Power Politics:
USFSA vs. the Coaches
Round 2

In February we discussed some of the issues causing friction between the coaching community and the USFSA. In this article we follow up on these issues in light of actions taken at the USFSA Governing Council, and report on further developments in relations between the coaches and the USFSA. [Note: We incorrectly reported that some of these issues resulted from a request from the ISU that the NGBs identify their officially designated coaches program. This request in reality came from the USOC.]

Two of the issues we reported on previously were addressed directly in rules passed this month: scheduling, credentialing and access rules at Nationals; and the coaches certification program.

Dissastifaction among the athletes and coaches with scheduling, credentialing and access contributed to the Athletes Advisory Committee proposing a rules change that created a subcommittee of the Competition Committee responsible "for reviewing and recommending National's policy" in these and other areas. This subcommittee will consist of "athletes, coaches, referees, and other relevant constituencies." The proposal, which passed easily, formally reestablishes the opportunity for coaches to provide input on credentialing and scheduling that had existed, informally, up until this year. The inclusion of the phrase "other relevant constituencies", however, is an interesting innovation. Just who are the other relevant constituencies? Parents? Television? Agents? It will be interesting to see who tries to expand the membership of the subcommittee under this provision. In the short run, however, you can bet that USFSA Presidents (who appoint committee members) will keep a tight reign on membership for this committee.

The second action taken at Governing Council that relieved some of the tensions between the USFSA and the coaches dealt with the designation of the USFSA coaches training program. At the recommendation of the Coaches Committee, it was decided that USFSA would provisionally recommend to the USOC that the PSA Training, Education and Certification Program be designated as the official USFSA Coaching Program, with a final recommendation to be made in one year. Had the USFSA decided to establish its own program (for which it still has left the door open to do so a year from now) it would have represented a major challenge to the PSA which has been active in educating coaches on its own initiative throughout its 58 year history. The PSA is currently in the process of revising its programs and testing procedures to insure compliance with the goals of the USOC Coaches Education program. According to the USFSA, the USOC has stated that the PSA program is a good program that exceeds many existing NGB coaching programs in other sports.

While these actions resolve the two hottest issues involving coaching in the U.S., others remain.

Because the USFSA feels itself primarily charged by choice, and by direction from the USOC, to produce medals in international competition, and because medal success is largely dependent upon the actions and qualifications of the coaches, the USFSA appears to feel it has a vital interest in insuring that the coaching community acts only to benefit skating in the U.S. Since PSA membership and coaches training programs are open to foreign coaches who train foreign athletes competing against U.S. skaters, there is reluctance in some quarters to embrace the PSA training program as the official USFSA program. Extremists see the PSA's involvement with foreign coaches, joint programs with the CFSA, and possible involvement in international training programs as threats to the U.S. skating program, if not acts of treason. The subject of foreign skaters and coaches training and working in the U.S. is a touchy one for many in the U.S. skating community, despite the many well know ways American skating has benefited from the contributions of foreign coaches dating back 50 years and more.

There is resentment within the USFSA that some coaches (one or two dozen at best) are being paid to judge ineligible events, and that any coaches are judging them at all. The USFSA feels that paying coaches to judge entices eligible skaters to give up their eligibility, and that coaches who also judge do not support the eligible (USFSA) system. Further it is viewed that coaching and judging presents a conflict of interest. In the organizational turf wars that characterize skating today, the USFSA stakes out the position that the Association should be the sole promoter and provider of judges for skating competitions, both eligible and ineligible, in the U.S.

For most of its 75 year history (until the establishment of the ProAm competitions), the USFSA was not involved with, or interested in, ineligible (professional) skating. The times, however, they are a changing. As the market has grown, interest in ineligible competitions has grown within the USFSA, and the Association is now moving towards the position that it should be the sole promoter of competitive events in the U.S. The U.S. Open, staged by the PSA since 1981, has come to be viewed as placing the PSA in competition with the USFSA as a promoter of competitive events. Further, some feel that having a coaches organization promote an ineligible event with prize money may encourage eligible skaters to give up their eligibility, and thus is a threat to the eligible (USFSA) system. It is interesting to note that the PSA has approached the USFSA about making the U.S. Open a sanctioned event, but the Association has thus far been uninterested.

The perception now exists that the PSA and USFSA are competing organizations. Some within the USFSA are even paranoid that the PSA wants to displace the Association as the NGB for figure skating in the U.S. This is a rather odd view considering that nearly all the PSA's activities are directed towards coaches education and training in the eligible system (an activity not previously part of the USFSA's activities), and that except for a handful of coaches getting involved in judging ineligible competitions (not even a PSA program), the trend has been for the USFSA to move into PSA territory, and not vice versa. It is the USFSA that only now makes an issue of a 15 year old competition that has never competed with a USFSA event, it is the USFSA that established an insurance program competing with a preexisting PSA program, and it is the USFSA that recently required that coaches be members of the USFSA in order to be credentialed at USFSA events. The insurance issue was particularly vexing to the PSA since the USFSA program developed out of information provided by the PSA in expectation of the development of a joint program, and since its insurance program is a major membership incentive program for them. Because of these actions many coaches are concerned that the USFSA is attempting to take over control of their profession. For its part, the PSA has stated it has no interest in being an NGB. [Which is a credit to the coaches in our view, feeling as we do that no one in their right mind would want to be an NGB.]

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