With the direction of hockey plays changing quickly and constantly, players must possess a level of skating skill that enables them to seamlessly transition from one direction to another without losing momentum.
In this article, we teach you both basic and advanced techniques for transitioning from skating forwards to skating backwards and then vice versa, skating backwards to skating forwards.
For the new hockey player, our strategy is to start with a simple and easy transition and then fine-tune it from there. Begin with your legs in a wide base that gives you a low center of gravity and makes you balanced. As you skate slowly straight forward on two feet, focus on the direction that the play is going — the Number 1 rule of hockey is to never turn your back to the action — and then turn 180 degrees in that direction with both feet at the same time.
The reality with this beginner's technique is that you drag the sides of your blades across the ice when you do it, which slows you down, but the important lesson at this stage of the skill is that you start with a successful, balanced turn in the right direction without falling; we'll streamline the technical side of it later. Practice this basic two-foot transition several times, turning both to the right and to the left as you do.
Walk This Way
To move on to the more advanced transition technique, you're going to have to become comfortable with what we call the monkey walk. Without moving on the ice, point both of your toes out in opposite directions with your heels tight together, forming a straight line that vaguely resembles the stance of a monkey. Now rock back and forth, placing the weight of your body on one foot and then the other. Getting your legs and groin to the point where they're flexible enough to do this monkey walk is the very start of developing the advanced forwards to backwards transition.
Once you have that down, start skating forward on one foot and then place your other skate toe-to-toe, facing backwards. Now shift your weight to that other foot and lift your first foot off the ice. When you turn that first skate around and step back on the ice with both feet spread side-by-side, you're now skating backwards, and the beauty of the transition you just did is that you never lost any speed. Continue to practice this sequence of steps starting with one foot and then starting with the other, gradually increasing your speed as you go.
Turn It Around
Transitioning from backwards to forwards works in a little different way, so once again we teach you the beginning technique first and then advance from there. Start by skating backwards in a balanced stance with your skates apart. Now drag one foot behind you and twist your other foot and whole body around so you're facing forward. Practice twisting in both directions by pulling back your right foot a few times and then pulling back your left foot a few times.
The more advanced backwards to forwards transition relies on a skill called unweighting. To develop this skill, skate backwards and transfer your weight to one skate, then swing your other leg around in monkey walk style and transfer your weight over to that skate. From there, you'll naturally lift your first skate up and step into skating forward on two feet.
To help you master unweighting, think 1-2-3 as you maneuver through the process. As an example, we'll assume the puck is to your left as you skate backwards.
- Transfer your weight onto your right skate, which is opposite to the direction of the play, and lift up your left skate.
- Open your hips toward the left (in the direction of the play) and step onto your left skate, heel-to-heel with your right skate in monkey walk style.
- Lift your right skate up and step alongside your left skate, heading straight forward.
As you practice and work on these transition skills, remember to stay nice and low as you make each move. If you let yourself stand upright, you'll have to lower your body to get into position to go afterwards, which wastes time and slows you down.
Transitioning straight from one direction to the other is an important skill in hockey, but it's just one of many. We've put together a whole series on the fundamentals of skating to help you develop in every area, so check out our other how-to articles and videos. Plus we've got tons of tips, drills, and reviews of products that will accelerate your training and maximize your talents.