One or two sets of lessons will give you a basic
understanding and you wont be falling constantly.
by Leah Troiano
If the skating bug hits you after watching the Olympics, youre not alone. During his 14 years at the Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, NJ, Guy Gaudreau, youth hockey director, has seen a surge of new skaters from the winter games. New kids get involved in hockey and figure skating because they watch the Olympics, he says.
The University of Delaware Ice Arena in Newark expects the same surge. The Arena has a big draw: Olympic figure skater Kimmie Meissner trains there. She won a silver medal at the U.S. championship, right behind Sasha Cohen, says Angie Cardello, training coordinator. Johnny Weir, who trains at The Pond in Newark, has a strong shot at an Olympic medal after capturing his third straight U.S. figure skating championship last month.
Even if your family aspires to fun, not a gold medal, local rinks are ready and willing to teach you or your kids how to skate. According to Bryan Isola, rink manager at the University of Pennsylvania Class of 1923 Ice Rink in Philadelphia, If youre looking for recreational skating, one or two sets of lessons will give you a basic understanding and you wont be falling constantly.
Many rinks offer parent-tot classes for the youngest skaters, ages 3 and up, and their moms or dads. We put parents in skates and get them moving around, too, says Gaudreau. These classes emphasize fun. At Hollydell, children are eased onto the ice and given pushers or chairs that provide more stability. Gaudreau throws balls onto the ice and the kids start moving.
Dan Kuhn, figure skating director and assistant manager at The Pond, says before touching the ice, students stand in a circle in their skates. We have them sit down and stand up and teach them how to fall, he says.
At IceWorks Skating Complex in Aston, PA, national- and world-level skaters teach the beginner classes. We try to get new skaters exposed to high level coaching immediately, says Elizabeth Hollett, figure skating director. During her parent-tot class, she says, we have them crawl out on the ice, roll around and play.
These classes are a low-cost way of introducing young skaters to the sport. Costs vary at each rink, but in general, the classes are less expensive than other types of lessons.
Learn To Skate
After graduating from the parent-tot class, the next step is a Learn to Skate (LTS) class. Typically, these classes provide more ice time and teach more skills. For example, the University of Delaware LTS class teaches how to gain balance, stand, fall and then get up and stop, says Cardello.
LTS programs usually run one lesson per week and last 6 to 12 weeks. Costs often reflect the length of the program and coachs experience. Unlike the parent-tot class, many LTS classes require students to purchase equipment. For example, at Hollydell, students need to buy and wear their own helmets, says Gaudreau.
After mastering LTS classes, skaters can branch into either figure skating or hockey. Depending on the rink, students interested in hockey can move to a hockey class or join a hockey team.
A Long, Bumpy Road
If your budding skater hopes to make an Olympic team, Ron Ludington says it can be a long and bumpy road.
Ludington, a member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, is the director of the Ice Skating Science Development Center at the University of Delawares Ice Arena. He has coached Olympic, national and international medalists. His own titles include U.S. Pair Champion, U.S. Silver Dance Champion, World Bronze Medalist, Olympic Bronze Medalist and World Invitational Dance Champion.
On average, he says, beginning competitors practice for three 40-minute sessions and work up to five 40-minute sessions a day. Skaters also have off-ice conditioning, off-ice training and off-ice dancing training.
There is no perfect age to discover talent, he says. You can spot talent almost immediately. However, the skaters have to have the interest, desire and work habits that go into being an Olympic athlete.
Once parents decide to place their childrens skating development in the hands of a professional coach, Ludington advises, Let the coaches do their jobs. As children progress, its a slow road to the top. There are times when skaters dont perform well. You just have to trust the coaching.
Figure skating students begin freestyle skating, which includes jumps and spins, says Cardello, and requires quality skates. When buying skates, Kuhn strongly recommends that parents stay clear of inexpensive models, which are are often made of canvas. Canvas provides limited support and stretches out quickly.
Kuhn adds that inexpensive skates have blades made of aluminum, which get very cold and make skating more difficult. The friction thats caused as you push over the ice melts the top layer of ice and the blade glides on water. So the colder that blade is, the harder you have to push to get the same amount of speed and flow, he says.
Most hockey players have one hour of practice and one hour of game time per week. According to Gaudreau, hockey instruction ensures that students understand the game, are comfortable with the equipment and gain the necessary skills.
Players must purchase hockey equipment, which includes a helmet with a cage, pads, gloves, skates, stick, socks, pants and maybe a jersey. You are looking at an overall cost of $400 or $500, he says.
For hockey players who want to go beyond rink teams, there are travel hockey teams, says Gaudreau. From September to February, you are looking at a cost of $1,500 to $1,600 per child per season, not including the initial equipment costs, he says. League costs vary and some leagues travel more than others.
Many rinks also offer spring leagues, which run from March to June, and hockey camp in July and August.
Dont Break the Bank
Although skating can be expensive, recreational skating is not. Most rinks offer skate rentals for about $2 a pair. Rinks sometimes have open houses and offer free lessons.
Several rinks offer open houses with free skating. Check a rink near you for dates. (See sidebar.) For example, IceWorks is offering an open house in celebration of the Olympics during the week of Feb. 6. Its a free event, Hollett says. We give free lessons and hold exhibitions. Its a fun day for the family.
Leah Troiano is a local freelance writer.