General Skating FAQ

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. However, if you consider the 4 points of balance, (Forward, backward, left and right) basic skills are learned more easily on a figure blade.

A hockey blade is like the rung on a rocking chair. In technical terms it is “highly rockered” meaning that you can lean all the way forward or backward with nothing to stop you. For this reason, beginners in hockey skates tend to skate hunched over with their arms extended to prevent a forward or backward fall. It requires proficiency at all 4 points of balance to achieve any consistent progress.

Figure skate blades have a toe pick and a tail. The toe picks on beginner figure are very small and usually do not present a problem, but they stop you from going too far forward on the blade, just as the tail prevents you from leaning too far back. This makes it easier to stand upright with solid core strength, and be able to utilize your left to right balance for inside and outside edges. You accomplish more of the fundamentals when you learn on figure skates, and often progress faster.

If I want to ultimately play hockey, how long should I stay in figure skates before I switch to hockey skates?

That decision is personal to your comfort level, however it would be practical to learn: forward and backward stroking, both left and right crossovers, hockey stops and T stops, and a solid 3-turn. These are all skills that you will need in both figure skating and hockey. Depending on how often you skate and practice, you may achieve these skills rapidly, but the better you perfect your basic techniques, the more adept skater you will become in either discipline. Each skill builds on the previous one for better speed and flow.

Will figure skates give me enough ankle support?

A good quality pair of figure skates provides as much ankle support as any pair of hockey skates. You can get very stiff figure boots, (stiffer boots will be required when jumping, to provide the proper support to avoid injury on landings) but it is important to maintain some flexibility. Old style skates that go back to the early years of competitive skating were made of thin leather and required significant muscular development to hold the body in the correct upright position. Now, as technology has advanced, the boots do part of that job for the skater. This is one reason for younger skaters being able to perform more difficult jumps. However, starting off in a boot that is too stiff or heavy plastic will impede progress. Even as a beginner, you must select boots of adequate quality and correct fit and flexibility, so that the boots help your ankles stay erect as you condition your foot position and balance to control the skates, but also allows a nice deep knee bend. Competitive or professional skaters will often say that their skates feel like an extension of their feet. Most cases of "weak ankles" are due either to cheap department store skates, or too floppy, worn-out or oversized rental skates.

My child is just starting to skate. How much time must I spend at the rink?

You'll probably start off at 1-2 hours per week. You can do more of course but typically, if your skater is young and just starting out, this will be typical. It would most likely include a group lesson and some practice ice. This is, of course, a matter of intention, personal dedication and the size of your budget. If you have a skater who would gladly spend hours on the ice every week, that skater will most likely advance more quickly and have higher aspirations. When your skaters are young, you should plan to stay while they're on the ice. Occasionally they do take a tumble and they need some parental comfort. It will also give you the opportunity to observe their progress and provide encouragement. Coaches aren't really the people to do this and if in a group lesson, the coach has to keep teaching other skaters.

At What age should a child begin figure skating?

There is no correct age to introduce your child to skating. However, sometimes a child can be too young and will cry the whole time. If that happens, wait six months and try again. Children develop at different rates so what will work for one beginner, may not work for another. Psychologically, children get satisfaction with self-mobility and the enhancement of fine motor skills. The ability to crawl, walk, run, ride a bike and skate all add to that in a positive way, giving them a sense of control over their environment. The initial response to gliding on ice is extremely positive. You know your child’s abilities and temperament best. Most classes being at age 4. However, tot classes and parent/tot classes which allow children as young as 2 on the ice are available in many areas. If you are unsure about your child’s readiness, you can introduce very young children to skating at a roller skating rink where toddlers and preschoolers can start on 4, balanced, roller skate wheels. Once a child can roll around on roller skates, the transition to ice skates comes easily. Many champion figure skaters ( Tara Lipinski) started out as roller skaters. It’s just fine tuning some coordination and balance.

My child loves skating and is making great progress, how do I know if she has real potential?

Genuinely talented children may exhibit a natural ability and coordination to perform in any athletic activity. Undeveloped talent requires opportunity and training. But heredity and nurture greatly influence one's ability to take advantage of training. Some children learn quickly; they will succeed more rapidly because they are faster or stronger, and better coordinated. A coach may recognize their ability as potential and offer opportunities that will provide greater challenges. That is a pretty good indicator that they see some special “spark” in your skater. Acquiring good, fundamental, efficient techniques is necessary to achieve long term goals, so pushing too hard, too fast may not accomplish your future vision. Gaps in technique become more apparent when trying to properly execute more complicated skills. Bad habits, from basic skills that have been rushed, once acquired, are nearly impossible to change. Early competitive success based on the incorrect execution of simple skills is not a reliable indicator of future success. In fact, pursuing poor technique is a good way to limit future success. The risk of this developing is high in talented, but poorly trained skaters. Always make sure that skating is a positive experience for your skater. Those that love being on the ice will acquire better training habits, even if they must overcome initial awkwardness.

Group lessons are offered at many area rinks. How do I choose which is best?

Go and observe the classes, talk to other parents and coaches and see which program coordinates with your schedule, goals and budget. Some rinks are run by Park Districts and do not follow the guidelines of an association. You can also choose between recreational-based skating programs, like ISI, or competitive-based programs, like USFS Basic Skills. Depending on your goals you can choose a program in a rink that is “seasonal”, only open in colder months, or “non-seasonal”, open year-round. Then, look at whether the rink specializes in figure skating or hockey. What is the condition of the rental skates ( if you do not intend to purchase skates immediately)? What are the coach qualifications? Have they a reputation for turning out regional and national competitors and champions? Do they have a program brochure or website where you can compare information? Lastly, If you are still confused, test out a program and if you are disappointed, just switch.

At what point do the boots and blades, which my skater uses, make a significant difference in his/her skating?

Always! Initially, the skates must be the correct size and offer sufficient support, so that the skater is able to stand upright, be comfortable, and have sharpened blades. That should allow basic skills to be accomplished without fighting poor, ill-fitting equipment. The soft style skates with the heavy padding are only recommended until Basic 5, at which point the more complex tasks are impeded by the bulky nature of the skates. Once the skater begins learning jumps and spins, a better boot and blade will vastly improve performance. “Better” should not be interpreted as “extremely expensive”, although a better quality boot and blade will, certainly, cost more than a recreational combo. Quality advanced beginner styles are available for about $100-$125 and you may find an excellent quality used boot and blade available for less.

What are US Figure Skating, ISI, Skate Canada, NISA, etc?

United States Figure Skating (USFS) is the organization with the direct connection to the International Skating Union (ISU), and the one which sponsors the U.S. National Championships (and all the qualifying competitions leading up to it). These result in the world team being picked. US Figure Skating runs a "learn to skate" program, has a variety of disciplines, schedules tests and runs competitions.

Skate Canada (formerly known as Canadian Figure Skating Association or CFSA) runs programs which are roughly parallel to the US Figure Skating program. 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 their own National skating associations with similar aims as the US Figure Skating and Skate Canada and their own skating programs, such as DEU (Deutsche Eislauf-Union) in Germany, NISA (National Ice Skating Association) in UK, 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 encourage 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.

Should I join ISI or US Figure Skating?

Both organizations have "learn to skate" programs, and both have schedules of tests. Both host competitions. Skaters from either organization may skate in competitions of the other without penalty, but they have to abide by the rules of the host organization in terms of assessing skating level, and in terms of program content, duration, etc. The more serious competitive track skaters generally skate US Figure Skating. However, in recent years US Figure Skating has become increasingly aware that there are many valid reasons to skate other than heading for Worlds, and there are many dedicated skaters for whom the test and competitive structure of US Figure Skating did not mesh well. This realization has led to the development of a test track, solo dance and competitive outlets for adult skaters.

Some skaters feel that ISI competition technical programs are too restrictive ( content is strictly regulated according to test level and elements from higher levels are not allowed.) While it may “even the playing field”, it also curtails a certain measure of creative choreography. You do not have to qualify to enter ISI competitions, merely register for the appropriate level and have a valid membership. On the other hand some other complain that US Figure Skating competition rules encourage "sandbagging" (the practice of staying at a low test level in order to have a better chance to place well at competitions, even though the skater is capable of passing higher level tests). USFS sanctions both non-qualifying and qualifying competitions. Sometimes the choice boils down to a matter of convenience (not all rinks or clubs are affiliated with both organizations). Check with your rink and take an honest look at your skater’s aspirations, time commitment and budgetary restraints.

How can I prepare a skater for competitive skating? (Answered by Joanne Schneider-Ferris)

Find a private figure skating coach with the expertise and knowledge that you believe you can trust with your child's skating career. Champions are not produced by talent alone. Do you have the time and money to make your child a competitor? The first step parents need to take towards making a child an accomplished figure skater is to find a private lesson coach that can direct and manage a child's skating. Not all figure skating coaches can do this. Look for someone who teaches skating full-time. Part-time figure skating coaches can help supplement a skater's training, but the coach in charge should be committed completely to a child's skating and to being the best figure skating coach possible. Every skater is different; make sure your coach is a good match for personality and learning style.

Making a drastic change, like moving away for skating, may not be necessary.

It is not necessary to disrupt a family's entire life for skating by moving to a figure skating training center. There may be a young and energetic coach at an ice arena in your city that has the drive and ability to train and coach figure skating champions. That person may be capable of training a figure skater from the beginning to elite levels. Best thing to do is ask.

Don't put off getting started doing things "right."

It is important for parents of young skaters to understand that competitive figure skaters must commit to a structured figure skating training schedule as early as possible. The ideal age to get started doing this is at about five, six, or seven. Those who start "late" around eight, nine, or ten years of age can possibly catch up with the right coaching and training. Those who start skating seriously after the age of ten can still be serious competitive figure skaters, but it may be too late to "make it" in singles, especially for a girl. A developed women's body makes it hard to master double and triple jumps. Those who win ladies events at the national, world, and Olympic levels may have landed some triple jumps before puberty. There are, of course, always exceptions. Determination and remaining injury –free have a serious impact on performance and skill levels. Once it is decided that a child wants to be a serious figure skater working towards being the absolute best, "jump right in."

Don't waste time or use the the excuse that your child is still young and has plenty of time. The time a person can be a competitive single skater working towards national, international, and Olympic dreams is short. A "window" is only open for a certain number of years. Doors are open a little longer for ice dancers, synchronized skaters, and pair skaters. • Commit to a training schedule and to lessons.

Young figure skaters working towards competing at the Pre-preliminary level and above should skate before and after school and take at least one lesson a day. Many more private lessons are required for a skater who wishes to win or medal in regional, sectional, national, or international figure skating competitions. High level skaters may skate for at least two to three hours in the morning and may return to the rink for two to three more hours in the afternoon. Off-ice conditioning and off-ice classes in ballet and dance should also be part of a figure skater's training plan. It is common for elite level figure skaters to work with multiple coaches, so more than one lesson a day may be normal for those trying to get to the top.


For more information about figure skating equipment, read our other guides or contact us. We're always happy to help!