Since the first 6 weeks of the Wells Hockey Clinic are dedicated to skating, I thought I’d touch on a couple topics that are very important to successful skating skill development.
As infants, we begin walking by first learning how to stand and with the aid of chairs, sofas, or our parents to hold on to, we gradually develop enough balance/confidence to eventually let go. Sure, we fall, but we eventually learn to walk. Many skaters start out the same way: they step on the ice and hold onto the wall as they make their way around the ice. Eventually we venture out into open ice and fall a few times (or a few hundred times) before learning to move.
I would say roughly 50% of all Clinic participants have one major problem with skating even before they step on the ice; actually, even before they put on their skates: in bare feet, they are unable to stand on one leg for longer than a few seconds. Without this basic balancing action, the thought of having to balance on 1/8” piece of sharpened steel ON ICE is nearly impossible.
The first step in skating is gliding; simply getting some forward momentum and settling the feet, allowing both skate blades to do their job and glide across the ice with no help from the skater’s muscles. The balance to perform this action is slightly unnatural, as there are very few places in life where this motion occurs. We’re used to walking or running to move forward, so there is the natural inclination to keep the feet moving at all times. On ice, getting used to the motion of gliding is the key to successful skating.
The second step is the stride. This is where the one-foot balance comes into play. I know many experienced skaters whose stride still resembles stomping on a bug: the initial push is long and efficient, but the re-planting of the push foot is forceful and jarring (and thus, very inefficient). Having the balance to stand on one leg and the control to put the other leg back down slowly and lightly is a skill that is necessary for a good stride. Otherwise, the forceful planting of the lifted foot will in-turn throw off the timing of the stride and slow the skater down dramatically.
So give it a try this off season. When you’re watching TV, cooking, hanging out with friends or waiting in line at the store, stand on one leg and balance yourself there (you don’t have to look like a flamingo… an inch or two off the ground is fine). When you’re ready to put your foot back down, do it gradually and lightly. You’ll be surprised how much this balance transfers to the ice.
And if you think you’re already a good skater and don’t need help with your skating, just remember: the professionals focus more on their skating than any other aspect of their game. Just ask Brooks Laich, professional hockey player for the Washington Capitals.