The Punishment Skate

Last weekend your team lost big and you have no one to blame but yourselves.  You didn’t work together, there wasn’t enough passing, the coach is furious, and you already know how you’re going to have to pay for it…. at the next practice, NO PUCKS!  AARGH… How horrible, how awful!!!  An entire practice doing nothing but skating!  What could be worse?! 

Okay, maybe being forced to spend the day at the mall with your mom and her three best friends from that book club she’s in, or eating a huge bowl of brussel sprouts, but short of that, a full practice doing nothing but skating tops the "things I hate the most" list.  

But no matter what, the coach is going to do what the coach has got to do, punish you and the rest of your teammates by FORCING you to skate hard, until all of you learn your lesson!  Which begs the question:  Exactly what lesson is he teaching you?

It’s a well-known and accepted fact that in order to be an impact player it is vital to master the most fundamental skill in the game, skating.  But ask most players to describe power skating practice and they will say things like "hard", "boring", and "no fun". 

And what better proof do they need to support the ‘skating is horrible’ mentality than their own coaches using skating as punishment for poor game performance? 
Before I go any further I want to make it clear that I don’t have an issue with a whole practice dedicated to skating, in fact all of my practices are dedicated to skating, it’s the punishment part that I take offense to.  I can’t stand it when coaches use skating as punishment because it sends the players a clear message, that skating is something they’re supposed to dread, and if they hate it they’re not likely to practice it. 
Then, to add insult to injury, there’s the whole ‘skate them until they drop’ part of the punishment skate.  Again, I don’t have an issue with skaters being pushed to their physical limits, for that ask any of my students, it’s just that if the drills are purposely monotonous and designed solely to drive them to the point of no return, as they get more and more tired they will fall into poorer and poorer form.

This is a problem because that old saying, "practice makes perfect", is false.  What is true is "practice makes permanent".  So when a team is forced to skate until they drop what they are really doing is developing poor technique and then reinforcing those bad habits until the bad form feels natural.  So the punishment skate not only discourages players from becoming better skaters, it actually makes their skating worse! 

That virtually ensures that there will be another weekend where the team will lose big, followed by another punishment skate, and on goes the cycle.

Assuming you buy my argument that a hard skate as a response to poor play sends a regretful message, and assuming you also accept that reinforcing bad form won’t produce effective skaters, you may be wondering if I believe there is a place for hard skating workouts in a hockey season at all.  100 percent, ABSOLUTELY, YES, lots of them!  With a focus on reward, not reprimand, on challenging the players not collapsing them. There is such a deeply held tradition of skating as a sentence for pitiful play imbedded in our coaches, their coaches, and their coach’s coaches, that changing the focus of a hard skating practice from punishment to development will take some work.  For those who are game, it is possible to create a skating workout that is physically demanding, technically strong, and fun. 

There, I said it, skating can be fun!  And if it’s fun, they’ll work at it, and if they work at it they’ll be a lot fewer losing weekends in the future.
So, here’s the plan, if you’re a player ask your coach if he or she will run a skating only practice not to punish the team, but for the good that will result in a great hard skate.  If you’re a coach, read on…

A few tools in your coaching toolbox will help ease the transition from a penalty skate to a progress skate.  First and foremost, bring some current fast music and turn it up loud!  Fast music makes fast feet.  It motivates the soul and keeps bodies moving. 
Think about when you workout—well, maybe not exactly like when you work out.  You can leave those AC/DC and ZZ Top albums at home, but crank a little Papa Roach and any kid between 12 and 20 is going to work their tail off for you.  

The next tools in that tool chest are multiple patterns and a bunch more drills than you would bring to a usual practice.  Plan to use the ice in a variety of ways and to flow from drill to drill with as little stopping as possible.  Prepare about one drill for every three minutes of ice time.  That way you’ll be able to cover many skating skills in just one session, and before the bad technique sets in from exhaustion, you will have already moved onto a different skill.  Some of the drills should be races or challenges, as an additional way of keeping the tempo high.

Then load up on training equipment that you can move to quickly.  Anything that the skaters have to wear should be avoided since that will slow the session, but things that you can move on and off the ice quickly are great.  Things like tires and hurdles work perfectly.

Finally, bring your passion, excitement, and all the energy you can muster.  Move with them, get them going, stay upbeat, call them by name, don’t let anyone off the hook.  Use your voice to keep every player emotionally into the workout.  By the end of the session it shouldn’t just be your players that are tired, if you do this right, you might just be able to skip your own workout to ZZ Top, at least for one night.
With hundreds of students from mini-mites to the NHL, Wendy Marco is considered one of North America’s top hockey skating coaches.  Her DVD is loaded with original skating drills and on-ice games and can be found at



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