Back to the Basics is NHL.com's multi-part series focusing on youth hockey skill development. During the coming months, NHL.com will feature a slate of guest coaches who will share their expertise on skill development.
Power skating may be a staple phrase in the vernacular of hockey coaches and players today, but just 40 years ago it was nothing more than a list of drills -- until long-time figure skating coach Laura Stamm took matters into her own hands.
After observing hockey for years, Stamm began to develop her own system of skating technique for hockey players to increase their movement efficiency, and the Laura Stamm International Power Skating System was born.
Drag your toes, touch your heels
After pushing off, fully extend your pushing (left) leg and drag the first two or three inches of the push-leg's inside edge (called the toe) on the ice for about two seconds. In order to drag the inside edge of the toe, your push leg and skate must be turned outward. If they are turned straight downward, you will be dragging the "tippy toe" of the skate, with the leg now in a walking-running position (a "no-no" for skating).
After dragging the toe, drag the heel of the returning skate back under your body until that heel (left) touches the heel of the gliding (right) skate. When they touch, your feet should be in a V position (heels touching, toes apart). If your knees are well-bent, the shape between your thighs, knees and ankles should form a diamond shape. I call this recovery position the V-diamond position.
Repeat, now pushing the right leg to full extension. When the right leg reaches full extension, drag the toe of that skate (in the turned-out position) for two seconds. Now drag that heel back to touch the heel of the gliding (left) skate. When your heels touch, your heels should be in the V position and your legs should be in the diamond position (the V-Diamond position).
The purpose of dragging the toes and touching the heels is to enable players to feel the difference between correct and incorrect execution. It's much easier to feel the difference with the skates on the ice than when the skates are off the ice.
Repeat this drill until you can feel each motion and can distinguish between correct and incorrect execution at every point of the forward stride. Now try using the exact same technique while skating at half speed. The only differences are:
1. Do not drag the toe on the ice. At the finish of each push, lift the skate about half-inch off the ice.
2. When bringing the skate back under your body, keep it (the skate) close to (about a half-inch) off the ice.
3. When bringing the recovering heel back to the gliding heel, they should end up being about a half-inch apart.
4. Try skating faster and faster, always trying to skate with this same (proper) technique.
Reprinted from Laura Stamm International Power Skating System, Internet Tip. Used with permission.
Since 1971, Stamm not only has tutored thousands of hockey players at every skill level, including numerous NHL players, but she is responsible for introducing an approach to skating that has been incorporated into skating programs around the globe. The five-time USA Hockey Hall of Fame nominee is the veritable expert on power skating.
The philosophy behind Stamm's approach to teaching power skating is a paradox. Ultimately it’s about speed, but it’s as much about slowing things down -- even to a standstill -- to get to that speed. According to Stamm, coaches should do everything possible to enhance a player's speed, but it's essential for that approach to be long-term. Power skating can't be learned in a weekend clinic or in a single season; it takes a career to truly master the techniques that produce a faster skater.
"I don't believe in just teaching people to go fast," Stamm told NHL.com. "They have to go efficiently fast so that they're not just churning their legs around and trying to move fast. Technique to me is really critical because first you have to learn the technique and then you have to learn to do it faster."
Stamm's approach to power skating is unique in that she incorporates all five senses in her teaching methods in order to accommodate every kind of learner. People learn in all different ways, from hearing instructions to seeing demonstrations it to trying it themselves. This is why Stamm invented a method she calls FAST (feel, act, see and think). For example, when Stamm is teaching a basic C-cut (a term she invented in 1971), she begins by telling the skater what the movement looks like and then she shows them how it makes a C. She then has the skater visualize the movement by drawing a C in the air with his or her arm before attempting to make the cut.
"I'll have them take their hands and write a fully extended letter C with their arms in the air and then say OK, now do it with your legs and then I teach them how to feel what they're doing. Not just do it, but try to feel what [the movement] feels like."
When it comes to actually teaching technique, Stamm prescribes a six-step method for whatever movement is being taught because skating moves are not natural to the human body. Stamm's method is centered on repetition of the movement to allow players to focus on the many parts that each maneuver consists of.
Drills should be designed to practice specific maneuvers with this method in mind:
2. Correctly and powerfully
3. Correctly, powerfully and quickly
4. Correctly, powerfully, quickly and with the puck
5. Correctly and under pressure in game situations
6. At the end each practice, players should be allowed to skate fast and have fun without worrying about correct technique.
Stamm suggests that coaches begin each practice with at least 10 minutes of power skating, with emphasis on a specific technique or maneuver, before moving to puck work in order to help skaters develop correct form.
"There's so many maneuvers," Stamm said. "You can't just say, 'OK, bend your knees and everything else is going to be right.' You have to push properly, you have to glide properly, everything that you have to do in hockey skating, there’s so many maneuvers … you have to teach how do you actually do it, how do you accomplish each maneuver. It takes a huge amount of time over years and years and years."
It starts with individual drills created to help players break down skating into smaller parts. Each maneuver can be broken down and then practiced to help players maximize efficiency of movement. Stamm's favorite drill, "Touch-Drag," is an example of how this can be done.
"Touch-Drag teaches the forward stride and it incorporates all the aspects that we're talking about in incorporating the FAST method,” Stamm said. "In terms of execution, every maneuver is different. The principles don't change, but the actual executions do."
This drill is just one example of how to teach power skating in a way that skaters can remember and can practice over and over by breaking down each movement and doing it correctly before going back to full speed. Stamm's book, "Laura Stamm's Power Skating -- 4th Edition," offers 272 pages of techniques that can be applied on the ice.
"Technique, to me, is really critical, because first you have to learn the technique and then you have to learn to do it faster," she said. "It’s a long-term process. You look at Scott Niedermayer [a former student] and it looks like his legs are never even moving. He just cruises around -- and look how fast he was. That's the kind of skater I like to try and make somebody become."