by Monica Montanari
As a coach, it’s terrifying. As a skater, it’s terrifying. As a parent, I can only imagine it would be just as much or more terrifying. And no, I’m not talking about “the virus,” I’m referring to the new world of skating sessions.
As the world slowly starts to emerge from the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us (if not all of us) have had our rinks affected in some way.
At my rink, for example, sessions are now run on an “invite-only” basis whereby skaters can only get on the ice for a lesson or if requested by a coach. This isn’t unique to us, either. We are just one of many rinks across the nation coming up with new ways to get our skaters on the ice in the midst of the madness.
This has resulted in a really strange hybrid session where roughly 70% of the skaters are practicing jumps, spins and programs; 20% are still getting comfortable on the ice; and 10% are beginners, who decided that they couldn’t wait any longer for the rink to open up so they could go back to skating school. So, not quite a freestyle but not quite a public session; I think I’m going to dub it “public-style”— has a good ring to it.
As any arena coach, employee or staff member will tell you, the safety of our skaters is always our main priority. Obviously, our first concern right now is keeping our skaters and their families protected from COVID-19. At most rinks, this manifests itself in a regimen of masks, sanitizing, social distancing, temperature checks and waivers.
But there’s another kind of safety that isn’t being formally addressed: What is the “new normal” regarding rink etiquette?
If you’re well-versed in bowling, you know that it’s considered rude to take your turn when the person in the lane next to you is throwing their ball. At a golf tournament, you stay silent. This might be news to some readers, but skating has its own set of unspoken rules just like every other sport.
The New Rink Etiquette
Skaters who regularly practice on freestyle sessions are aware of most of the following rules; however, I’ve added some new guidelines (indicated in blue) for our “new normal” — public-style sessions:
- The less-experienced skater has the ultimate right-of-way; they can’t move as efficiently as more advanced skaters, so it’s on the more seasoned skaters to watch out for them.
- Anyone doing a program has second priority. Some rinks use belts or vests to indicate who is skating a program; often, skaters know each other well enough to realize when someone is skating their program. If someone is standing still and then starts skating when a particular piece of music starts, they might be in a program. You’ll learn everyone’s music in time.
- Skaters in lessons have third priority on the ice; they’re paying for their time, working on specific things, so they want to practice everything their coach asks.
(Editor’s note: Please keep in mind that your rink may prioritize the right-of-way procedure differently. Be sure to confirm with your coach.)
- If a skater is doing work on a harness, steer clear of that area. Some coaches, like myself, won’t use the whole ice when practicing with the harness.
- Generally speaking, skate in a counterclockwise direction. Some rinks have protocol and they’ll announce that they’re going to skate the other way; always pay attention to those instructions.
- If you fall and aren’t injured, get up. Don’t sprawl out on the ice with your hands out, unless you want someone to skate over your fingers.
- Do not kick the ice, dig holes in it, make snow figures or kick the boards.
- Do not take a video or photo of any skater without their permission and/or approval from their parents and/or coach.
- If you are talking or drinking water, stay near the hockey boxes. If you are on the ice and want to talk to someone off ice, exit the ice and don’t stand in the doorway.
- Stay off the ice if you are in shoes. It messes up the ice and, more importantly, is super dangerous.
- Enter and exit the rink at a controlled speed. If someone is closer to the exit than you, don’t rush in front of them like a Neanderthal — wait for them to exit.
- Don’t use profanity. If something slips out, it’s not the end of the world. But if you never get into that habit, you won’t have to break it.
- Two diagonal corners/circles serve as the Lutz corners. As a rule of thumb, I avoid doing anything in those two circles.
- Spins should generally be practiced toward the middle of the ice if possible. Obviously, when running a program or practicing a specific part of a program, you can go wherever you need to, but be careful.
- If you are skating backward, your head should be turned toward the direction you’re headed.
- Do not, and I mean do not, skate with headphones, earbuds or EarPods.
- Watch out for pairs skaters and skaters doing dance steps or working on figures or footwork. These types of skating rely on a strict path.
- Say “excuse me,” “sorry” and “thank you” when appropriate; it will garner you much more respect as a skater and make skating a lot more fun for everyone.
- Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself or give a smile to skaters you might not recognize.
- When in doubt, stay toward the wall. Most programs, jumps and spins won’t utilize the 2 feet or so next to the wall, so that’s a safer spot to practice.
- The longer walls on the sides of the rink are also going to be more comfortable than the walls in the front and back, since those shorter walls are in jumping zones.
- Lastly, remind your parents or guardians to stay out of the hockey boxes and off the ice.
Remember to find the silver lining. For more advanced skaters, now it’s like you get to skate on a freestyle while also seeing cute beginners just starting their love affair with skating. It’s such a special reminder of why you started skating in the first place and so much fun to see their little faces filled with wonder and awe.
Beginners, welcome to the big leagues. It would normally take years for you to be able to skate on a session with other skaters of these levels. Take time to step off the ice and watch some of these skaters. It will only get you more excited about learning to excel in this beautiful sport.
Skaters, try to be patient — embrace the weirdness for now. Before you know it, we’ll be back to some version of normal!
A professional figure skating coach in Southern California, Monica Montanari holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Business Administration from Menlo College and a master’s degree in Sport Business Management from The University of Alabama. She is a Certified Master of Choreography through the American Ice Theatre, has earned PSA Category A membership, and is an ISI Gold and Synchro certified judge. When she’s not on the ice, Monica works as a certified paralegal and Etsy shop owner, and she authors her own blog and website, TheCreativeCoachMonica.com, where she shares insight on skating and creating all sorts of things. You can follow her on Instagram @thecreativecoachmonica.