Apr 17, 2012


A reader emailed me that her Basic Skills kids "love to skate but they hate going to the rink". This was further complicated by the fact that getting to the rink was also exhausting to the mom-- both because of a long commute, and because of having to motivate them to go every time.

So how do you motivate skaters, especially beginners who aren't yet as invested emotionally, or don't have as much cool stuff that they can do?

Sometimes the issue isn't skating, it's everything around it. You want to watch tv. You have homework. "None of my friends skate; they think it's weird." And on and on.

So this is not always a skating issue, sometimes it's a parenting issue. And the parenting issue here is, who is in charge? They're kids! Yes, they have a strong will, but honestly folks, if you can't get your 5 year old to do what you say, or if you're offering him the option to negotiate, skating lessons are the least of your worries.

In other words, stop negotiating, and just go.

They don't always have to have a lesson
The mom in question was having 2 lessons and and 2 classes per week, at Basic 6 and Basic 8 levels. That's quite a lot of skating at that level; I think she could probably sacrifice one of those sessions to a "fun skate." Take them to one of the weekend public skates, and promise you won't make them "work". At that level, everything they do on the ice is "on task" pretty much, whether they know it or not. Saturday and Sunday afternoon free skates are FULL of kids from the classes; they'll find people they know and make friends and then skating will be about fun instead of about work. (It's also cheaper, plus if they get into it, there are carpooling possibilities, saving you a chore)

If your skaters are doing privates, class, and practice (and maybe off-ice or dance as well), think about "bundling" them-- back to back class+lesson, or tack skating onto an existing trip (piano lesson, regular grocery shopping, immediately after school, whatever) so that you're already out anyway.  Some parents do homework at the rink--you get there right after school, get them a snack from concession and do homework, then have skating class as a reward for getting some homework done!

Encourage your kids to develop rink-based friendships. If they seem to connect with a certain child, find the parent and set up play dates, or see if they're at the rink early so the kids can hang out. Sign up for class together; even share a semi-private lesson (this also helps with costs).

What not to do
No bribes. No trades. If you really want your child to skate, and you know she likes it/is good at it, stop making it a choice.  You don't have to be mean about it, just matter of fact. Skating is one of the things you do.

What strategies have you used to motivate your skater?


  1. Transitions are a big deal in our house, and even the 13yo can be tough at times. I sometimes joke that it doesn't matter what I'd say, their first response would be to groan about having to stop what they are doing right now. "Hey kids! Turn off the computer and let's go to Disney!" "Awwwwwww. Right now?"

    With some kids, I think having a daily and weekly schedule posted helps. That way, there are no surprises and I can keep myself out of it more. "Check the schedule and see what it says we are doing today!"

    Also, I'm a big fan of Carrot and Stick parenting. You can watch TV after homework and chores are done. You can have a snack after you've practiced music. You can use your electronic game after I've seen you up and moving your body for an hour.

    Also, building in getting ready to the If Then. If you get all your skating stuff ready and put it in the car then you can have breakfast. I'm currently doing this with my 5yo who never seems to be able to find his shoes. Two or three days of having to wait for breakfast until he had his shoes on, and suddenly he remembers to put his shoes in the same place.

    I won't lie. This was tough. 13yo still sometimes gives me a hassle, but mostly now it's just habit.

    And yes, with any level in any activity, I think if kids are working hard but losing their spark, add more fun. With violin lessons, we stopped so many Serious Lessons for a while and had a Cool Teen come in to tutor for a while, learn to play some Lady Gaga on the violin. :-) I think it's a good skill for kids to learn - to reinvent their favorite activities to learn to find the fun again. Too many kids and adults give up on things when the work becomes drudgery. We all need to learn how to keep a creative spark and keep it fun, even while we work hard.

    1. Love the idea of posting a schedule. Can I go back 15 years and implement this?

      For those readers who don't know, by the way, Josette writes the funniest, savviest, smartest mommy blog on the internet. Be sure to visit her at http://www.josetteplank.com/

    2. The Same AnonymousApril 17, 2012 at 11:00 PM

      I do the breakfast if/then thing with myself to make myself get the other morning stuff done in a reasonable timeframe! I call this "stacking" -- putting undesirable tasks, or ones you just tend to straggle on, before the more enjoyable ones.

      Love your blog by the way Josette!

  2. Great topic! It's so hard to strike the right balance between teaching children responsibility while not forcing them into an activity so much that they burn out. With my hockey mite, we keep it simple: I give him his hockey options (leagues, clinics, etc.) based on our family's time and budget. He can choose what (if anything) he wants to do from those options. He has a sense of ownership over his activities and if he ever says, "I don't want to go to my game" I can remind him that he chose to sign up for this league. You've got to finish what you start. And by the way, your team is counting on you.

    I also let him hit public sessions/stick-and-puck for "unstructured" skating. He gets to have fun, show off a little and hear strangers comment, "Look at that little hockey player! He's so cool!" It's a nice change from hearing coaches correcting him all the time. He gets a little ego boost and can see that he's improving.

    So far, we've had very few disagreements over his sports and he continues to love it all. I know, we're at the beginning of this journey, so we'll run into hurdles down the road. I'm nothing if not realistic in that respect!

    Side note: Josette's first paragraph above...SPOT ON!

  3. My daughter skates 2 to 3 days/week depending on what she wants to do and our schedule. She sometimes wants to just practice but we always have Friday Fundays. This is when she does whatever she wants. She goes out during a public session and typically spends most of the time playing tag. My daughter loves to go skating but limiting how much we go has helped keep her excited to go when we do.

  4. The single thing I can do to encourage my child to skate when she was feeling like skipping ice time was to say, Hey do you want to do a public session? I'll skate too! For some reason, she LOVES watching me flounder. I can't last more than an hour but by then she is with friends and remembering why she skates - the joy.

    I will say that I don't play games. If she seems reluctant I lay it on the line. Skating is expensive, I sacrifice so she can skate, if she really doesn't want to do it, she needs to quit. I don't take her because I love to sit in a cold building with numb hands, I take her because she loves it. She never took me up on the offer to quit and works through her bumps quite well now.

    I am always clear that she skates for herself: not me, not her coaches, not for a prize or trophy.

    I let her decide her practice times and if our schedule permits an addition of ice time I always consult her first. She was offered a before school time and for a year declined. Then she decided to change because she heard that it was almost empty and she wanted more space.

    If I pushed that a.m. time, we would have had morning battles. Now she wakes up and gets ready and doesn't complain because it is her choice.

    I've noticed now that she is older she takes more responsibility for herself. For example, a flyer came home about a local summer skate camp. In the past she would have tossed it because she felt she was skating enough. This year she has asked if she can attend so we will have a frank discussion - 2 days of camp is 4 private lessons and freestyles with a coach - what would inspire and help more? I have a finite amount of money so she will have to choose either or...I'll let her work out the problem. ~meg

    1. I always tell parents about this phenomenon--these little rink rats get a huge kick out of mom or dad clinging to the wall.

    2. I agree that with age comes more responsibility for their own decisions and commitments. In the early years, I think we all have more non-negotiables that we learn to parent through to build good habits and understand what commitment means. Homework is a non-negotiable no matter how boring it is or how much they don't feel like doing it. For us, exercise of some sort is a non-negotiable. Fulfilling a commitment to what you say you're going to do especially after parents pay for an activity is a non-negotiable. I don't think any kid can or should be pushed to compete or take part in a hobby because of parent's say so. But I do say that once I write the check, they are going to "cash it" - I don't play games in that way. ;-)

      There have been times that I've pulled my kiddo off the ice completely. There are other times when I made the decision to strongly encourage her to follow through because balking wasn't from boredom, but because she was facing down a particular challenge and it was harder than she thought it would be. I think this is where "know your kid" comes into play. I've met enough kids who will always try a sport or instrument or activity until it get to the point in the learning curve where they aren't naturally good at it anymore, and so they give up. I think that once in a while, it's important to have them press on for a bit with a little elbow grease. Encouraging my daughter not to quit during the 12-month bid for her axel was a eureka moment for her when she finally landed it. It was the first time she worked that long and hard on something that didn't come easily to her on first try, and that experience has affected everything from her grades in school to her appreciation for hard work over raw talent in any endeavor.

    3. Xan, I'm 24 and still love watching my mom cling to the wall. When I was 3 and she'd take me skating, I thought she was the coolest person on the ice because she could skate backwards. Oh how the tables turn... ;)

  5. How do you suggest to motivate an unmotivated competitive skater who does not want to quit?

    1. Oooo! Blog topic! Anon for the win!

  6. I have two skating kids, twins - age 8. The boy is a Hockey Mite and has wanted to on an off quit, usually when it got tough. Last fall, he wanted to try Karate instead, but after a couple of trial lessons, decided on his own that sticking with Hockey which he's done for 2 yrs would be the better choice. He skates btw. 2-3 times/week, depending on schedule. His sister is in FS2 and skates a solid 3x/week. She is motivated and dedicated and hardly ever wants to skip ice time. She is also on a sync team which is a huge motivator, particularly what friendship is concerned. The issue I have with her is that she is reluctant to practice the new and hard things her coach teaches her and just plays around practicing what she can already do or copying other more advanced kids. For example she is now already trying sit spin which she is clearly not ready yet, but these days this is what she is into. Consequently, she is not advancing into FS3, because she doesn't practice the other moves. I'm a bit at a loss, she is very responsible and focused and understands the cost-time issue, she makes and effort, but then again she is 8... any ideas?

    1. "she is reluctant to practice the new and hard things her coach teaches her and just plays around practicing what she can already do or copying other more advanced kids"

      DS's coach always says that when they are playing they are learning. It's good for them to stretch their skills, to try to do something that they see. So don't worry about the spin she is not ready for yet, because, she is self motivated to do it. That is priceless, and will serve her well in this sport.

      It is typical of practically everyone to want to do things that they are good at. At all levels. They need to be reminded or guided to practice the new things.

      DS used a checklist of elements he needed to practice. This included the things he struggled on. If it was on the list, he would do it. If he had no list he was directionless. He would practice the things he liked and was good at. Once he checked everything off the list he could move on to repeat things he liked. He got better at the things that were new and hard, and they became favorite in their turn.

      Or maybe a simple agenda for your DD would work, establish a habit, you always do your moves first, then you can do the jumps and spins. As she gets better at the moves, she will probably practice them more. But initially she might need some incentive.

      We always, always tried to build in play time on the ice. This is when kids learn a lot while having fun, copying higher level skaters and all! :) good luck!

  7. The Same AnonymousApril 17, 2012 at 11:03 PM

    Looking at this situation, I'm wondering if it's the long commute that's the issue for the kids. Maybe they like skating, but find the long car journey boring or tiring (especially if they're young and/or if it's in the morning). Maybe encourage them to read, talk to Mom/each other, play car games etc to pass the time?

  8. When she was first skating (age 4) I used the ice show carrot. "If you take a class, you can be in the ice show and wear a pretty costume!"

    Now, at age 13, I just ask "What would Coach think?" Her coach has become the voice in her head. Way better than my nagging...