So you're going in for your first comp? Awesome! Well done. This is always a really exciting time for a skater and there are lots of great times to be had. You've got the joys of choosing music, choreographing the programme, choosing a costume (or making your own, see my post on making your own competition outfit), but maybe the biggest choice of all is which competition to participate in.
Your coach probably knows what event he or she wants you to enter if s/he has told you that you're ready for competition. Events exist on many different levels starting from local rink events held on 1/2 your home town ice pad, right through to the Olympics. In between the two there are "open competitions" which are usually on a regional or national scale into which anyone can apply as long as they hold the correct test passes for the event they wish to compete in. Your coach will know what category to put you into depending on your test passes and/or your ability (don't worry if you've not passed any tests yet though, there are many "no-test" categories within bigger events).
Open competitions comprise many different levels and usually go from beginner through to Senior. They usually span several days (anywhere from 1 to 7 days in the norm depending on the size of the event and it's popularity). When you get higher up the test ladder and start competing at a level which will require a short and long programme (or, if you're a dancer, compulsories, original dance, and free dance, or any combination of the 3) then you may find yourself skating on more than 1 day. Otherwise you will skate once on a given day.
Competitions have entry fees and set rules. The competition organiser issues a document called the "announcement" a few months before the event and you can procure one any number of ways (depending on how "modern" the club hosting the event is). Go on their web site if they have one (use Don Korte's great "find a club" tool if you live in the US, click here to go to his site Sk8Stuff.Com). If they don't have a website (or worse, just don't update it!) try and get an email address for their secretary or even a telephone number. Call at appropriate times, not too late at night! Your coach may also have gotten ahold of some announcements. Your club may also post one on your club information board, so just ask around and you should manage to find one fairly easily. If you live in the UK, the national governing body for figure skating, NISA UK, post all competitions on their websites' calendar. For the US, the same tool is available via the USFSA website, click here to go to the correct page.
Once you've gotten hold of the announcement and know what category you are entering, you'll need to fill out the entry form. This is usually attached to the announcement, at the back. You'll need to fill in questions like name, club that you represent (your home club), coaches name, and your license number (to whichever governing body you belong). The entry fees will be printed on the entry form and often depend on the event you are entering. Larger events usually cost more than home town ones, and these fees cover the cost of the ice rental, judges, and the generally logistics of running an event.
Once you've filled out the forms, show them to your coach if this is your first ever event. S/he can check everything is in order, as oftentimes if your forms aren't correctly filled in you are not accepted into the competition. Cheque is the most common form of payment, but more and more clubs are now accepting payment via credit/debit card. I'm a fan of the good old fashioned cheque mysef, slipped in with the entry form in a crisp enveloppe!
So what happens next? In the olden days (Lord I feel old) clubs used to send out confirmation letters with any useful information the skater might need (such as timetable, date of their particular event, address of the rink, useful local information such as hotels in the area) but clubs are getting weary of the approach due to financial costs of posting huge wads of paper to each competitior, and there is of course the ecological aspect of it. Email is the new medium, and you'll most likely receive your information this way.
That's you, all signed up! Wasn't so horrible after all ay? The next thing you'll need to do is organise travel details if you are traveling outside your local area. Traveling for skating has been one of the best parts of my on ice career and I'm sure you're going to love it, whether you are traveling alone and for yourself, or with your child. It's a great way to spend some very precious moments and if I had one word of wisdom to you I would say take photos!! Good times!! I feel a new post coming on to help you through finding the best and most economical way to attend far away skating events....!