Jun 5, 2011

The dreaded schedule

Reader question:
My daughter is 8 yrs old and has been skating 15 months. She currently has a group lesson a week (just started Freeskate 1), and has had one private lesson a week for the past year plus an extra ½ hour when preparing for competitions. She is also going to be on the Beginner synchro team in the fall and we'll probably be adding a second ½ hour lesson.

Is it better to do a one hour private or 2 - ½ hour lessons per week? I was thinking that since time is spent warming up and practicing things like crossovers etc at the beginning of each lesson that an hour lesson would leave more time for learning new things. It would also be more convenient because we already come to the rink for synchro and group lessons. At this point she is not into coming to the rink 4 or 5 times a week.
Forget the axel. Working out the schedule is the hard part of figure skating. For a serious skater like this one, several days of skating per week (3 or more) is not unreasonable.

Personally I think lessons should be as spread out as possible. In other words, don't do a Tuesday morning lesson, Tuesday afternoon practice and class and Wednesday morning lesson if you can spread it a little thinner. Figure a day on, a day off, two days on two days off, and on Sunday even the Lord rested. Skaters coming 4 and 5 days a week should try to have at least one period every week to two weeks where they get 2 days off in a row. That's for sanity.

A high level skater (figure FS 3 and up) should never have less than an hour and a half per session, including 15 minute off-ice warm up, 15 minute on ice warm up (stroking, cross overs and edges), 30 to 45 minutes practice or lesson, and a 10 minute cool down. A higher level skater, or one with good stamina can do as much as 3 hours in a single stretch, with breaks. Learn-to-skate and low freestyle should shoot for that hour, including a 5 minute stretch and 10-minute "fun skate" warm up.

Ideally, you want your lesson in the second half-hour of the practice ice, so that you get to do the warm up on your own rather than, as the reader says, spending half the lesson on stroking and crossovers. You really can't skip this part, so if your skater has not done the basic warm up on her own, she's going to have to do it with the coach.

With low level skaters, I rarely manage to achieve this ideal. Most of my skaters get to the rink 5 minutes before they go on the ice, and their warm up is maybe twice around the rink stroking. If your coach is spending free style lesson time on cross overs, it's because there's a problem with the cross overs. The way to get rid of the cross over lessons is not to increase lesson time, but rather to increase practice time. This is especially important for a lower level freestyle skater starting synchro, because synchro techniques can be very different from free skating, and the skater will need to be able to learn the differences and apply them in the appropriate situation.

Here's my favorite way of figuring out how much ice time you need to progress in freeskating: for every full rotation, your skater should be on the ice for 30 minutes a week. So-- Free Skate 1 (waltz jump=half rotation, half flip = half rotation, mazurka = half rotation. 1½ rotations= 45 to 60 minutes per week, or one class or practice and one lesson. Free skate five (axel+salchow+toe loop+loop+flip+lutz), 3½ total rotations combined= 3 1/2 hours on the ice. Call it 2 half-hour lessons, two 1 hour practices, one class.

Synchro, I'm sorry to say, is additional.

How do you work out your schedule? How much do you feel you or your child has to skate to progress?


  1. Unfortunately, the Skating World seems to gear itself to the SAHM, who can get her kid wherever, whenever. Since I work full time, and Dad's schedule is never the same from day to day, our skating schedule is really fluid. For the most part Lessons are always on Saturdays, but on weeks where that doesn't work we've done Wednesdays, Tuesdays, Mondays, or just whenever there is ice that I can get to. For practice, it's the Public Ice schedule on weekends, plus an hour of formal Practice Ice which is, again, whenever I can get to it. I always worry about how babysitters, family, daycare and others will react to the craziness that is a Theatre family's schedule. Fortunately the Skating has adapted well.

  2. Wanted to comment under "Once a week skater" post but maybe this one is more appropriate. I applaud the talent of those who manage to move up in levels with just one weekly group lesson and no practice, and wearing rental skates too! Makes you think how good they could be with ideal conditions. It's not for everyone, certainly not for me!

    Before spins and jumps I needed one group lesson and one public session per week in order to move up steadily. Starting from freestyle 1 it's one (excellent) group lesson and two public sessions to maintain and improve, a lot of "play time" was still built into the practices at this point. Around freestyle 5 I must have one group lesson, one small private with practice, and one or two additional public sessions to survive, which adds up to 5-6 hours for the freestyle elements alone and still quite tight to work on everything. I dread to think how much ice time will the upcoming program eat up, lol.

    Lessons should definitely spread out as much as possible, that is, 2x30 > 60. I notice in our area 30 minute lessons are the norm, while some other areas have 20 minute as the standard, not sure if 3x20 > 2x30, guess it depends on the coach/skater. Plan additional practices evenly between lessons, too much skating crammed in one day or two days may lead to higher risk of injury due to fatigue.

  3. Right now, my 12yo Juvenile level skater practices an hour each morning before school (6am-7am), and 2-3 hours after school every weekday. This is on ice - warm-up is additional.

    On Saturdays, she skates about 1 1/2 hours. During the school year, depending on school work and burn-out, she sometimes takes two mornings off to sleep in.

    We worked up to this schedule very slowly - much more slowly than other skaters her age and level, it seems - but really, once she started axel, she had to skate more often to keep the jump more or less consistent. We also added more lessons as the jumps got harder and program lengths got longer. Right now, she has three half-hour lessons a week (T, W, Fr), but we do sometimes add 15 minutes here and there to "spot check" a jump that's getting flukey.

    Really, 1 1/2 of on ice time at one shot is a lot for her, and she's had to learn to balance jumping and spinning with footwork and moves as well as warming-up/cooling-down on ice on her own. 1 1/2 hours of jumping/spinning just leads to tiredness and injuries. After a 1 1/2 hours on the ice, she takes a full 45 minute break (at least) before getting on the ice again. Add ballet and conditioning to that once a week, and that's our schedule. We depend a LOT on the grace of other parents carpooling.

    It's still hard for us to judge "too much" or "too little" at times. Sometimes, getting an element means digging in an extra 15 minutes; other times, it means getting off the ice completely for 2-3 days to let her body completely rest and build itself back up. Add in pre-teen mental health days (for mom and daughter) and our schedule looks pretty regular 15-19 hours a week on ice, 1 1/2 - 2 hours of lessons spread out, with planned and as-needed breaks of varying lengths.

  4. Also! I'm a adult skater, just at Basic 6-7 (I go back and forth depending on how much ice time I can get). I need one group lesson and one public session to progress, albeit, veeerrrryyyy slowly. Just adding one more public session (for 3 times on ice per week) and I gain skills pretty quickly and solidly.

  5. I agree with you about spreading the lessons out- 1 hour lessons are difficult, because there is so much information given it is tough to process, I think you get a lot more progress in two 30-minute lessons.

    I'm an adult skater as well, so my ice time is a bit different than a kids. I prefer my lesson as soon as I get on the ice, mostly because I don't know how long my knees or hip will last. So if my lesson is in th 2nd half of the session (we only get 1 hour of ice) I don't pracitce as hard before hand, so as to not wear out my joints. If my lesson is in the first half, I practice hard afterwards, because I can tell how much I have left in me. Sadly, my lesson just got moved to the 2nd time slot.

    My schedule looks like this right now:
    Tuesday: LTS Power Class (30 minutes) no practice afterwards because it pretty much kills me and I can barely move
    Wednesday: 1 hour freestyle - all practice
    Saturday: 1 hour freestyle- with 30 minute lesson

    Those are the only 2 hours of freestyle my rink offers. Publics are good for practice, but only during work hours so I can't skate them, I'm just too scared of it. The kids seem to do okay on crowded publics though.

    According to my coach, on this scehedule I'm getting faster and my jumps are getting bigger. I'm prepareing for a competition with 2 programs.

    I'm technically in LTS FS4, and have been for years- we don't really work on it anymore though, so I don't expect to move out of it until I really drill on the loop. I want to pass Adult Bronze, so after the competition I expect all my efforts to go towards learning either a flip or a loop, I can do everything else okay...

    When I was in Basic Skills, I progressed through all the levels with 1 class and 30 minutes practice a week. I didn't retake a level until Freestyle.

  6. "How do you work out your schedule?"

    Mostly I pray the rink tells me when ice will be available. Then I cross of times when I have to work or there are special events. What remains is when I skate.

  7. I'm always surprised to read how little practice is recommended. Either my kid has no talent at all (which I actually find hard to believe, since she is at FreeSkate 1 at age 5, but may be I am wrong?) or little kids tend to progress much slower than older ones. In any case, when my daughter was 4-4,5-year old and in Basic 2-4, she had 1 group class, 1 private lesson, and about 3 hours of practice (including play time) a week and she was progressing OK. I didn't feel she would progress with just 1-1,5 hours of ice time. But she really liked skating 4 hours a week, so that's what we did. When we switched to 2 group classes, 2 private lessons, and still about 3 hours of practice a week, she started progressing real fast. I don't regret the switch at all. I feel she is progressing 4-5 times faster with twice more of classes/lessons.

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: FreeSkate 1 and Snow Plow Sam

  8. Maria, most children I've observed on the ice do not make very efficient use of a contiguous hour of practice ice. And since our rink does not allow children younger than seven to use practice ice alone, these kids are older than yours. If your child is sufficiently self-directed at 5 to learn a lot at the freeskating level from 3 hours of practice, then you must be very lucky. If you are supervising her practices and she's making progress, then keep in mind most parents don't understand skating well enough to supervise practices. So many people think practice ice for a FS1 5 year old is a waste of money.

    "little kids tend to progress much slower than older ones"

    That would be true for many things, both in skating and not.

  9. I do supervise my daughter's practices, but I limit my supervision to keeping a list of things she has to practice (start with warmup, then do her MIF test, then all spins from easiest to hardest, then all jumps from easiest to hardest, etc.) and a very rare comment such as "remember to keep your back straight/ head up/ arms the way your coach told you" - I don't even specify how exactly to hold her arms since this is more subtle than "back straight" or "head up". Yes, I know I cannot correct her technique even when I feel I know how the move has to be executed.

    But yes, she is quite self-directed and self-motivated. In any case, I don't think her practices during public sessions are a waste of money since she really loves to skate and begs me to go to the rink every day. Same is true for my 3 year old who is in an introductory class. I pay for her classes and public session admission not because I think she'll progress fast, but because she has fun skating.


  10. Not long ago I had a discussion about whether it's worthy to start figure skating as tots because for many skaters it takes more time and resources to get to the same skill level as an older kid of equal talent. I personally think the difference lies in the ability to coordinate the body, to understand technical instructions, and to practice independently.

    Not all Olympics and Worlds caliber skaters start skating as tots. It seems like 7 to 9 is still pretty reasonable assuming talent, hard work, and access to resources. But IMO the real lucky ones will shine through at either end of the spectrum. Johnny Weir is the famous late starter in figure skating world, though I am really curious how would starting 10 years early change his career. And there are "wonder babies" who move up levels like little rockets.

    Anyways, skaters of any age should practice the number of hours appropriate to their goals and abilities while keeping it fun and safe. I personally found Xan's formula on the conservative side and figure it's the absolute minimum amount of ice time needed :)

  11. There's also a pervasive attitude, society-wide, that all practice must be "productive." Again, for beginners, and I would also say very young children (under age 8) just being on the ice is plenty. A child who can stay on the ice for 3 hours a week essentially unsupervised is clearly filling her time with something. Even if she's just skating around in circles she's learning power, posture, confidence, proper pushes with no toe, and, most importantly, to love the ice. You don't always have to be practicing "something." There is an over emphasis in our skating curricula on tricks-- jumps and spins-- and not enough emphasis on basic skills and, frankly, just the joy of it.

  12. "Joy of it"...yes! I've seen even the most driven, dedicated, and "winningest" skaters lose drive, interest, and joy when they aren't given time to just have fun. I think that just skating and improvising and having 15 minutes or an entire session at the end of a long week or - for younger kids - at the end of a long session, to be creative with no one watching or correcting, is wonderful.

    It's a complaint and a problem across all sports that kids who are watched every moment by adults, who are taught only technique and strategy always in structured environments aren't always the best overall athletes when it comes to competition - that eventually, it's the kids who learn technique but who also spend time playing on the neighborhood sandlot where the rules are less strict or enforced, that those are the kids who develop creatively, as well. Already at Juvenile level, there are so many cookie-cutter performances and programs, that even some of the technically proficient kids get to be a bit ho-hum. When kids have time to discover who they are on the ice - or in any sport - then creativity that comes from them comes through in the performance. That personal joy comes through in their skating, and that's the quality that you just can't teach. It's why sandlot soccer players have those moves that the coaches can't teach, and it's that extra something - that joy from being connected to the skating in a personal way - that gives a skater that "can't take my eyes off them" quality.

    I mean, this is just my observing. But "fun" - as well as discipline and technique and choreography - makes a good skater and a charismatic skater and a lifelong skater as opposed to a kid that burns out completely by 12yo.

  13. Because I'm an adult skater (FS2) and have to work around my work, daycare, kids' sports schedules, etc., I typically prefer fewer, longer (relatively) practices -- usually two that are close to 2 hrs/wk, plus a lesson day that's 1 hr practice, 1/2 hr lesson. I know I would progress faster with more practice/lesson days/wk, but it's just not feasible (and I don't have any serious competitive dreams to nurture at my age, so it's okay if I'm a little slower).

    I completely agree with Josette: That personal joy comes through in their skating, and that's the quality that you just can't teach. It's why sandlot soccer players have those moves that the coaches can't teach, and it's that extra something - that joy from being connected to the skating in a personal way - that gives a skater that "can't take my eyes off them" quality. I think this is also what makes adult skaters and the very young want to go back over and over. The joy of feeling like one is flying is addictive, but it can't become that way if it's all *only* drills.
    I go to practices with a detailed list for myself of things to work on, but I always give myself the last ten minutes of any practice to work on something that feels joyful -- usually it's something I'm better at, rather than struggling with, as easy things feel more freeing and can rejuvenate tired legs.

    And when I skate with my five-year-old (Basic2) after our separate lessons on Tuesdays, I notice that she has much more stamina to stay on the ice when we play games and act silly. It helps her skills so much just to keep her skating, and I feel like it helps instill a love for feeling the power of what her body can do, which is really what I want for her at this age.

  14. I too am an adult skater and I skate as much as I possibly can, arranging it around work and finances. On a "good" week, I skate 2 hours Sunday (45 min group class and 45 min private with 1/2 hour ind practice), 1-2 hours Monday (1 hour private), 1 hour Tuesday (followed by 1 hour ballet), 2 hours Thursday (45 min group class and 30 min power stroking and ind practice), 1 hour Friday. I usually take Saturdays off unless I'm getting ready for testing or competition. I'm a FS5 skater and Prepreliminary (I test on the standard track) - I've been skating for about 1 1/2 years. Even though I am an adult, I'm really super competitive and a perfectionist- so I want to be good at it. Plus, I love it. I enjoy mastering new skills and love it when I get something.

    Because I'm on the ice so much, I'm able to progress fairly quickly and that makes me happy. I have dreams of being able to test through the standard track eventually... so I'll stick with it for sure. Many of the kids at my rink skate as much if not more than me by the time they are in the fs3 and above classes it seems. So I just modelled my sessions after them.

    And sometimes, when I want to be on the ice more but am too tired, I'll pall around with the kids- we choreograph pretend programs or play copycat. It's fun to just play sometimes, but it's also getting in practice at the same time. Also, the kids love to show off for me their new skills and then pretend to teach me what they are doing.

  15. Most recent Anon (could you people please use fake names so I can sort you out? ;P) anyway, we've got a higher level adult at our rink also who plays with the kids, gets/gives lessons and generally has a blast with them. I love adult skaters who don't take themselves so damn seriously

  16. I love playing with the kids! In group power class this week there were only 2 of us so we raced. I got the "20 years older than you" bonus, so she had to do 4 trips to the red hockey line, while I did the usual blue line-red line-red line- blue line progression (each trip starting from and returning to the wall...we can't use the whole ice sheet due to other groups)

    We ended up tying, which I thought was pretty good for me!

  17. I've a 5 yr old in FS3. She practices 1.5 hrs a week on her own. Kids in this level probably do more than this. She has 2 private+2 group lesson a wk. Should we cut back on her lesson because she doesn't do enough practice?

  18. A 5-year old doing 1 1/2 hours a week on her own is awesome! I like to think of "ice time" as opposed to practice, especially for very young kids. If you cut back her lessons/classes, you are in fact cutting back her practice time. If she's happy skating that much or more, go for it!

    1. I'd love to see a post that covers what that covers what that 15 minute off-ice warm up should look like.

      As someone who grew up doing low-key recreational skating (1.5 hours a week with one 20 minute group lesson in there - got up to a lutz), I always am a bit amazed to read of 5 year old children doing two group lessons and two private lessons (and a good chunk of practice time) a week - such a different world than my personal experience.