On Ice Power Skating
For Hockey Players!

Interview with Laura Stamm

Question: What is the importance of skating practice to hockey players - who should practice skating technique and why?

Laura Stamm: Today's hockey is all about speed. Players fly down the ice at speeds not conceived of in years past. Competitive players who aspire to play hockey at a high level must master balance, agility, and maneuverability (BAM). Recreational players inevitably find the game of hockey more fun as their skating improves.

Skating is not comprised of a series of natural motions. In fact, the opposite is true; it involves some of the most unnatural motions and maneuvers of the human body. Therefore they must first be taught correctly. Then these motions and maneuvers must be practiced correctly, consistently, and repetitively until they become ingrained and natural.

Maneuvers should first be practiced without the puck, and as they improve, with the puck.

Q: What is the importance of "skating position" to balance, power and speed?

LS: Skating is an extremely precise and intricate activity. Position is critical; any loss of it will inevitably have a negative result. "

Skating position is actually a combination of many components; these include knee bend, edges, leg drive and leg recovery, weight shift, upper body positioning and control, usage of the arms, etc. The combined correct usage of these components is critical to balance, power, and speed.

Q: Is there a right way and a wrong way to teach hockey skating?

LS: I believe that the right way of teaching is to break down each maneuver into its many motions or parts. Players should learn each part separately and perform drills to perfect each part. The parts must then be put together so that the "whole" maneuver is performed correctly.

There are several aspects of perfecting a maneuver. At first, we focus on performing the maneuver correctly, then powerfully, then quickly, and finally, all three (correctly, powerfully, quickly), with the puck and then in games and under lots of pressure.

When teaching youngsters it's important to understand that it takes several years to achieve the ultimate combination. Elite players can achieve the final combination much more quickly.

I believe that telling players to "do this" or "do that" or "follow me" doesn't work. They don't know what "this" means. They may think they're doing what you want them to do but each person's interpretation of what you want them to do may be different. Everyone learns differently; the challenge is to reach all students.

The teaching methods that I use stress understanding (at all ages). I teach by appealing to the intellectual abilities of the students, and then by incorporating all the senses - I want students to see (visualize), feel, hear, and think. I call it the FAST method - FEEL, ACT, SEE, THINK. 

Some ways of explaining things work for some people but not for others. Some visualizations work for some but not for others. Some drills work for some but not for others. Therefore we must have many different ways of explaining things and use many different drills to teach the same thing. I always try to keep this in mind. 

Q: How much skating should be done in hockey practices? When should the puck be incorporated? 

LS: I believe that skating should be included in every hockey practice; not just skating for endurance but skating for technique. Even if there's only enough time to practice one move or maneuver for a few minutes out of every hour, this is better than no time at all.

I think it's most effective to teach skating maneuvers early in the season, review them often, and have players practice them (on a rotating basis and for short periods) as the season progresses. As players get moderately adept at a particular maneuver they should then practice the maneuver with pucks. Because youngsters can get bored if they don't use pucks we often let them practice the maneuver with pucks even if they're not actually ready for it. When they "mess up" stop and point out their mistakes.

A great way of practicing skating technique in a fun manner is to have scrimmages that include "skating rules" - i.e, how many times players have to crossover (or turn, or pivot, or stride, or skate backward) before shooting or passing, etc. Because kids love to "play by the rules" they'll try to conform to them. Thus they'll improve while playing fun games.

It's interesting to note that elite and pro players often prefer to learn and practice without the puck because they can concentrate just on the skating techniques. They understand the importance of perfecting technique. They know that incorporating the puck will not be that difficult.

Q: How should coaches approach individual differences? 

LS: There are always individual differences - some because of the way people are built, what they're comfortable with, how they learn, and what works best for them. I've seen players who skate fast but do not skate the way I would teach them to skate (if I were teaching them). However, if it works for them why try to change it? I always say (this is slang), "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

Also, there is no substitute for talent! For example, people used to say that Gretzky could have been better if his posture was better. However, I never saw anyone catch him when he wanted to turn on the jets! Had I taught him from the time he was a child, I would have worked on posture but at his level, I wouldn't have tried to change his style because it worked for him.

Q: How long does it take to become a "complete" hockey skater and hockey player? How can I accomplish this?

LS: Becoming a great skater and hockey player is a long-term process. It takes years (approximately ten) to become a great skater/player, just as it takes that long to become a great pianist, dancer, tennis player, etc.

Some players think that after one or two power skating clinics they've learned all there is to know about skating. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of my students who have gone on to excel in hockey attended my clinics throughout their childhood and even into their college years. Most of my certified instructors grew up participating in my System.

Q: How can I distinguish between a good power skating clinic and a mediocre or bad one?

LS: Hockey skating techniques are based upon scientific principles. A good skating clinic must teach and adhere to these principles. Also, a good skating syllabus should be structured like a pyramid - the object being to build a strong foundation. A lot of time must be spent teaching basic fundamentals. More difficult moves and techniques are introduced as players improve.

The most effective learning entails a building block process. It takes time, patience, practice, repetition, and lots of trial and error. While fun is always important, fun with learning is what makes a good clinic. Clinics that offer a lot of gimmicks without teaching "hows" and "whys", without addressing individual differences, and without offering methods of improvement, are not.

When choosing a power skating clinic this summer, keep this in mind. Also keep in mind that while "power skating may not be the most fun part of hockey, it is the part of hockey that makes hockey more fun."

Q:How do you define a fast skater? Does "fast" mean how quickly players move their feet?

LS: Some coaches often look for players who have "quick feet" because their interpretation of speed is how quickly players move their feet. Quickness certainly is important because hockey is a sprint sport. But fast feet alone do not necessarily result in speed.

Speed is a measure of distance traveled in time (miles per hour or feet per second). Each time players move their feet (stride), they should cover significant distances. Moving the feet fast with improper and incomplete leg drive may look fast, but in studying the distances traveled per stride it becomes obvious that these

Fast efficiency is our goal. Some NHL players who exemplify fast efficiency are Doug Brown (former star with Detroit Red Wings), Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano, Chris Drury, Paul Kariya, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Scott Young, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic, Niklas Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg, Martin St-Louis, Teemu Selanne, Scott and Rob Niedermayer.

Scott Niedermayer won the speed competition in the 2004 NHL All-Star Skills Competition. TV commentators noted they were amazed because his legs hardly seemed to be moving. This is fast efficiency! Scott Niedermayer is one of my NHL graduates; he's a shining example of my Power Skating System.

by Laura Stamm