Two years ago I wrote a similar article in Sports & Leisure Magazine about stick length. As of late I have been noticing many players with sticks way to long for them. In fact, recently I did a practice where 13 of 15 players had sticks to long for them!
Young player’s stick length should be no taller than their chin when on skates. Adam’s Apple is preferable. Personally, I use a stick to my chin when on skates. The length of a player’s stick can change everything. It changes their skating, stickhandling and shooting. Which, with no question, are 3 of the main skill parts of being a hockey player.
When players have a stick that is too tall for them it does not allow them to maintain a proper hockey knee bend. Proper knee bend is the foundation of everything we do in hockey. It allows us to get into a position to generate power (weight transfer). For a player with a long stick to get into a proper knee bend they either have to hold their hands up too high to keep their stick blade flat or they will end up having to tilt the blade of their stick so only the heel of the blade is on the ice. The lower a player is able to get to the ice, the more balanced and efficient they are when skating. Having a stick that is too long forces a player to stand up tall, automatically decreasing their stride length, quickness, balance/strength and ability to generate power.
In regard to shooting, a stick that is too long can have a domino effect on their mechanics.
Proper shooting mechanics requires a player to shoot using their legs by transferring their weight. When a player’s stick is too long, it puts them at a mechanical disadvantage. Young players are not physically strong enough to use a long stick because it creates too long of a lever arm (stick is farther away from their body). To compensate for this long lever arm and because they are being forced to stand up tall, players end up bending at the waste, putting themselves off balance and using their arms to shoot. This ability to weight shift and use your legs when shooting is extremely important. Without developing this crucial skill of weight transfer players will struggle with more advance shooting skills such as one timers, shooting in stride and shooting out of a crossover.
For many of the same reasons why a long stick is detrimental to skating and shooting, it will affect a player’s stickhandling as well. Again, the longer lever arm is harder for players to control and their stickhandling is choppy and not as crisp or as quick, especially in small areas. Some argue that having a long stick can help a player protect the puck better but if the player is slower or not as efficient at handling the puck then the cost outweighs the benefit. Players need to learn proper body puck protection skills, skating skills and develop a big stickhandling range. Developing these skills will go a lot farther then adding height to their stick.
The other comment I hear a lot when I ask a player why they use a longer stick is, it increases their ability to poke check and play defense. I will agree that a stick can be a tool for playing defense but that is all it is, a tool. In fact, there are many times I teach players how to play defense without a stick because to many rely on their stick as their main tool of defending. Playing defense is about angles, body position, patience and anticipating. It is just as important that defenseman can stickhandle, shoot and protect the puck. Without those skills breaking out, regroups, transition play and offense zone play will struggle. You could argue that defenseman’s ability to handle, protect the puck and make decisions in those areas is the most important part of the game. I will leave that for another blog post though!
Stick length consideration is not just for younger developing hockey players. This past summer I had the privilege of working with a small group of division 1 college players. One of the players I worked with had a noticeably long stick. At first the player was hesitant to heed my advice of changing their stick length, claiming they have been using their stick at that length for a few years now and have gotten use to it. Watching the player skate, I could tell they where fighting to control the puck and slow get in and out of turns fast (small area skating). To someone not watching closely they might not have noticed but for how good of a skater the player was they should have been better then what they where showing. After a couple sessions, the player finally agreed to take 3 inches of their stick, taking it down to chin height. With in 3 reps of our first drill the player stated that they could not believe how much easier it was to use that stick. Almost instantly that player was able to easily get in and out their turns quicker and did not lose the puck once!
If your stick is longer then chin height when on skates I suggest shortening it. Try it for a few practices, I guarantee you will like I better. If you are hesitant and don’t want to do it to your “good stick” then try it on your backup. You can also always use a plug to make your stick longer if ever needed.