It's one of the most rigorous winter sports in existence today. Not only does figure skating require an individual to balance on bladed boots on the slippery ice, but also to move gracefully around the arena as if they're dancing with angels. Looks great, but easy? Not in the least bit.
To some, this sport comes naturally. As with any form of self-expression, there are prodigies from time to time. In fact, the picture in the first point is a 3-year old Russian girl who has mastered more techniques in her short life than most do in their entire career.
Though, this is rare. More than anything, becoming a competitive figure skater is a grind. It's hard work and there are certain hoops you have to jump through to make it to the top (speaking figuratively, of course). Actually, even being eligible to compete at the top level is difficult enough let alone landing yourself a gold medal.
So, what's it really like to be a young figure skater trying to win gold one day? Well, I'm going to lay it out for you in this post. Some of the rules might seem a little less crazy than others. Then again, some of these are just plain out there. Enjoy!
15 You Have To Be At Least 3 To Start Lessons
From the standpoint of a figure skating coach, learning correct techniques from the very beginning is a must. Some coaches will even outright refuse to be your personal coach if you've learned bad habits on the ice that they know will be up to them to break. Much like learning an instrument or learning to dance, a child's body isn't even coordinated enough until around the age of three anyway.
This is why they like you to be young enough but not too young when you first step foot on the ice. Three years old is the sweet spot when it comes to starting out. Most coaches won't teach anyone younger. Though, many are willing to accept students slightly older, but not usually older than six. They're very picky.
14 Be Prepared For Really Long Lessons
As the parent of a future figure skating champion, you'll have to be prepared for long lessons. Even at the very start, little 3-year-olds are required to be out on the ice for up to 30 minutes. While it doesn't sound like that would be a long time, it can seem like an eternity to a young child. After all, coaches require the full attention of the child (more on this in the next point).
Plus, these aren't once a week lessons. Figure skating lessons are usually every single day. At least, the uber-serious and hardcore dedicated students are meeting with their coaches every day. Usually not at age three, but often coaches will encourage their students to meet two times a day for a figure skating lesson. To do this requires a serious amount of dedication and concentration from both children and parents.
13 If You Don't Have A Long Attention Span You're Out
Sadly, there are many reasons why a child could be dropped by a coach or even cut from their particular figure skating club. One of the toughest stipulations to follow is the demand for a child's attention - their full attention. Especially in this day and age, children and adults alike face challenges with their attention span.
For example, many children struggling with ADHD or ADD simply don't enjoy the pressure figure skating lessons put on them. The struggle to pay attention to the coach with such intense enthusiasm really wears on their little minds and nervous system. More than anything, this is the reason so many children just don't make it past the initial stages of competitive figure skating.
12 You Need Authorization To Even Get On The Ice
If you're like most people, you've had a chance to try your hand at ice skating, roller blading, or even roller skating. For those of you with scars to show, you know there is nothing easy about hiking yourself up on skates only to inevitably fall on your bottom. For this very reason, coaches treat the ice rink as sacred ground.
New comers aren't even allowed on the ice the very first lesson. This is a stone cold rule that is taken seriously. Probably to their advantage, new figure skaters are introduced to the ice off the ice. They learn to walk on their blades outside of the rink, usually on padded concrete. They also learn the proper way to fall and how to use their arms to balance. Once they are finally granted clearance to the rink, they have the chance to implement what they learned.
11 You Have To Have An Active Lifestyle To Be Taken Seriously
We can all tell just by watching a figure skating athlete on the ice that it requires both grace and stamina. Knowing this, coaches aren't only looking for talented individuals with deliberate, ballet-esque grace. Nope, that alone doesn't cut it. They're also inspecting each potential student's lifestyle. Granted, it's not up to the child how active their family is.
Families who don't display an active lifestyle are questioned a little more than a family who is obviously active. A child probably isn't going to be turned away on the premise that their family is made up of couch potatoes, but not even that scenario is too far from reality. The most sought after students come from parents who are conscious of their health and fitness-minded.
10 You Have To Join A Skating Club
The Little Rascals gang would be proud of the figure skating world because it relies so heavily on being involved in ice skating clubs. In fact, you can't even compete without becoming a member of a club. Many of these clubs will even offer competitive rates and vamp up their incentives programs just to lure people into joining them.
While most coaches are independent of the clubs, they are still associated with them by default. I mean, you can't hang around a club's ice rink without being involved in some way, shape, or form. Clubs have a lot to offer. Simply by being a part of a team serves as a reminder to most kids that ultimately ice skating is about having fun and expressing yourself.
9 Everything Is Based On Test Levels (And It's Always Test Day)
Although ice skating still draws on a child's need for self-expression, there are far more serious facets to ice skating than happy-go-lucky ones. Namely, all the tests. It's a given that most sports have some way to gauge how a student is mastering their skills. After all, information retention is basically how an athlete becomes a champion.
More than any other sports, figure skating has a monumental number of tests. Seriously, everything is tested and everything is a test. You can't move forward to a new skill until you've mastered the one before it. This idea of prerequisites is virtually unforgivable. Not all the test grades are recorded. Some are simply pass/fail in nature. Still, test taking isn't exactly considered "fun" to most people, let alone children. After a while, it just becomes the norm.
8 Learning To Fall Is Mandatory
When it comes to sports where you could fall down, the ground and its ability to break you simply can't be ignored. Gravity is usually a friend to humans, but in these situations, it can often be viewed as a nemesis. Given our relationship with gravity, sports like horse-back riding, skiing, and figure skating all have one thing in common.
Before you get on the horse, climb the slope, or strap on your ice skates, you have to learn to fall first. Surprisingly, falling can be more complicated than you would imagine. Naturally, there is a test involved when it comes to learning to fall to the ground from your skates. Children studying figure skating will have their coach teach them the fundamentals of falling. Then, of course, they'll be tested...which might actually be one of the fun tests.
7 You Move Through The Test Structure At Own Pace
Unlike most sports, figure skating allows you to move through the skill level tiers as slow or as fast as you'd like. This might rely largely on the fact that you generally have a private coach at your side, so waiting for the rest of a class isn't generally an issue. You might even be enrolled in a group class, but you can still progress beyond the class's skill level during your private coaching sessions.
The option to accelerate isn't respective to your age either. Like the Russian 3-year-old mentioned at the start of this post, age doesn't define your skill level. Most other sports will require you to wait until a student reaches a certain age to progress them. Not figure skating. If you can do it, you've got the green light. You just have to pass the right tests.
6 You Won't Progress Fast Enough Without A Private Coach
Because of the window of opportunity figure skating offers students, those who are serious about progressing often go to great lengths to get that one-up. Although most families hire a private coach once they identify a talent in their child, some take it a step further and hire more than one coach. The student even puts in extra practice time to get to that next level.
It's to be expected that a student generally can't progress to the prodigy level without the help of a coach. It's just not going to happen by only taking group classes. The ones who are uber serious will undoubtedly recruit a coach or two (or three) to be in their corner. You can see how this intensity can quickly lead to obsessive competitiveness, which is pretty much what it takes to land yourself a gold medal.
5 There Is A Competitive Pipeline You Have To Follow
By now, you're well aware of the crazy amount of testing that figure skaters have to endure. Unsurprisingly, many of the major competitions also double as a test for the skaters. So, there is usually a test you have to take before you're even eligible to compete. Then, on competition day, your event is frequently just another notorious test.
There's a sort of competitive pipeline that you have to navigate as a figure skater. One competition precedes another and functions as a prerequisite for this one or that one. The hierarchy is like one taken from a history book. It can feel complicated at first, but obviously, future champions get used to these kinds of complications.
4 There Are Only Two Things That Follow Your History
Even with all the testing and the numerous amount of competitions you might participate in, there are really only two things that go on your figure skating record. Of course, your test record follows you as this basically defines who you are as a figure skater. That's kind of a given.
The second thing that goes on your permanent record is your qualifying (and international) competition history. Qualifying competitions are U.S. Championships, World Championships, and the Olympic Winter Games. Anything outside of these is simply considered non-qualifying and doesn't equate to much except exhibition and testing.
3 Some Coaches Want You To Master A Musical Instrument
For a coach to request a student to learn a musical instrument - no matter the sport - is not at all uncommon. You've likely heard of football coaches encouraging their team to enroll in ballet classes to increase their footwork mobility, right? Well, figure skating coaches encourage the same thing from their students and for a similar reason.
Most figure skaters learn to skate to music. So, it's essential for them to understand the fundamentals of music theory. Knowing the difference between 4/4 time and 6/8 time might not seem necessary to most casual onlookers, but it will be obvious the more advanced the student becomes. And, coaches typically opt for their students to learn a classical instrument rather than play a Taylor Swift song on a hand-me-down Fender.
2 You Will Also Need To Learn Ballet
When you watch a famous Gold Medalist skate, you probably can't help but be reminded of a traditional ballerina. They each embody grace, flexibility, and beauty. Both male and female figure skaters typically have to learn ballet. It's one of the most traditional forms of dance and often perceived as the most technically difficult to learn.
So, aside from passing the gazillion figure skating tests, a student will likely need to learn a musical instrument and ballet. You can see how the required active lifestyle comes in handy when all these demands are placed on them. After all, it's not just the child who has to attend all these sessions. The child's family is usually right there joining in the fun.
1 You Will Have A Coach For Each Difficult Skill
Having a coach to help you learn each figure skating skill isn't uncommon. In fact, this doubling and tripling up on coaches in any professional sport is widely accepted. Just think of baseball. There is a Team Coach, Bench Coach, First Base Coach, Third Base Coach, Hitting Coach, Assistant Hitting Coach, Pitching Coach, Bullpen Coach, Strength & Conditioning Coach, and more!
While figure skating coaches aren't dealing with large teams, there aren't usually as many of them. Still, you'll likely have a coach for each difficult skill you learn. Some of these skills include spins, jumps, skating backward, dancing, outfit designers, rhythm, and whatever specific and expert advice you need for a certain performance.