Jan 27, 2010

Practice or lesson?

An anonymous reader asks a great question:
My mum's worried that if I [drop one class to practice on my own], it'll be bad because I'm not having a lesson then, but I'm more concerned that if I go to the two lessons, my skating time will be too minimal for me to progress anywhere.

Is it better to have one hour of group lesson and one hour of practice per week, or a half hour group lesson and 2.5 hours of practice?
I'll have some specific advice for anon at the end of the post, but in the meantime, with a couple of exceptions, it's always better to have at least some practice on your own, so you can start finding your own "language" of skating.

Stay with me, there's a point at the end of my rambles
I often tell my students that we're working on "positions not found in nature" by which I mean we ask our bodies to stand, not in impossible stances, but in counter-intuitive ones. For instance, when learning cross-overs everyone begins by "defaulting" to hips and shoulders square; what I call "airplane" position, one arm straight out to one side, and one arm straight out to the other side. Proper crossovers, however, need your upper body turned towards the circle. It looks weird and it feels weird and it's one of the hardest things for new skaters to learn.

I try lots of different ways of getting this across-- put your outside arm inside the circle. Hug the circle. Pretend the circle is a beach ball and you're holding it. Turn your belly button to the center of the circle. Pretend there's a rail inside the circle and you have to hold it. The most successful skaters will find a phrase that resonates with them, and the most successful of those will have come up with it on their own. In fact, a lot of the phrases I use were suggested to me by students.

If you can create your own image, you'll learn faster and the best place to find your own image is in your own solo practice session.

"I don't want her to just go out there and play"
As my daughter, a triple gold skater, once told a coach who was criticizing her for having fun, "hey, if it wasn't fun, I wouldn't be doing this."

Getting kids to practice on their own is one of the hardest things to do. Parents often think that kids won't work, and there's some truth in that, but especially for beginners, you don't need to "work," to practice specific skills all that much, you just need to get comfortable skating. And since it's boring just skating around and around, even the least self-directed kid is going to start trying other stuff.

Generally I would say that for children under the age of 8 at lower levels, an emphasis on classes is fine, but I like to see them come just to play once a week. Parents don't have to skate, too, but they should be in the stands. For high level kids under age 8 (a 10-year old just won US Nationals at the Novice level), the coach can guide you. Older children should always be encouraged to work on their own, not just in skating but in everything. Kids need to learn how to manage their own time and set their own goals, without some adult always telling them what to do. Children these days are scandalously helpless in self-management. It makes me worry.

But what should the commenter do?
The commenter lives far from the rink and can only get there twice. For her, since she's at the beginning levels, I would recommend just one class, and lots of practice; either option she proposes would work. However, I'd like to suggest that she see if her mom will pay for one 20 minute private or semi-private lesson on that practice ice. I like the idea of being able to practice on your own right after or right before each class or lesson. If you practice just before, you'll remember what you're having trouble with. If you practice just after, you'll be able to apply what you've learned.

For my general formula on how much to skate, check out this post.


  1. It's me again (the same Anonymous who asked the question). Thanks so much for answering!

    I was just wondering one thing about the answer: Is two hours a week inherently not enough time to be skating if you want to progress through basic levels (up to spirals/small jumps)?


  2. Two hours a week is plenty at Learn to Skate up through FS 1-2, especially for someone older like you, because you'll use your time effectively, you've set yourself a goal, and you understand the limitations of your time. I love that you take it so seriously. Don't forget to drop in and let us know your progress!

  3. Thanks! Turns out I will be doing the two lessons (each is a 30 min lesson followed by 30 min practice) for now, and might have some privates when I get to higher levels. The next class above mine, which I'm about to take the test for, only has one person in it so it's practically a private lesson anyway!