My five-year old daughter is playing ice hockey, a sport with which, until recently, I had no experience. As a former teacher, ski and soccer coach, it’s weird watching my daughter do something I know very little about: I don’t have tips, I don’t know how to help her, and at first I didn’t even know how to put on the gear.

Thankfully, the good folks of the Lizard Head Hockey Club are here to help. For the five and six year old athletes, those good folks are Mary Alice Wagner and Jim Loebe. To coach the program, both volunteer parents went through 16 hours of training, one 8-hour clinic and another 8-hours of online instruction.

Additionally, Wagner has been playing for the Telluride women’s hockey team, the Box Canyon Beavers, for the greater part of 13 years; is the daughter of a physical educational teacher and attests that “there isn’t a sport I haven’t played,” (and as an observer, I might add “well” to that statement); and is a skating instructor for the school district’s skate P.E. program.

Here are some tips that Wagner has learned to help get kids get excited to skate and, one day, perhaps, become Lizard Head hockey players.

1. Put them in Pads: Even if they’re not playing hockey, Wagner says putting them on the ice with knee pads, a helmet, and even breezers (hockey shorts that have hip and butt pads) helps take the fear, and pain, out of falling.

2. March In Place: For the very beginner skaters, Wagner recommends having them march in place. Marching makes them feel comfortable on their skates and helps them find their balance. When you watch young skaters, you’ll see they usually begin by literally walking, or marching on the ice.

3. Sit Down and Stand Up: Just by simply having children stand on the ice then sit down and stand back up, not only helps children with balance, but also teaches a critical beginner skill—getting up. While learning to skate, your child will fall frequently. Save your back, and make sure they have the tools to get themselves up.

4. Put Their Feet in a “T” to Push and Glide: Wagner suggests helping your child put their feet in a “T” formation. The front foot will face forward and the back foot will be perpendicular, so their feet form a “T”: Your child will automatically put his/her dominant foot in the back, and use that foot to push. They can use a walker, or large bucket, to hold onto in front for balance. According to Wagner, using the “T” formation, will teach them to both push (with the back foot) and glide (with the front foot) and introduce them to their edges. “It lets them know they have two edges available,” she says.

5. Push Something Weighted: Big paint buckets are perfect for kids to push on the ice and fun. If you put a little weight in the bucket (or a sibling or friend) children love to push the bucket around the rink. The bucket stabilizes the child so they don’t have to think so much about their balance, but the extra weight forces them to dig a little with their blades and, according to Wagner, helps them figure out how to push with both feet and to use both inside edges.

6. Bring a Soccer Ball or Balloons to the Ice: Once children have a few basics, Wagner believes the key is to help them to forget about the actual skating. She recommends giving them a different task that requires them to skate, but without their having to think about it, like kicking a soccer ball or bending down and picking up balloons. She notes that the kids enjoy going through obstacle courses in which they have to get down on their knees, slide on their bellies, or retrieve an object.

7. Play Games Like Simon Says, Tag and Sharks and Minnows: When the kids are comfortable on their skates, Wagner recommends playing games. “We play a lot of games at first,” Wagner says, “and the kids don’t even know they’re actually learning to skate.”

Wagner’s go-to-games incorporate the basic skills she works on with kids, primarily balance, pushing and gliding.  Freeze tag and Simon Says, are staples, but another favorite is a game that she calls “Bandito” or “Princess and Dragons” in which the kids use the hockey goal as a jail and a friend has to skate over to free them.

8. Go to Town Park outdoor rink, Mountain Village outdoor rink or Hanley Rink: Outside of purchasing or renting the equipment, skating with your kids is free in Telluride at Town Park,  and the Hanley Ice Rink (check the weekly schedule for the Hanley Ice Rink to find out when free-skate is). Outdoor skating is also available at the rink in the Mountain Village, run by the Boot Doctors. Entry is $8 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under and free for kids under 5.

Snow Sunday is a weekly column by Jesse James McTigue and sponsored by Jagged Edge intended to deliver tips, news, musings and stories about the people, places, events and experiences that make the Telluride winter an epic adventure.


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