Ice Time, Equipment, Lessons
The three most important components of a successful free skating training programme in the Learning Years are ice time, equipment and lessons.

Ice Time
The amount of practice time and feedback a skater receives will be modified by his schedule, attendance and punctuality. Obviously regular attendance is important to enhance the potential for improvement. An appropriate number of hours needs to be scheduled and then he needs to attend regularly. Factors such as age, psychology, health, commitment etc. can greatly modify the optimal annual training volume.

Absenteeism and tardiness are also factors in determining volume. There can be many reasons why a child misses sessions- illness, vacations, school activities, cannot get a ride, parties etc., but the fact remains that when he is absent for whatever reason he is not skating.

Another way skaters reduce ice time is through tardiness. If three sessions a week are scheduled and the skater is five minutes late each time it will add up to nine hours or the equivalent of over three skating weeks over the course of a nine month season. Add to that, leaving five minutes early each day and the equivalent of six weeks of skating is missed! When a skater is late the coach either has to repeat herself which wastes the other childrenís time and hers or she does not repeat herself and the skaterís time is wasted because he does not understand the instructions.

Coaches may also be absent from time to time due to illness or sometimes because they are attending skating competitions. It is important for coaches to have the option of attending with their skaters because competitions are the ultimate test of training decisions- decisions made by parents, skaters and coaches. Competitions afford coaches an opportunity to evaluate a skaterís readiness, behaviour and performance under pressure so they can offer more accurate feedback concerning preparedness for the next event and recommendations for revisions to training plans..

If this absenteeism is only for a day or so it is rarely necessary to provide a replacement coach. (Replacement or substitute coaches are coaches brought in from outside the skater's usual training environment, not coaches who are regularly a part of the skater's coaching team.) Substitute coaching is rarely coaching at all, it is supervision as the skaterís needs cannot possibly be known or understood in fifteen minutes. It is not practical to review all the pertinent nuances of each skaterís training that would be necessary  to provide useful and informed feedback. It is also unlikely a substitute coach would understand the regular coachís drills, short forms and code language so writing detailed practice plans is compromised. Nor would they be able to communicate their own philosophies and drills in such a short time. However, prolonged absenteeism may necessitate providing a substitute coach as often as possible in which case the substitute would come to know the skater and be better positioned to offer valuable feedback.

Of course the quality of the time spent on the ice will have a big impact on progress. Quality is modified by the training principles applied during practice time, the effort the skater expends and the composition of the training activities. Training should always strive to be efficient.

Proper equipment in good working order is essential. Skaters who persist in using ill-fitting, poor quality or inappropriate equipment cannot expect quick progress or the acquisition of good technique. It is
never advisable for skaters to use poor equipment and it does matter at the beginner level. Skaters in proper skates progress faster, have an opportunity to learn skills properly and generally have a more pleasant experience of skating.

There are many different makes and models of skates on the market today. It is important for parents to contact coaches before purchasing skates as not only is the type of skate important but when they are purchased because breaking them in must be accounted for in the skater's yearly plan.

Appropriate clothing for skating permits a full range of movement, is comfortable and allows for effective coaching. Where and when the body moves are important components of skating technique. Coaches need to be able to see a skater's body line to be able to give informed corrections about its movement. 

Apart from helmets for young, inexperienced skaters or those likely to fall on their head, protective gear is rarely necessary although some skaters at a somewhat more advanced level might temporarily wear elbow pads or hip padding during a period of bad falls but it should only be necessary to protect an injury. A closer examination of a skater's technique is recommended if a skater is repeatedly falling on the same body part.

Skaters who have enough ice time and proper equipment will also need quality lessons. Skaters need enough lessons to promote the acquisition of proper technique and good training habits. This is achieved through correct, consistent and appropriately timed feedback. Skaters who skate a lot but do not receive this kind of attention can even do more harm than good if they continue to practice incorrectly. In the
Learning Years skaters should be in group, semi-private and private lessons with their private coach as much as practical with the nature of the lesson changing throughout the session and the season. An effective training session incorporates an opportunity to experience a seamless flow of activities including warm-up, review, introduction of new material, drills, application of skills and cool down. All of this should take place in an atmosphere of fun, curiosity and support. When one coach teaches the skater(s) over an extended period of time:

  1. The coach can take responsibility for skaters' progress because she has control.
  2. Skaters receive consistent feedback. This allows them to develop a method.
  3. Immediate feedback can be delivered on the correctness of responses.
  4. Good training habits can be instilled from the start.
  5. A rapport with the coach and other skaters in the group can help skaters feel a sense of support.
  6. A comprehensive training of skills can be scheduled because the coach has access to all phases of
      the training session and the training year.
  7. The coach can monitor other factors that affect a skaterís progress- equipment, behaviour, fitness, ice
      time, etc.
  8. A deeper exploration of skill execution is possible.
  9. Communication between the coach and the skater is facilitated.
10. The overall quality of the skating experience is improved.

Of course one-on-one lessons are valuable. It can be very productive to spend an hour with a child but extended private lessons are also very expensive. Fortunately from a financial perspective extended one-on-one lessons are not necessary every time the child skates. In the
Learning Years, group lessons with oneís private coach allow skaters to benefit from far more instruction usually for approximately the same cost as private lessons only. Privately arranged group lessons allow coaches to present information economically and efficiently and to take advantage of the activation and support that comes from being part of a group. The coach can monitor each skaterís progress over time and have an opportunity to intervene before problems become chronic. Consistent and frequent feedback is important in developing good physical and mental habits. A balance of privately arranged group, semi-private and private lessons is perfectly appropriate and desirable from the skaterís first day on the ice.

In the early years, a combination of private and privately arranged semi-private and group instruction that allows the coach to see skaters for all or most of the session is in most cases preferable to having one private lesson only. However, as the skater progresses he will need and want to learn to practice on his own and the proportion of group to semi-private and private lessons will shift. Lessons will become less frequent but more specific. Almost exclusively group lessons from one source in the Learning Years proceeding toward almost exclusively private lessons, possibly from different sources, in the
Training Years is likely. Certain types of lessons such as Stroking & Creative Movement are always appropriately delivered in a group format at any level.

A distinction must should be made between group lessons with oneís private coach and group lessons provided by a club. Group lessons are included with most Learn to Skate memberships so all skaters are assured of receiving instruction from a professional coach. In this way, skaters who participate without the benefit of private coaching will have at least some professional direction. This does not mean that club group lessons are the preferred format for teaching free skating. Good private lessons always supercede club lessons in priority.