Interestingly one of the first things that Grant Clafton, USA Hockey Associate Coach-In-Chief for Minnesota District 12 Hockey says in the article ‘Fundamentals of Great Defenseman’ is that being a good defenseman starts with the basics. He says the first basic skill needed is to skate.
When you watch good defenseman on the ice, they are exceptionally light on their skates. That’s a strange term when you come to think of it, because there is only a very thin slither of blade that is touching the ice at any point in time. Yet when you watch those active and great defensemen, they dance on the ice as if their skates hardly need to touch it at all. At times there appears to be only the smallest amount of blade contacting the ice.
Skate or Fall
Learning to skate, in any form, whether that’s ice skating or roller skating, the one thing that is necessary is no fear. When your mind is only concerned about falling down, and that’s what I mean about fear, then that’s all you will think about and your whole body will tense.
And in tensing your body the likelihood of you falling is greater.
That’s the exact opposite of what’s needed to be a great skater. Great skaters have bodies that move freely and are agile. They are confident in their ability to be on their skates and move up and down the ice.
Their mind is free of anything telling them they can't skate and move freely on the ice.
It is interesting watching incredibly young children because most of them have extraordinarily little fear. They don’t know what fear is until adults teach them about it. Words like “Be careful”, “Don’t fall”, “Not so fast”, whilst seemingly caring have the opposite effect.
Children learn to think there is danger. And as soon as that happens, they are constantly looking out for it, unconsciously perhaps, which doesn’t allow them the freedom to just skate, knowing that everything will be fine.
In a way those words take away the child’s own trust in themselves to keep themselves upright and moving.
So, whilst YOU might be scared that they will fall down, don’t pass that fear onto your child. That is YOUR fear, not theirs. Let them take their fearlessness onto the ice.
Learning Difficult Maneuvers
In the article Clafton talks about your defenseman learning to do a ‘Mohawk turn’ and keeping their heals together. Like learning any new skill this is going to be something that will take time, and lots or practice.
When we look at the very talented NHL players and see them effortlessly make these turns and skate in such a way that everyone watching is going “Oooohhhh Ahhhhh, how does he do that?” because it all seems so effortless and they are so fast at it, we don’t stop to think about the 10,000 or more hours of practice that might have happened for them to skate that way.
Yes, your read that right.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ he talks about the fact that it takes approximately 10,000 hours for someone to become a master at something. 10,000 hours. That’s a lot of time skating on an ice rink.
So, next time your young hockey player is out there practicing on the ice, watch them in awe. Praise them for the time they spent practicing something they want to master. Remind them that it takes an awful lot of hours or hard work and dedication to be really good at it, like Sidney Crosby or Cale Makar.
Yes, puck handling and being in the right place on the ice are important too, and if your young defenseman is able to effortlessly skate and turn and move freely on the ice that will be an amazing starting point for their future in hockey.
Having trouble with the mental side of the game of hockey? Karen Cherrett, Mental Skills Coach can help with that. She coaches players to understand how their thoughts impact their game; Parents how to support their child's mental wellness; and Coaches to understand mental skills management for their players.