For young hockey players, starting out with good skating fundaments is the foundation for building future success in the game. Those who don’t start out with a strong skating base will lag behind, literally, those who develop good habits early on.
The Big 3
Andy Ness, a skating instructor with Pro Edge Power and skill development instructor for the Minnesota Wild, has been a skating and skills teacher at all levels of hockey – from pros to Peewees. Regardless of the level of play, there are three things that every good skater must have:
These three facets are also the most common pitfalls seen in youngsters who are not strong skaters. This hat trick of skill is interconnected. Once a boy or girl gets a grasp on edge strength, balance and knee bend, then skills begin to crossover, no skating pun intended.
“Everything becomes easier with those three main components,” Ness said. “You can’t do one without the other.
“Balance comes from edge strength – inside and outside edges. Balance is huge, making sure the upper body and the lower body are connected and the core is strong.”
Good knee bend helps create better balance. There’s a reason that a good ‘hockey stance’ with deep knee bend is preached by coaches at every level.
“If a kid can’t bend his or her knees, it’s going to be really hard,” Ness said. “Because every one of your pushes, you have to have your knees bent. That’s the only way you’re going to get some kind of push.
“If you look at all the stills [photos] of the NHLers, every action shot, the guys are down low and their knees are bent.”
Ness said that if players build a strong foundation at a younger age, it’s much easier to teach players more challenging maneuvers, as they get older. For example, you shouldn’t work on overspeed unless you’re fundamentally sound.
“If we get a kid, who is 12 or 13, and he’s got weak edges or poor balance,” Ness said, “you’re almost trying to start over.”
Breaking Bad Habits
However, all is not lost if bad habits are formed. Like any improvement, breaking bad skating technique takes time, effort and consistency. For players any age, who need to work on basic skills, slowing things down with proper technique is the best way to start fresh.
“There’s a big difference between just doing something and doing something well,” Ness said. “When we slow it down, we want them to do it correctly. It’s about building the muscle memory. If you can’t do things well at a slow speed, you’re not going to be able to do it well at full speed.
“If you see them going full speed, that’s when the bad habits come back. You have to slow it down and get them into positions, whether it’s knee bend or good balance, and then repeat.”
Ness said that kids today also learn differently than in his day. Many might think they are doing things correctly, but need to be shown their bad habits.
“One thing we do, in smaller groups, is film them with an iPad. A lot of kids learn by being able to see,” Ness said. “A lot of kids have never seen themselves skate, so they might say, ‘Well, I am bending my knees.’ If you film them and show them, then they see and realize, ‘Maybe I’m not.’”
No one lucks into being a good skater. It takes time and effort. For those who might be a bit behind correcting bad habits will just take a little more sweat, but improper technique needs to be recognized and corrected.
“Don’t rush. Kids can think they’re going to get better just by getting older. What really happens, you’re just an older, bigger kid who still has weak edge strength, weak balance or no knee bend,” Ness said. “When your fundamentals aren’t good, nothing else is going to matter.”