by David Shulman
(PSA Legal Counsel – 1996 )
At the recent World Conference in Chicago, discussion was held on ethics as it may impact the skating coach. Many questions were raised dealing with the relationship between students and their coach and the quest of such students by other coaches.
Solicit… to seek to obtain by persuasion, entreaty, or formal application. To entice or lure.
Consider the following: You arrive at the rink at 5:30 a.m. to begin working with your new pair team. As you enter the office area, you note a large photograph of a coach recently hired in the rink and attached to the photograph is a listing of the coach’s background and awards. In prominent black letters is the statement the coach has been a past world team member in Pairs, has numerous medals from various skating competitions and has been acknowledged as an outstanding Pair coach. As you enter the locker room you note a message light indicating there is a phone message for you. You dial in your password and the following message is heard: ‘Thank you for teaching our children. We have decided to start lessons with Mr. X who has great Pair coaching experience and a vast background of accomplishments and experience. We hope you will understand.”
Do you understand? Probably not. At that moment you are furious for a variety of reasons not the least of which is the early morning hour and the frustration of having lost what you believe to be an outstanding pair team to an unethical coach. Did the coach act unethically?
Consider the same scenario, except as you approach the rink you note that numerous cars in the parking lot seem to have pieces of paper tucked into the door handles. Curious, you approach one of the cars and pull the paper from the door handle, open it up and read it. Inside on a printed sheet is a complete outline of the newly hired coach with a suggestion in the copy that if a student were to take from this coach they would have much better chances both at tests and in competition. Unethical?
Advertise… to make a public announcement of, especially to proclaim the qualities or advantages of (a product or business) so as to increase sales….to make known; call attention to.
Consider the following: Upon opening your mail, you discover a flyer has been sent to you extolling the virtues of a husband and wife team recently hired at your rink. The flyer describes their various accomplishments and appears to make statements leading a skater to conclude that if one or both of these coaches worked with them a remarkable improvement would be made.
As you are putting down the flyer, the phone rings and it is the parent of one of your best students calling to inquire if you knew anything about this particular coaching team. It is evident from the conversation the parent has only a mild interest but you are curious as to the manner in which the parent was contacted. It appears they also received the flyer and had no personal contact. Trying to be professional, you suggest that this is merely a form of advertising and there isn’t much you can say about the ability or the lack thereof. Within moments, your phone rings three more times with additional calls from parents which now has you alarmed. It seems each of the parents received the flyer and some of them have expressed an interest in “just trying out the new coaches”.
Is there an ethical violation? Would it be an ethical violation for you to make some comment to your parents regarding your thoughts about this type of conduct? Should you contact the coaches directly?
The law prevents a party from interfering with business-contract relations of other persons. For example, if a business man has a contract with another business, it is illegal and subject to a damage claim if a third party attempts to interfere with that contract relationship. The question arises as to the definition of the word “interfere”. If a direct contact is made with one of the parties by a third person which encourages the breaking of the contract, the law views this as a “tortious interference”. Such activity will subject the third party to a damage claim by one of the contracting parties who may have lost income or business as a result of the interference.
Indeed, it is possible that a coach who has a national competitor, a steady flow of income from the competitor and perhaps a contract with the competitor for future earnings, to make a claim against an invading coach who attempts to steal away the student by interfering with the student-coach relationship. Such a claim would be subject to proof and require direct evidence of interference.
It is a common experience in skating to have coaches indirectly contact your students. The Professional Skaters Association has made it clear through its Rules of Ethical Conduct that such contact, with the clear idea of obtaining the skater as a student, is not appropriate and will be sanctioned. The difficulty of establishing proof when the contact with the student is subtle, poses some obstacles. Is a birthday card sent to another student, not your own, appropriate?
Is a sympathy card sent to a student who is not your own, appropriate at a time of sorrow? What about offers to “just keep an eye on a skater at competition, not interfere in any way and I’ll be there if you need me….” a form of interference with the relationship between a student and another coach?
This article was written to raise as many questions as it might answer. Each situation must be addressed individually but you will know in your gut when something is wrong or when the action you are about to take is unethical. Consider this definition: General distribution of literature or knowledge of credentials and background is not considered to be solicitation. Personal contact with skaters or parents, directly or through a third party, with reference to lesson availability, credentials or invitation to instruct is a definite violation and should be considered solicitation.
If someone is creating a problem for you, analyze the situation carefully and try to find the bright line between aggressive marketing and interference with the business relationship between you, your skaters and the parent.