Frequently Asked Questions                                                                           Back to Information & Downloads

Recreational Figure Skating FAQ's

1.1 Should I buy skates or rent them?
If rental skates are available the best path is to go with rentals for at least a half-dozen sessions until you are reasonably sure that you are making progress and intend to keep skating long enough to justify the investment. The only contrary objection would be if the rental skates at your rink are in really horrible shape, in which case you may want to check if the shop or any rink/club bulletin board has used skates for sale.
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1.2 Should I buy figure skates or hockey skates?
While the obvious response is "it depends on what kind of skating you want to do", in reality the beginner has to learn a set of basic skating skills starting with balance, posture, stroking and stopping, and these can be learned on either type. So, which type of skate is better to start with, and how much the two types of skating really differ?

The toe picks on figure skates need *getting used to*. They are *not* used for very basic skating (stroking, cross-cuts) but are required for proper execution of many jumps and spins. You get more of the fundamentals when you learn on figure skates (perhaps because the lessons concentrate on technique).

The blade of the figure skate is wider than hockey skates. The profile or rocker is intended to have the right radius of curvature along the blade for moves where you are shifting your weight to the front or back of the skates. There are different styles of blades for dance, figures and free-style. Hockey blades are short, narrow, with a deep grind and highly rockered, especially at the ends and are designed for maximum agility . Blades for goalies aren't as rockered and have a shallower grind.

Hockey skaters tend to skate more hunched over and are much more concerned with quick stops, starts, and changes of direction. Figure skaters tend to skate more upright, and have more fluid movements.

Figure skates generally cost more than hockey skates. The boots are usually made of leather and require maintenance. Figure skates have heels (about 1 1/2 inches).

Figure skates should not be used for playing hockey. The blades protrude more and can cause injury. Hockey skates can be used for figure skating (even for jumping) but your progress will be limited.
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1.3 Why are there different kinds of blades for figure skates?
There are four kinds of figure blades:
-- Freestyle, which have large toepicks for jumps, deep grind so you won't skid and less rocker for more acceleration.

-- Patch or figure, which have the shallowest grind for maximum glide and tiny toepicks (only used for pushes and stops). Since the removal of figures from eligible competitions, most blade manufacturers have discontinued figure blades. It is possible to transform a normal freestyle blade into a patch blade by regrinding the hollow to about 1'' radius and shaving off the lowest toepick.

-- Dance, which are shorter blades so you won't step on your own or your partner's blades. Compared to freestyle, they have smaller toepicks, and more rocker to make turns easier. They are also narrower and a deeper grind, to allow deeper edges.

-- Precision or synchronized skating blades, which are also shorter than freestyle blades.
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1.4 How often do I need to sharpen my skates?
If you're skating only a few times a week, every six weeks to two months is probably frequent enough. You should get in the habit inspecting them each time you dry off the blades, and when there are dulled or there are a lot of nicks, get them sharpened. The usual test for sharpness is dragging a fingernail lightly over the edge - if it planes off a little sliver, they're sharp, if it just slides, then they're dull. It is not unusual for blades to wear unevenly. For example, the inside edges may wear more quickly than the outside edges or the fronts more quickly than the tails.

Of course, the real test is in the skating, and you'll gradually learn the clues that point to a dull blade. You instructor can also help, and if the skate sharpener is competent, he or she will do the minimum necessary to your skates, perhaps just a quick pass with a hand stone to knock off a nick.

Remember that every time you get your blades sharpened you shorten the life of the blades and there's a bit of a re-adjustment for you to get used to the new feel. It's almost always "better", but you get used to when the blade will slide and when it will grab over the period as it gets dull, and you may be caught off guard by the new behavior.
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1.5 Are hand-held sharpeners useful?
Although opinions vary, the consensus is that hand-held sharpeners cannot replace a good machine sharpening. You cannot change the hollow radius easily and you should not use them on tapered blades. Having said that, they can be very useful to maintain a sharp edge or get rid of small nicks, particularly if you don't get the chance to get a proper sharpening as often as you would want because of lack of reliable competent sharpeners in your area.
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1.6 Will figure skates give me enough ankle support?
A good quality pair of figure skates provides *at least* as much ankle support as any pair of hockey skates. You can get figure boots that feel like steel, if you are so inclined. However, you must select boots of adequate quality and correct fit so that the boots help your ankles stay erect as you condition your ankles and balance to control the skates. Most cases of "weak ankles" are due either to cheap department store skates, or to floppy, worn-out or oversized rental skates.
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1.7 How do I know my skates are worn out?
There are some relatively objective signs that a boot has worn out or is being used beyond it's limitations and others that are purely subjective or require reference to a coach. Certainly, a skate is finished if the leather in the boot has started to wear out -- fissures in the inner lining, rips/tears in the outer boot or a cracked/crumbling sole that won't hold screws.

Judging when a boot no longer offers adequate support is more difficult. If the top flops over of it's own accord, it's obvious, but more subtle signs are when the normal creases which afford forward flexibility begin to look like accordion pleats that go all the way around the skate -- a sign the a the boot is free to flex sideways at the ankle.

Some more subjective signs are the feeling that you need to tighten the laces more to make things work, even though they are still tight, or the feeling that your foot is free to slide around in the skate, or your heel lifts even when the laces are tight. You might also feel that you're having trouble keeping your ankles erect or holding clean edges on tight edges, turns, spins or jump landings.

On the final front, your coach/instructor may make observations that your boots aren't doing their job or suggest that it's time to upgrade. This may be based on close observation or rule-of-thumb. Asking your instructor is always a good idea, while talking with other skaters can either be helpful or lead to a lot of confusion.

Keep in mind that boot requirements are highly relative. Given the model of boot that you have and the amount of "wear" you've put on them, they may be entirely adequate for what you're doing, or they may be an obstacle to further progress. A recommendation on buying new skates might differ depending on whether you're skating recreationally and just interested in picking up some jumps, or planning to go from singles to triples as quickly as possible to get into serious competition. Also, the recommendation for a petite woman would be different from that for a mid-sized athletic woman or a mid-sized or larger man.
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1.8 What is skating leg, free leg, outside edge, inside edge, LFO, RBI, etc.?
At various times throughout these pages, you will notice references to the skating foot, skating leg, free foot, etc. When you are skating on one foot, this is your skating foot. The foot which is off the ice is your free foot. The entire side of the body on the side of the free foot is the free side, hence the terms, free leg, free arm, etc. Similar terms apply to the skating side.

You will also note references to LFO, RBI, etc. This is a short-hand term referring to which edge you are using. The bottom of a skate blade has two edges, with a concave space between them. The edge closest to the other skate is your inside edge. The first letter indicates the skating foot, left or right. The second letter indicates whether you are skating forward or backward. The third letter indicates whether you are on an inside or outside edge.
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1.9 Why do I skate mostly on my inside edges?
Chances are it's just a matter of confidence. You might be on your inside edges because you have your feet spread apart, or because your skates don't fit properly or are worn out.. When you're on an inside edge, you've got your other foot to catch you. On an outside edge, there's nothing between you and the ice but thin air.

Try one foot glides, straight at first and then on shallow outside edges until you can securely glide for extended distances. Do them near the boards at first if it helps to know there's something to grab onto if needed. Like riding a bicycle, going faster will help you balance. Be sure to practice on both feet equally.

Remember to keep your weight towards the rear of the blade, since letting your weight shift forward puts you on the sharply curved, less stable part of the blade profile.

Have the skates sharpened if necessary. You can't hold an edge on dull skates. And have the skates checked to make sure the blades are mounted properly.
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1.10 Why do most skaters spin and jump counterclockwise?
Most people have a more or less strong innate preference for rotating counterclockwise. This is because a counterclockwise rotation tends to be controlled predominantly by the right shoulder, which is the dominant one for a majority of people (although it is not true that all right handed people prefer to turn counterclockwise!). In addition, most rinks impose a counterclockwise direction of travel in public sessions, which may reverse an initial predilection for turning in the other direction.

Some beginner skaters seem not to have a strong natural direction preference and are able to master some of the basic jumps in both directions, but their instructors push them to settle on one side or the other before moving on to more advanced skills. Part of the reason for this is that spins are used as stepping stones to jumps. The back spin in particular is used as a preliminary to the loop, which is in turn used as a preliminary to the Axel. Ultimately, rotation for all jumps is the same and it all comes from the backspin.

Although there is no reason why most skaters should not be able to learn spins and jumps in both directions, in the practice you don't get sufficient credit from the judges to make it worth the trouble of learning to do them in the weaker direction. The only skating program where reverse jumps are eventually required is
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1.10.1 Is there an easy way to tell what my "natural" spinning direction is?
The best way to find out which way you prefer to rotate is to try a spin or a simple jump in both directions. You will probably be able to predict your natural preference simply by noting in what direction you can perform turns most easily.

If you are not sure what your preference is, picking your stronger direction can be trickier. Gus Lussi (a famous skating coach from a few decades ago) recommended choosing the jumping direction according to your best side on back outside edges (because that will be your landing edge).If your right BO edge is stronger, jump and spin counterclockwise.

You can try to determine your best side by catching a flying object or hitting a spot with a ball, (try both throwing and kicking the ball, as spins and jumps require coordination from both the upper and lower body). Try with both hands/legs. If you consistently get better results with your right side, rotate counterclockwise.

There are also practical issues to consider: For example, it can take a lot of nerve to set up jumps in crowded sessions if you are a clockwise jumper (because you will be going against the traffic) and there is probably an increased risk of colliding with other skaters. That can be a good reason to choose the counterclockwise direction if you don't have a strong preference.

Some people find it easier to spin in one direction and jump in the other. In these cases it is often advised to reverse the spin direction to match the jumping direction, perhaps because it is easier to learn spins than most jumps in the weak direction -or perhaps because it worked so well for John Curry!
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1.11 Why can I do X on my right leg but not my left?
Almost every skater has a strong side and a weak side. It may be due to a difference in muscle strength or related to the preference to do moves in one direction. Unfortunately, the tendency is to do the move on the leg or direction that works and ignore the mirror image move on the other leg, without even realizing it. It is good practice to consciously do at least as much practice on the weak side as the strong side. So for example, if you're working on inside three-turns, alternate between the two feet.
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1.12 What's the difference between a crossover and a progressive?
The difference between these strokes lies in where the new skating foot sits on the ice at the beginning of the power stroke. In a normal stroke, the new skating foot is placed alongside the skating foot and the push is outward and slightly to the rear.

For the cross-over (aka cross stroke, cross pull), the new skating foot is passed across the front of or over the skating foot and placed inside and slightly ahead of the skating foot. The push has a strong sideways component, as if you were "climbing stairs sideways".

In the progressive stroke the new skating foot is placed on the ice along side the skating foot and then slides to a position forward of the skating foot prior to the power stroke. While push is still primarily outward, it has a more profound front to back component. Note that new skating foot is *not* simply placed on the ice ahead of the skating foot, which produces an uneven "walking" motion.

A progressive run (sometimes just called a run) is a merely sequence of progressive strokes along the same lobe. The difficulty is in making them clean power strokes in time with the music, and maintaining the edge and aim. Dance students who haven't mastered the progressive stroke tend to interpret runs as a sequence of short choppy strokes or a sort of shuffle sequence.

Both the cross-over and progressive strokes can be executed in either the forward or backward direction. They are more powerful than the standard stroke because of the extended length of the power stroke and degree to which that stroke can work against the weight of the body. Backwards crossovers are extremely powerful and are often seen in freestyle to regain momentum between moves, while progressive runs are used in dance to add power without disrupting the flow of the edges.
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1.13 Turns. What's a counter, rocker, bracket, 3-turn?
Three. A 3-turn is a change of direction (eg. forward to backward) while skating on an arc of a circle (lobe). It is done without a change of skating foot and always involves a change of edge (eg. forward outside to backward inside edge). As it changes direction, the skate traces the digit "3" in the ice; hence the term. The center of the 3 always points to the center of the circle. There are eight 3-turns, depending on which edge you enter with, which is your skating foot, and whether you enter the turn going forward or backward. The turns are named according to their entry position, hence a LFO 3-turn is a turn done on the Left foot starting from a Forward direction on an Outside edge.

Bracket. A turn made on one foot from forward to backward (or backward to forward) from one edge of one character to an edge of another character, i.e. outside to inside or inside to outside, where the body rotation is counter to the natural direction of progress causing the cusp to print outward from the center of the lobe curvature. The edge before and after the turn is on the same lobe.

Rocker. A turn made on one foot from a forward to backward (or backward to forward) edge maintaining the same character, i.e. inside to inside or outside to outside, where the body rotation is in the same direction as the natural progress causing the cusp to point toward the center of curvature of the first lobe. The edge before and after the turn is on different lobes having opposite directional curvature.

Counter. A turn made on one foot from a forward to backward (or backward to forward) edge maintaining the same character, i.e. inside to inside or outside to outside, where the body rotation is counter to the natural direction of progress causing the cusp to point outward from the center of curvature of the first lobe. The edge before and after the turn is on different lobes having opposite directional curvature.

Here is some ASCII art to help.

A bracket is also on the same circle, but the pointy part of the turn is on the outside of the circle, like a bracket }

___/\___ ___ ___
/ \ vs / \/ \
/ \ / \
bracket 3-turn

Counters and rockers, on the other hand, are at a change of circles. In both cases, although you change direction, you do not change edge. (assume you are traveling up the page...)

2. 2.
/ /
___/\___/ ___ ___/
/ / \/
/ /
1. 1.
counter rocker

1.14 Turns. What's a mohawk, choctaw?
The mohawk and choctaw involve a step from one foot to the other during the execution of the turn.

Mohawk. A Mohawk is a change of direction (eg. forward to backward) while skating on an arc of a circle. It includes a change of skating foot and retains the same character of edge (eg. forward inside to backwards inside). The edges before and after the turn are on the same lobe. Because of the use of both feet, their are only 4 Mohawk turns, depending on whether the entry edges is inside or outside and forward or backwards. There are however, many variations on the execution of the Mohawk turn within this analytical constraint.

Choctaw. A Choctaw is a change of direction (eg. forward to backward) that involves both a change of skating foot and a change in the character of the edge (eg. backward outside to forward inside). The edges before and after the turn are on different lobes having opposite directional curvature. Like the Mohawk, there are only 4 Choctaw turns.
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1.15 Are spin trainers any good?
Skating folks have a wide variety of opinions. On the negative side, it is indeed possible to do something like a spin on it, although it doesn't really feel the same as doing it on the ice. The center of this spinner is in the center of your foot. Also it doesn't replicate the normal approach to the spin -- if you step onto it with any linear momentum, you'll go flying off again. DON'T consider using it anywhere near anything you can fall onto -- you will literally get tossed off the spinner if you balance wrong.

On the positive side, spinning takes a lot of practice. One lesson with even the best coach will not turn you into a good spinner. And the skate spinner costs about as much as one lesson (including ice time). Thus, if there is a realistic way of practicing spinning without having to pay the hourly charge of ice time, it is a Good Thing.

The plastic spinner is one piece. The "rocker" bottom is pretty good, but DON'T try it on a hardwood floor - if your weight shifts to the back of the spinner for even an instant, the spinner will fly forwards and you'll fly downwards! The spinner also works on carpet but wont spin as fast. It can be a little hard to balance on, so if you're a beginning spinner, it probably won't help you too much.

The metal spinner is two pieces - one steel plate sits on the ground, and the other plate (steel but with rubber tread for traction - better than slippery plastic!) which spins on top.

Here are a few exercises you can do on a spinner:
For Jump Landings: Stand on the spinner with landing leg, do NOT move the spinner, hold landing position to count of 5, keep in mind position, weight placement. KNEE OVER TOE.

Salchows: use the spinner for your 3 turn, jump off the spinner and rotate, land as you normally would in a jump.

Loops: get into a loop position on the spinner, give yourself some spin from the spinner, then jump off, rotate in the air and land.

SPINS: point of these exercises is not to increase your revolutions to 7 or even 10 times. It is to give you enough revolutions to help you understand the feeling of your weight placement, your body position.

One Foot Spin and Scratch Spin: Very important to have your hips square, start the spinner and maintain this position; you need to have the free leg placed to the side and slightly in front of the spinning foot. Push the spinner and feel the position of the hips and shoulders. This one is tricky on the spinner, getting that first push-off position is key to getting some revolutions.

Backspins: are the easiest of the spins to do. Again hips should be square, underneath the shoulders, feet directly parallel with one another (side by side). Pull into your position. This one is important to have as many straight, comfortable revolutions as you can. It will teach you balance, keeping your back straight and your free leg crossed.
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1.16 Will inline skating improve my ice skating?
Although inline skating can be an excellent exercise for overall fitness and some basic skills can transfer well to the ice, more advanced figure skaters find that regular inlines are rather unsuitable to practice advanced freestyle maneuvers. If you are determined to do freestyle off-ice, consider purchasing Picskates or Triax skates. They both have a toe-stop at the front which makes it easier to jump. Triax skates seem to be more popular with former roller skaters, while Picskates, with their rockered profile, are the ones that most closely resemble an ice blade. Having said that, be aware that most things will be harder to do on Picskates than on ice and a few skills, like spins, are considerably harder.
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1.17 What are USFSA, ISI, Skate Canada, NISA, etc?
United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) is the organization with the tie-in to the International Skating Union (ISU), and the one which sponsors the U.S. National Championships (and all the competitions leading up to it) that result in the world team being picked. USFSA runs a "learn to skate" program, schedules tests and runs competitions.

Skate Canada (formerly known as Canadian Figure Skating Association or CFSA) runs programs which are roughly parallel to the USFSA program. They start with Canskate, which is a learn-to-skate program, followed by Canfigureskate (basically a children's' program) and "test stream".

Other ISU member countries have got their own National skating associations with similar aims as the USFSA and Skate Canada and their own skating programs, such as DEU (Deutsche Eislauf-Union) in Germany, NISA (National Ice Skating Association) in UK, FFSG (Fédération Française des Sports de Glace) in France, etc.

ISI (Ice Skating Institute) was formed out of a real need felt by recreational skaters for a testing, instructional, and competitive structure that did not devalue the "run of the mill" skater. It does not only encourages participation in skating as a recreational sport, but is also active in producing information and education material directed to ice rink owners and operators and covering all aspects of ice skating as a trade. Its program has been adopted by a large number of ice facilities across the USA. ISI also has an international branch with member rinks in 11 countries.
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1.18 How do you make an outdoor rink?
1) Select a flat area which is as sheltered as much as possible from both sun and wind. Building ice over a nice lawn will make not such a nice lawn, so it's best to pick an area that you don't mind turning yellow (more than usual) for the first part of the spring.

2) Construct a border of wood, such as 2x4 lumber, or use mounds of earth or snow to form a barrier and contain the water. Flatten and compact the snow in the rink area. Make sure you leave room for snow to be shoveled off the rink later on.

3) Sprinkle water around the barrier first so that it becomes frozen solid. Do *not* flood. The main idea is to create an "ice bathtub" where you can pour water without it running away from you.

4) Then sprinkle water on the snow on the rink. An oscillating lawn sprinkler works great and will save your hands from freezing! Put on just enough to make a slush -- this is an important step. If you don't use enough water then you just get ice on top of snow. If you use too much water the snow will melt and run off.

5) Once your base has been created, water it well on cold nights and allow it to freeze between waterings. Continue until you've got an inch or two of flat, solid ice. Air pockets should be broken and filled with "slush" to patch them (avoids broken ankles).

6) After the rink has been skated on and the skaters have caused snow to form, scrape off the snow before adding any more water.
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1.19 Why does my music sound terrible in the ice rink?
(Based on contributions by William Letendre and Lyle Walsh)
Whether you are cutting your own music for a competition or test program or just want to have some of your favourite music to play while skating, you may be surprised and disappointed by the difference in sound quality when you hear the music on the rink system.

The main problem with sound quality is caused by reverberation (multiple echo). In a typical Olympic sized rink, it takes sound about 0.2 seconds to travel the length of the rink. If the rink has plenty of sound damping insulation on the walls, the sound can be reflected a couple of times before it gets absorbed into inaudibility. In rinks with bare concrete or steel walls, the sound can be reflected around 10 times. This results in a reverberation time between 0.4 and 4 seconds. It is easy to see why a long reverberation time leads to problems in reproducing music. Most music at any tempo fast enough to skate to has beats and sub-beats at much closer spacing than a second or two; "allegro" tempo is generally played at a rate of anywhere between 4 and 10 beats per second! Music at that fast a beat will become "mush" when played in a "live" rink, with the notes so blurred together as to be indistinguishable.

As it happens, the typical materials used in building construction absorb treble notes much more effectively than they do bass notes. This means that the effective reverberation time for, say, a flute piece will be much shorter than that for a bassoon piece. This is a lot of the reason that you want to avoid "bass heavy" music when playing in a large, echoic space such as an ice rink. The higher pitched notes will damp more quickly and sound more distinct.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to skate in a rink with good acoustics, then you get hit from the other direction; short reverb times imply high acoustic loss, which means you need more acoustic power to produce loud sound. In fact, the high levels of power required can easily defeat the output power capacity of battery powered "boom boxes", forcing you to turn the volume up to the onset of audible distortion and beyond!

While you cannot do much about the ice rink acoustics, it is possible to edit your music to work around the limitations of the rink music system. This can be done easily with music editing software like Sound Forge, Goldwave or Audacity. Here are some tips:

1) Turn off the Bass Boost on the playback system, most are terrible and will muddy up even the best recordings.

2) Use some form of dynamic compression, eg wave hammer, so that the softest parts are no less than -15 to -20 dB and normalize all music to peak value of 0 dB.

3) Add "air" i.e. boost the top frequencies above 15 kHz by 3 dB.

4) If there is a lot of difference between the right and left channels then mix it in MONO as stereo is often lost and you can completely lose the vocal or melody line.

6) Avoid cheap "pop" recordings, as their engineering is absolutely terrible.

7) If you record on tape for your program keep a virgin competition tape and watch your recording levels so that you don't go over +3dB.
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1.20 How do I find a suitable private instructor?
1. If you have never had any skating lessons before, consider starting off with some group lessons (inquire in nearby rinks). The group lessons will introduce you to potential instructors and the structured setting may help you define your goals more clearly. This will be useful when setting off for private instruction.

2. To select a coach for private lessons, start by making a comprehensive list of choices. You can ask about available coaches at your club/ice-rinks or skating acquaintances.

3. If possible, observe the prospective coach teaching students. Watch how they interact during the lesson. Would you want them to interact with you in that style?

4. Talk to students or their parents and find out what they like/don't like about the coach. Do not ask vague, subjective questions like "is Coach X nice?". Instead, try to find out:

  • Is the coach punctual
  • Is she/he organized and professional?
  • Is the coach experienced and enjoys teaching students of a comparable age/ability level to you or your child? (some coaches may be excellent with beginners but not have the experience to teach top level students, other prefer teaching fast progressing kids and may pay less attention to less advanced students, etc.)

5. Arrange an interview with the coach. Here are some of the questions to ask when you interview a coach:

  • What are the highest tests she/he has passed?
  • Are they affiliated with a recognized skating association? If relevant, what is their PSA rating in the various disciplines?
  • Ask them to provide you with names of other skaters they are/have been coaching.
  • Discuss fees. Ask about their billing mode and lesson cancellation policy.

6. Don't be afraid to take a trial lesson (at your expense) with a few different coaches. You will quickly know who you click with.

7. Don't make a hasty decision and plan to give a coach a month or two before making a more permanent commitment. Sometimes it takes a while to get the communication flowing well.
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1.20.1 What are the guidelines to deal with coaches?
1. Do not become close friends with your or your child's coach and don't hire a coach who is your friend. If you are in a close relationship with your or you child's coach it becomes very difficult to switch coaches or sometimes even talk honestly with them. It is advisable not to allow your child to spend time with the coach alone outside scheduled practice. If you find the relationship with the coach is becoming too intimate, consider a change in coaching.

2. Be respectful to your coach. Be punctual for your lessons and always pay on time. If you might need to cancel a scheduled lesson, let your coach as soon as possible.

3. If you decide to take lessons from someone else, it is advisable to tell your coach upfront, even if the extra lessons will not involve changes in your regular schedule with your coach. While having more than one coach is rather common and most coaches will be accommodating (some will even encourage you and give advice on a suitable alternative coach to work with), coaches are also human and it may upset them to find out from a third party.
back to top Should I tip my instructor?
There are no well defined rules on tipping your coach. A few people tip their coaches on a regular basis, many do not. You can express your appreciation in a perfectly appropriate manner by giving your coach a small present on their birthday or for Christmas. Ideas for presents include (but are not limited to) gift certificates, subscriptions to skating magazines, tickets for a coming ice show, a bottle of fine wine, etc.
back to top What are the rules for taking a coach to competitions?
If you want your coach to put you on the ice or instruct you during local competition practices, make sure to discuss in advance your requirements and ask how much you will be charged (some coaches charge the same rate as for normal lessons, others charge a lump sum or may demand reimbursement for the travel.

If the competition is far away enough that it requires flying and overnight stays, the sums involved can be rather considerable and you may have to set some parameters for the coach. For example, commit to pay for the lowest available 30-day advance air fare (so that the coach bears the extra cost if they book late or select a more expensive fare), so many nights of hotel, per diem, competition fee, car rental (depending on how far the hotel is from the rink and whether there is alternative transport available), etc. It is advisable to put all this in writing to avoid accidental misunderstandings.
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1.21 Is there a painless way to leave my coach?
There are many reasons why you may want to leave your coach. Sometimes it boils down to a clash of personalities or styles, sometimes your skating "overgrows" your coach or perhaps you feel that your progress has stagnated and you want to experience an alternative training approach. Sometimes it is a change in your personal circumstances (loss of a job, shift in commitments). The latter case is probably the easier to handle with your coach, because there is nothing personal at stake. In the other cases, breaking the news to your coach can be a difficult experience.

Fortunately, coaches are used to students changing and usually handle it well. In some cases, where the professional relationship has truly gone stale you coach may actually experience relief that you had the guts to end it! The most important thing is to be honest but tactful with them. This can feel particularly difficult if the reason for leaving is that you want to work with another coach. In any case, don't tell them that their coaching is all wrong and they are unpleasant to work with, but rather something like, "I feel like lately I have not been progressing at the rate I think I could, and I want to try a new approach with Coach X." Of course, both the exact form and the content of the message depends on the circumstances of your change. The important thing is to not belittle your coach's abilities.
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