Power Politics: USFSA vs. the Coaches

It started last summer as a simple bureaucratic exercise - the ISU requesting that its member national governing bodies designate their corresponding coaches association. It has developed, however, into a major conflict between the USFSA and the PSA, and an internal conflict between USFSA managment and the USFSA Coaches Commitee. In the process the long standing cooperative relationship between skating officials and coaches has been damaged, and, according to the coaches, the traditional relationship between coaches and athletes has been compromised.

The Professional Skaters Association (formerly known as the Professinal Skaters Guild of America) has served as the professional association of ice skating coaches in the United States for many years. Through the years the PSA has conducted seminars, meetings, and other activities at USFSA competitions. For many years the PSA President has been invited to address the annual business meeting of the USFSA, and often also attends that meeting in an official capacity; for example, as a member or Chairman of the Coaches Committee, or as a member of the USFSA Board of Directors. Despite this long, well established relationship between the USFSA and the PSA, the USFSA has yet to certify the PSA as the coaches association affiliated with the USFSA.

To a large extent, the withholding of certification can be viewed as primarily symbolic. More important to the coaches, during the period that the issue of certification has been under discusison, the USFSA has implemented a number of policies with which the coaches disagree. These policies deal with the relationship between the coaches and the USFSA, and between the coaches and their students. The coaches, through the USFSA Coaches Committee, object that these policies were implemented without approval or input from their committee.

At the start of this competition season, the USFSA established a rule that coaches must be members of the USFSA in oder to be credentialed at qualifying competition (Regionals, Sectionals, Nationals). That is, coaches who are not members of the USFSA cannot work with their skaters at practice sessions, or put them on during an event at qualifying competitions. Since few skaters are comfortable with the thought of competing without benefit of their coach, this rules coerces skaters to choose a coach that is a member of the USFSA, and coerces coaches to be members of the USFSA. (It is interesting to note that up until a few years ago many clubs did not permit coaches to be club members, and the rules forbade a coach from serving as an officer in a USFSA club.)

The second decision made at the start of the season that irritated coaches involved liability insurance. Traditionally coaches have obtained liability insurance through the PSA, the ISIA, or individual policies. The USFSA has flip-flopped in the past on the issue of offering liability insurance to the coaches, but this year decided to offer a competing policy. Some coaches feel this insurance is redundant and unnecessary.

Following the implementation of these two rules, the coaches requested a meeting with USFSA managment to discuss policies and the negative climate that was developing. According to the Coaches Committee this request for a meeting was ignored.

For the 1996 National Championships several additional policy changes were introduced that further alienated the coaches.

It is not uncommon at Nationals for a coach to have several National competitors, or for some competitors to be skating in more than one event. This can lead to scheduling conflicts for coaches or competitors that negitively impacts the ability of the skaters to compete at their best. It has been traditional to incorporate input from the coaches when drawing up the event and practice schedules to avoid, or at least minimize, these conflicts. This year, the coaches felt their input was disregarded, to the detriment of the skaters.

In order to limit the number of credentials issued at Nationals, major changes were made to the credentialing policy. According to USFSA the primary purpose for these changes were economic, the feeling being that too many people were obtaining credentials simply in order to avoid purchasing a ticket. In describing this policy to the coaches at a meeting at Nationals, many of the coaches were antagonized to the point of walking out of the meeting. Coaches credentials were restricted to a point that the coaches felt effective contact with their skaters was in some cases damaged. Under the new policy some coaches with both novice and junior or senior competitiors could not get adequate credentials for their assistants and thus during scheduling conflicts between novice and junior or senior events some skaters were forced to go coachless. Further, under the new credentialing process novice competitors were denied access back-stage in the main arena. As a result, when the coaches of novice competitors were back-stage with junior or senior competitors, the novice competitors had no way of reaching their coaches, nor any of the back-stage skater services. In addition, once a junior or senior competitors' event was over they could no longer get back-stage at all - their credential "had expired". Neither skaters nor coaches were very happy with this approach.

Another example of access rules run amuck took place in the official hotel, where coaches, and officials all have different hospitality areas. Under this year's policy, coaches' credentials were not accepted for access to the skater's hospitality area. In one case, an attempt was made to prevent a coach from entering to see what their skater was eating due to the lack of the "correct" credential - an obvious interference with the coach's responsibility to monitor the skater. Even more absurd in this case, the coach was also the skater's parent.

In a radical departure from past years, skaters and coaches were only allowed access back-stage during their event, and were prohibited from watching their event from the skater's entry area except during their own warmup. In other words, skaters and coaches were prevented from watching their competition in other warmup groups which interfered with their ability to develop strategy and to prepare mentally for their performance.

As a result of all these factors, coaches' morale at Nationals was poor at best.

Due to the lack of response to their initial request for a dialogue with USFSA management, the Coaches Committee took the unusual step of preparing an open letter to USFSA management addressing these issues. This was done with the unanimous agreement of all the members of the Coaches Committee, a list that is a "Who's Who" of the American coaching community. The text of this letter togther with the list of signatories can be found at the end of this page. This letter appears to have been somewhat of an embarrassment to USFSA which attempted to limit its distribution. One reporter, who is also a coach, attempted to assist in its distribution, but was told that her credential would be pulled if she persisted.

The next major act in this drama is likely to be played out at the 1996 Governing Council meeting of the USFSA. We will keep you informed.

January 19, 1996


The Coaches Committee of the United States Figure Skating Association is a permanent
voting committee representing the interests of the coaching community within the
National Governing Body (USFSA).

The committee in the past has had an excellent and productive role in representing the
best interests of the coaches and their athletes to the USFSA.

The committee unanimously voted to publicly state:


The following issues were implemented without approval or input from the Coaches
Committee which has jurisdiction over coaching affairs:

1.  Mandatory USFSA membership for coaches in order to receive credentials at USFSA
qualifying competitions.

2.  Duplicating liability insurance which was already in place.

A request for dialogue and an official meeting to establish a more productive climate
and avoid these serious issues was ignored.


3.  Disregarding coaches input for the 1996 Nationals practice and event schedule.

4.  Dramatic credentialing policy changes.  These changes restricted the athletes from
interfacing with their coaches in a traditional and effective manner.

5.  Implementing a policy that limits the ability of athletes and coaches to view
the actual competition in order to set strategy and to prepare the skaters properly
both physically and mentally for their events.

The new restrictions put in place at this championships along with the issues of the
entire skating season, has set less than a positive tone creating low morale of the
coaches and the ability to do their best for the athletes of the 1996 National Figure
Skating Championships.

The Coaches Committee of the United States Figure Skating Association respectfully
requests a return to:

1.  Proper legislative procedures.

2.  Traditional coach/athlete credentialing policy.

3.  A return to an era of communication in the best interests of the athletes.

David Lowery              Frank Carroll
Ron Ludington             Barret Brown
Carol Heiss Jenkins       Evy Scotvold
John Nicks                Sandy Lamb
Karen Ludington           Richard Callaghan
Kathy Casey               William Fauver
Gerry Lane                Alex McGowan
Peter Burrows             Cindy Geltz
Karen Courtland           Scott Wendland

Bob Mock

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