Mar 30, 2010

Starting private lessons

I'm a big advocate for group classes for figure skaters at every level, and I truly believe that you can achieve solid technique and a full repertoire of skating skills, through doubles, in a strong group program, backed up by practicing on your own. I've taught double lutzes in group class. And pairs skills, and dance.

But private lessons are a big part of figure skating culture, and if you can afford the time, emotion and monetary commitment it's also a great thing to do.

Parents usually want to know the appropriate timing, or if their skater is someone who "should" take privates. There's a perception that it's an elite, even snobbish or arrogant thing to do, and that taking private lessons commits you to crack-of-dawn lessons, mean girls, and second mortgages.

A better way to approach it is to ask yourself a series of "why" and "how" questions, which will help you get to the answer you really need, which is, are private lessons the right choice for you or your child.

First off, get rid of your preconceptions about private lessons. No one ever withheld private music lessons from their child because the kid would never go to Juilliard. First and foremost private lessons are for achieving goals that you and your skater have identified. So here's the family conference:

Most important: Can you afford it.
At a lot of rinks, you'll take your private lessons on "practice ice" which is ice set aside for lessons and free style practice, with admission limited by skating level and with a maximum number of skaters. It is therefore more expensive, anywhere from $7-8 to $18 or more depending on your region and how available it is. If you take a private lesson, you really should also sign up for at least one practice, so you're adding 2 hours of ice, at a minimum weekly cost of $16.

The coach's fee will be another $25 for a younger coach to $40 for a very experienced coach with a strong competitive record for his/her skaters. (Helicoptor Mom shares that in her region, the range is higher $35 to $55 for a half hour, and that people adapt to this higher cost through, for instance, 20-minute lessons.)

It seems venal to make this the number one question, but discomfort with the cost is the most common area for conflict--with the skater, the coach, and your spouse. Understand and accept the cost as affordable and you will save yourself a lot of heartache later on. If you can't afford it, see if you can find one or two other skaters with whom you can share lessons. You'll still have to pay full freight for the ice, but you'll cut the coaching fee. Most coaches will do semi-private lessons. All the skaters need to be a similar levels and ages.

Second question: are both parents and the skater willing to commit the time
If your heart is set on a specific coach, you're going to have to come when that coach can take you. Most common email I get from parents? "I can't make our regular lesson next Monday at 3, so we'll be there Sunday at 10:30 mkay?" Well, no, there's a hockey game on the ice on Sunday at 10:30. Or there's a different student. Or I don't work on Sunday morning. The lesson time is the lesson time. Most coaches will charge you for a missed lesson that you don't attempt to make up, no matter what the excuse is, even illness. If you decide to take private lessons, there are early mornings in your future, it's unavoidable, because that's when there's ice, especially for beginners.

Now, about the why and the who?

Some common reasons for starting privates include:
  • Having trouble with a specific skill, like the mohawk, or a certain spin, or of course the stupid axel (that is the official name by the way).
  • Having trouble getting through a level
  • Desire to progress faster
  • Actual fast progression. I will often recommend private lessons to a student who progresses very quickly in group classes.
  • A specific goal, such as trying to qualify for an ice show solo by a certain date, or wanting to catch up to a friend
  • Desire to start testing or competing
  • "All my friends are doing it" (I consider this a perfectly acceptable reason to take privates. Contrary to popular depictions, skaters are nice, mature, and exactly the kinds of kids you want your kids hanging out with. Well, for the most part.)
Which of course brings us to the most fraught decision in figure skating-- how do I choose a coach? Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.


  1. LOVE your blog - thanks so much for doing this! When my daughter was starting out, I always felt like I was lost in a foreign land! Your blog is a wonderful map and translator! (I only wish I'd had it a few years ago!!)

    The one thing I would mention is that the cost of the coach can go up a bit higher than that depending on your location. Here in southern California, I would say the range is closer to $35 - $55. And while many coaches will encourage 30 minute lessons, if you can get them to do a 20 minute lesson, it saves you money and they can actually fit 3 lessons into an hour (or two into a 45 minute freestyle) so sometimes they are willing to do that.

  2. Hey, Xan.

    I don't know anyone who does a group class here through doubles. I know a skating director who includes an Axel class with her Learn to Skate, but I don't know anyone else who does it.

    I think beginning coaches here earn $30-35/hour. We have some coaches who have national-level students who charge more than $60/hour. (Not my daughter's coach!)

    High school kids tend to earn $20/hour, I think.

    Great post as always, Xan!

    Ice Mom

  3. Not related but are you aware of any ice dancing summer camps? I have three, yes three skaters that want to start this adventure and with no coaches available for privates at our rink. They do offer classes but the coaches only concentrate on their private students. I thought if I could get my girls started they might pay attention to them. Very frustrating!

  4. The only ice dancing summer programs I know of are through individual coaches, working with local kids. Call USFS and find a contact for the dance committee, they might know of something. The other thing you might try is to call up the various rinks in your area, and see if they'll put you in contact with their ice dancing coach. There are several major non-qualifying ice dance competitions in the summer, so the ice dance coaches are busy; maybe someone in your area does a camp.