Your are interested in figure skating, I am sure you have many questions. How do I  start? When am I ready? What equipment is needed? Who teaches? How much will it cost?  When I started Basic Skills 30 years ago, I had the same questions you probably have right now. Lucky for me, I found a great teacher and followed her advice. So, here are my answers and suggestions.

What Is Figure Skating?

Figure skating is a sport of many disciplines. Learning these disciplines, skaters build individual skills and then use those skills to test, compete, or work with partners or as a team. The three core skating disciplines taught by CCSA’s Teaching Professionals are:

Moves in the Field - basic turns, edges, footwork skated in patterns using the full ice surface, arranged in eight ascending difficulty levels from Pre Preliminary through Senior (Gold).

Freestyle - jumps, spins, footwork, spirals, worked into musical programs using the full ice surface, arranged in eight ascending levels of difficulty, Pre Preliminary through Senior (Gold).

Dance - patterns of steps and turns set to music of a particular type (waltz, tango, foxtrot, etc.) skated with a partner, and sometimes as a solo, using the full ice surface, arranged in eight ascending levels of difficulty from Preliminary to Gold and International.

CCSA and its coaching staff offer skaters the chance to test their skills in these three interdependent disciplines before panels of United States Figure Skating-certified judges each season. Testing allows skaters here to match their skills against a national standard upheld by the certified judging panel.

In addition, CCSA offers skaters the choice to join with others at similar test levels to compete as a Synchronized Team. Synchro teams range from 8-10 skaters to 20-25, and, as the name implies, the team moves across the full ice surface as one to music of its choice.

When Should I Start My Child in Figure Skating?

Depends on the child! The key to knowing when children can start figure skating using the full ice surface is their interest in learning more than Basic Skills (Learn to Skate) teaches. I’d suggest placing them in CCSA’s “transition” groups at Basic 4 or 5. Try that for a season. If their interest persists and grows, move them to individual instruction with a CCSA coach.

What Does My Child Need to Start?

Skaters need three building blocks to start skating: time on the ice, individual instruction, and properly fitted, well-supported boots with an appropriate blade. However, there is no shortcut to learning a physical skill, so skaters’ commitment to practicing is also essential for them to progress in the sport. Behind all of these lies parental support and involvement.

How Much Ice Time Does My Child Need?

As a coach with 30 skating, and 15 teaching years behind me, I recommend skaters get on the ice a minimum of three times/week to maximize the repetition of skills learned and minimize the learning lost if an activity is not done regularly! Skaters need to skate as often as they can and take individual lessons on each session.

The ratio of lesson to practice is the same as with most learning activities, 1 to 2. For every 15-minute lesson, skaters should have 30 minutes to practice. This is the most efficient way to make progress.

Figure skating, because of its speed, and the intricacy of its movements, depends on building “muscle memory” through constant practice and repetition. It takes time, effort, good teaching, and quality practice to develop muscle memory but having it builds skaters’ confidence, performance ability, and enjoyment.

Who Will Teach My Skater?

This is the single most important decision parents make as their child begins skating. Look carefully at the coaches’ resumes to help identify who may best serve your child’s needs. All CCSA’s coaches are qualified to teach beginners. They differ in age, experience, education, teaching style, and cost. No sheet of paper tells the full story of a coach, but resumes give bases for comparison.

Teaching style and communication skills can make all the difference in the skater/teacher relationship. Look for a coach who listens carefully to you and your child, answers your questions thoughtfully, and keeps you in the “loop” of your child’s progress.

The decision is yours to make but I feel it is best to choose to work with just one coach at this stage of your child’s development; later your child may wish to work with others to develop or hone more specialized skills.

What is Appropriate Equipment?

Seek advice from a teaching professional before purchasing skates but keep in mind that fit and support appropriate to the skater’s age/weight are the first considerations. Boots should fit the foot closely with no more than a thumb’s length of extra space in the toe and use only the thinnest of socks or skating tights for skating. A beginner’s blade may have small, recreational picks, but once launched into figure skating, skaters need those nasty-looking big picks for jumping and spinning.

To judge the support of a boot, crush it to one side from its top. If it creases easily around the ankle, it won’t provide enough support. However, it must crease somewhat to enable the ankle to bend. Skaters’ ages, weight, and levels of development determine the support they need. Used skates work for beginners if they fit properly as described above, and have appropriate blades.

Ice Time, Coach, Skates, What’s Next?

Quality, self-directed practice! I’ve already mentioned the 1/2 ratio of lesson time/practice as being the most efficient formula for progressing in skating. If you want to add additional lessons to your child’s schedule, I suggest purchasing a punch card, checking with your child’s coach, and putting your child on the ice for extra sessions especially before tests. Or, you could try purchasing an additional session for the season’s second half and arranging extra lessons with your child’s coach!

Practice time should be as self-directed as the child is capable of making it, but each session at this point in your child’s development should contain a lesson so she has something to concentrate on during practice time.

How Much Parental Commitment Is Needed?

This is a very good question. Children need to know their parents support them. They appreciate their parents’ presence at activities, so please come to see your children skate often. Watch their lessons and note their progress. Share their joy when a new jump lands or a first spiral holds without wobbling. Commiserate with them the first time they try to dance with a partner and discover how much more difficult it is to skate “their” dance with a warm body next to them! Occasionally grab some exercise doing laps around the rink but keep your eyes open so you can talk to your skater on the way home.

Make time to serve as a Music Monitor who takes attendance and plays music for all the skaters. CCSA asks families to volunteer 15 hours/season and being a Music Monitor eats up volunteer time yet keeps parents right at ice level where they can see their own skaters! Plan to help with the Ice Show, and/or with Turkey Trot as your child steps into her first competition. Volunteer to collect test forms for the Accounting room the day your skater takes her first test. There are so many CCSA activities for volunteers. Each one keeps you in the same building connected to the same activity as your child!

How Much Does Skating Really Cost?

Always the “Big Question”, but start your calculations with ice time at approximately $210/session multiplied by the three sessions/week I recommended. Remember, the cost of CCSA’s ice time is partially subsidized for everyone each season from the proceeds of both the Turkey Trot competition and the spring Ice Show so helping make them successful keeps everyone’s costs down.

Add in three lessons/week, as I recommended, at the rate charged by your child’s coach then multiply by the total number of weeks in the season (about 20).

Figure in the fee to take one test/test session, or three tests/year ($35-$60 each at the lower levels of testing). Add in the annual USFS fee (about $40) and CCSA’s membership fee ($25) due by June 30th and you’ve got the major expenses covered except for equipment and dresses.

In the beginning, new skates of appropriate quality may be just under $200 and skaters will need new ones every other year, at least. In Houghton, Center Ice carries sets (boots with blades) made by Jackson of reasonable quality for beginning skaters in the $200 range. Later, more specialized blades alone will run $200 and boots for advanced skaters run more than that.

Dresses, sweaters, and warm-up clothes can be purchased from catalogs, online, or ordered from parents who design and make one-of-a-kind to order. The CCSA consignment shop has a large collection of used dresses and some sweaters. Proceeds support the Synchro program. Contact Kristin Lufkin (906-482-1182) to visit her home and check out dresses in your skater’s size.

How Valuable Is Summer School to My Skater?

Last question for now! If all the rest of this synopsis of Intro to Figure Skating 101 were a Master Card commercial, Summer Skating Schools would come at the end with the word, “Priceless”!

Sherry Karnosky, CCSA Pro Liaison

Spring 2008