Ice skating is a specialized form of movement compared to other sports. Hockey players need to learn the biomechanics involved in producing speed and power on skates, which is different from other youth sports such as basketball, soccer or football, where youngsters can use the motor patterns they have been developing since they were 1.
While players don’t need a doctorate in kinesiology to attain a great skating stride, they do need to learn a number of lessons through a progression before graduating to proper form.
Carrie Keil has been a power skating instructor for more than 30 years. She has helped teach some of the best American-born ice skaters as the power skating coach for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) since 1999.
Knee bend and hip flexion
Just like a toddler learning to walk, skaters need to begin with the basics. Keil said there are two keys to a good stride.
“The most important things are going to be your knee and hip flexion, which is a fancy word for knee bend and being able to flex at the hips because you have to be able to get down low so that when you take a skating stride, you get a long stride and full extension,” Keil said.
The first homework for beginning skaters – whether it’s an adult or a 5-year-old – is learning to get comfortable in bending their knees.
“That also serves the dual purpose of lowering the center of gravity closer to the surface of the ice,” Keil said. “So, your balance is improved when you bend your knees and bend your hips.”
The first thing Keil looks for in a good stride is a player’s posture. The thing often happens with young players when Keil tells them to bend their knees: they bend over with their back.
“If you tell a 5- or 6-year-old to bend their knees, 90 percent of the time they drop their head and bend forward,” Keil said. “Posture is number one. If your posture is incorrect, it lends itself to other incorrect motor patterns. Players who tend to lean forward too much tend to have that wide, railroad short choppy stride.”
It’s difficult for players get any stride recovery and return their legs back to the midline of their body if they overbend at the back and have a choppy stride. When you’re bent forward, your arms tend to swing side to side a little more or more in a circular motion versus a runner’s sprint.
“It also has a lot to do with balance and power generation,” Keil said. “When most of your weight is centered over your hips, knees and skates, then you go to take a stride, you’re going to get 100 percent of your power potential with your weight and leg strength. If you’re leaning forward, you’ve taken some of what you weigh off of your hips and skates, so you’re already compromising how much speed you can generate.”
Practice planning: Keep kids engaged
Unfortunately, even as important as skating is to a hockey player, repetition can get old fairly quickly. The most important thing, especially at the younger ages, is that drills or form a coach is teaching needs to be fun. Kids need to stay engaged.
“You need to find ways to work on the knee bend and hip flexion that they think is fun. One of the things I like to do and the players seem to enjoy it is start on the goal line, get up some speed and at the blue line see if they can go all the way down into a full squat with their rear ends just a couple of inches away from the ice – so really getting down low,” Keil said.
She said that this drill gets players much lower than they would actually need when skating, but coaches need some overkill when introducing the idea of knee bend.
“If you only get them bending a little bit, they’re going to bend even less when they are skating,” Keil said. “If you can get them to bend maximally, then they’ll bend adequately when they’re actually skating.”
Additionally, bending into a full squat is something players can do for dryland that can be part of their pre-practice warmup. Getting players engaged in a friendly competition is also a way Keil keeps the curriculum fresh for young students.
“Getting them to squat down and have a friendly competition to see who can hold it the longest,” she said. “Have them counting because kids love to count. That keeps kids engaged and then they think it’s fun.”
Progressing to tougher drills
After players can get into a full squat, they can move onto more complicated coursework. A good drill is the Russian Knee Drill: tap one knee down on the ice and then alternate back and forth between knees. The players should stay low and alternate the knees touching the ice by scissoring and without standing all the way up. It can be done both forward and backward.
“It’s a progression because you’re activating the core to balance, especially when you switch your legs,” Keil said. “Most players will drop their heads and chest, but with the Russian Knee Drill, you’re engaging the core, which has implications on balance, be it making a check, receiving a check. When they’re older they need to be able to engage their core. If it’s something they’ve been doing since they are 5 or 6 it becomes an innate concept and something they already can do.”
There are a lot of progressions – going all the way up to the Shoot the Duck Drill where you try to get all the way down on one leg with the other leg sticking straight out in front of you. Additionally, jumping drills, over sticks or black barriers found at many rinks in the U.S.
“When you jump, the only way to jump is to bend your knees and then use your explosive motor patterns to spring up off the ice and then you also need to land in a deep knee position to maintain your balance,” Keil said “If you land on straight legs, you’re going to bend at the waist and fall.”
Correcting bad habits through visualization
It’s nearly impossible to teach skating through verbal instruction and pretty much impossible to break bad habits through lecture. Skating is all about visual learning.
For years, Keil has taught mechanics on a skating treadmill in front of a full-length mirror.
“It has been nothing short of remarkable what can be accomplished when players can see themselves. We’re visual learners and I’m finding I can correct a player in one to three months on the treadmill, what used to take me a year or two on the ice,” Keil said.
There’s some negativity out there about skating treadmills because some players’ experience has been with someone who doesn’t teach form and technique and, “just use it as a conditioning tool where they crank up the speed and elevation,” she said.
“You see it in the mirror, you get results very quickly,” Keil continued. “There are ways to fix their posture. There are visual clues that they can see that one leg isn’t recovering or one leg isn’t striding fully out.”
And if you don’t have access to a skating treadmill, Keil suggests using the available technology in our pockets to correct skating habits.
“If you’re going to work with a couple kids at a time, I’d suggest videoing them and being able to show them what it is you’re trying to get them to change,” Keil said. “Auditory commands for kids are just another adult going, ‘Blah, blah, blah.’”
CSYHA currently only plans to hold spring tryouts for its 16U Wrap team and these will take place the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May.
2019-20 SEASON 16U WRAP TRYOUT SCHEDULE:
April 27, 2019: 10:45 AM - 11:45 AM
April 28, 2019: 1:15PM - 2:45 PM
May 4, 2019: 1:45 PM - 2:45 PM
The current fee for tryouts is $
25.00; See discount code at registration for free tryouts.
Tryouts applicants will be required to register via an online registration page for the event, where you can pay online for the fees. This registration page should be open by April 8, 2019.
For players coming from other organizations please note that CSYHA DOES require incoming players to provide a Release form from their current organization that is signed prior to participation.
For any questions please contact the CSYHA President at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Player safety is the top priority of USA Hockey. That’s why updates are being made to the Concussion Management Program and Return to Play forms for the 2019-20 season.
Kevin Margarucci, USA Hockey’s manager of player safety, answered questions about the changes, how they’ll be implemented, and how they’ll enhance the youth hockey experience.
Q: What's new with the Concussion Management Program?
A: Beginning with the 2019-20 season, any athlete held out for concussion evaluation or who has been diagnosed with a concussion must provide a written Return to Play form from a qualified medical provider allowing them to return to any training, practice or game activity with no restrictions. The parent must sign the form and the coach must also sign the form acknowledging that they received it.
Q: What do parents, coaches, managers and volunteers need to know about the Return to Play form?
A: The form will be available online in April for the new registration season, and it will be required starting with the 2019-20 playing season. The form can be printed and filled out, and then must be signed by a qualified medical provider. The parent and coach must then sign the form. It should be kept with the team coach or manager. We are working on a system where the forms can be filed with the district player safety coordinator and we can begin an injury database for concussion incidents. The data will be de-identified for privacy and HIPPA compliance. I should note that beginning with the 2019-20 season, a new volunteer position called Player Safety Coordinator will be implemented in each district (see more information here).
Q: Who counts as a qualified medical provider that can sign off on Return to Play?
A: That is defined differently in each state statute as it pertains to concussions. This is an area where the district player safety coordinators will work to clearly identify those health care professionals in each state who can legally clear a player to return after a concussion.
Q: Has USA Hockey been trending in the right direction with its emphasis on concussion prevention, management and return-to-play protocol? How will this be another step forward?
A: Our concussion management program has always been updated based on the latest research and recommendations. It also aligns with the 2017 Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport from the 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sport in Berlin. Many state statutes pertaining to concussions require written return to play. Some of our districts and affiliates already require written clearance for return to play. This latest update aligns all of USA Hockey with this written return to play requirement and provides a standard form for use by all.
Q: Is the culture surrounding concussions making progress in youth hockey?
A: I believe so. The awareness and recognition of concussions has grown by parents, coaches and players. The mantra, ‘When in doubt, sit them out’ is a guiding principle that has taken hold in our sport and something we will continue to reinforce. And a relatively new initiative through the Concussion Legacy Foundation that we’ve supported is called Team Up, Speak Up. It’s focus is to let players know it is OK to, and that they should, speak up for a teammate who may have a concussion and report to a coach, parent, doctor or athletic trainer. It’s great to see the progress we’ve made, and together we will continue to affect positive change related to the overall safety of our game.