On Learning to Skate, and Later Becoming a Hockey Parent

A parent and young child playing hockey at a local rink under a blue sky.

Guest blogger:
Malinda Hapuarachchi, PhD Candidate & FCO Peer Mentor

Each time I attend one of my daughter’s ice hockey practices, and I am lacing up her skates, I am sometimes a little dumbfounded by how I’ve suddenly become a “hockey mom” going to multiple practices and games each week, fundraising for my daughter’s team, and trying to stay warm in the arena. At the same time, I don’t think I’d have it any other way as my daughter seems to be learning so much, having a ton of fun, and has a great group of new friends among her teammates!

Like a lot of other second-generation Canadians, I learned to skate as a child even though my parents do not know how to. They were born and raised in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada via England in the early 1980s. My parents have lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, St. John’s, Newfoundland and eventually settled down in Ottawa, Ontario; three very cold and snowy cities in Canada! One evening many years ago while I was visiting my family over the holiday break, my dad and I went for a walk after dinner. As we walked past the giant piles of snow stacked up along the street, I asked my dad if he imagined that this is what his life would have looked like, and he responded to me with, “I read about snow in books.”

Growing up in Ottawa meant going on annual school field trips to skate on the Rideau Canal with your classmates. The sound on your skates gliding over the ice always paired nicely with a belly full of warm hot chocolate and delicious Beaver Tails! I also fondly recall going to the local arena with my friends to attend leisure skating on weekends to hang out.

Learning to Skate

Although I don’t play ice hockey myself, I took skating lessons as a child through CanSkate, Skate Canada’s official “Learn to Skate” program at our local community recreation centre. The City of Toronto offers lots of ways for folks to enjoy this wonderful winter activity. If you are looking to attend public leisure skates, there are lots of indoor arenas and outdoor rinks across the city with varying schedules and hours of operation. Leisure skates are also free to the public! The City also offers affordable skating, figure skating and hockey lessons; both for children and adults.

Another way to learn how to skate is through a local skating club or ice hockey program by finding a program that is near you! Remember, hockey is for everyone, young and old, girls and boys, and there are options for folks with disabilities.

Here at the University of Toronto, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education offers learn to skate for children classes through their Junior Blues program and lessons for adults through their registered programs. There are also drop-in skate times and drop-in hockey for students!

Skating Equipment

Learning to skate can be intimidating, especially if you are learning for the first time as an adult. But not to worry – anyone can learn, and once you get the hang of it, it is a ton of fun! Here are some things you’ll need to know to get started:

Whether you rent skates or buy your own, make sure your skates fit properly and you have them tied correctly. Your skates should fit snugly but comfortably. When looking for skates, there are different types based on the specific activity (i.e., ice hockey, figure skating, leisure skating). However, if you are looking to try skating for the first time, any type of skate will work just fine! The cost of new skates ranges considerably, but for an entry-level pair of skates for kids, a new pair of skates might cost between $50 – $150. Canadian Tire or SportChek are both great places if you are looking to buy a new pair of skates. The staff there can help you find the right pair of skates for you or your child and have them fitted properly. Buying a used pair of skates is also an excellent option and can potentially save you several dollars! Although you can find used skates online using websites such as Kijiji, I recommend going to somewhere like Play It Again Sports where folks can go to buy/sell used (and new) sporting equipment. The staff there can help you find skates that fit you well and are in good condition. It’s also important to make sure your skates are sharpened! If the blades are rusted and dull, you won’t be able to glide properly and you might fall more! You can get your skates checked and blades sharpened anywhere you can buy skates like Canadian Tire, Sport Check, Play It Again, ice hockey equipment stores, and hockey arenas.

Helmets are recommended for all ages, but children 6 years of age and younger must wear a CSA-approved hockey helmet that covers the back and sides of the head. Helmets intended for other sports, such as riding a bicycle, have different protective elements and are not designed to protect your head in the event of a fall on ice – particularly since many people slip and fall backwards when first learning to skate! A CSA-approved hockey helmet is strongly recommended for all participants, including adults. Lastly, be sure to wear warm, comfortable clothing that is easy to move in, like water-resistant pants, warm jackets, and gloves. If you are interested in signing up you or your child for ice hockey or figure skating lessons, please note each sport requires specific skates and that ice hockey requires considerable added protective equipment. Your local club representative will tell you what you need – just ask!

Have Fun!

Being able to skate is a valuable, life-long skill that you and your family will be able to enjoy for years to come. Take advantage of local arenas, outdoor rinks, local ponds and even some outdoor skate trails across Canada and enjoy spending time together over the winter months; I promise you; you won’t regret it!

Even though my parents grew up in a warm, tropical country and never knew how to skate, I am grateful that they encouraged me to try skating as a child. Health benefits aside, it provided me with an opportunity to access a fun and enjoyable winter activity that I still do to this day. Whether it’s been playing shinny with my daughter at a local outdoor rink, or skating on a pond with friends, it’s a great way to get my body moving and feel the crisp winter air on my face. 

It is my hope that you give skating a try! Happy skating!