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The importance of specificity in skating development

In Coaching Hockey, Skills by Malcolm SutherlandLeave a Comment

Let’s look at two basic on-ice situations, one involving the offensive tactic of skating and the other the defensive tactic of skating.

Wait! Isn’t skating, skating?

Turns out they are quite different in both scope, modality and method.

Proper practice of the skillsets is required soon after basic stride, glide and change of direction are learned. To begin this progression I suggest the introduction, development or reinforcement of offensive tactical skating by presenting its purpose and its vital components.

They are rapid accelerations, quick decelerations and explosive or deceptive creative movements. Offensive skating is linear to invade and gain space and curved to evade and buy time. Offensive skating is performed with the puck, by definition but may also be seen performed without the puck. For example, when a teammate skates an entry path, they are not carrying the puck, driving deep to isolate or overload a defender.

Defensive tactical skating is the opposite.

Defensive skating is tactical but not creative or proactive. It is reactive. By its nature defensive skating involves matching or mirroring, following the puck carriers speed, their tempo and their pace.

It is utilized best to limit the space, time and slow up the attack. It is performed without the puck and it limits by taking away that valuable real estate. Mismatch and error occur when speed cannot be matched and controlled when the rate cannot be copied or absorbed and when speed and time cannot be taken away. Defensive skating limits and slows.

In both situations, the type of skating needed is “intelligent” and is manipulated and modulated by the performer depending on the tactic needed.

Another common and correctable error is “over-skating.”

Offensive players who over-skate have plays start and end with themselves. They skate many meters on the ice but seemingly accomplish little. These players “rag the puck” and often have a good skill package, but their Sunday skates fizzle out and kill valuable minutes. They rarely become offensive threats nor do they provide supporting options remaining in check. For these players’ changes in speed and the changes of direction must be improved.

Defensive over-skating is observed in games as risk versus reward error. They show up as poor gap control, getting caught flat-footed, in falls and by surrendering valuable ice.

Defenders must learn to skate the game and the best players learn to sync with attackers. The application of defensive skating’s inventory of skills begins with stability, balance and the ability to change direction (pivot) with agility and coordination. Agile, coordinated defensive skaters limit ice (controlling/limiting space and the attacker’s time) resulting in repeating stalemates or better yet, takeaways or turnovers.

In today’s game of rapid transition, efficiency and stability in all the skating skills are a must. As coaches do not underestimate the value of working on fundamentals and in using multiple matching situations in even and odd-man simulations, small area contests, competitive chase games, keep away and tag games. As players gain competence and experience in offensive skating and defensive skating using an efficient method significant improvements will be noted in gameplay.

About the Author

Malcolm Sutherland


Malcolm Sutherland is a coach, physical educator, sport pedagogist, and SME in sports development, sports safety and injury prevention. As an athlete and player safety expert Malcolm has developed prevention tools and a program to control serious injury in sport. He is a Chartered Professional Coach holding designation with Coaches of Canada. In hockey specifically, Malcolm is now active as a sought after development coach working internationally and nationally. Malcolm has coached at every level from professional minor leagues, varsity as well as junior and AAA levels of minor hockey. See All Posts By Malcolm


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