June 5, 2018
Players who want to improve their skating usually try power skating or off-ice training. Unfortunately, both of these have upper limits. Sadly, players who pursue either of these methods will never reach their potential because they ignore the principles of Downhill Skating.
Downhill Skating uses mass displacement, the rocker of the skate blade, and the body’s inner spring to skate effortlessly – as if you’re skating downhill.
While you can get faster with power skating and off-ice training, you’ll never catch the Downhill Skaters. You cannot power your way to Downhill Skating. You can only learn the principles of Downhill Skating.
When you’ve learned those principles, power and strength can give you a boost. But in most cases, strength training or power skating before you learn the principles of Downhill Skating is like strapping a Ferrari engine onto a golf cart.
A horse will never beat a modern car in a race. Better breeding doesn’t work. Better food doesn’t work either. The reason: Mechanical Advantage.
For the same reason, you cannot beat a Downhill Skater with more force or more power. McDavid and Dahlin both placed dead middle of their NHL combine testing. But both are elite skaters.
We started by researching the movements of top NHLers in game situations. Using my background as a kinesiologist and pro hockey player, we were able to isolate about 35 key mechanics that elite NHL players use consistently. What was surprising was that these mechanics were not taught in a systematic way with typical skating instruction.
Before I explain how we teach the system from mechanic to game implementation, let’s examine how most skating is taught.
- Power Skating
- Apparatus Instructors
Let me start by saying that I’m not against Power Skating. There are many aspects of power skating that are good. And every power skating instructor is different. Here I provide a critique based on my limited experience with Power Skating.
Power skating instructors usually teach based on what they can see and what looks rights.
This is entirely reasonable. But has some problems.
First, teaching based on what looks right ignores how the player feels. The Downhill Skating System uses the Feel Your Body Learning System, and our “Source Code Drills” are designed to force feel.
Second, what looks right isn’t always what is applied in game. Forward arm swing, deep knee bend, “joint stacking”, and plant under the center of gravity all “look good” – but we don’t see that in a game.
Drills are great! Except for one problem. Without instruction, each player will complete the drill a different way.
Some will use the correct mechanics. Some won’t. Without feedback, some players will improve. And others don’t.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of the “get better by lottery” approach to skill development. So while drills help some players, they don’t help all players.
Apparently, Darryl Belfry doesn’t like “Apparatus Instructors”. I admit to taking shots at “them” too. Darryl’s reason is a good one:
I’ve never seen an apparatus give detailed technical feedback. -Darryl Belfry
That’s probably a fair assessment.
Similar to drills, you can throw 100,000 players through an apparatus course – and one will end up being McDavid. That’s called probability. Not skill development
The Downhill Skating System
The Downhill Skating System isn’t perfect. But it does beat Power Skating in the training to transfer dimension, and effortless component. It beats drills because it is mechanics focused instead of pattern focused. And it beats apparatus instructing because you get detailed technical feedback. Specifically, a comparison to elite NHLer movement.
We started by researching top skating NHLers. We looked at what skating patterns they used in different situations to achieve results.
We looked for patterns that appeared again and again – and that provided consistent results. Then we broke those patterns into specific mechanics. We gave those Mechanics names to make them easier to learn.
To be clear, we didn’t invent the movements. We don’t consider ourselves the only ones who can teach the movements. But we do give them names for clarity and instruction purposes. And we have tested them for in-game reliability. If our words to describe movements catch on, that’s an intended (but good for us) side effect.
How We Teach The Downhill Skating System
The end goal is to see the mechanics and patterns that we researched transfer to a game setting. Our way of getting there is straightforward and leverages the latest science in motor learning and decision making.
To understand how the Downhill Skating System Learning Engine works, it’s useful to consider how unsuccessful learning works occurs:
- Spray and Pray
- Thinking Coaching
Spray and Pray
In the spray and pray approach, coaches throw a bunch of drills and movements at players. They have different levels of in-game applicability. And the coach just hopes that some of the drills and movements show up in a game. It usually doesn’t work that way…
In the “Thinking Coaching”, the coach tells the players about the 14 different key steps they need to master on every step. According to the “Thinking Coach”, there are 10 ways of doing quick starts. And you’ve gotta master all of them.
Hockey is the fastest game on earth. Zero (and I mean zero) in-game decisions can be made with “thinking”. All decisions need to be subconscious, automatic and instinctual. A player who has declarative knowledge of a movement (word-thinking), but not procedural (automatic – instinctual – feel based) is useless in a game.
The Downhill Skating System Learning Engine
We start by isolating the key Mechanics. We use an 80/20 approach to select the easiest to learn and highest impact mechanics. The 20% that give 80% of the results.
From there, we create a flow. A repetitive drill of the same mechanic that is linked together.
Next, we blend different mechanics together. We call this a skill blend or pattern. We use different mechanics in different orders. But we generally link mechanics together that we see in a game together. For example: Corkscrew > Hip Scissor > Anchor: As see on Dangle by Design.
We start without a puck and aim to make a 1% improvement. Then we add a puck and aim to make a 1% improvement. We never aim for perfection. We aim for progress. (Consider the impact of perfect vs progress. If we aim for perfection, the player and coach are disappointed 99% of the time. In the progress model, coach and player are positive 99% of the time. When you consider the compound effect of 1% improvements, we see great results over time).
Next up is our “Natural Instinct Training”. We call it Reactive-Option Training.
We start by giving players the option to do whatever skills they want. They don’t have to react to anything – they just get used to choosing different movement options with the mechanics they’re in the process of mastery.
Then we remove the different movement options and get players to react to another player. For example, a stick swing initiates a cutback. But the movement is pre-planned. So there’s no option. No choice. Just perception and reaction.
The last step is to add reaction and options. We use unstructured games like different versions of keep-away, British Bulldog, 1on1on1, and other small area games. In this step, even if the mechanic doesn’t show up naturally, we don’t care. We consider the player’s brain and nervous system to be self-organizing. When the mechanic is programmed in the right way, it will self-select in the right situation.
All Reactive-Option training is designed to be “Feel Based” instead of “Think Based”. Coaches shouldn’t even mention mechanics. Instead, allow a player to trust their natural instinct and feel. All encouragement is towards getting a player to trust their body and “let go” of the need for conscious control. That mindset is what will bring forth the fastest learning and quickest self-organization.
If you’d like to learn more about the Downhill Skating System, you might want to check out:
- What the edge rollover is and how does it improve your skating smoothness
- How to skate faster without skating faster in a straight line
- How McDavid can skate faster
- How to skate (start) like Nathan MacKinnon
- How to change direction faster in hockey
- How elite shooting is elite skating
- Getting Deep into Dahlin
- The Physics of Downhill Skating
If you’d like help implementing the system, I created a video course called the Downhill Skating System. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thanks for reading today!