|Beginner programmes provide a format for people from three to Adult to learn to skate well to enough enjoy skating. They are not strictly figure skating programmes; they incorporate figure skating. Skaters who finish these programmes may go on to figure skating but they may also go into hockey, ringette, speed skating or just enter the Active For Life stage at this point and simply enjoy pleasure skating.
Beginner programmes in figure skating clubs usually provide basic instruction from a professional coach in a group lesson for part of the time with the rest of the time spent in both supervised and unsupervised practice. This type of training, once a week, can certainly help people learn to skate but will not necessarily promote a positive adaptation to competitive figure skating and may waste a dedicated figure skater's important developmental years if he stays in this programme too long without enough ice time and quality lessons.
People enrol in Beginner programmes to learn to skate but the programme itself does not instruct, coaches do. If a parent intends to have his child learn figure skating he should hire a coach. (see Ice Time, Equipment, Lessons) Children who finish Beginner programmes without one will almost certainly have developed some bad habits and since their progress is also slowed, these skaters are usually older too. This makes relearning skills more difficult and time consuming and the adaptation to figure skating occur later. Private lessons are not just for children who need help to keep up. Learning proper technique is critical to the success of all skaters including the talented ones. Without proper and adequate instruction in the early years future progress can be compromised.
Private instruction does not always mean one-on-one lessons. It can include a combination of private, semi-private and group lessons from the coach hired to direct a skater's career. 'Semi-private' lessons are lessons for two skaters. 'Private-group' lessons include three or more of the coach's own skaters and often run longer. Of the three types of private instruction, one-on-one is the most common lesson format at this level possibly because skaters are new to the sport and relationships between skaters and coaches and parents have not yet had a chance to develop. 'Private-group' and 'semi-private' lessons, if they can be arranged, can be very benefical at this level too. When lesson time is extended skaters have an opportunity to learn more skills better and faster.
'Club-group' lessons included with Beginner memberships are different. They are provided and organized by the Club so all skaters are assured of receiving at least some professional instruction. Skaters are placed in groups according to a combination of their age and achievement. Ideally, instruction provided to each group will develop and mature with the skaters over the course of the season. To do this coaches need to get to know each skater's strengths and weaknesses and the skaters need to get to know their coach's drills and expectations. The less change and disruption there is the more efficiently they run and the more the available lesson time can be spent learning skating. The instruction in Club groups will be general so those skaters who do not have the benefit of private lessons will receive little personalized attention. Because of the personalized attention skaters receive in private 'one-on-one', 'semi-private' and 'private-group' lessons, private instruction supercedes 'Club-group' instruction in priority and content.
Most Beginner programmes use volunteer amateur skaters to help organize kids so they are in the correct area and group, pick them up when they fall (if necessary), play games with them, retie their skates and generally help the session run more efficiently. These helpers are just that- helpers and not coaches. 'Working with' a programme assistant is in no way a substitute for professional instruction.
Parents ought to leave ice level when the session starts; in most clubs this is a rule. Parents at ice level are a distraction for everyone and since parents are not certified to coach figure skating they should not attempt to offer coaching instruction, however well meaning, even if their kids ask.
At the Beginner level skaters' technique will severely limit fitness benefits. In other words, they simply cannot skate well enough to affect their fitness through skating alone. For this reason other sporting activities should be encouraged.
A skater at the Beginner level with a view to learning figure skating should consider skating twice a week regardless of age. Skaters with this schedule who attend regularly and receive consistent lessons from their private coach could complete the programme in one year. Young skaters (especially) who have not yet developed cognitive and co-ordination skills may have difficulty completing it in one year regardless of time spent on the ice. It is not unusual for recreational skaters to spend two or even three or four years in Beginner programmes but it is advisable to move past this session as soon as possible if one has figure skating ambitions. This progress is, of course, accelerated by increasing ice time, taking private lessons and wearing proper equipment.
The Beginner Curriculum organizes important criteria for beginners into thirteen skill levels. Coaches can provide skaters with stickers, badges or certificates as they complete skills in either a horizontal or vertical direction.