Karen Kos has been taking the powerskating world by storm for years. The funny thing is that before Karen started working with hockey players at the North Shore Winter Club, she was focused on another sport.
Her passion for on-ice performance, though - that’s always been there.
I managed to catch up with Karen in between lessons to scratch the surface of the science of powerskating.
KC: So, preparing for this interview, I realized I don’t actually know much about your past and how you got into teaching skating in the first place.
KK: It all started when I moved to Vancouver to train for figure skating at the Kerisdale figure skating club. I trained with Faye Marshall and Dr. Helmut May, working towards the BC skating team. Then, in 1997 my brother was drafted by Tampa Bay Lightning, 33rd overall in the NHL draft, and he needed someone to help him get ready for camp, so that was my first official powerskating class. I put on some hockey skates, grabbed a stick and never looked back.
KC: The switch was that sudden?
KK: It was honestly a life changer. I could see certain aspects of skating that my brother was doing that didn’t look right because I was in my first year of human kinetics at UBC studying biomechanics. So just looking at his stride, things were off. After that lessons, moving forward I got my undergraduate degree in human kinetics with a major in biomechanics. After that, I got my masters degree in sport and exercise psychology. Mike Smith from the Chicago Blackhawks took me under his wing because he believed in the science of skating, it had never been done before. 6 NHL teams and their affiliates, I started working with them and the rest is history!
KC: Except you’re still making that history. How long have you been involved in the business of teaching.
KK: This is my 21st season teaching. Applying the science of human movement behind skating was unique because I always apply the scientific purpose behind what we’re doing.
KC: When I skate, I just skate. I know I need to have long strides and push with my toe at the end, but when it comes to the science of skating, like you’re talking about, I get lost.
KK: The key is different knee-bends, shifting your centre of gravity. This magnifies the different angles of the blade and together with a different knee-bend, affects power, foot-speed and overall efficiency. You take the science of human movement, which remains largely unchanged from walking to skating, but there are other external factors to consider.
KC: Like hockey gear?
KK: Sure. Instead of running, you’re gliding. Different physical properties like ground reaction force. Every time you drive into the ice the ice pushes back. It’s like when you stop pedalling a bike. When you get on a bike and you need to go, you need to pedal to get the speed of the bike up. Your body is no different. You need to get the crossovers going and once you’re at the speed you want you can hunker down and spread your speed out over a longer course of time. Your speed will maintain for a short time before dropping off. The shift in knee bend shifts your centre of gravity, which shifts your ability to keep your speed up.
It’s like a skipping rope. When a player skips as fast as he can, they skip at a high knee-bend. The lower your knees, your weight is through your heels and it’s hard to lift your body off the ground. By shifting your knee-bend you lower your centre of gravity. When your heels push in it’s dead weight and your speed suffers.
KC: Ok, I dig it. Skate fast. Tell me a little about your coaching approach. What’s the key to motivating players and getting kids to buy in to shifting their skating when some of the language might seem a little, um…
KK: The key is the results! It’s the first time they find the sweet spot in their knee-bend and in their blade. It’s like a light pops on, it’s an easy crossover with bounce and forward projection and it becomes an effortless skate. When they hit it the first time, the look on their face is incredible. All the kids here, the look on their faces when they get it, we share in that reward. That’s how you motivate your players.
KC: Is skating really the most important part of hockey? Not 1-timers?
KK: You wish! Look, I tell kids that if they become a really great skater then they can focus on other parts of their game. They can do their job effectively. If it’s tough to get moving, if you have to think about moving, then you’re not thinking of passing the puck or shooting the puck or whatever else they might need to do. When I work with a team, you have the coaches teaching kids to put the puck in the back of the net, I’m teaching them how to get to the puck first.
KC: And have fun doing it?
KK: I love it. It’s the best job ever.
Karen Kos works with hockey players of all ages, including the Western Hockey League’s Prince George Cougars. Listen to Karen’s interview with the PG Cougars.