What Does the Term "Turn Pro" Mean in Figure Skating?

Figure Skating
Figure Skating. Robert Decelis Ltd / The Image Bank Collection / Getty Images

Once, there were two kinds of skaters, amateurs and professionals. Every figure skater knew that a day would come when the big decision on whether to "turn pro" would be made. Taking money or accepting an award changed a figure skater's life. Competitive figure skating opportunities ended and a professional skating life began.

The lines between what an amateur figure skater is and what a professional figure skater is have changed. You no longer have to be an amateur figure skater to compete, just an eligible figure skater. Eligible means these skaters qualify to participate fully in the activities of U.S. Figure Skating or Skate Canada and/or in the activities of the International Skating Union.

Eligible Skaters

Eligible figure skaters may receive pay for coaching and compete in sanctioned competitions that offer prize money. An eligible skater is really what once was an amateur figure skater except that they can accept money.

It is now no longer necessary to make the big decision to turn pro, but if a figure skater takes part in a non-sanctioned skating competition, they will lose their eligibility to compete and have made what was once the big decision to turn pro. In the past, this was also known as turning pro, going pro, or turning professional.

The term "turn pro" is rarely used anymore, since now competitive figure skaters do not lose their eligibility by earning money from teaching skating but participating in certain ice shows that have not been approved by US Figure Skating, Skate Canada, or the ISU.

Skating Teachers 

In the past, waiting to turn pro also meant that most of the people who taught skating were very accomplished and qualified skaters. Figure skaters made sure that they achieved all they wanted to as amateurs before turning pro. Coaches were usually gold medalists and former regional, sectional, national, or international competitors. Unqualified skaters were rarely hired by ice rinks or skating clubs.

Now that very accomplished skaters and also very beginning skaters can turn pro, anyone can teach skating in the United States. This means that people with few credentials or experience can call themselves figure skating coaches. Canada is a bit more strict regarding who is allowed to coach skating in their arenas.

Ice skating shows, on the other hand, have made it more difficult for unqualified skaters to take part in professional skating. For example, Disney On Ice expects its performers to be at least junior level skaters, so turning pro, to skate and perform professionally means a skater is very qualified to perform in front of audiences.

Forced to Turn Pro

Figure skating coach Janet Champion was a child star in Shipstads and Johnson Ice Follies. At 8 years old, Champion entered a California statewide contest where she performed a series of acrobatic moves and jumps. Her performance was so outstanding, that she won the contest. She received a trophy and a cash prize of $500.

At the time, her parents did not know that accepting a cash prize would end their daughter's amateur status. In those days, accepting any money for a sports-related activity meant that an individual had become a professional and was ineligible for competitive amateur athletics.

The San Diego Figure Skating Club soon informed Champion's coaches and parents that her future as a competitive skater was over.

Other 'Turn Pro' Stories

Not all figure skaters who turned pro had the same experience.

  • When U.S. ice skating legend Janet Lynn turned pro, the Ice Follies gave her a three-year contract for $1,455,000. She became the highest-paid female professional athlete at the time.
  • In 1961, Olympic figure skating champion Carol Heiss turned pro when she made her movie debut as Snow White in "Snow White and the Three Stooges."
  • After Richard Ewell and Michelle McCladdie, the first African Americans in U.S. history to win a national pair skating title, won gold at the 1972 United States Figure Skating Championships in junior pairs, they signed a contract with the Ice Capades. At the time, it was considered more advantageous for successful junior level African America figure skaters to turn pro than to try to make it as senior level national and/or international skaters.