Private Lessons 101: FAQ
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Answering every question you've been too afraid to ask (or had nobody to ask) about how to get a coach in the first place.
You've been around the rink for a few months now. Maybe one semester of skating school, maybe two. Or maybe you just walked in the door of the rink and already knew the path you wanted to go. However you begin your process, starting private figure skating lessons for your child can be totally overwhelming if you didn't grow up around the sport or have friends who are fluent in "figure skating". So I've put together what I believe to be the perfect "starter's pack" of information for the new skating parent (or skater).
First of all, why would my skater (or I) need private lessons?
This is the same reasoning as why you would want a tutor instead of a generic teacher for certain school subject. Because the attention is 1-on-1, the teacher (or in this case, coach) is able to tailor lessons specifically to work toward improving what needs help, rather than going over things the skater is already understanding. It also allows you and your skater (if someone other than yourself) to have a liaison in the skating world. Every coach I know (myself included) would be happy to answer any questions you might have while navigating this journey into the unknown. Plus, skaters who receive the extra attention and help that private lessons offer will often progress much farther in skating, have higher retention rates, and enjoy the sport more than those who do not.
What's a good age for starting private lessons?
There's no wrong age. Put them in private lessons earlier, they'll learn faster. Put them in later, they'll be skating because it's their passion, not someone else's. There's no such thing as too early or too late. The only thing I do not recommend is putting your skater (or yourself) in a bunch of private lessons at first, then ultimately doing none and going back to only doing skating school. Skating school is great- there's no doubt about that, but pace yourself with the transition between the two. Skating school gives you a semester-by-semester trial with various different coaches, which then allows you to decide who will work best with you or your skater. I recommend it for seeing how different coaches approach teaching- even if you or your skater aren't put in that coaches class, you'll be able to see.
Who do I ask to be their (or my) coach? How?
So, once you've had a chance to observe different coaches in their natural habitat and see their approach to working with skaters, or once you find one who you trust and feel comfortable with, there's nothing easier than just approaching that coach one day when they get off the ice and ask them for their contact information. You can say something like:
"(name) has really enjoyed taking classes with you and/or getting to know you! We've been talking as a family about his/her goals in skating and think it's time to invest in some private lessons- do you have any openings in your schedule?"
Straight to the point, allows them an escape route if they secretly hate your kid (just kidding), but will also get you exactly what you need 99% of the time.
When do these lessons happen?
That's another one that depends on the coach- and can often dictate who you end up choosing to go with. Most lower level skaters will probably be doing lessons on public sessions- so usually that's a good general schedule to look at to see if anything works- then it also depends on the coach's availability. Some coaches don't do weekends- some don't do after 6pm, just depends on the coach. Personally, I'm the only weirdo I know willing to schedule back-to-back-to-back-to-back lessons on a Saturday night.
What about the price?
This varies greatly depending on the rink and the coach. It's best to check with each coach individually- and if money is tight or you're working with a strict budget, you can always ask the rink's skating director to recommend some of the coaches who are on the more affordable end of the spectrum. ISI (Ice Sports Industry) recently did a national survey that determined that the average cost of coaching was around $65 per hour. Good news, though- most skaters prefer to do lessons in half-hour increments, especially when beginning or when not preparing for competitions. That makes it more affordable.
Most rinks don't include the skate time with the lesson. In many rinks, coaches are private contractors who get paid completely independently, and pay the rink for letting them use it. As such, the session you/your skater will be on is usually a completely separate fee. For example, most places you will go into the rink, pay $10 for 3 hours of a public session, maybe $15 for a 1 hour freestyle session, and the coach is paid completely separate (and gets in trouble if their student gets on the ice without paying).
Why so expensive?
I often wondered this as a skater- but now that I'm a coach, I have no idea why my coaches didn't charge more. Being a coach is only partially on the ice (if you have a good coach). In my opinion, a truly fantastic coach is one who will spend time with their students and their students' families answering questions, explaining things, and working together to find the most appropriate options for training, competing, pricing, etc. They double as a child psychologist (though mostly unlicensed) to help your skater get through the rough times of adolescence- or, if you're an adult skater, they help you feel comfortable in a sport where the retirement age for Olympic competitors is like 15 (just kidding it's like 24- so much better). They serve as positive role models for their students and ensure that their students are doing as well mentally as they are on the ice. They lift their students up and give them encouragement, while also demanding excellence and challenging their skaters to aim higher than they think possible.
What should they show up with?
It's pretty simple- if you're familiar with the sport. You might already have some of these figured out- but if you don't have your own gear, others might be less obvious:
Long pants. If it's a young child who is likely to spend a little more time on the ice itself, waterproof ski or snowboard pants can be a lifesaver.
Good socks. Not itchy, because then they will quit just like I did. Regular socks will do but you're probably going to want something that goes a little bit above the ankles so that no part of the foot touches the skate. Rental skates can be a nasty thing.
Skates. If they don't have their own, make sure you don't just settle for the first pair that they hand you at the skate counter. Keep in mind that no rental skates will be good, per se, but double check to make sure they don't already lean to the inside before they're even on, or have weak ankles.
A warm jacket. It doesn't have to be a snow jacket (although it can be). I recommend letting your skater wear whatever feels comfortable. Making them wear things they absolutely dread will make them come to dread the sport altogether. I'm not kidding- it's why I didn't continue when I was 4 years old.
Gloves. Ironically the warmest gloves I've found for the ice rink are the ones you can buy for $1 at Target. They're something like cotton or acrylic, they just work great. Better than most light gloves for snow.
If there's anything I missed, any questions that remain, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll make sure that nothing remains a mystery. Also, keep checking back on the blog to read more on all topics ranging from beginning to skate to perfecting a sit spin. I'm excited for this journey with you- I'll see you on the ice.