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How to Create an Awesome Experience for a Brand New Hockey Player: Part 1

December 3, 2009

(Also known as: I do real stuff sometimes.)
We all know that teaching young people to skate and play hockey is the best way to gain peer recognition, inner gratification due to a job well done (see: birthing natural talent), and as a stop gap between the ravages of old age and the fist-swinging glory of ‘encouragement’.
Seriously, this is what I do for a living.

This morning’s private skating lesson with five-year-old Chase, when contrasted with the ultra hardcore men’s hockey league last night with the fights and the loud noises and the attempted surgical removal of a player’s eyes using a stick; is enough to make one laugh out loud (to keep from crying, of course). The smooth, quiet ice surface and the eager participant that greeted me today was a welcome cup of reality, and it reaffirmed once again my joy for teaching varying levels of individual skill development in hockey and skating in general.

And then later that day, a most coincidental of coincidences: A Programs Department contest! Either written or photographed, this contest, nay, this battle, was clearly intended for only the wiliest and most willing of competitors, or simply those of us that need an excuse to force our moms real people to read our hilarious and made-up informative and qualified take on the experience of learning to skate.

With that in mind, I’m proud to present an in-depth look at how to create an awesome experience for a brand new skater.

1. Challenge Your Student’s Space.
This can mean a few different things. First, we obviously want to encourage someone that’s brand new to the ice to explore their surroundings. Movement is the key to skating, for if you aren’t moving, you aren’t skating, and people can learn all about standing around by simply watching the Edmonton Oilers on a power play. As people get more comfortable with movement, they become proportionately more comfortable with skating and with the process of learning how to skate. Abide by this magical formula: movement + curiosity = learning = skating awesomeness (in Edmonton we use multiple equals’ signs. No big deal).
In this sense, moving around the ice covers standing up and skating forward, but it’s also beneficial to challenge your skater’s vertical perspective. So for Bullet #1’s second point, I say: who said you need to stand up all the time? As an example for your class, lay on your back on the ice with your blades against the boards, bend your knees and push off. Then try it with straight legs. It’s amazing to watch the bulb flick on in a five-year-old’s brain as they realize: “Oh, THAT’S what you meant by knee-bend. I thought you were just a crazy person.” Maybe so, kid. Maybe so. *cries self to sleep*

You can also challenge movement by pushing pucks on the ice with your hands and then tracking them down in a relay or obstacle course, or hiding things under pylons, or balancing bean-bags or ringette rings on top of a skater’s bucket. (Which looks funny. Just remember to laugh WITH the student, not at them. This will be hard.)

As a side-note, challenge your own movement at the same time, and I guarantee you’ll become a better skater while you teach. See, this job just keeps giving. Still with me? Good. Drink it in.
2. Challenge Your Student’s Comfort Level.

Ice is unique, (it’s slippery!) and a person with knives strapped to their feet for the first time isn’t going to feel comfortable, regardless of how easy we super-human experts think it is to stand still and not fall straight forward on our beaks. Falling on your face, elbows, chin or posterior isn’t fun for anyone (ask the Toronto Maple Leafs), even though it seems that younger skaters often have super-human pain thresholds located exclusively in their knees. Make sure they know it’s alright to fall. Stand on one foot, spin around, attempt different tasks that push an adult or child into the realm of solid, smart skating. If they’re falling down, that obviously means they’re pushing the envelope and getting out of their comfort zone. Like the time I took that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class. Same thing, I swear.
Above all, be patient. If you’re dealing with an adult skater, they’re registered because they want to learn, but they probably want to learn at their own pace. If you’re teaching a little guy or gal, then it’s up to you to make the experience fun and memorable so they want to come back the following week. (See Bullet #3: Make it Fun and Memorable!)
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