Hometown Skating Fun

The Mar Jennings Show went on the road recently to film a special show on ice skating. As a former competitive figure skater, I was eager to share my passion for skating with friends and neighbors and assure them that I could still pull off a double toe loop! So, they learned more about skating correctly, how to make homemade pompoms, and we all got some exercise. We had a blast.
Regardless of where you live, there is probably a skating rink near you. For most people, ice-skating romantically symbolizes the season. Who doesn’t remember Hans Brinker? I recall cold winter evenings from my childhood sitting lakeside with a big roaring bonfire. As the cold weather approaches and winter knocks on your door, you scramble to find your skates and accessories. You discover that your children have now outgrown their skates. Take a breath. Skating is one of the least expensive sporting activities around. It’s a fun sport that can energize you and help release stress. Skating requires balance, form, and stamina if you want to shine. As a former Regional and Sectional Figure Skating Champion, I love to advise friends and family on how to make skating a delightful experience. I hope the following tips give you the confidence to start doing moves you might have only dreamed possible.

Let start with making your outing a family day. When skating with the family, you should always have safety in mind. Just like any other sport, you will need to plan ahead and be prepared. Children should always be dressed properly for the weather should always wear helmets. No exceptions. Gloves are essential for everyone and young children should wear mittens. Barehanded children run the risk of increased injury from falling by scraping their wrists and palms, and possibly getting hit by oncoming skaters. Do not forget this little but important detail.

If you plan on joining in the fun this season, you should follow some important tips that will help guarantee a successful experience. Here are some questions I’ve been asked frequently throughout my skating career:

When should I show up?

Arrive 20-30 minutes prior to your skating lesson or session start time. This will ensure that you have plenty of time to lace your skates before helping friends, family members, and especially small children.

How old should my children be before they start to skate?

Only you know your children’s capabilities. I have seen some amazing two and three-year-olds, and I have also seen some disasters on ice. It is best to introduce the idea as a family event. If your child shows an interest, take the lead. If not, don’t push it. If skating is not their sport, you will know it right away. Perhaps, they are too young. Try again next year. Encourage your children to skate hands-free to start to develop good balance and to take away their fear. Brothers, sisters and school friends are great for inspiring your child to join in the fun. Skating could become a lifelong skill, so be prepared–you may have the next Olympic champion in your home.

What is the right way to put on my skates?

For years, people have been asking me this one question. I’ve heard it all; I’ve seen it all. You would be surprised how many people still have their skates from High School in the attic that they dust off and bring back to life each winter. Let it go! You deserve to either splurge on a new pair or just rent for the session. Ice skates have come a long way since you were in high school. When selecting a new pair of skates for yourself or a child, bring the type of sock you will be wearing. Wear a good warm wool sock. Socks are a whole conversation. Let me make one thing clear, the more socks you wear, the worse things will be. During my competitive years, I and many other skaters would skate barefoot — not recommended for recreational skaters. Thick socks and multiple socks create discomfort and wobbling, not to mention that your feet will sweat more and get colder faster.

How tight should the skate laces be?

I see skate lacing done incorrectly time and time again. One simple rule here: if you can put your finger under any lace, it is too loose. Loose skates can be very dangerous for any skater. A weak ankle can cause injury and problems on the ice. Use a skate key, skate hook, or a skate “tightener” for assistance. For the $2 cost of a skate key, you can lace-up like a pro. You can find these at Blueline Sports at the Darien Skating Rink. On the other hand, if you lace your skates and your legs turn purple or start to swell, they’re too tight! You want to get this just right for hours of painless enjoyment.

Should I enroll my child in group lessons?

One Saturday at one of the Learn to Skate classes at Longshore, I remember a mother and daughter came to skate when it was less than 20 degrees outside. Her daughter was crying and screaming, not wanting to join the skating lessons. Although she looked very cute in her pink skating dress and tights, this was totally inappropriate for the weather. When I commented to this Mom that her daughter needed warmer clothes, she looked at me as if I had three heads. No wonder the child was unhappy. Many children dislike the pressure of a group sporting activity and want none of it. Often, I see parents trying too hard with the perfect outfits while ignoring the real needs of the child on the ice, which is keeping warm. Children will either love the group experience or hate it. Luckily, skating is an individual sport in which a solitary child can challenge him or herself to any extent. Rather than pushing your reluctant child into a group session, make time for one-on-one skating outings at a session that involves just the two of you. Darien Ice Rink and Longshore have quiet sessions during the day or after school, both of which are excellent options for discovering the sport together outside of a group or a crowded rink. Make a day of it, have fun and enjoy the time spent together. Don’t push the process. In time, your child will come to enjoy the time spent together and will grow in confidence from each experience. This is a great time to bring in an instructor to give you both lessons or try group lessons again. Some children socialize slowly, and quiet individual attention with these children works best. Others fit right into the group experience and are soon leading the parade. A good instructor can help you reinforce the right moves and make it fun and rewarding whether alone or in a group.

What should we wear?

Although I’ve already mentioned gloves, mittens and helmets, be sure to have warm and thermal outfits which are comfortable to move around in. Snow pants are ideal for children; jeans with long underwear or wool pants are fine for adults. Cover your ears and wear a hat. Fashionable scarves are always fun. This is when you can start a hat collection. I see lots of teenagers and children with kooky hats — imitate them and feel young again!

When entering the ice for the fist time, skaters should start slow and work their way around the rink. Take your time and remember to keep your feet together and start with small pushes from side to side. Bend your knees and glide (keeping your feet together) before taking your next push-off. Don’t work just for speed, but rather work on balance, style, and grace. Keep it simple and know that there is a wall nearby. If you fall whether you want to or not, relax your body and prepare to meet the ice. Most people make matters worse by tensing up and fighting the fall. Over the years I’ve paid special attention to teaching falling and getting up. This is now incorporated in every lesson. If you remove the fear of falling, you will take your skating to a whole new level. And very soon, you won’t be a beginner anymore.

And there you have it.