Good balance is a fundamental hockey skill because your proficiency in this area translates over into your performance in many other areas of the game, particularly skating, stick handling, and shooting.
Good balance leads to more comfort and confidence on your skates and is a precursor to developing more power and speed. So read on for more of the rationale behind the importance of improving your balance first, as well as some useful drills to help you get better at it.
Without good balance, you don't have the proper control to maneuver yourself and the puck, and you don't have any power. If you're off-balance when you shoot, for example, you're not going to have good weight transfer, and therefore you're not going to get a good, powerful shot on goal.
You are essentially balancing on two thin blades at the bottom of your feet, so it takes some getting used to. Focus first on gaining good balance before you try to skate fast, because if you go fast without balance, you're going to fall over and lose the puck and generally skate out of control. Remember: Balance first, then control, and finally power.
In a lot of our balance drills, we recommend using just one foot, because during a hockey game, you are often skating temporarily on one foot. Some people criticize these one-foot balance drills, but the way we see it, each time you start your stride off with a push, you're temporarily balancing on one foot until you recover. Each time you cross over, you're balancing on one foot. A lot of the footwork in hockey requires you to balance temporarily or at least have a lot of your weight on only one leg versus the other, so you need to be comfortable with weight transfer to one foot or the other. Without a healthy confidence in your balance, your game will suffer.
And that means both legs. Every hockey player has a dominant leg, but our drills focus on helping you become comfortable transferring weight and balancing on either leg.
A simple and easy drill to start out with is to take a few strides to get going and then balance on one skate as far as you can. After a while, you can try to balance on one foot until the first line, then switch to the other foot at the next line, and switch again at the following line.
To build up your balance heading in the other direction, start in a good hockey stance facing the boards and push off of them to get the feeling of moving backwards, all the time balancing on both feet.
Falling and getting up again is an inevitable result for every hockey player and this drill is meant to strengthen your recovery balance. Start by building up some speed, then touch a knee down and get back up. Touch the other knee down and get back up. Continue alternating knees as you focus on perfecting your recovery balance.
The next step in your training is to drop down on both knees and get up as quickly as possible. This requires you to keep your weight balanced and in control as you step back up to your feet. Work on practicing this drill faster and faster until your recovery is as smooth as it can be.
Your balance while skating fast across the ice is also very important, and you can work on that by balancing on two feet and jumping over the lines. Start with good acceleration and then a little hop over the line; you can gradually work on jumping higher and higher until you reach your peak while maintaining steady balance.
If you've got that down, try balancing on just one foot and jumping over the lines.
Drills like these are great for building power and balance in your landing, and the confidence you gain with improvements in your balance will be noticeable in your shot and stick handling as well.
For even more advanced training focused on balance, try our edge control drills from the article and video, "Understanding Edges." Good balance on the edges of your skates will help you improve your agility and push you to the next level in your skating.