Wendy Marco is a two-time International Hockey Skating Symposium speaker, USA Hockey CEP Level 4 Presenter and a professional hockey skating coach in Washington, D.C. Her instructional DVD, “Breaking Out of the Ice Age,” and other skating tools can be found at www.ColdRushHockey.com.

Key To Speedy Forward-Backward Transitions In The Elbow

The control mechanism over transitioning from forward skating to skating backward and backward to forward has a name: counter rotation.  Most hockey players have never heard of counter rotation, and during games most are pulled off course when they transition without even realizing it. 

When players are pulled off their intended line of travel the transition costs the player unnecessary space -- sometimes a lot of space – and more important, it comes with a price tag that no team can afford: the loss of an opportunity to gain control of the puck.  Cha-ching! 
While skaters usually have no idea that they are using extra, unnecessary space and time on transitions, coaches seem to at least be able to recognize when a player can’t turn well or that an otherwise effective defenseman transitions slowly from skating backward to forward and vice versa. But I’ve yet to meet a coach who knows why. 

The problem is plain and simple: The players block themselves. It’s not entirely their fault. After all, hockey players were taught for many years to “lead with the hips.” The school of thought was that starting the turn with the hips would force the player to turn the whole body at once, resulting in a more stable transition. The problem is, leading with the hips is a blocky and slow transition. It relies on a lot of energy and momentum to initiate the transition and an external influence to stop it once it has begun.

Players who turn their body as a single unit use too much space and time, primarily because they have no control over where that turn sends their body. In other words, the hip-lead turn controls the player rather than the player controlling the turn.

I would also argue that it is actually less stable.  To execute a hip-lead turn, the player must throw his or her whole body into the turn, which often results in a break at the waist, which is an off-balance position. 

Counter rotation refers to the opposing relationship of the hips and the shoulders. 
This relationship allows players to transition from forward to backward or backward to forward quickly and without altering their intended direction of travel. 

A quick and controlled turn should start with the shoulders; the rest of the body should follow -- the shoulders go, then the hips snap around. Contrary to “old school” thinking, a shoulder-lead turn does not commit the skater to either side. In fact, it allows skaters to change their mind and change direction in a flash when necessary. It’s not at all complicated or difficult. A simple move I call “the elbow trick” will get the job done most of the time. 

The elbow trick is a quick move that occurs immediately before the transition. To perform it, just pull back on the same elbow as the direction of the turn, as if someone is trying to grab you from behind and you’re giving your opponent an elbow in the gut. 

It shouldn’t be a big movement that involves the entire upper body; rather it ought to be a very quick, short tug just before, not during, the turn. The quick tug will get the shoulder out of the way, allowing the skater to step cleanly in his or her intended direction.
The elbow trick will work on almost every transition. Let’s look at the right backward to forward straight-line transition. What usually happens during this transition is that the right shoulder blocks the skater just enough at the start of the turn to prevent the complete rotation. Instead of striding forward, the player steps out to the side. That sends the skater off course for about a body length before he or she can get going forward. If that same skater gives a short, quick pull back on the right elbow just prior to striding forward, that very subtle move will open the shoulder enough to keep it from blocking the body.  The skater will be able to step directly forward and not lose space to his or her opponent. 

It’s a tiny move with huge results, cutting off several seconds from each transition. In the game of ice hockey, where space and time are at a premium, several seconds on a single move is like an extra week! 


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