 2011 World Championships … I’m glad I didn’t have to make it…talk to twelve people and get twelve different opinions. From a humanitarian position, this is a tragedy of epic proportions and regardless of the decision to compete or not to compete; someone will be disappointed, if not enraged, and some will be relieved.
Some pundits felt that the competition should have been cancelled out of respect for the Japanese people. I can see that point; the precedent was set when the ISU cancelled the 1961 championships in response to the loss of the entire US delegation. The ISU president in 1961 was Dr. James Koch. Even with a request from the US that the championships go on as scheduled, Dr. Koch and the executive committee voted to cancel the competition. The vote of the committee was not unanimous. As reported in various American newspapers and in Patricia Shelly Bushman’s “Indelible Tracings”, Dr. Koch said, “The tragedy is too enormous to go on…” Later, when visiting the United States, Dr. Koch told Michael Kirby that no sporting event should ever trump a tragedy.
On the other hand, Phil Hersch of the Chicago Tribune who is on record wanting to cancel Worlds pointed out, “… that World Series games took place in New York less than two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that the 1972 Munich Olympics continued after the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.”
Reigning U.S. Women’s Champion, Alissa Czisney had this to say in a blog about cancelling the event:
“My sincere hope is that this is the last option. From a skater's perspective, skating is our career, our job, our livelihood, and canceling worlds would disrespect all the hard work we have put in… have you canceled your job, your work, due to the tragedy? Most likely, you have continued on with your work, while doing your best to help our friends in Japan. I only ask that we might be given the same opportunity to continue on with our work, while at the same time doing what we can to honor those in Japan and helping as much as we are able.”
I remember the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics and how upset I would have been if that been the winter games.
I think the hardest part is to truly understand what was at stake. While Alissa and her fellow competitors have worked their whole lives for this moment, the decision to cancel or move the competition is going to be about money and pride as much as it is about the skaters. These events are expensive and complicated…to host as well as compete in. Can you imagine how many contracts there are: hotels, arenas, travel, television, media, and sponsorship and more? The LOC has contracts, ISU does and how about all the competitors who have commitments to tour? Yu Na Kim has her own show and the Canadian an US tour of Stars are filled with top skaters. Those contracts represent millions of dollars!
In comparison, if you have ever purchased a house and have attended a closing, you have a general idea on the amount of paperwork that goes into it. Can you imagine the amount of paperwork when the dollars are around 20 million mark and you have to come to terms with so many stake holders? Yikes!
Another matter to consider is that of cultural customs. In Japan, the loss of face from having someone else host the championships would be extremely important to their society. Face is a mark of personal dignity and the Japanese will try never to do anything to cause loss of face.
But what about if this scenario involved the US or Russia? In Russia; they are proud of their country. They accept that their lives are difficult and pride themselves on being able to thrive in circumstances that others could not. Would they allow the competition to be moved anywhere else? Probably not.
“The show must go on” would be the rallying cry in the US. We would also say, “Time is money.” A decision would be made very quickly, and if all possible the competition would move forward. As a practicable note though, if we needed to move the event out of the US we would do it. It’s not that our beliefs are better than anyone else’s. As with our personal liberties that we enjoy here, the needs of the skaters come first.
The truly amazing thing is that multiple countries stepped up to the plate, organizing bids that included available dates in April or May, a main arena with a MINIMUM of 8,000 seats, 700 available hotel rooms, and provide the TV production and signal ``free of charge'' to the ISU and its TV rights holders. Phil Hersch reported that “…a person familiar with TV production of figure skating said that would cost between $1 million and $2 million, and costs likely would move to the higher end…”
When Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became publicly involved, it was almost certain that Russia would be awarded the bid. Sure enough, Moscow was awarded the competition and as you are receiving this issue, World’s is over. I guess you could say pride overcame the money.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Just as the February 13, 1961 issue of Sports Illustrated was reaching the homes of subscribers, its cover girl, 16 year old newly crowned U.S. Women’s Champion Laurence Owen, was glancing down at the beautiful Brussels countryside from Sabena Flight 548. Laurence and the rest of the U.S. delegation were on their way to the World Championships, hopefully to continue the domination of U.S. skaters as they had for the previous decade. Following the greatness of Tenley Albright, Carol Heiss, Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, and David Jenkins, Laurence and her teammates looked forward to continuing their success. But in less time than it took to skate a long program, the dream wretchedly turned to nightmare. In one heart wrenching moment, a generation of talented skaters, coaches and judges were gone…
"It is often in times of tragedy that the finest and most unselfish aspects of human character become evident,” said USFSA President F. Ritter Shumway, at an Ice Capades performance to benefit the Memorial Fund on September 18, 1961.
Ironically, it was another tragedy that thrust Ritter into the Presidency in the first place. A week before the 1961 National championships, and only three weeks prior to the crash, USFSA President Howard Herbert died suddenly. As written in Benjamin Wright’s, Skating in America, “...Ritter took immediate charge and exercised outstanding leadership throughout the crisis.” Unfortunately, misfortune struck the USFSA again in April of that year when the Association Secretary, Col. Harold “Pete” Storke also passed. The subsequent Governing Council meeting held in New York was preceded by a memorial service for the late President, Secretary, and World team.
In retrospect, extraordinary circumstances saw a third of the USFSA Executive Board, 18 athlete members of the US World team, 6 elite coaches, 4 World Judges (Team Manager Deane McMinn was a judge at the 1960 Olympics) and 1 World Referee… all gone! As noted in Skating in America, “In effect, while one generation of skaters was lost, there were two generations of coaches taken away as, since many of the top skaters in 1961 would themselves have eventually become coaches.” Mr. Wright also commented that the standard of skating never fully recovered from the loss of so much talent, especially in the Boston area. In fact, PSA Hall of Fame inductee Montgomery “Bud” Wilson, who elected not to travel to worlds on the ill fated flight but instead, was to fly later that week, died in 1964.
Also spared by a strange twist of fate were Ron Luddington and Sonja Dunfield. They coached the Dinneens who couldn’t afford to pay for their expenses so they stayed behind. Pierre Brunet was supposed to be one the flight as well as future US Champion Laurie Hanlon, the Jelinek’s from Canada, and even Ben Wright’s wife Louise.
As seems to be the case most often, my research at this point took my story in an unexpected direction…
When I started this piece, I assumed that there was some sort of a larger plan by U.S. Figure Skating. To my surprise, when I contacted Ben Wright, he told me he was unaware of any plan for the “reconstruction” of the USFSA during this period. As I begun to dig deeper, I realized that an organized reconstruction of the era was in reality, “everybody for themselves.” Those that came to the United States where seeking opportunities. Clubs mostly looked out for themselves, making decisions based on each unique situation.
While the Boston Skating Club had chosen not to bring in any additional coaches after the crash, many of the great European coaches were invited to move to the US. The Broadmoor hired Carlo Fassi to replace Edi Scholdan, and John Nicks ended up at the Zamboni families Iceland in Paramount, California where Billy Kipp taught.
In Indianapolis at the Winter Club, Rose Anne Ryan, widow of Danny Ryan and a coach herself, was left with 5 children under the age of 6. Past PSA President Sandy Lamb who was coached by the Ryan’s recall’s, “Winter club members were with her most of the time, taking care of the kids, keeping the house straightened up, cooking, etc. etc.” For the next season after the tragedy, Rose Anne brought in a male British dance coach who tried to change the skaters style from Danny’s to the British Style. The situation was difficult at best and did not last long. Rose Anne took over for the rest of the season and the following year brought in Ron Luddington, only two years after he won his Olympic medal.
According to Jerod Swallow, managing director of the Detroit Skating Club, one of their skaters, Doug Ramsay, did perish along his coach, Bill Swallender. Bill wasn’t a resident coach at DSC at the time but taught and operated his own studio rink, as did the Hadley’s in Seattle. Bill would work with Doug on the days Doug skated at DSC. “Bill taught a number of DSC skaters over the years and his death was no less a terrible loss to the club and skating community in Detroit,” said Mr. Swallow. Predictably, both Bill’s and the Hadley’s studio rinks did not prosper for long after the crash.
As far as the void of top skaters, the ranks were filled with future stars, judges, and coaches like Monty Hoyt, Scott Allen, Gary Visconti, Tommy Litz, Richard Callaghan, Tim Wood, Pieter Kollen, Stan Urban, Billy Chapel, Tina Noyes, Christine Haigler (Krall), Louise Wakefield, Karen Howland (Jones), Cynthia and Ron Kauffman, Howard Taylor, Jan Serafine, and perhaps the celebrated of all, Peggy Fleming. Even though the depth was impressive, the period from 1961 – 1965 was extremely unstable. As Patty Bushman, author of the soon to be released book on the 1961 team, Indelible Tracings told me, only the pair team of Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill in 1964 and Peggy Fleming in 1965 were able to defend their US titles.
The only association move that I could personally confirm was that the association was pleading for skaters to come out of retirement. According to Barbara Roles, someone of authority from USFSA had called her mother and asked Barbara to come out of retirement. Honoring those friends she lost, Barbara did come back, placing 5th in the 1962 World Championships, securing a spot for three American skaters at the next World Championships. Patty Bushman confirmed for me that the USFSA did make contact with many former skaters, including Aileen Kahre who had been retired for 6 years! Patty wrote in her book, “… Kahre came back to support U.S. figure skating. Bill Kipp had coached her in Los Angeles when she won the 1956 U.S. silver dance title, and had since returned to her native San Francisco. The USFSA invited silver dance competitors Howard and Georgia Taylor, who had two sets of twins, ages ten and thirteen, to compete in gold dance. When Georgia declined, Howard approached Aileen.” Not much of a plan I’d say.
Ok, that’s not totally accurate or fair…Mr. Shumway did do something that impacted the sport more than bringing back retired skaters; he established the memorial fund. As Ritter said at the Ice Capades benefit performance, “We will take our Memorial Fund a giant skating stroke forward toward our goal of perpetuating the memory of our gallant 1961 World Team skaters, not so much by statuary and plaques, as by giving us the means to assist talented young skaters - many of them yet 'undiscovered' - to get started, to develop and advance, and eventually to represent our country in future years, and to be ranked at the top of the world in the art of figure skating."
My brother David and I, as well as my son Ryan, have all received financial assistance from the memorial fund. By this time, I’m sure the fund has touched the lives of thousands of skaters…it is a lasting memorial to those that died and an important legacy to support. Please ask your skating families to go and see “Rise” or read “Indelible Tracings”. Take the opportunity to discuss the past and the tradition of skating with them. This is a great opportunity to show them why skating is so special and why it’s the greatest sport on earth.