In an Olympic year, it's even more heavily enrolled, and this year in the Chicago area it's on steroids because of all the press about Jason Brown and Gracie Gold.
If you're feeling the Olympic Effect (that is, if you've caught the bug and signed yourself or your child up for skating), here's some basic information for skaters and parents:
What to wear to lessons
Dress for “sweater weather”: gloves, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt and sweater (but no bulky parka-like jackets), tights and pants or leggings. Dress to respect the sport—you wouldn’t send your child to music lessons in muddy and torn blue jeans; don’t send them skating like this either. I don’t recommend skating dresses for children under Freestyle Two, as they don’t move very fast and may get cold. Don’t wear large bulky coats, as it gets too hot, and the coach can’t see what the skater’s body positions are. Highly recommended for beginners to wear a helmet; flat-backed skateboard helmets are the best, followed by the “Ice Halo.”
Skates and blades
Fitting skates is not like fitting shoes. A correctly fitted skate will feel snug, which children may characterize as “too tight.” You need to know if it is merely uncomfortable when compared, for instance, to sneakers. Skates may feel uncomfortable; if they actually hurt, try a different pair. To put the skates on, unlace the boot as low as it will go, and pull up on the tongue to create the widest possible opening (Do the same when removing the skates). When the skate is open like this, the foot should slide in with just a little pressure. If it slides in extremely easily or must be forced, it may be the wrong size. You will almost never need a skate larger than your street shoe (although a knowledgeable dealer can help you buy a skate with some grow room).
Rental skates are usually perfectly fine for skaters through the Alpha or even Beta level. Rentals are always the best choice for children in the Tot classes, due to cost and foot growth. Ask a pro (not the office personnel) to check the boot and blade condition. At Robert Crown Center, if you find a rental skate that you particularly like, note the shelf number (as opposed to the size) and always ask for that pair of skates by number.
Used skates can be purchased at many pro shops and used goods stores. Get a good fit—never buy a skate that is too big; some growth room is fine, but seldom more than a half size. The ankle should not be too creased and the interior padding not too compressed. Don’t buy more skate than you need. Beginning skaters need to learn to bend their ankles, which they cannot do in a skate that is too heavily constructed. Buy a leather boot—molded plastic boots are not flexible enough and may lead to injury. Watch out for rusty or heavily nicked blades. It is a good idea to get fitted at a reputable figure skate dealer; fitting does not obligate you to buy from him.
New skates are often the last choice for beginning skaters. Children’s feet grow so fast that they often don’t get to the broken-in stage before they need a new size. Some brands are so stiff that it interferes with learning. The new “comfort skates” (Sof-Tec or other brands) that look like sneakers are a wonderful first skate for a beginner. Always go to a knowledgeable dealer to get fitted for new skates, even if you end up buying them at Sportmart. The dealer can help you learn what to look for and will be happy to do so, as he’ll figure you’ll be back for accessories and future pairs of skates! Be honest about your child’s skating level—don’t say you have a freestyle skater if you have a Gamma skater—it will make a huge difference in what the dealer recommends you buy.
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