She said that this drill gets players much lower than they would actually need when skating, but coaches need some overkill when introducing the idea of knee bend.
“If you only get them bending a little bit, they’re going to bend even less when they are skating,” Keil said. “If you can get them to bend maximally, then they’ll bend adequately when they’re actually skating.”
Additionally, bending into a full squat is something players can do for dryland that can be part of their pre-practice warmup. Getting players engaged in a friendly competition is also a way Keil keeps the curriculum fresh for young students.
“Getting them to squat down and have a friendly competition to see who can hold it the longest,” she said. “Have them counting because kids love to count. That keeps kids engaged and then they think it’s fun.”
Progressing to tougher drills
After players can get into a full squat, they can move onto more complicated coursework. A good drill is the Russian Knee Drill: tap one knee down on the ice and then alternate back and forth between knees. The players should stay low and alternate the knees touching the ice by scissoring and without standing all the way up. It can be done both forward and backward.
“It’s a progression because you’re activating the core to balance, especially when you switch your legs,” Keil said. “Most players will drop their heads and chest, but with the Russian Knee Drill, you’re engaging the core, which has implications on balance, be it making a check, receiving a check. When they’re older they need to be able to engage their core. If it’s something they’ve been doing since they are 5 or 6 it becomes an innate concept and something they already can do.”
There are a lot of progressions – going all the way up to the Shoot the Duck Drill where you try to get all the way down on one leg with the other leg sticking straight out in front of you. Additionally, jumping drills, over sticks or black barriers found at many rinks in the U.S.
“When you jump, the only way to jump is to bend your knees and then use your explosive motor patterns to spring up off the ice and then you also need to land in a deep knee position to maintain your balance,” Keil said “If you land on straight legs, you’re going to bend at the waist and fall.”
Correcting bad habits through visualization
It’s nearly impossible to teach skating through verbal instruction and pretty much impossible to break bad habits through lecture. Skating is all about visual learning.
For years, Keil has taught mechanics on a skating treadmill in front of a full-length mirror.
“It has been nothing short of remarkable what can be accomplished when players can see themselves. We’re visual learners and I’m finding I can correct a player in one to three months on the treadmill, what used to take me a year or two on the ice,” Keil said.
There’s some negativity out there about skating treadmills because some players’ experience has been with someone who doesn’t teach form and technique and, “just use it as a conditioning tool where they crank up the speed and elevation,” she said.
“You see it in the mirror, you get results very quickly,” Keil continued. “There are ways to fix their posture. There are visual clues that they can see that one leg isn’t recovering or one leg isn’t striding fully out.”
And if you don’t have access to a skating treadmill, Keil suggests using the available technology in our pockets to correct skating habits.
“If you’re going to work with a couple kids at a time, I’d suggest videoing them and being able to show them what it is you’re trying to get them to change,” Keil said. “Auditory commands for kids are just another adult going, ‘Blah, blah, blah.’”