Learning to Skate … Off the Ice
Posted by Dean Holden at December 29th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 4 December 2014
Repeat good skating habits off-ice, and they will stay with you for a lifetime.
Helping beginning skaters learn the feeling of an efficient stride is about as complicated as playing a simple game like Follow the Leader. I watched a Russian coach do it … off-ice.
In a fun, highly disorganized dryland game, the leader would do a deep squat and the little Mites (or Squirts; I can’t tell the difference) who had skated only one day in their life, tried to follow, matching his body posture and knee bend. Then the leader did a 45-degree lunge to the left – long and wide, chest up. They followed. Lunge to the right at 45 degrees, and again they followed, laughing and having a great time.
The next day was their second day of skating. The pack of 50 beginners walked on skates at a snail’s pace around the rink, following the leader. He did a lunge, they did a lunge, and of course most of them slipped and fell. But some did a lunge.
Off-ice training for 10-15 minutes followed the hour on ice. Deep squats, lunges and squat jumps were the order of the day, but now most of the beginners were feeling more comfortable in these new positions. They enjoyed every second of it, and the leader had as much fun as the kids. Maybe that’s why everyone improved so fast.
Back on the ice the next day for more Follow the Leader, and many more could actually follow. Our Olympic team had to leave town, so the Leader (their word for coach) promised to send a video. It came six weeks later, and trust me, they looked like they had skated for years.
Of course, there is much more to skating than striding forward. There is stopping, turning, skating backwards, extreme edge stability, dynamic balance, unpredictable changes and more. But for every new skating lesson, there were dryland rehearsals first. The challenges of an unfamiliar range of motion – mostly knee bend that a child would not experience every day – were repeated over and over.
Long-Term Athlete Development models (LTADs) make a point that STRENGTH training can wait until much later, but that would be true only if your vision of strength training is limited to a barbell and heavy weights. At every age, strength gains have more to do with the way the nervous system recruits and coordinates muscles, not the increases in muscle mass of bodybuilders.
On TV we see massive legs and arms of college and professional football players. However, the expressions of their strength – like speed and agility – are much more a function of the nervous system than the size of the muscles.
This is certainly true (almost exclusively) at the ages when children are learning to skate. Expanding one’s comfort zone to include deep knee bend on one leg is correctly called ‘strength,’ even if it is mostly confidence. Jumping high from a squat position and landing quietly with bent knees is called ‘strength,’ and it should not wait for a high school weight room.
Both the expanded range of motion and explosive jumps are important in learning good habits – not repeating bad ones – during the early stages of skating development.