Monday, October 31, 2011

A Lack of Communication

PS Magazine Nov/Dec 2011 Issue

"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, 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

Secondhand TV

I read an interesting article in the Monday, October 24th, USA Today regarding "secondhand" exposure to TV. Intersting in the way that researchers are warning us about the dangers of watching TV when young children are with in eye or earshot. The Americn Academy of Pediatrics says that it hurts their language development....interesting!

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

Is it Fair?

Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Professional Skaters Association or official policies of the PSA.

ISU Communication No. 1700 just came out and the US has just one judge at this year's ISU World pairs no less. Yes you read that judge... although that pair judge gets to judge the preliminary round of ladies as well. 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.