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Building Better Skaters with Barry Karn

By USAHockey.com, 02/11/15, 11:30AM MST

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Barry Karn knows skating. He’s been teaching it for more than 30 years.

His résumé includes helping players of all ages and levels, from mites to the NHL. USA Hockey caught up with Karn to discuss player development and why skating is such a crucial – and sometimes overlooked – component.

USA Hockey: What are some of the essentials when it comes to developing skating skills in young hockey players?

Barry Karn: The biggest difference between college players and pro players, and college and below, is the power-to-weight ratio. For instance a pro hockey player, someone like Zach Parise, from a standing jump, can jump up and land on the top of a net. That’s a huge power-to-weight ratio. For Zach to be standing on his skates and achieve a good, strong knee bend, it’s no problem at all. With young kids, it’s like one in 10,000 kids has the power-to-weight ratio to bend their knees as much as they could. Coaches are always saying, “bend your knees, bend your knees, bend your knees.” But ultimately, they can’t do it for a full shift.

What happens then, when kids are young and they can’t bend their knees enough, is posture-wise, they start to roll their back forward. They start to pitch forward over at the hips. What they’ve done is positioned themselves biomechanically in a weak position. That’s really probably one of the biggest things we have to change, to get kids balanced over their skates and be in a good, strong posture position. We work on that neuro-muscular pattern of being in a good posture position on a regular basis, not expecting them to stay there for more than a few seconds, but you still build that pattern.

USA Hockey: Are there any other age-specific differences with younger kids? For instance, between 8U and 10U or 12U and 14U?

Karn: Again, it has more to do with the power-to-weight ratio as opposed to age. There’s always that mental discipline as to how they learn. But it has more to do with physical development and the power-to-weight ratio than it does age.

For instance, we have kids come in the summer doing iso-holds, working in slow motion or quickly, with power or no power; we do all kinds of progressions. They get done and see our NHL guys come out and realize those guys are doing exactly the same thing. There’s just a power and speed difference.

USA Hockey: How important is it for coaches to emphasize skating at every practice?

Karn: It’s very important. It’s how you get from Point A to Point B in the game. You can work on systems all day long but if you’re not fast enough to execute that system against another team, it really doesn’t make a difference.  

USA Hockey: How do you develop well-conditioned skaters with good form?

Karn: One of the things that I think should happen with young kids, and coaches should realize this, is that the anaerobic conditioning is how a hockey player trains. We want this high aerobic volume, but you can develop that with anaerobic training, like in sprint intervals. That’s going to develop a huge aerobic level because your heart is pumping so much harder, it has to process oxygen at a much higher rate.

But when you work on form, keep the drills extremely short. You’ll get much more output from it. If you’re doing a five-second drill, and you can see at 15 seconds they’re legs starting to come up because they can’t handle the depth or their back is starting to pitch over, that drill is way too long. And sometimes you need longer rest periods. They’re just fatigued and you’re actually slowing your team down.

USA Hockey: How important is strength training?

Karn: It’s absolutely mandatory. Hockey is a man-made sport now. Obviously the best athletes are still going to rise to the top. But I’ve seen world-class stick handlers just not make it because of that lack of discipline and consistency off the ice. They’re not able to build that power-to-weight ratio to be able to play at those higher, elite levels. It’s bleeding down all the way into high school. So it’s very important. It’s an essential ingredient.

USA Hockey: Finally, and maybe most importantly, how do you make skating fun for kids?

Karn: The power skating coach is like the dentist. Nobody wants to go to the dentist. I learned really young that I need to keep kids laughing. We make all kinds of jokes. We try to get them out of that anxiety of making mistakes. So we have a lot of jokes. We have lots of fun. That’s really the key to it all.

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