Mar 17, 2010

The Olympic effect

We just started our second week of the post-Olympic session, and the beginner classes are packed. For the first time ever, we had to actually close all 9 times of the Beginner 1 level-- 19 kids (the limit) in every class. All the classes through Beta are nearly full, and Saturday is a madhouse.

So what can all these new parents expect? Here's some of the concerns I got this week:

"I want her to have fun, and all she did last week was fall."
This parent's solution was double-runner skates. (Child looks about 8 years old.) While these may be fine for public or pond skating, they are inappropriate for class, because you can't glide. This parent is just wasting her money on lessons, because the equipment is wrong. It would be like sending your child to basketball with a beach ball because the basketball is too heavy. Probably the child had a bad pair of rental skates, and because classes are so full, no one caught it (which is unacceptable, but human).

So here's my first piece of advice to new parents-- if your physically normal child cannot stand up in his rental skates, it's not the child, it's the skates. It is NOT HARD to stand up in ice skates. Ask a pro for help (not the office staff). If the pro cannot help during the class, because the class is full, snag them or someone else after class or before the next class. Either that, or just go to the office and say "my kid can't stand up in these skates. Can I try a different pair?"

"He wants to play hockey, so we bought him hockey skates"
You can learn to skate in hockey skates, or speed skates (or anything except double blade skates), but be prepared with a real beginner for a possibly longer learning curve. Hockey skates can be harder to learn in (not for all kids but for some.) If you buy hockey skates, they must be the child's shoe size. Do NOT buy grow room in hockey skates. The soft wide boot will make it harder for the kid to keep his ankles straight. If the child is having a lot of trouble and the coach suggests switching to regular skates until he's got his feet under him, this is not to impugn your manhood, or his. It's just to help him learn to skate. He can switch to hockey skates in a few weeks.

"She's only 4, but she's really athletic, so we put her in the regular track. But she needs you to give her special attention."
No can do. On most classes, it's one coach and maybe a junior coach, with 19 kids. I'll help the slowpokes and the scared ones where I can, but if you want special attention for a too-young child, put them in tot class, where the teacher-student ratio is lower. If I suggest that tot class is a better fit, trust me. It's not because I think your 4-year-old child is stupid. It's because I think your 4-year-old child is four.

"She wants to compete!"
Great! While starting this out right from the first day of Beginner One is jumping the gun a little bit, we can work with that. But make sure you understand that this means private lessons, extra practice, and additional expense. Talk to any coach at the rink, or the skating director about how to hire a private coach. Be sensitive that the coach you talk to is probably going to expect you to hire her.

"We hate that teacher, what do we do?"
This is a toughie. Option one, which I recommend, is stick with it. We can't always go through life only dealing with people we like, so here's where that skating teaches life lessons thing starts. Also, maybe the teacher comes off too soft or too gruff in the first lesson, and the child will get used to it. Option two, check the schedule and see if there is another class that you can attend instead (make sure you're not trading a small class with a "bad" teacher for a full class with a "better" teacher. This is not a good bargain.) Option three, drop the class entirely and switch to private lessons. This is my least favorite option, even when it benefits me. Kids benefit from the class learning environment, and privates are expensive. It is not okay to just move your child to a higher level with a teacher you like.

I'll add more as they come up! In the meantime, what are your first-week-of-class questions and comments?


  1. Our first session of Learn to Skate was packed, too! The hockey folks helpfully put away the tables and materials that Ice Coach had set out, so we scrambled to find the LtS stuff while parents came through the front doors, wondering what class their kid would be in.

    It was nuts. A good problem to have, though. (Not the hockey people, the number of skaters.)

  2. Even at public skate, I try to approach parents whose little ones seem to be having a tough, teary time in hockey skates. Most people don't seem to know exactly how big the difference between figure and hockey skates can be, but once explained and told that the switch to figure will be temporary, they seem genuinely grateful for the advice, and their little guys immediately seem to do much better.

    Teens at public skate in hockey skates - that's a different story. I know that hockey skates are more "cool", but I'm not quite sure how cool it is to hang on the wall and fall on your butt for an hour. ;-)

  3. I've learned to call figure skates "regular" skates when discussing this with the dads!

  4. Ahhhh! Genius!

    And thank you for this! As a parent, I felt as if in the beginning I was wading blindly at times. Once we had a coach and someone to guide us, things became more clear. But for that in-between time - or until that time, if ever - when a coach can fill in the blanks, a Beginner Figure Skating Parent Primer is a godsend.

  5. In responce to the tot class. When my dd started skating a year ago at almost 9, she was so terrified and bad. After the first class (basic 1) I went to the directed and ASKED for her to be put in with the tots. She is/was a straight A student reading Tolkein and understanding it. So putting a 4 year old in the tots is far from saying she is deficient! DD needed extra help and that is where she could get it. Now a year later she is doing bunny hops and ballet jumps and seriously has the skating bug.

  6. Hi Xan!
    could you please write a post about off ice training? Thanx!