Hockey has become a much faster sport. The changes to the rules in the NHL have trickled down to the youth ranks. In today’s era of the sport, if you don’t know how to be an efficient and effective skater, you will not make it to the highest level of play. In skating, there are two key components which I believe are often overlooked in the development of the youth player; crossovers and stops & starts.
Let’s start with crossovers. In my opinion they are the greatest skill a player can possess. They are the move that generates speed and power. They are what separates a player from an opponent and they are what allow a player to get up the ice faster. They rely on sound technique along with balance, control and comfort on your edges.
I see kids too often, skating both backwards and forwards perform a crossover just to do it. It is similar to someone giving a speech and saying ‘uh’. I have seen players of all ages skating down the boards in a straight line on a rush when all of the sudden they cross their feet over. Everyone knows the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line so how come we are letting our players do this?
Another thing I have noticed is that when a crossover is warranted; driving around a defender and to the net, coming around the net and leading the rush out of your zone to name a few, is that the player does not perform the crossovers with authority. They don’t open the gap between them and their opponent. Again, it’s like it is just ‘another stride.’ This mentality needs to be changed.
Coaches need to understand the importance of a crossover and how to properly teach them. We need to start getting technical with the youth players and explain to them why they are doing a crossover. As coaches it is easy to explain and teach the mechanics of a pass or a shot and its obvious why we perform these skills, however, with crossovers are often overlooked. Whether it be the coach’s lack of knowledge on them or the thought that they are not as important a skill are beyond me.
You always hear coaches tell players to ‘stop and start’. Is this just something they are saying or are they actually working on it with their players? Transition movements such as pivots and open-ups are crucial to a player’s skating ability, but when these are not useful, the player has to understand the benefit of stopping on a dime and accelerating out of this stop.
Everyone has seen it. The play is moving up the ice and the player with the puck gets the puck knocked off his stick. Instead of quickly stopping, adjusting his body and accelerating towards the now loose puck, he make a big turn and the defender beats him to the puck. Now he is trying to get back up to full speed as he has now become a back-checker.
Maybe it is more video review we need, maybe we need to incorporate more stops and starts during training sessions. Whatever the case, we need to find a way for our youth players to become more confident in their stops and starts so that they use them and perform them correctly without hesitation.
If we can improve each player’s crossovers and stops & starts, we will greatly improve their overall hockey skill and give them a better chance at success. It’s time to get away from the X’s and O’s and really concentrate on what is best for our youth players.