Most new skaters first learn to move backward using only their inside edges, carving C shapes with alternating feet and doing a hula motion with their hips. This does create backward momentum, but limits both speed and maneuverability. Learning to do backward crossovers will allow you to make a quick start from a dead stop, get up to speed quickly, and make sharp turns in either direction.
First, Learn How to Use Your Skate’s Edges
One of the first things a skating beginner must learn is that each ice skate blade has two edges. The ability to use both edges opens up a whole new world of skating—especially when it comes to turning, accelerating, starting, and stopping. So learning to transfer weight and energy from edge to edge represents a quantum leap forward in a hockey player’s overall skating ability. Suddenly, they can accelerate quicker, turn tighter, and skate faster. Transferring this knowledge to skating backward is the next big challenge, and the ultimate goal is to be able to skate backward by doing crossovers.
Notes About Inside and Outside Edges
- When we talk about “inside” and “outside” edges, the description is relative to the skate. At certain points, your inside edge may be on the outside, relative to the center of the circle, but we will continue to refer to it as the “inside” edge.
- Practice each of these drills going both ways around the circle — clockwise and counterclockwise.
Backwards Crossovers Drills
Here’s a series of five drills that will help you to teach yourself how to do crossovers properly.
1. C-Cut Circles
The first step is to practice the “C-cut,” which is the source of power to propel you rearward. To do this drill, set up at a faceoff circle. Your goal is for your inside foot — the one closer to the dot — to glide along the circle, as your outside foot pushes you all the way around, using a series of C-shaped cuts. To go around the circle counter-clockwise, start with your right skate on the red line of the circle and your left skate outside the circle.
From a good hockey stance, dig in with the toe of your left skate and push with the inside edge as the skate carves a semicircle in the ice. As you start to push with the outside foot, allow your weight to transfer to your inside leg. When you get to the end of the C shape, dig in with your toe again and repeat the process. With a little practice, you should be able to build up some pretty good speed, going backward around the circle. Once you have mastered going around the circle in one direction, practice the same thing in the other direction.
2. Single Crossovers
The part of this process most novice skaters struggle with is the crossover, as it requires good balance, switching blade edges, and proper timing. Start by mastering a single crossover.
Begin as you did before, with your right skate on the red line of the circle and your left skate outside the circle. The sequence of motions here is important. Push off with the toe of your left skate to start moving backwards. Then, shift your right skate to the outside edge. Only after that do you pick up your left foot and cross it over so it’s inside your right foot. When you’re done, your legs are crossed, your left skate inside your right, and both skates are on their outside edges. Allow yourself to glide for a couple seconds in this position. Then bring your left foot back to the outside and repeat this process all the way around the circle.
Remember: Do not pick up your left foot to make the crossover until you’ve switched your right skate to the outside edge. Otherwise, you’ll upset your balance. Also, when you place your left foot onto the ice after the crossover, make sure the left foot is not too far forward. Of course, it will be slightly forward because your legs are crossed. However, if it’s too far forward, your center of gravity will not be over either skate.
3. C-Cut Plus Crossover
Now it’s time to put the C-cut and the crossover together. From the same starting position, make a C-cut with your left foot, but this time, at the end of the C-cut, shift your right skate to the outside edge and allow your left skate to cross in front of your right. You want to make the crossover without actually picking up the skate off the ice. Lift the heel of the blade, but keep the toe on the ice. You should end in the same position you did in drill #2. The sequence is C-cut to crossover to short glide.
It’s important that, during backwards crossovers, the skate that crosses in front of the other stays on the ice. The next drill will focus on the skate that crosses behind the other.
4. Outside Edge Kick
The next step is to add a hard push with the skate that is behind the other at the end of the crossover. As you finish each crossover in drill #3, your legs are crossed. The skate on your inside leg is now outside and on its outside edge. (If you’re going counterclockwise around the circle, your left skate will be on the inside.) To uncross your legs and add a little more power, give a sharp push with the toe of the rear skate as you pick it up off the ice to return it to the starting position. For maximum efficiency, the toe of the skate should barely come off the ice as it crosses behind the other. Finish in a good hockey stance and glide for a couple seconds before starting the next C-cut.
5. Putting It All Together
Now that you’ve practiced all the parts of the backward crossover, it’s time to test it all out. The sequence is:
- Crossover (keeping toe of blade on the ice)
- Outside kick
- Return (barely lifting blade off the ice)
As you become more comfortable with the timing, these motions will blend seamlessly into one another. As your back leg returns, you can move straight into the next C-cut.
Once you’ve got this down going in both directions, you’ll be able to make backwards turns much faster than you could before. You can also stop going around in a circle — by alternating crossovers in each direction, you’ll skate backward in a relatively straight line. Finally, the power generated by a C-cut and outside kick will help you accelerate quickly while going backwards.
Remember the Keys to Good Skating Technique
The key to ensuring these drills achieve their goal is maintaining stability throughout. Start with a good hockey stance, with your skates about shoulder-width apart, your knees bent, your core muscles engaged, your hands up and in front of you, and your head up. Beginner skaters tend to look down at their feet, which will cause them to lean slightly forward, robbing them of stability. This will also put you on your toes, which makes it more difficult to generate power while skating backward. Keep your head up and your weight over your skates. You can even err in the opposite direction, by bending your legs a little deeper and sitting slightly farther back that you would while skating forward.
Developing the technique you need to achieve smooth backwards crossovers in hockey will improve your skating speed, maneuverability, and ultimately, your game.