Olympia Skating Club, Canada’s only adult figure skating club, is proud to offer an inclusive environment on our ice. What does that mean exactly? It entails tailoring a skating program to meet individual needs and goals based on a personal profile. Every person will have strengths in weaknesses in the areas of learning, intellectual, and physical capacity. To address these differences, the delivery of coaching will have to vary. We are fortunate to have a highly trained head coach, Monika Bafia, who understand this variance in physical and learning needs. As an adult club, our members deal with the challenges of aging and the limitations that can bring. Even with a nutrition and fitness regime, none of us can escape the effects of ageing. We’ve supported members through hearing loss, stroke, arthritis, long term and chronic illness, injury, memory loss, vision challenges, and pain management. Constant adaptation is the key to staying active on the ice.

Our club is also an autism-friendly club, offering support to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism neurology and processing are different from that of neurotypicals. Visual processing is stronger than auditory processing, therefore instruction is delivered more through demonstration than explanation. There can be movement differences because of dyspraxia and motor skills abilityWorking memory, the brain’s temporary storage system, is also affected so there must be repetitive, explicit instruction on the same element for a long period of time. (Actually, that can hold true for everyone.) Giant Steps, a special needs school in Montreal, has developed a wonderful adapted skating manual full of great tips on how to teach skating to children with autism.

Breaks, when they are needed, and a quiet space to regroup are also available for when skaters feel overwhelmed and need time to self-regulate. Learning something new can feel exhausting and frustrating because of the time it takes to master a skill. Progress can be slow and plateaus sometime feel like they will last forever. Setbacks happen if injury occurs or personal life circumstances become overwhelming. Motivation through praise and encouragement, no matter how small the progress is, can help a skater get past these rough patches. Keeping track of progress in a little book or on a chart can also help a person see that they are improving in small, incremental steps.

How can we include everyone with all of these differences? Here are some of the things we do in our club.

Visual Supports

Using visual supports strengthen memory and learning, particularly for those who are weaker with auditory processing (hearing verbal descriptions and instructions and turning them into actions). Video modelling and feedback can also show a skater what they look like and what needs to change in their movement or how to do something correctly. It can also help them learn a program. There are skating patterns available to print and follow when learning sequences. Drawing patterns with markers on the ice to follow can also be great visual reminders of what to follow when executing an element.

Drawings or pictures support physical instruction. Hand over hand demonstrations can work as well – like going to the boards and extending the leg and turning out the free leg skating foot. The physical positioning with guidance from the coach can help with muscle memory and teach how things feel physically.

Off Ice Program

We offer an off ice training program that encompasses jumps, plyometrics, dance, conditioning and stretching. Everyone has different strengths and abilities in these areas – some shine in dance while others have great endurance. Everyone is accepted at the level they are at and encouraged to do what they can, adding more as they develop in a certain area. If you can’t plank for 45 seconds, then hold for 5 seconds. Maybe next week, you can do 10 seconds. The point is to take a person where they are at and build from there. Everyone can improve, no matter what their issues are.

Individual Instruction

Individual instruction works well when having to break down an element into specific learning segments before putting them all together. If a skater needs a slower, more repetitive delivery of instruction, one on one is best.  An element may need to be broken down into several steps and each step worked on one at a time. The coach may have to skate in front of the skater in order for the skater to mimic the action, rather than facing the skater where you have to transfer the mirror image which requires more thinking and skill.

Group Instruction

Group instruction is great when you can put together a group of similar level skaters and review an element that they have already been working on but may require tweaking. Stroking in a circle, working on turns, spinning, field moves or jumping are great things to work on in a group. Individuals can demonstrate to each member of the group for supportive critiquing. Group lessons can be fun because everyone is helping and encouraging each other. We also learn from watching others.


Patch is a great way to work on figures in a slow, methodical way. You can also follow a pattern made on the ice. These repetitive exercises provide the critical mass practice to increase fluency when skating. Repetitive learning patterns are calming and create predictability for those who are anxious learners.

Learning a Program

Putting a program together to music for a competition, show or just for enjoyment can be both challenging and fun. It’s a way to piece together all of the skating skills a skater has been practicing and work towards a goal. Stringing it all together takes time and practice. A program works on skills, elements, movement to music, interpretation, performance and memory. It doesn’t matter what level a skater is, they can come out and skate to music doing simple things like bubbles or arm movements to the music.

Our coach has put programs together for people who have skated for just a few months to a skater in her 80’s. The most memorable program I ever saw was from Olympia member Joan Whyte (80) who skated an artistic program to Hello Dolly. She couldn’t spin due to vertigo and struggled with memory, but she brought the house down with that number at a competition. She had a wonderful costume and really played with the music – the audience responded with great enthusiasm!

The Inclusive Skating Show

At the end of each season, Olympia Skating club puts on a show for family and friends. Most skaters participate and if they don’t have a program, they skate in the group number. The group number is designed to showcase everyone, no matter what their ability or limitations. It fosters camaraderie and brings the group closer together because we have that “we’re all in this together” spirit. If someone forgets what to do, another member guides them. If someone falls, we pick them up. It’s not about perfection, it’s about having the experience of being in a show and being part of the gang.

During the Christmas season, we do a little show followed by the Merry Christmas Family Fun Skate which invites the community at large to come and skate as a family, have a visit with Santa, play games, and partake in festive treats. We show people the joy of skating and how it brings everyone together.

With Gratitude to Skate Canada: Alberta-NWT/Nunavut

We have been grateful to Skate Canada: Alberta-NWT/Nunavut for their support of inclusive skating through grant money. It has allowed one of our members with a disability to be able to afford to skate. Income often has to be directed to other supports for a person with a disability, leaving little money for recreational and leisure activities which are an important part of happiness and well-being. Fostering participation creates a supportive community network of teammates that extends beyond the ice. Our club members have embraced every person that has stepped on to our ice, which has lead to a unique atmosphere where people can be themselves and develop at their own pace. It’s about marching to your own drummer, but being an integral part of the band.

Count everyone in  – you’ll be surprised at how rich your club will become through diversity.