Q: It seems like my 10U player is tippy and unstable on the ice. The skates are brand new and offer excellent ankle support, but my child seems so stiff and rigid out there. Can you suggest anything to help?
A: Skates do offer much more support today than 20, 30 or 40 years ago. They are well manufactured and lightweight. Years ago, we used to put hot water in them, poor it out, put them on, and walk around the house in our skate guards doing deep knee bends to break them in. Things are a little different today, and in some ways, not necessarily better, but we’ll get to that shortly.
My first suggestion is to check the size of your child’s skates. Properly fitted skates will offer an easier transition during break-in time.
Next, consider the child’s age. As adults, we must take into account that limited physical strength and lack of refinement is normal in a 10U skater. Remember that doing amazing things on ice wearing an eighth-inch blade is no easy task to master.
The ultimate objective for players is to develop an athletic skating position. This is defined by good flex in the ankle area, bent knees, hips down, chest up, shoulders square and the head up. It’s asking a lot of a 10U child, but these characteristics will produce a more effective skater, so they should be the goal.
With patience, practice and proper emphasis on the aforementioned body mechanics, your child will gain more stability and that will turn into confidence, which will eventually end up in improved efficiency and enhanced skating performance.
So, what can you do to help? If your player is rigid and unstable, here are a few tips:
- Help them get more flexion in ankles by skipping an eyelet or two in the ankle area (and don’t allow children to wrap their laces around the top of the boot/ankle). This will reduce the rigid ski-boot effect and increase flexion, which will allow the child to be more flexible and athletic when they are standing and striding in skates. If they’re accustomed to being ultra locked-in, this might be a little awkward at first, but they’ll adjust and develop better skating mechanics because of it.
- When taping shin guards, do not go around the back of the skate boot. Avoid taping or strapping axis areas that could impede proper movement and positioning.
- I never knew there was an art to tying skates until my equipment manager in college chewed me out for frequently ripping the eyelets out of my skates. To ensure proper tightening, pull outward on the lace away from the skate and then across, not against the eyelet. And don’t over-tighten.
- Going back on the idea of things being different, but not necessarily better, one of the byproducts of such well-manufactured modern skates is that they are exceedingly stiff compared to old leather skates that had some flexibility. For adult-sized skaters, this can have its benefits, but for young children, it actually can be an impediment to their skating. Young kids are light and they don’t exert much force on the skate. Today’s stiff boots can impede young players from using the full range of motion required to skate well. Often, for young players, a used pair of skates is actually better for them, because they aren’t quite so stiff and they allow the player to move more athletically and explosively.
- When you see a kid who looks stiff on the ice, it’s natural to think about skates, but stick length and weight can also be a factor. Proper stick length and weight will lead to better control on the ice. If a kid is trying to carry around an 8-foot 2X4 with a roll of tape on the end, then he'll perform like he’s carrying a 2X4 with a roll of tape on the end. Shorter sticks yield better puck control and a more athletic stance.
- Also on the topic of non-skate factors, poorly fitted helmets may affect safety and sight. Elbow pads can restrict arm movement and stick-handing ability. Improper pants may shorten stride length. Poorly fitted shoulder pads can reduce vision and may fatigue smaller players. Keep these tidbits in mind to help your child feel better and gain flexibility on the ice.