Independent practice is an issue I get asked about frequently. Whether or not a skater needs independent practice time is without question, yes! For all skaters, yes! Skating is a challenging and complex sport to say the least. Only being on the ice for your lessons will result in slow progression. The question is how much time do you really need? Well, that depends on your goals and expectations.
For the recreational skater who is just starting out (this could be a skater in group lessons or who has recently started private instruction) public sessions are great! They are cost effective and work with most schedules. Be aware that public sessions can become crowded and some figure skating moves may be limited or not allowed for safety reasons. Public sessions are the perfect place to get more time on the ice and as a bonus you can share skating with friends and family members who want to try. As a minimum I recommend at least 1-2 hours of public session per week in addition to your learn to skate class or lesson. Know that just being on the ice, regardless of what you're doing, will benefit your skating.
For a skater who is becoming more advanced extra freestyle time will be necessary. If possible you should arrive early enough to have 15 minutes (or more) of on ice warm up time before your lesson. Even more importantly try to stay for 20-30 additional minutes after your lesson to practice what you've learned. When skaters commit to independent practice time their coaches can focus more on teaching new skills and spend less time reinforcing previously learned skills. Recreational figure skaters should aim for at least 3 times per week on the ice, no less than 2. No more than one of these times should be on a public session. Also try to avoid taking to long of or too many breaks from skating. Every time you're off the ice for a week you'll spend twice that long playing catch-up. Another bonus of coming to practice more frequently is that you will make wonderful skating friendships and establish a great skating support system.
I get asked a lot "What should I practice?" This is where your skating binder comes in. Be sure to bring it to practice and lessons so your coach can keep it updated for you and you'll know exactly what to work on.
Some guidelines for a productive freestyle practice:
Warm up - 5 minutes
Moves/Turns/Dance Steps/footwork - 15 minutes
Spins - 15 minutes
Jumps - 15 Minutes
Go through all programs
New Skater or Group Lessons Skater - 2 hours per week on the ice (plus your lesson)
Recreational Figure Skater - 3+ hours per week (1-2 lessons)
Competitive Figure Skaters - 10-20 hours per week (3-5 lessons)
Lastly, do not be discouraged if you can not be on the ice as much as you would like to. Many skaters simply do not have the option. All skaters can maximize time on the ice by following these tips:
1. Ask your coach to help you design on off ice warm up to do right before you skate
2. Develop an off-ice routine to help with strength, stretching, and stamina
3. Consider adding dance, yoga, pilates, or martial arts classes to your schedule (live or online)
4. Watch skating on TV and the computer, read the blogs, follow the sites
These girls practice hard and play hard :)