Welcome to the beginning of the year. The time of year when everything is new and exciting. I would like to hopefully give some tips and ideas when running a skating practice. I realize that in-season most practices revolve around structure and tactics (breakouts, forecheck, power play) but hopefully coaches can make time for skating.
When looking at designing a skating practice there are many things to consider. The first thing that would come to mind is making an effective plan. Trying to figure out what you want to teach and in what order is critical in running an effective skating practice. The key is always and always has been the execution of a plan.
When starting a skating plan, I will always start with either a review or a balance and edge warm-up. Knowing your skater’s ability will determine how difficult you can make your warm-up. Pace and tempo are key to a warm-up. Even if the warm-up is not an all-out sprint, the warm-up should be done with a low center of gravity (knee bend), as well as making sure the skater is getting a run to their skates or getting a good glide. This is the time in the skate when you will really get a sweat as well as a good leg burn but still not done to all out exhaustion. After all, it is a warm-up. Again, know your audience. My pros may go as long as 30 minutes, but a squirt group may go around 15 minutes.
Once you have your skaters warmed up, I will then teach our first skill of the day. This will be a good to take some time to really explain what you’re doing as most of your students will be recovering from the warm-up. Knowing your window is critical. If I am doing crossovers with pros, we can go over and over the same skill to repeat good muscle memory. If I am working with mites, you may only get a small window in which you can get the most out of their attention span. Once you start going too long, you are getting to the point of diminishing returns. This means even though your intention is good, your 7-year-old may be mentally checked out. This is a key time for a practice at any age. Once you feel the practice slowing down it is a great time to add about three or four over-speed drills into the mix. Getting them now moving at full speed and out of their comfort zone is critical. They should be fully rested and ready for these explosive drills. A good rule of thumb is that if you ever feel the practice moving too slow, pick up the pace as well as once kids get too tired not to be afraid to slow it down and teach a little more.
The end of our practice I will always end with overload. Overload is basically another term for technique skating. For this, you can add a weight vest for the older skaters. Focusing on knee bend, pushing out, core and edge control are all key when being tired at the end of a practice.
Making sure kids are engaged into the practice is critical and the amount of time spent on different skills will vary from age to age and group to group. Getting them to understand the purpose for each skill will help them connect the dots. Showing pictures and taking video is also a great way to keep kids engaged. The true key to running an effective skating practice takes some experience to find out what works and doesn’t work. The great part is for the coaches to have the understanding of always trying to get better and make their practices better.
Andy Ness is the head skating and skill coach for the Minnesota Wild. He has also been an assistant skating instructor for the New Jersey Devils, the University of Minnesota men’s and women’s hockey teams and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team.