Dec 28, 2009

Practice ice etiquette and common sense

This post from Ice Mom caused me to dig into my drafts list and resurrect an idea from a couple of months ago called "what is practice ice." I had let the idea fall off because it seemed rather prosaic, with no hook or narrative. But the dilemma of Ice Mom's reader got my juices flowing, and helped me remember what it was like being a new mom and a new skater dealing with practice ice.

So, what is practice ice anyway? Well, a healthy program will find as many ways to use the ice as they can-- classes, figure skating practice, hockey games and practice, speed skating, special events, private rental. This is to appeal to as many customers as possible. You'll generally find people practicing figure skating on dedicated practice ice, and on public sessions. The difference is that at most rinks practice ice has an upper limit of users-- usually between 20 and 30 (this is why you pay more for practice than for public), and you can teach on it (not all rinks allow lessons on public sessions). You can also impose more specific and more stringent rules on practice ice.

Practice ice protocols and rules will vary from rink to rink. And this means not just what the published rules are, but also how far you can bend those rules. At my main rink, we are inflexible on skating level. "High" ice means you have a solid axel, period. Doesn't matter if the ice is undersold. If you're not tested onto that ice we will kick you off. But we're notoriously lax about making sure skaters have turned in a coupon, and some monitors are more haphazard about rules enforcement than others. At another rink I teach at I have seen puck practice on figure skating ice, apparently because they're more concerned about money than safety (did I just say that?).

So the first thing to find out when you or your child starts working on practice ice, is "what are the rules". Don't run up against them out of ignorance and then get all bent out of shape. Don't assume that what you know at one rink applies at every rink. Don't complain because someone seems to be in violation-- they might be utilizing some dispensation you don't know about. Observe for a while and find out where the rules seem, um, flexible. You're probably going to have to live with that. You need to understand not only the rules, but also the rink's idiosyncratic culture.

Sports facilities always have rules. One sees rules posted at swimming pools or the basketball court at the Y. There are things that are forbidden ("no jumps or programs in the first 5 minutes of each session," for instance, or no triples on low ice), general flow patterns (moves in the outer corridor, spins in the middle, jumps at the ends, lutz corners and watch out for clockwise jumpers) and right-of-way (generally for lessons and program run throughs). Other rules you might encounter: number/order of program plays, jump set-ups must utilize at least half the rink (i.e. no skating round and round in circles doing waltz jumps in one spot), coaches must teach from the boards (i.e. no standing around in the middle of the ice giving tips), no splitting sessions (i.e. paying for only half a session, or sharing coupons), no standing in the middle of the ice, no hanging out at the boards, no colored drinks. I'd be interested in hearing other rules from other rinks as well.

You can find out the rules by checking to see if they are posted or published. We used to post practice ice rules at my rink, but I haven't seen the poster in years, which is too bad because I think it would save a lot of grief and confusion. If your skater has never been on a practice session before, for goodness sake ask your coach (or any coach, if you aren't doing privates) to skate you around and explain it the first time. Why this isn't a requirement to qualify for practice ice is an utter mystery to me.

Things that can sabotage a well-thought out set of practice ice rules:
  • coaches who refuse to comply because they know there are no consequences. You're going to get some of this anywhere, sometimes over all the rules, sometimes over just some of them. My guess is management lets some things go and digs on others; I don't want to speculate or complain about why some rules are enforced and others ignored. It is what it is.
  • monitors who don't understand their power, or who abuse it. Yes, the ice monitor has power. Yes, sometimes the monitor will favor her daughter, or the daughter's cronies, or the daughter's coach. Too bad. Complain to management later. I used to tell my daughter that the ice monitor was g*d. You do what she says, when she says it. If you have a problem, take it up with her later, don't gum up practice ice. That said, ice monitors need to know the rules, they need to have regular training sessions, and they need to have occasional thank you luncheons, as having the worst volunteer job in the rink because everyone dumps on them.
  • guest coaches who try to impose their home rink rules on your ice. The other coaches in the rink, or the monitor, need to set them straight, politely but firmly, at the time of the infraction. "I'm sorry, this is low ice, your student can't work on triples here. Could he do moves instead? There's a high session in an hour."
So, I hope that helps. Practice ice can be terrifying for first timers. As far as I'm concerned, no skater should be allowed onto practice ice without understanding the rules first. It's a dangerous place if you don't know what you're doing.


  1. Great post. We are rules people but also quite clueless in many aspects of the sport; that said I wish more rinks posted their rules. Until 2 minutes ago I never knew Waltz junps should not be done in one spot! Hey even if it isn't a rule sure sounds like common sense even when the skater weighs >50#s!

  2. Seems like common sense to me, too, but I go to other rinks and see beginners hogging the corners "keeping out of the way." So no one can run moves and no one can do lutzes. If you want to keep out of the way, take up computer games. On practice ice, you skate.

  3. It's always going to take some time for new skaters to become accustomed to using freestyle ice independently. After my daughter started private lessons at age 9, the club we belonged to at that time did not encourage young skaters to be on practice ice without a coach. Therefore, these low level skaters never learned to use freestyle ice properly or effectively. When her coach did not show for a lesson, we encouraged our daughter to go out and skate anyway because we had paid for the ice. She knew the rules of the rink but was apprehensive and skiddish because she was not used to being out on the ice alone. Even though she was moving and following the rules, other coaches and older skaters would tell her to go somewhere else. That was just the culture at that rink. She learned to hate practice ice there. Then we moved to another club and enrolled her in an intensive summer training program at yet another rink where she saw, for the first time, skaters of her age and ability effectively using their freestyle ice. They were courteous and dedicated and she soon learned to mimic their habits. I was so thankful to have found rinks where they encouraged young skaters to practice on their own, and skaters who mentored her by just doing their thing. She soon decided she loved practice ice. I think clubs would benefit from teaching young skaters to use practice independently because it benefits both the skater and the club. A skater who feels comfortable practicing on their own and who learns to love skating independently is more likely to contract for additional practice ice or buy on more frequently. So, club management, keep that in mind and mentor and encourage the young skaters!

  4. Denise, you are so right. Not allowing younger skaters on the ice without a coach is a good safety rule, but 9 is a little old for that. That rink probably needed to have the age so high because their attitude is what made it dangerous. I'm glad your daughter found a rink that honors the sport.

  5. I haven't been to a practice session in over a year, maybe two. I sadly I hate them... I am not an aggressive skater and I would always feel like I was in someones way. At one rink I skated in you had to have passed your Delta level test to skate alone during the session, or you had to be having a lesson at the time of the session. Other rinks closer to where I live are very strict and you have to check in with the monitor and prove you've passed freestyle 2. My favorite ice set up is at the rink I frequent most often now. The middle is occupied by younger skaters doing basic jumps/spins. While two invisible circles next to the middle are for higher level skaters jumping/spinning. Two stretches on the side are frequented by people practicing spirals. It works very well, and I really enjoy it.