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Improving the Most Important Skill

By Kelly Erickson, 02/11/15, 10:45AM MST

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As the game gets faster, coaches need to develop skaters who can match the pace.

Building speed involves two components, according to Carrie Kiel, the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s skating coach: straight-line, down-the-ice speed and explosiveness in small spaces.

When it comes to developing either of these components in young athletes, the first step is emphasizing proper form.

“It’s paramount, it’s critical, it’s your foundation,” Keil said. “If you don’t have the correct biomechanics to begin with, you’re going to max out at a certain level, a certain speed or a certain age, and you’ll never progress any further. It’s the No. 1 thing.”

Focus on Form

For younger players, in 8U and 10U programs particularly, focusing on proper form should be the emphasis in skating drills, according to Keil and Bret Hedican, former NHL defenseman, U.S. Olympian and current color analyst for the San Jose Sharks Radio Network.

These younger athletes aren’t developed enough for intense strength training, so focusing on form will set a strong foundation for when they’re older and able to add strength training that will help with speed.

Hedican emphasizes skating in the hockey-ready position, concentrating on getting a deep bend in the knee and good hip flexion. He recommends having skaters focus on using their edges and holding a full C-cut. The responsibility of focusing on this form also rests with the coaches and parents, to help the athletes truly understand its importance.

“It should be important to watch every kid, to make them detailed,” Hedican said. “It’s not about rushing down, it’s about execution. I think we as coaches and sometimes as parents, we allow them to go down there and not do it right. My advice to a coach is that details matter in everything you do, particularly with skating.”

Building Strength and Speed

At the 12U and 14U levels, strength training can help make the body stronger and faster, and players should begin focusing on specific training to develop speed. Dryland training, according to both Keil and Hedican, is extremely useful at these ages.

With so many other things to focus on in limited time on the ice, dryland training is an extremely effective tool for developing speed. Interval training is the No. 1 way to train for speed, according to Keil. But doing wall sits with proper alignment and hamstring exercises to develop balanced and strong muscles will also help build power.

Hedican advises holding a lunge position for all ages. With the forward leg at a 90-degree bend while attempting to straighten the back leg as much as possible, the lunge imitates a skating position. The point is to get kids to hold this for what would be a shift on the ice, to help them learn how to stride properly and have the strength to skate well for an entire shift.

The Ultimate Trick to Better Skating

In on-ice drills for the older athletes, Keil suggests revisiting basic drills, particularly as athletes are growing into new bodies, but to also introduce those same principles into other drills like a crossover drill or a transitioning drill, presenting the basics in more detailed and complex ways.

While all of these points are important, they must also be fun.

“That is the ultimate trick,” Keil said. “I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and there aren’t too many kids who are happy about power skating. It’s not something they elect to do. So what you need to do is present this work to them in a game format or a competitive format … things kids think are fun.”

Keil suggests making drills into contests, especially for younger kids. Have them count how many repetitions they can do of a certain drill before they fall or make it a race.

“They don’t even know they’re working on something,” Keil said. “They think they’re having a contest; they’re having fun.”

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