Oct 8, 2009

Yes, please practice. Why are we even asking this question?

On the FAQ for skating parents-- should she be practicing?

The answer is yes.  And no.  If you've started jumps and spins, you should be practicing.  The skills are difficult and complex, and require independent thinking that comes from independent practice.  If you're a beginner skater the answer is still yes and no-- it's hard to "practice" when you don't know how to do anything, but for the beginner skater just skating around in circles constitutes practice.  Plus, I don't know any kid who will come to a rink, especially with friends, and not, number one show off, and number two, check out what that girl over there is doing, and trying that.

If your child is in love with skating, at least in Chicago you can easily find ice 5 hours a day.  But really, there's no need.  I raised a high level skater who passed the highest tests in 3 skating disciplines; at her highest competitive level she skated about 12 hours a week, including 2-3 lessons and 2 classes.  But before and after her short competitive stint, she never skated more than  about 7 hours a week, again, including classes and lessons.  Before any coaches reading this have an apoplexy, I wouldn't recommend this approach to a student whose ambition is to compete nationally.

My point is, you don't need to go crazy here.  Just like not every student taking violin lessons is planning to go to Juilliard, there's more to figure skating than being the next Michelle Kwan.  However, just because you're not heading to Juilliard does not mean you shouldn't practice.

The skills in Freestyle are complex (a spin utilizes two types of turns, backward crossovers, forward and backward edges, change of edge, and oh, yes there’s the spinning part!).  As with high-level skills in any discipline, only by practicing will you get it right.  So I strongly recommend that your freestyle skater come more than once a week.

Below the freestyle level (essentially when you start doing spins and full-rotation jumps) come to class and come at least once a week just to skate around.  Lessons are great-- your child will learn better technique and will progress faster with lessons-- but the most important thing for beginners is just to be on the ice having fun.

Once the more complex skills begin, technique becomes especially important, as well as skill-specific practice so the muscles learn.  But the amount of time is entirely dependent on outside factors.  Does he or she (or you, as the parent) have the commitment and stamina to come several times a week?  Can your schedule and budget handle it?  A good starting point for a new freestyle skater is one or two free style classes, or a free style class plus one or more specialty class.  To this you should add one or two hours of practice.  One pro suggests that you start with an hour of practice per week, then add one hour for each free style level you achieve (so a skater in Freestyle 1 should practice for two hours per week outside of class).   I came up with a formula- 1/2 hour of non-class practice for each rotation in jumps that you've learned.  So if you're in ISI Freestyle 4 (salchow, toe-loop, half-loop, flip) you should be skating 2 hours on your own outside of class and lessons.  Someone doing 4 double jumps and an axel should be practicing 4-5 hours per week.  Someone doing only the 6 low-freestyle half-jumps would practice 1-2 hours per week.

The more ambitious the skater, the more time needs to be devoted.  Want to compete?  You need to add time to practice the skills plus the program.  Moves tests?  Now you need  a moves lesson and dedicated practice.  Help with a specific jump?  More practice.

Just want to skate in class and ice shows?  Back to the formula-- that's probably enough to maintain and even progress.

There are lots of skaters who can learn all the jumps through Freestyle 4 just from class.  The higher level skills require one-on-one lessons.  Some skaters need extra lessons and extra classes earlier on, and like I said, all skaters can benefit from private lessons if the coach is a good fit.

The more you practice, the better you’ll be. Does your skater want to skate a lot?  Bless her or him.  If you can afford the time and money, go for it.  If you can't handle it, or your child can't handle it, skate enough to progress through the levels.  It's not about what the coach says, or what the industry says, or what the mom sitting next to you says.  It's about you and your skater and the love of this wonderful sport.


  1. Great article! But the part that made me catch my breath was in your last two sentences....well said. I have to remind myself and my little skater about this every once in a while, when folks question why we are so dedicated to practices and lessons when she certainly isn't on a targeted path to the bigtime events or blessed with a discovered natural talent. My daughter skates alot and I support her alot because we both love the sport and love the combination of confidence, athleticism, beauty, and artistic sensitivity that it brings out in her. Plus, I really enjoy making her costumes!

  2. anon, lol! It's all about the sparkles, right? The thing I regret the most about the ending of my daughter's competitive career is all the dresses I didn't get to make. And she was an ice dancer, so we're talking a LOT of dresses.

    1. As a recreational skater in my teens (1980s), I've wondered what sort of time the more "serious" skaters put into the sport - it's nice to finally know. I did only one 90 minute session a week (about a 15 or 20 minute group lesson, the rest practice time) for 8 months of each year, and worked my way up to doing salchow, toe loop, flip, loop and lutz.