Feb 12, 2014

The Olympic Effect

The winter session (generally starting somewhere late December to early February) always has the highest enrollment at most skating schools.

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.

Are you new to skating (and to Xanboni?) Tell us why you decided to start. All my fans-- tell your friends who've jumped in the deep end about the community here and on Facebook!


  1. Socks - Don't forget to talk about socks especially for boys who don't have the option to wear tights. I know many people who wear super thick socks in their skates when in reality they should be wearing a thin "dress" sock. We ended up splurging for body wrappers which are dance socks with material like tights. They come in black so my son likes them. I always buy them online since at our local skate pro shop they sell for over $7 a pair!

    Also we were able to fit skates up to a full size up. I don't know if this works for all kids but my son has a super narrow foot and this is what the pro shop that we get his skates at recommended. They had him bang the back of his heal each time he wore them in the beginning so that his foot was properly fitted. I know that the same pro shop also recommends a half size to other skaters so this may be a bonus of a very very narrow foot.

    We started skating after the last Olympics when my son wanted to try speed skating. That didn't work out very well since he ended up the slowest most timid beginning skater. Figure skating was the right match in the end.

  2. So many skaters start learning just after the Winter Olympics, it's quite a big effect! A pro who is knowledgeable about figure skating is invaluable for getting the right skates--- ask around in your skating community for who's good at fitting.

  3. Xan, didn't you say in one of your previous posts that you'd actually recommend skip the tot class altogether and instead buy well-fitting skates (used OK) and just come to public session for a session or so? Did you change your opinion? If so, why? Both of my girls started in rental skates, but our experience was that rental skates were so bad - not properly fitting, very dull blade, poor laces... Once the laces were really half the length they should be. We requested another pair, of course. But do you think they replaced the laces? No, the skates went back onto the shelf! So both times we bought our own skates as possible.

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: pre-pre and FreeSkate 5

    1. Yes, I actually think it's better just to bring your kids skating as much as possible. It's a little different with *really* little kids-- if you're not a skater it's hard to skate with a 3 or 4 year old. A well-run rink will have decent rentals and a staff that understands the difference between "these skates don't fit" and "these skates need to be consigned to the fiery pits of hell" but sadly not all rinks are well-run. If you know you're going to be skating maybe 20-30 times in a year, you will actually save money buying your own skates (and a public skate pass).