By Scott Dutertre, IHA Skills Coach
A common question I get from minor hockey coaches is “How do I get players to take full strides?” When players first learn to skate, they have a tendency to take short, quick strides to maintain balance. The frequency gets them down the ice, but makes the player inefficient. They empty their gas tank moving their feet 100 miles an hour trying to catch up and stay in the play. Thankfully, there is an easy fix. In four easy steps, players can increase their stride length helping them to move faster down the ice. This is a great progression for players learning to skate and also for players in the middle of a growth spurt.
Step One – Balance
In order to be a more efficient skater we must have good balance. Gliding on one foot with the knee bent and chest up in a hockey stance down the ice improves balance and recovery from each stride. Common errors when executing a one-foot glide include standing straight up or bending too far forward. We want to center our chest over our knee and then over our skate.
Step Two – Supported Stride
In a hockey stance, push with one leg, gliding straight ahead on the other one. When we stride, we want to push the skate out to the side. The stride should be on approximately a 45° angle. The skate should extend out the side and raise parallel to the ice. It is very important that the player fully extends the stride without curling the foot or kicking the skate up in the air behind them. If you notice that the skate pops up in the air it usually means that the player is bending too far over. If the foot curls at the end of each stride, it means the player is not fully extending.
Step Three – Same Leg Unsupported Strides
This is where we start to combine Steps One and Two. Gliding on one foot, the player pushes the stride out and to the side, fully extending the striding leg. As the stride leg extends, the second leg glides underneath to maintain balance. Once the stride leg has returned underneath the body, the glide leg is lifted and the balance is put back solely on the stride leg, which is isolated and extended again. *Make sure the player loads the opposite arm back and drives it forward on each leg stride.
Step Four – Combination of Legs
Players now alternate legs without pausing. Striding in “slow motion” the players get into a rhythm of extending the stride followed by a return underneath the body. Arms and legs should work in a fluid motion.
You’ll notice that the player’s stride will start to look longer and more efficient. Gradually start picking up speed focusing on the extension. As players speed up, their skates will start to recover wider than the midpoint of their body. To travel at high speed the recover widens. Otherwise, we take too long returning the recovery leg and then extending it. However, we want to make sure that the knees still return underneath our body so we do not stride too wide or “widetrack”.