The world of figure skating can seem complicated and confusing to those on the outside. This can be especially true for parents who might want their child to learn how to skate, but who have no personal experience with the sport. Learning to figure skate takes time, patience, and dedication—and there definitely isn’t a shortage of bumps and bruises along the way as well. Knowing the sacrifices of what it takes to be a good skater might make some parents wonder what an appropriate age would be for their child to begin learning to ice skate.
Generally, starting children when they are younger will give them an advantage as they progress, but it’s important that you first make sure your child is mature and attentive enough to be able to follow along with an instructor. You should also wait for your child to have adequate flexibility, muscle strength, endurance, balance, and coordination. Typically, somewhere around age 4 is a good time to introduce ice skating to your child.
But don’t expect Olympic-level jumps right off the bat! Children must first start by learning how to balance and move on the ice before they are exposed to the multiple areas of discipline in competitions—singles skating, pairs skating, ice dancing, and synchronized skating.
As your child begins to learn the basics of ice skating, he or she will likely start with the program known as Snowplow Sam. This program consists of introductory classes divided into three levels, allowing preschool-age children with no prior skating experience to build confidence and strength on the ice while learning the basic skills of skating. Snowplow Sam is an integral part of figure skating, and at most arenas, the program is taught in a safe, comfortable environment with plenty of fun and games to make it enjoyable for young children. Here’s a breakdown of the developmental goals in each level.
Snowplow Sam 1
- Sit and stand up with skates on—off-ice
- Sit and stand up with skates on—on-ice
- March in place
- March forward (8-10 steps)
- March, then glide on two feet
- Dip in place
Snowplow Sam 2
- March followed by a long glide
- Dip while moving
- Backward wiggles
- Forward swizzles
- Rocking horse – one forward swizzle and one backward swizzle
- Two-foot hop
Snowplow Sam 3
- Forward skating
- Forward one-foot glide – right and left foot
- Forward swizzles
- Backward swizzles
- Forward snowplow stop
Basic Skills Levels
The next step after completing the Snowplow Sam program is moving onto the U.S. Figure Skating Basic Skills Program. This consists of eight basic levels that are considered the fundamentals of figure skating. Think of this as your child’s foundation. The skills learned in this program will transfer throughout a skater’s figure skating career, helping them to advance to the more specialized skills of their specific discipline.
When learning and going through the basic program, it’s important for a skater to be attentive and motivated. Slacking off during these foundational lessons can make it difficult to advance and master some of the harder skills you’ll see in higher levels. This is why it’s important to factor in the age of your child, since younger children are more prone to distraction and losing interest. That being said, there are some young children who are able to focus intensely, so the ultimate decision will come down to your understanding of your child’s maturity.
Figure Skating Competition Levels
In figure skating, there are several levels or classes in which a skater can compete. These include pre-preliminary, preliminary, pre-juvenile, juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior, and senior. In order to move up in levels, a skater must be able to complete a test in front of official judges. This test is based on the basic skills program and will determine what level a skater will compete in for competition.
As skaters become more competitive and advance to higher levels, they’ll have the opportunity to compete in qualifying competitions. These types of competitions are events in which skaters compete to earn a spot at the U.S. Championships. At this popular competition, the best skaters qualify for the World Figure Skating Championships and the Olympic Winter Games. This may seem like a lofty goal for your preschooler, but give skating a chance—you never know when a few mastered tricks will blossom into a love for the sport and for competition!
Learn How to Ice Skate at Any Age
Starting at a young age can help skaters gain the foundation necessary to develop into competitive figure skaters. However, learning to ice skate recreationally or competitively can be fun for all ages. Let’s take a look at how to ice skate for beginners with these four easy steps.
Find Your Figure Skates
Finding the right fitting skates is important if you want to have an enjoyable experience on the ice. You don’t want a pair of skates that are either too big or too small, because that will compromise your comfort and make it that much harder to learn. If you choose to purchase a pair of skates, make sure that you have your feet properly fitted to ensure maximum comfort and pain-free ice skating. If your goal is to become a more competitive skater, you may even want custom-made boots.
Acclimate Yourself to the Ice
If you or your child have never been to an ice rink, it’s important not to become too overwhelmed when you first step onto the ice. It can be quite scary stepping onto the slippery ice for the first time, but most rinks have a railing that you can hold onto to get used to gliding. Once you’ve gotten used to the movements, you can slowly let go of the railing and practice without holding on.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of what it feels like to be on the ice, you should begin to practice falling and getting up. As a beginner, falls are inevitable, but practicing can be beneficial for when the real thing happens. Bend your knees and squat into a dip position, then fall to the side while leaning a bit forward. To get back up without falling again, turn over onto your hands and knees. While your hands are firmly on the ice, place one foot at a time in between them and slowly push yourself back up.
Learn How to Move and Stop
Once you have gotten the hang of falling down and getting back up, it’s time to learn how to skate forward. As a beginner, it can be hard getting your footing right, and it takes plenty of practice. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it on your first try! Start by marching in place, then march, and then move. Try doing a short step with one foot at a time, scooting your skate along the ice as if you were riding a scooter. Once you have gotten comfortable with one foot at a time, you can alternate scooter steps.
When you are ready to stop, push your feet apart, using the flat part of the blade to create a little bit of snow on the ice, pointing the toes inward. This is called a snowplow stop. Ice skating can feel intimidating at first, but practice makes perfect! If your goal is to become more of a competitive figure skater, investing in a high-quality coach and lessons would be worth your while.
When you are first learning how to ice skate, the most important thing to remember is to have fun. You want to participate in activities that you enjoy rather than dread doing—and figure skating can be that activity for people of all ages. This sport can be challenging, but extremely rewarding. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, whether you are working toward becoming a competitive skater or just ice skating recreationally, you can skate around freely on the ice and continue to learn new skills, such as how to skate backward!
Ice Skates From Riedell
Beginning a new sport can be scary for anyone, even if you’re excited at the same time. Set yourself or your child up for success with the right pair of ice skates from Riedell! We have an extensive product selection to help you find the right fit for your skater’s first day out on the ice, whether that involves choosing from our range of boots or finding a custom fit. Boots that are custom-fitted to your skater’s exact foot specifications will help them step out onto the ice with confidence and comfort. With over 65 years dedicated to researching and creating the best figure skating boots possible, Riedell can help you find (or create!) the ideal figure skates for your child.