The Forgotten Art of Skating Etiquette

PS Magazine, OCT/NOV 2010

This past September, I was in San Francisco for both the PSA Nationwide and ISI seminars. I was excited to be there as I was unveiling a new presentation/soapbox, "The Forgotten Art of Skating Etiquette." But before I was scheduled to deliver my new PowerPoint, I had an on-ice presentation to do. Standing in the middle of the rink finishing up my session, you can imagine my surprise as I was interrupted by this gentle voice from behind.
"Excuse me Mr. Santee, I am sorry to interrupt…I’m warming up for my test and I need to use the middle of the ice…Is that OK?"
I turned and just stared at him in stunned silence…Did he just call me Mr. Santee? Is he asking my permission to use ice he already had a right too? WOW was all I could think, and "Sure" was all I managed to say. Turning toward the coaches standing there, I said, "I’ll even get out of his way." I was so impressed with his demeanor that I thought to myself that if I taught there, I would probably always make it a habit to look out for him.
What really excited me was that this was a great example to what I believe is a major problem today– the lack of "Skating Etiquette." It seems that hardly a day goes by where my own children don’t complain about someone getting in their way during their program. Or maybe it’s a kid working on an axel in the lutz corner or someone practicing moves in the field in the opposite direction on a crowded session. It’s the beginner who never moves for anyone, or worse the coach who follows their skaters throughout the lesson, oblivious to anyone else on the ice. There are probably a hundred examples of poor etiquette. And almost everybody has an excuse. I wish I had a dime for every time I hear, "…so and so never moves for me. Why should I move for them?"
Why? First, respect - as a society in general, there is a lack of respect for anything or anyone. Do we let in a merging driver or speed up? Second is safety – two skaters playing chicken on who is going to get their jump in first. Someone has to take the high road or there will be a collision. And finally, there is an economic component to this issue. Mayhem on a session creates an unsafe atmosphere and a total lack of productivity. Frustrated skaters are just going to search out a free style with fewer people. Fewer people on a session are not profitable for a rink. How long will it take for a manager to take away an hour of ice and sell it to hockey?
We can’t change the world but as coaches, we can begin to change the skating one…one skater, one coach, one parent, one club, one rink at a time. We can do this by making it a focus to teach our skaters the history, traditions and etiquette of our sport.
Here are some thoughts on what to teach:
1. The Right of Way (rīt'əv-wā') The customary or legal right of a person, vessel, or vehicle to pass in front of another.
2. Programs have the 1st priority to the right of way. The program skater should be easily identifiable. Use a fluorescent colored vest or material that can be tied around the waist
3. Do not restart programs. A protocol should be developed regarding double run through’s prior to competitions.
4. Coaches should NOT make a habit of following a skater during their program
5. Lessons have the 2nd priority to the right of way. This means the skater having the lesson, not the coach!
6. Seniority has the 3rd right of way and the responsibility to avoid collisions
7. Be Courteous – "Excuse me, Thanks"
8. When passing slower skaters, always pass to the outside of the skater
9. When skating towards another skater, when in doubt skate to the right.
10. Look both ways before skating away from the barrier
Suggested Area’s of Instruction

Closer to competition time, coaching should be done from the side or off the ice completely. Practice as you compete, compete as you practice.
As a general practice, do not let skaters skate behind you.
Coaches have the ultimate responsibility to control the safety of a session
When teaching spins, it is advantageous to do so in the center of the ice. This cuts down on the skater having to travel straight across the traffic pattern to the barrier and less disruptive to the flow of traffic
Coaching corners- a great spot to teach younger skaters who need closer attention.
Avoid standing jumps using the blue lines or the center red line. This can be very disruptive to the flow of traffic and dangerous for the skater. If required, use the area in the second half of the session. The rationale being that generally there is less skating activity as the session progresses
The following are some diagrams that are handy for teaching skaters traffic flow protocol. As a disclaimer, these are suggested. Each individual arena will have exceptions based on the skill level of skaters, and the individual needs of the arena and skating program. Copies of these diagrams can be downloaded at



physics girl said…
Thank you for posting this! Very enlightening.
Alexandra said…
It must be in the air! I was working on a post on this, and here it is. Rather than rewriting it, I've posted a link to this excellent essay on my blog. Thanks, Jimmie!
Unknown said…
I'm a lefty and practice ice is very difficult for me because of that. I've been told to do whats natural and do axels in the lutz corner and vice versa, but then I wind up getting in everyone's way. Any tips?
jocelyn jane said…
Excellent points, great diagrams. Why can't we all just get along?!
Anonymous said…
Great subject matter and main points Jim! Well written. Enjoyed learning some of the more technical details too. Educational. Thanks!
Elsa said…
Another lefty here, and while we do our best to stay out of the way, the reality is that we need to set up differently. The dirty looks or "hey, this isn't the lutz corner" comments get a bit tiresome. When teaching rink etiquette, please be sure to mention our needs too. We aren't trying to be difficult, we just can't go with the CCW flow.
Anonymous said…
The diagram which show toe and flip jumps seems kind of off to me. Most skaters go down the center of the axis to do these jumps, not a diagnol.
sleepy said…
What about when people are doing dances, and pair spins, and MITF, do the same rules apply? This seems biased towards free style only.
Anonymous said…
-How lovely it would be to see dance patterns set up - so those jumpers could get an idea of what to lookout for, as the blind and swift turn around in their jump zone as we try to start the European Waltz. Once a jumper went right over me as I ducked. Also so they do not congregate in the center edge, just where we need to make swift and blind turns.
-How about a limit of the number of times a coach is allowed to play a student's music during one session? Their demand for priority can become very tiresome to everyone else.
-what about practicing the MiTF? last week a teen hit me and knocked me over as I did rockers as she landed her lutz or something -came from my blind side.
-wouldn't it be nice if skaters did not take over a circle for most of a session (especially slow and beginning), but cut their exercises into lobes that had flow ACROSS the length of the ice.
-what about a coach who insists on running their very slow adult across the ice - like 'lobes on a line'? a real traffic jam for all others.
last: surely the writer means in the opening this is a good example of how to manage politely, not a good example of the impossible problems...?
Skatecat said…
Yes, once again, the clockwise skaters or lefties have been left out. NO ONE moves out of our way and yet, we're expected to move when a skater decides to do their edge jumps in our lutz corner. In a perfect world, we would have our own sessions, but that's never going to happen.

Maybe you can come up with a creative way to tell a coach to stop having her students (yes, more than one at a time) spin in the lefty lutz corners. Yes, those corners that are shown to be for edge jumps. Every session is a lesson in futility because of this annoying coach, her three students at one time, and their determination to spin in the lutz corner. The only time they look out is when I've run into one of them, and I always say "Shouldn't you be spinning in the center and not in the corner?" They never learn.
SalToeLutz said…
I agree with Skatecat. No one ever seems to care for the leftie skater. I have battled with this throughout my entire skating career. In order to get to get a decent practice in, I have to skate at the earliest sessions and making sure I am the first one on the ice fully warmed up and jumping at least 5 mins into the session so I can get in the jumps first. It is so frustrating, because I am a power skater that skates with a lot of speed and distance within my jumps. I am scared to death I'll take someone out because most skaters young or oder never seem to give me the same respect of ice time or even watch out for me. The struggle is real!
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