This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Friday, April 20, 2018

- friction

No matter how involved a skating parent nor how proficient a coach and her staff, you're still going to find some friction between a parent and the coach. The basis for this is joint and several.

Some is the natural conflict inherent in loco parentis where every day a coach temporarily transmits some of her value system to a student. Some of it may be a lingering suspicion from the parent that the coach's goals don't align exactly with her own. Some of it may strictly be a cost/benefit complaint. Some of it may be disdain toward the lack of authority or control the parent has over the coach (who appears to primarily be an employee of the rink).

At the foundational level though, all this appears to mostly result from a complicated "agency" problem: several parties stand between the service provider (coach) and the buyer (parent). Analogous to how companies buy health insurance for their employees, a parent buys coaching for her child. This transaction is not perfectly transparent however: few parents comprehend the intricacies of skating and the communication between a parent and her child are often less than clairvoyant.

There also seems to be a moral hazard always lurking beneath the surface: is the coach actually managing your child strictly to retain a long term client? Is that in your child's best interest? Does the coach give you false hopes of grandeur in return for a longer lasting revenue stream? In other words is the best interest of your skating child at odds with the best interests of her coach?

A parent of a serious skater may need to consider how to incentivize her kid's coaches to achieve the skater's desired results. Should you tip your coach for exceptional accomplishments? Should you have a contract with your kid's coach with performance incentives? Should we be encouraging skate parents to share their feelings about the quality of their coaches?

Yeah it's a lot of questions and I don't know any of the answers. Frankly a parent can be a bit of a cad to bring these up in public to begin with. Still it's something to think about (and perhaps discuss on blogs or on skating forums).


  1. I've wondered many of these things also. Not so much about the moral hazard (we are lucky enough to have an excellent and very trustworthy coach), but about the alignment of goals and about incentives.

    In the business world incentives are routine and expected, and the saying is "you get what you incent." But in skating? I don't know. Do people do that? What does it look like? "When little Suzy gets her double axel we'll pay you $XX?" Somehow the thought of suggesting something like that feels kinda slimy, like the coach might be offended.

    But on the other hand, getting a skater to a significant goal is a big accomplishment not just for the skater but for the coach. I know lots of people who give presents to the kids to reward that accomplishment (axel gifts anyone?). Is it appropriate to give the coach a gift as well?

    I'm curious what other skating parents think on this topic -- and also, what coaches think!

  2. I give my daughter's coach a raise when they reach certain milestones. And always hanging over the coach's head is the granddaddy of incentives-- if you don't deliver, the skater will go elsewhere. Doesn't matter if it's because the kid doesn't practice, doesn't matter if it's because the kid has no talent-- you need to deliver on the skater's goal or the family is gone. Of course what this means for the coach is managing and advising for realistic expectations. If Suzy isn't going to have a double axel (because of talent, time, commitment, whatever) then you better have another goal in mind that she *can* achieve.