Apr 17, 2013

Having fun in beginning skating

Ask any skater what they love about skating and they won't give you a skill. Nobody skates because they like brackets, or axels, or spirals.

Skaters like speed.

They like the wind in their hair.

They best thing a coach can do for beginning skaters isn't teaching them how to swizzle or balance. It's just letting them skate.

I sometimes tell beginners' parents to skip the first year of lessons. Just buy your child  pair of skates and bring them to public once a week for a year. It will cost about the same.  If you really don't feel like they'll do anything without instruction, then hire one of the rink rats to babysit on the ice every Sunday afternoon. Just let the kid have fun.

But you can have lots of fun in class too, as long as your coach isn't asleep at the switch, or consider themselves too good for Pre Alpha (and therefore checked out of being an engaging coach).

Back and forth
The worst thing you can see in a beginning skating class is the kids just skating back and forth and back and forth and back and forth doing the same thing over and over. Especially in a class with really slow or really fast kids, just putting the kids on a circle instantly makes it easier to manage and more interesting. Or just switch it up-- sometimes back and forth, sometimes circles.

I'm not saying the kids don't need to drill. They really do.  But drills don't need to be boring. Have them count how long they glide on one foot, and let them count super fast. Make them start their one foot glide as a specific marker (this is very challenging for beginners and requires a lot of concentration, which also keeps the boredom at bay). Offer a challenge: have them see how many of a given skill they can do--how many dips, how many swizzles in a row, how many 5-second glides, or anything else you can think of.

Even the beginningest beginner knows more than one skill. So make up a pattern that combines several skills. And if you only have three skills, or the skater moves so slowly that the pattern only takes them a couple of feet, add a clap, or a stomp, or  jazz hands.

Hard stuff
There are all sorts of higher level skills that lower level skaters can learn. Pre Alpha/Basic 1-3 skaters can do pivots and spins and two-foot turns. Alphas/Basic 4 can do lunges and backward dips; betas/Basic 5 can do bunny hops, gammas/Basic 6 can do shoot-the-duck and backwards two foot turns. The coach needs to know the critical element that makes a skill possible. If you can do a one-foot glide, you can do a modified lunge. If you can swizzle, you can pivot. If you can march, you can spin. (This is one area where Basic Skills gets it right-- it puts choreographic skills in the curriculum, instead of relying on the coach to not be boring, for instance, one-foot spins in Basic 5.)

So here's the coach's oath: First, do not bore. (yourself, or anybody else)


  1. These recent posts affirm for me what a great coaching staff we have! My daughters LTS instructor is now her coach. He did exactly what you mention here- added in the fun elements to make it interesting. Im not sure she would have fallen inlove with the sport as she did had she not been introduced to those "higher" elements so early! Heres to awesome coaches! ;)

  2. When my daughter was around 12 and skating the local competitions, her Coach suggested she take a "stroking" course from a different coach who was a bit more of an expert. My daughter remarked how much fun it was actually, just to be moving smoothly with so much speed :-)

    Plus I think that skaters with an artistic and expressive temperament get a lot of enjoyment out of the attention and performance aspects of skating.

    1. This kind of thing is really important for the higher level skaters as well. Constant drilling on the same damn thing isn't any fun for the good skaters either. As my daughter once told a coach who yelled at her (seriously) for "having too much fun"-- "If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't be here."

  3. "Nobody skates because they like brackets, or axels, or spirals." - Well, not quite nobody... My girls LOVE spirals, spins, and jumps. When my yongest just started, she LOVED the rocking horse. Later, for a long time it was moving backwards - backward stroking, backward crossovers - she could do these for hours. When my oldest (now 7) was 4, she became obsessed with skating on one foot in a snake pattern. Only when she started learning the pre-juv MIF, I learned that there was actually such a skill: edge pulls. For both of them, it's never about the speed.

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: pre-pre and FreeSkate 1

  4. It wasn't about the speed for me as an adult beginner - at first. Now that's become kind of addictive.

    At first, I just loved the feeling of the glide. Even now that I'm working on higher skills, I love the moment when I go from it feeling clunky or "sticky" to that glide!

  5. I tell my skaters that speed isn't "as fast as you can go"-- it's that feeling of going just a little faster than you think is possible. The skills are great, but that glide is what it's all about, whatever your skaters are telling you.

  6. My daughter loves ice dance for all of the reasons mentioned above--the speed, smoothness, rhythm, expression, etc. If practicing one pattern dance gets boring, they move to another dance. She took up ice dancing to improve her posture and body positions and is loving it because it's her escape from the relentless jumping and spinning. There seems to be less pressure and more enjoyment during her ice dance lesson (pressure is self-imposed). She also loves moves in the field much more than the jumping and spinning.

  7. I think a lot of kids who start ice dance to add to their free skating enjoy the less pressured nature, not of ice dance in itself, but that its not their main focus so its more relaxed attitude towards it. Same with synchro.

  8. I have to second Maria on this one. For my 5 y/o skater, the love and the fun is in the elements themselves (she's currently obsessed with working 1-foot spins over and over). The instructors moved her out of Tots quite quickly because she refused to participate in games and was openly wildly jealous of the basic skills class kids who did more business-like practice. (Did I mention she was 4 lol).

    Of course it's wonderful when coaches ensure children enjoy being on ice ... but I wonder if there's much point in encouraging children continue skating if they don't find the elements themselves (and the degree of repetition required to achieve them) intrinsically fun? There's a big world of other activities to explore.

  9. You cannot generalize from the experience of a single child. I see hundreds of children and I can tell you, I don't care how talented they are; if they are not having fun as they define it then they are gone. A good group teacher is not going to give in to a child who is "wildly jealous of the kids in the other class." The problem there was not a genius child in too low a level, but a teacher who wasn't skilled enough at class management to keep that child engaged.

    1. Gosh!! - I don't think I implied "talent" much less genius in my skater/s!! My most passionate little skater is leagues away from doing the axels and things we've seen others her age do.
      And no one gave in to her either.- nor me for that matter - since neither of us said anything to the instructor!!
      I was just trying to point out that some kids' definition of "fun as they define it" really is just repetitively going over and over the moves. The basic beginner moves. :-)
      With a measly 5 skaters of my own I certainly bow to your superior experience in making generalities. I'm just saying there are going to be annoying little exceptions like my 5 y/o who just want to learn to skate. Period.

  10. Back when I taught snowplow before I moved away, we would essentially play games the entire lesson because it helped reinforce the skills in the kids without them realizing that they were learning. So red light green light had about 10 different lights and each one corresponded to a skill they were working on. If we had several kids that kept trying to hold our hands and were too afraid to try skating on their own, out would come our arsenal of stuffed animals that we would toss in different places in our space and the kids would have to go save them. Suddenly that child that couldn't stand two seconds earlier was marching without a problem towards a stuffed animal. :)