Skating is the most important skill a hockey player can possess. Without proper skating, skill development and performance in other areas – stickhandling, shooting, passing, etc. – will never reach their full potential for any hockey player. It’s also a crucial component in player safety. Skating is a skill that should always be worked on, especially at the youth level.
USA Hockey regional manager and Rochester native Guy Gosselin provides age-appropriate tips to help improve skating for all kids from ages 6 to 16.
Before we start, remember there is one common theme from the 6U to the 12U levels: FUN! Make sure the kids are having fun while playing hockey. These are not only the most critical ages for skill development, but also for helping foster a lifelong love for the game.
It’s all about getting comfortable on the ice. If they’re beginners, let them try to skate without a stick at first. Provide skating aids, such as chairs, crates or skating walkers if they need them. Follow the ABCs – agility, balance, coordination and speed.
Especially at the beginner’s level, it’s crucial to provide a positive learning environment with lots of encouragement. Take an active role. Participate with the child and go through the motions together.
One game to play is “Simon Says,” to help instill fundamentals in a fun way. “Simon Says skate forward.” “Simon Says stop.” “Simon Says drop to your knees.” Through games and exercises like this, kids are learning how to use edges, basic stance, strides, holding the stick, knee bend, etc.
Kids at this age are in the first speed-training window, which makes them incredibly receptive to quickness and developing speed. According to the sport-science research of ADM: “Speed in this stage is defined as agility and quickness in linear, lateral and multidirectional patterns. The duration of the intervals/activities should be five seconds and under while allowing young athletes to have fun and become more athletic.”
Drills/Skills: Walking, marching, falling, forward stride, T-push, two-legged glide, snowplow stop, hopping, rolling, swizzles, lateral crossover, stand on one leg, forward start, forward crossover, C-cuts, controlled stop, controlled turn, backward skating, backward stop.
We are now in the “Golden Age of Skill Development.” Forget about team systems and strategies. Focus on individual technical skill building, especially when it comes to skating. This is when kids are the most receptive to skill development. They will still be able to work and improve on skills as they get older, but they’ll never absorb the skill development at this rate again.
One way to take advantage of this window of opportunity is to have players spend time slowing things down and exaggerating their movement. It may seem counterintuitive, but slow, exaggerated motions are critical for skill development because they help players focus on the quality of the stride to ensure they’re developing the proper technique.
This is also time to introduce the concept of body contact. Skating is key to maintaining stability on the ice and an important part of safety. Players that learn how to use their hockey stance and skating ability to improve their balance at this level will have an advantage as they progress into the more physical levels of the game.
Kids at this age are now in the second speed-training window. The duration of the intervals should increase to 5-20 seconds, and the workouts need to be intense enough to trigger the release of lactic acid which helps build speed and strength.
Drills/Skills: Edge control (inside/outside), ready position, forward start, controlled stop, 1 foot stop, backward skating, backward stop, controlled turn, forward crossover, mohawk turn, lateral movement, backward cross-under.
Kids at this age have their basic skating skills. It’s now time to ramp up the training intensity while also applying them to game skills. For instance, the players should know how to make a controlled turn. The focus at these levels becomes how to use that fundamental skill to create separation from an opponent.
Increasing speed, strength and stamina are at the forefront of the “Training to Train” stage. Conditioning is now more important. The kids should be worked until they’re tired, but should stop once they lose their breath. Once the player continues after they’ve lost their breath, bad habits come out and skill development loses its effectiveness.
Body checking is now allowed and having a strong skating foundation is crucial to playing in an environment with more contact. Speed, quickness, stability and multidirectional movement all can help a player evade a check or create one.
Drills/Skills: Speed, agility, quick starts, power, change of direction, body position, stick control, skating efficiency.
Check out USA Hockey’s dryland training drills for more information on off-ice exercises for all age groups.
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Keep an eye out for a new series from Minnesota Hockey, called Development Insider. This series will provide age-appropriate tips to provide our hockey players the best opportunity to improve their game.