"Athletes are sensitive human
beings with lives beyond sport;
they are not simply a commodity."

The Coaches' Report

You and Your Child's Coach: A Questionnaire

This is a questionnaire adapted from What Parents Can Do About Harassment and Abuse in Sport, from the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport. The statements have here been presented in a way that will hopefully make it easier for you, the skating parent, to think in different ways about your relationship with your child's coach.

In the beginning of every skater's career, there is a young person who has the desire and the dream to skate. Then there are the parents, who drive their child to the rink, spend their afternoons and evenings watching him or her show off, and listen to those dreams. Then, one day, they hire the person who is perhaps most essential, outside of the parent-child relationship, to a young skater's ultimate success -- the coach. Thus begins the unique triangular relationship that is the starting point for every skater's career. It is a complicated relationship, potentially very rewarding, yet also fraught with potential misunderstandings.

With each new success, there are more relationships for skaters and their parents to deal with -- choreographers, agents, personal managers, and fans. In the midst of all this, a successful young skater -- still a teenager or a young adult -- has relationships with friends and romantic interests to consider. These pressures are also felt by you, the parent -- and, since the coach is usually the first relationship that you have with anyone in the skating world, you may trust them to be your own guide as well as your child's.

As complicated as the three-way relationship between you, your child and the coach already is, it can also be complicated further by financial considerations, personal friendships you may have off-ice with the coach and other skating personnel, and other extenuating factors which may give rise to situations you might not feel entirely comfortable with.

The authors of "What Parents Can Do" say: "Children involved in sport often make strong connections and develop a special trusting relationship with their coaches and instructors who exert great influence over them. If this power is abused, children can suffer enormous consequences." Possible consequences to young skaters include physical, verbal or sexual abuse.

The following list of items can help you assess your relationship with your child's coach so that you, the parent and (most likely) employer of the coach, can better understand your own current position in this three-way relationship. It intended to help you evaluate the current state of the proper personal boundaries between you, your child and their coach. It is also intended to aid you in deciding whether or not your role in this relationship has become compromised in ways that could affect your child's career -- and more importantly, their personal well-being beyond skating.


The Questionnaire

Check any of the following 25 statements which you feel are true of your relationship with your child's coach. (You might want to print out this page before taking the questionnaire.)

1. Most of my information about skating itself -- skills, requirements, what judges expect of my child, etc. -- comes from this coach; I rarely seek information from other people on these subjects.

2. I'm not sure if this coach is currently fully and properly certified by the PSA (Professional Skaters Association).

3. When this coach makes a decision that I don't understand or which disturbs me, I avoid making an issue of it because it just tends to result in unpleasantness or misunderstanding.

4. I consider this coach to be a close friend (or, my child's coach is a family member), and I tend to trust him or her implicitly.

5. I've told my child to always do everything the coach tells him or her to do, because I don't want to be a "skating parent from hell."

6. I've never had any planned discussions with this coach about the type of behavior (coaching styles, language, touching of my child's body during a lesson, etc) which I am comfortable with, or which I expect while he/she is coaching my child.

7. I don't feel comfortable about hanging around too much in the stands when this coach is giving my child a lesson at the rink; I don't want to interfere with the coach's work.

8. I've noticed that this coach frequently schedules private, closed practices or conferences with my child, and I've assumed that my presence at these occasions would be disruptive.

9. I don't ask my child how his or her skating is going -- if there was a problem, my child would complain, or his/her coach would tell me if my child weren't making satisfactory progress.

10. I hope my child would tell me if their coach ever says something that makes them uncomfortable, or if their coach ever touches them in a way they don't like; but I've never broached the subject with my child, unless they've complained.

11. I frequently have arguments or confrontations with this coach which I feel are not resolved to my satisfaction.

12. When my child has repeated disputes or ongoing antagonism with his/her coach, I don't intervene -- I assume it's because my child is having a motivation problem or a technique problem which I couldn't help with.

13. Due to financial constraints, I've had to negotiate for this coach to take a voluntary pay cut or give free lessons from time to time; or, I've accepted an offer from this coach for free lessons, but no formal agreement on future payment has yet been worked out between us.

14. I have been, or am currently, romantically involved with this coach.

15. In the interests of saving money, or for simplicity's sake, I've been relying on this coach to design my child's competitive routines (choreography), and/or to give him or her ballet lessons, to design or pay for costumes, or to be his/her agent or manager.

16. There have been times when I have observed this coach using harsh language with my child or with other students, but I have never brought up the incident with my child (unless they complain about it to me).

17. I feel that if I didn't have this coach to turn to for advice, I'd be totally "lost" when it comes to understanding skating, equipment or travel costs, or my child's career.

18. When I travel with my child and his/her coach to a competition, I try to keep a low profile, and not spend any time with them whatsoever, except watching the competition from the stands -- I don't want to disrupt their intense focus.

19. I'm not sure I would be able to dismiss this coach for any reason without seriously complicating the lives of my family or friends.

20. I frequently accept the advice or demands of this coach when it comes to regulating my child's off-ice social life or school arrangements.

21. I feel as if this coach doesn't want me to talk to or associate with certain other people at the rink.

22. I feel as if this coach doesn't want or expect me to get advice from other people about my child's career plans, diet, technical goals, costumes, choreography or music.

23. I don't like to discuss my dealings with this coach with any of my friends or family.

24. When my child doesn't do well in a competition or practice, I always find myself worrying about what his/her coach will say to me.

25. Although I haven't been disappointed with this coach, I've never seriously tried to envision ways that my child's skating might be improved were he/she to one day use a different coach.


Assessing your relationship with your child's coach

Now that you've considered the above statements and how they might (or might not) apply to you, you should understand that most of these items, taken by themselves, don't indicate that your role as parent in your child's career has been compromised.

But if you have checked any of the above statements, you should take some time to reflect on these particular situations. How do they affect your feelings of being comfortably involved in your child's career and your child's day-to-day practice or competitive experiences? Do these situations tend to make you feel more in control of the relationship, or do they make it more difficult for you to feel as connected to your child's skating (or your child) as you would like?

Although your relationship with your child's coach may be warm and trusting, if your child is not an adult, you should keep in mind that you are essentially the employer of the coach first, and ultimate control of the three-way relationship belongs to you, for that reason. Your personal feelings about the coaching relationship are very important, regardless of other aspects of your relationship with a coach (being friends, family, etc) and regardless of how experienced and knowledgeable a coach may be about your child's career.

If you find that you have checked a great many of the above statements, you should seriously consider sharing this questionnaire and the items you checked, with your spouse or with other friends you can trust. It's always important to communicate with a coach about how you feel about the relationship, but it may be more helpful to step back from the relationship at this time and get an "outside opinion" from someone else about whether there should be adjustments made to the parent-skater-coach relationship you are currently involved in.