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  • Writer's pictureMonica Montanari

Understanding Competitions

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

I could have sworn I wrote up a piece about this earlier- but when I looked today, I realized it was only available to my current students- so I wanted to make it accessible to all of you!

What is a competition?

Competing is part of the fun of skating- it gives skaters a friendly competition with which to motivate themselves to become stronger skaters, and gives them goals to work towards which can be realistically accomplished, giving them a feeling of success and purpose. On top of that, it’s just a ton of fun. In the world of figure skating, there are two tracks you can compete in: Ice Skating Institute (ISI) and United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA). They have separate rules for competing, separate rules for judging, completely different level divisions, and completely different goals.

International Skating Institute

  • Focused on the skaters having fun and feeling included (participation).

  • Website

  • Teaches using the Ice Skating Program

  • Judges are coaches

  • Track to ISI Worlds

United States Figure Skating Association

  • Focused on competition between skaters and showcasing the strongest abilities (elimination).

  • Website

  • Teaches using Basic Skills Program (Learn to Skate)

  • Judges are professionals

  • Track to the Olympics

Most coaches have a track they prefer, depending on their experience, their skaters’ abilities, their skaters’ goals, etc. Most coaches start their students in ISI competitions- and many prefer to stay on that path. So let’s look at the costs associated with that.

What are the costs?

Costs for competing in ISI include the following:

Entry Fees- These usually are about $75 for the first event and $35 for each addition entry. An event is a program that you will be using to compete. There are many different kinds of events- the most common are probably:

  • Technical Events- in these events the skater is being judged on their technical abilities- you do elements specific to your test level to show the judges your strength in the actual technical aspects of that level.The different ISI levels and their required elements are located here.

  • Spotlight Events- in these events the skater is being judged on their ability to elicit emotion from the judges and the audience. The focus is not on technical ability, but on the ability to connect with the judges and audience. This is an entertaining & “fun” routine that emphasizes the skater’s acting ability and not technical skating skills. There is no score for technical merit in this event. The skater must pass a test for Tots, Pre-Alpha to Delta or Freestyle to determine the spotlight event level. Spotlight events are divided into three categories: (1) Character – a famous or easily identifiable character. (2) Dramatic – a theatrical performance that sets a mood and evokes an emotional response. (3) Light Entertainment – an entertaining or light-hearted performance.

  • Artistic Events- these events are judged based upon the skaters ability to showcase grace in their skating and artistic choreography. Skaters perform a program to music with emphasis on strong edges, flow, choreography, innovative moves and musical interpretation. There is no score for technical ability in this event. Event level is based on skater’s freestyle test level.

Key Tag- at Iceoplex Simi Valley we use a RinkMusic system to allow skaters to play their music any time, so they can practice without their coaches. There is a one time fee of $15 for the key tag itself, then there is a yearly “storage” fee that is $10 (for storage of 5 songs). If you need more songs available, you can purchase more music storage for more money.

ISI Registration- this is a yearly fee of $15 that must be paid up-to-date for skaters to be able to compete.

ISI Tests- the level in which a skater competes is related to which technical test they have tested up to. Those test levels are available here. Each level you test through requires a $15 testing fee. Once you start, you must pass a test for every level you want to move up (there’s no skipping levels).

Transportation to and from the competition- this varies depending on where the competition is. Some families prefer to stay in a hotel near the competition venue if it is more than a few hours away or if they have multiple events that require them to be there for multiple days. That’s up to the skaters’ families.

Coaches Fee- coaches charge the fee of one half-hour lesson for each event they put the student on the ice for. For example, if you do an Alpha technical and an Alpha spotlight, it will be $35 + $35 for a coach whose hourly rate is $70/hour. This is because not only do most coaches take care of your music and ensure that you get everywhere you need to be on time, but before each event we spend usually at least 30 minutes getting the skater warmed up, running through the program, coaching them through the on-ice warm up, and traveling to and from the competition. I never understood it that way as a skater.

Dress/Outfit- this is a very important (and usually the largest) cost associated with competing. Wearing a dress or outfit that compliments the skater’s music is important to the judges, and is one of the most fun parts of skating for most kids. These can range in price anywhere from $70 to around $500 (though you should probably expect to spend around $100-$150 for a very nice dress). Depending on the fabric, designer, and customization that is present in the outfit or dress, the cost will vary. Also included in this cost (but often not included with the dresses) is the cost of rhinestoning. If you order and adhere the rhinestones yourself, this cost will be much lower than if you pay the manufacturer to do it- some of them charge as much as a dollar per rhinestone. If you are crafty at all, I recommend doing it yourself. Otherwise, I recommend asking another skating mom who has experience if you can pay her to implement your desired design.

Fee - Reason

$75 - Entry Fee

$35 - Additional Program (optional)

$15 - Key Tag (only needs to be paid once- unless you lose your key tag)

$10 - Yearly RinkMusic storage fee for up to 5 songs

$15 - ISI Annual Registration Fee

$15 - ISI Testing Fee (if you haven’t tested at that level previously)

Varies - Transportation Costs (gas/food/hotels/etc.)

Varies - Coaches Fees (per program)

$70-$500 - Dress/Outfit

Now obviously these might not be the only costs incurred for competitions, but these are the most common expenses- and the only ones that I would personally budget for.

Keep in mind that many of these costs carry over. For example, if your skater competes in two competitions in the same year using the same program(s), their key tag, RinkMusic storage, ISI registration, ISI testing, and outfits will have already been taken care of, leaving you with a much lower cost. The first one is the most expensive- but it’s usually the one that gets them (and their supporters) hooked.

What about outfits?

Rule of thumb: never choose an outfit without consulting your coach first. The coach is (usually) the one who does the choreography for the program, and can tell you what does and doesn’t fit well with the feel of the music. While the judges for most events don’t specifically have a section for ‘outfit’, it’s a huge factor in determining the overall feel of the program and how it is recepted by the judges. For other programs, it’s a completely different story. The outfit and/or prop are judged and can affect the skater’s score.

Like I said before, the outfits are one of the best parts of skating to most people (myself included). At least once in their skating career, I firmly believe that every skater needs to own a dream dress of theirs. I usually recommend waiting on that, though, until you see how committed they are to skating, how high of a level they are, and how long they’ll be using the program which corresponds with the dress (or others which it can be incorporated into). I have been known to choreograph a program around a dress that I absolutely adore- though that’s not the usual way of things.

For most skaters’ first competition, I personally like to keep the cost of outfits as low as possible. This is simply because it overwhelms parents very easily to have to spend a lot of money on an outfit while also paying all these new registration fees and everything else. If your first program is a spotlight though, I apologize in advance.

Dresses come from the internet 90% of the time. This means you don’t get to try them on first. Which means you need to order it immediately as soon as you get a new program so that if it needs to be exchanged for a different size, it can be.

The first place I look for dresses for technical programs is They probably have the most options from every price point of everywhere on the internet.

Skating is a very specific niche- so a lot of times, if we can’t find a dress we like from a skating place, we’ll resort to dance solutions. Literally, Quite often this will be where dresses for artistic programs come from.

Now, for spotlight programs, the outfit is crucial, which means there isn’t any one definitive place to buy what you need, because it can vary greatly. One place I’ve found to be very helpful for a wide variety of programs is

As I was saying, if you pay to have one of these places rhinestone a dress for you, it can get very costly, very quick. And if you buy rhinestones from a craft store, they’re going to cost you a TON of money. The ONLY place I get my rhinestones is They ship very fast and have a ton of options- all of which are Swarovski, which makes a difference (I swear you can really tell if it’s a Swarovski rhinestone or not). Don’t worry- if you aren’t familiar with that brand (or can’t even pronounce it), you’ll catch on pretty quickly if you stay immersed in the skating world.

That company has hands down the best pricing on rhinestones that I’ve ever seen. It’s been my little secret for years- and now you get to know too. Another issue is getting the rhinestones to adhere. That is another insider secret. You never use anything but E6000. The stuff is effective. Most of those stones will stay on until the fabric starts to decay. It’s potent, completely hazardous, and probably causes cancer, but we’ll do anything for the sparkles. Just get a face mask (or a well-ventilated area) and you can buy it here.

What about hair?

Hair is another aspect of skating that should be discussed with your coach (kind of like everything). Usually there will be a certain style that fits the program- or if there’s a hat involved or flowey fabric, coaches can take all that into consideration and work with you to figure out something that will work.

I have thick hair. It’s heavy, and therefore does not hold styles very long. Getting my hair to stay curled or up in a bun for skating was always a nightmare. After years of searching, I can tell you that what I would do was, for curly hair, I would have a helper (commonly referred to as mom) take sections of my hair, saturate it with Herbal Essences’ Set Me Up gel (which you can find at most drugstores or on, and twist my hair around some foam hair rollers (like these), and sleep on it while it dries. For a bun, use a thousand bobby pins. No matter what style, finish with my favorite “death-proof” hairspray, FreezeIt. You can buy it at most drugstores, or even on There are various levels of hold- this one is the most extreme. That’s just the one I knew would take care of business.

You know your skaters’ hair better than anyone else- so these are just tips in case you find yourself needing a little extra support.

What about makeup?

Some parents have fundamental reservations about younger kids wearing makeup. Personally, I think that as long as it looks relatively natural and is done decently (no blue eyeshadow, no bright fuscia lips, etc.), it can add some fun to the whole experience. I will never mandate makeup for any of my children under the age of 10 for a technical program- that’s a parenting choice you get to make, and I get to sit out on (yay!).

For spotlight programs, however, there will almost always be some kind of makeup involved. Of course the coach will give you specifics, but no matter what, expect a red lip.

Sometimes it may not have to be, but just always expect it. Any red lipstick will do, but be careful of smudges or red marks on the teeth. You’re going to hate me, and I hate to say it, but the best product I’ve found for smudge-free, stay-put, deep color is from As much as it pains me to say it, it’s the best long-lasting red I’ve ever used.


There are a thousand different moving pieces to competitions. Regardless of how stressful it can seem at first, competing is one of the best parts of skating. It teaches skaters how to be gracious in losing and humble in winning. It teaches of the rewards that come from hard work and practice. It teaches composure under pressure, and independence. It teaches confidence and fearlessness. And it’s a great excuse to be sparkly.

Hopefully this helped to answer a lot of the questions you previously had, but feel free to reach out to me if you think of anything else. I look forward to showing you and your skater the amazing fun that figure skating brings.

Curious about what the actual competition day will look like? Head over to my other post to read more.

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