Figure Skating: Where To Start?
A comprehensive "How To" guide for raising the next Michelle Kwan, Scott Hamilton, or just a kid who loves to ice skate!
By: Jennifer Beck
I grew up in Pickerington in the 70’s and 80’s owning, showing, loving horses. They were my heart and soul. Surely, my son or daughter would have the horse bug….nope! Flash forward to 2009, and I am now the mother of two wonderful kids—my seven year old son, Daniel, who plays hockey and my 6 year old daughter, Caroline.
Spending lots of time at the ice rink during brother’s hockey practices, I watch as Caroline emulates the figure skaters in their off ice workout classes. And despite having plenty of horse toys, books and stuffies, Caroline “Oohs” and “Aahs” at a poster of a figure skater proclaiming, “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing ever?!” That was it. Right there I knew what she loved.
At that moment, figure skating became as much a part of her as horses were a part of me. So, soon, I began navigating the waters as a figure skating parent on my own without a lot of support, since figure skating and ice sports weren’t prevalent in Pickerington. There was so much I didn’t know, and so much I would have liked to have known!
Group Lessons: The first step into figure skating either as a recreational or a competitive sport is the same: find a good “Learn to Skate” program. Each of the Chiller ice rinks have group Learn to Skate lessons in the evenings and on Saturdays. The Columbus Figure Skating Club also offers group Learn to Skate lessons in the fall and winter on Sundays at the OSU ice rink.
These 40 minute classes for 8 weeks provide the basics of skating from the first marching steps to turns, backward skating, crossovers and elementary spins and spirals. These skills are broken up into 6 different basic levels for skaters 6 years old through adult. Younger kids aged 4-6 can start with “Snowplow Sam” classes, which cover the very first skills at a pace appropriate for the age.
After Basic 6, skaters can take more advanced group classes learning more advanced footwork and edge work, the three basic spin positions (camel spin, sit spin and layback spin), and all of the single jumps from a waltz jump to an axel. The group lessons are fun and are a great way to meet friends and learn new skills at a reduced cost.
Private Lessons: Most skaters start out in group lessons and then transition to private instruction and practice. Caroline began private lessons after completing Basic 5 classes (about 9 months), because she wanted to compete, and private lessons enabled her to learn at her own pace and progress when she was ready. We chose a coach, and she began weekly lessons during the Chiller’s freestyle sessions—ice times designated for private lessons and figure skating practice. She also began skating on her own during freestyle sessions to practice between lessons. At this point, you pay the rink for the ice time and pay the coach individually for a 30 minute lesson. Her love of skating grew during this time as she skated with the “big girls” and learned new skills at a faster pace.
Her private lesson coach was also her coach for competitions. Her coach was the person who helped her pick music, created the program, taught the skating skills and guided her through each competition. Her coach also guided us through purchasing skates, joining a skating club, skating dresses and testing through US Figure Skating.
US Figure Skating Levels and Clubs: Each skater who competes skates for their individual club. Caroline skated for the Columbus Figure Skating Club. She participated in the club from the beginning of her competition days in 2010 and also tested through Columbus Figure Skating. Passing a level determines in which class a skater
Testing: US Figure skating has 8 different test levels. Pre-preliminary, Preliminary, Pre-Juvenile, Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior & Senior. The skaters at the Olympics are Senior level skaters, but you don’t have to land a triple jump or quad jump to pass the US Figure Skating Senior Freeskate test!
Every skater who passes the Senior Moves in the Field Test and/or the Senior Freeskate Test is considered a US Gold Medalist! After 9 years of skating, Caroline has passed her Senior Moves in the Field Test and her Novice Freeskate Test.
Competitions: After a year of group and private lessons, Caroline competed at her first local competition. Here she got the chance to skate a program set to music and add new skills as she moved up the levels. She started competing at Freeskate Level 1 in 2010 and moved through the levels to US Figure Skating Novice level in 2017.
Local basic skills competitions are hosted throughout the year by the Chiller and local figure skating clubs like Columbus Figure Skating Club and Skating Club of Central Ohio. Other day trip competitions are held in Springfield and Troy, Ohio. Local competitions start with classes for Snowplow Sam up through Preliminary and sometimes through Pre- Juvenile level.
Once a skater reaches the Preliminary-Pre-Juvenile level, travel to competitions becomes common. Caroline and I traveled to Cleveland, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Chicago to compete. These were fun times for us where Caroline could do what she loved—skating--and we could enjoy some sightseeing and mom/daughter time!
Once Caroline reached the Juvenile level in 2015, she began competing at the US Figure Skating Qualifying Regionals. Our region covers a seven state area. Regionals is the beginning of the road to US Figure Skating Nationals! Regionals has been held in Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Louisville, Kentucky; Traverse City, Michigan; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Lansing, Michigan; and Nashville, Tennessee.
Beyond Competitive Skating: Not all skaters have the desire or drive to practice and compete in figure skating competitions, and that’s ok! Some just continue to learn new skills and test to achieve their highest skating level. The Chiller hosts a Holiday skating show where skaters can skate for an audience for fun!
Caroline has also had the opportunity to give back to community. She raised money and skated in a show called Skate For Hope from 2010- 2013. Currently, skaters can raise money for Ronald McDonald House and participate in a show called Skate It Forward. This June, skaters who raise money will skate in a show at the Ice Haus in downtown Columbus, alongside US National and Olympic skaters.
What's next? Caroline took a year off from skating to focus on new sports and high school. Continually traveling 20-50 minutes to get to the rink for 10 years took its toll, and she needed a break.
Having a rink in our hometown would have made such a difference. But, she is returning to skate as a sophomore in high school to complete her last two tests and begin coaching Learn to Skate lessons. She wants to pass her joy of skating to the next generation and teach them that when you fall, you simply get back up and keep skating—for the joy of it!
About the Author:
Jennifer Beck currently serves as the Figure Skating Liaison to the Center Ice Foundation Board of Directors, representing figure skating stakeholders throughout Central Ohio, and helping to bring awareness to our campaign within the Central Ohio figure skating community. No stranger to the rink, she's both a Figure Skating Mom to her daughter and a Hockey Mom to her son, who currently plays hockey for St. Charles. Jennifer served on the Board of Directors for the Columbus Figure Skating Club for 5 years, the last 3 of which were as Board President. She and her family live in Pickerington.