Fit to Be Tied: Skate-Tying Primer
Although I fell victim to this faulty logic, parents need to understand that tying hockey skates requires more strength then tying tennis shoes. You must let children mature more before letting them tie their own skates.
When to Start: 8 to 10
“Most of the time, I think parents want kids to tie their laces too soon,” says Robert Hineline, the owner of a hockey pro-shop in Littleton, Colorado, who has been sharpening and fitting skates for more than 25 years.
Parents should wait until their children are between 8 and 10 years old to teach them to tie their own skates. Usually by these ages, they will have strong enough muscles to sufficiently tighten their skates. While teaching these youngsters, parents and coaches should instruct them to use their leg muscles to tighten them.
“Your leg muscles are stronger than your arm muscles. If you push out with your legs, then you will have more strength,” Hineline says.
Proper skate tying helps avoid the negative consequences caused by loose-fitting skates. If the skate is not snug fitting, the foot will move inside of it.
“Movement of your foot creates bones spurs. The foot thinks it’s getting damaged because it’s moving and sliding, and the foot will grow calcium and that creates the bone spurs, bunions and corns” Hineline says.
To avoid these painful foot aliments, follow proper lacing procedure: “Tighten them from the inside out, just like you would tie your regular tennis shoes,” Hineline says.
Some players use the Canadian-style of lacing, meaning they tighten their skates from the outside in. This leads to much tighter lacing, but it has its trade-offs.
“You can really tie them tight, but they’re harder to get off. It’s snitched on so tight you can’t get your fingers in there and you can’t loosen them,” Hineline says. You actually need a lace hook to unlace them.
Using wax laces, instead of traditional laces, has pros and cons similar to the Canadian technique. These laces lead to a tighter fit, but are difficult to untie.
“What happens with regular laces is once they get wet they stretch, and your skate will feel loose by the end of the game. So if you like real tight skates, you might switch to wax laces. Once you snitch them up, they stick to each other a little,” Hineline says.
Regardless of the technique or type of material you choose, start by tightening the bottom lace first. As you continue, lace in a consistent manner—always put the same lace on top—and ensure the laces lay flat on the boot.
“Twisted laces on sensitive parts of the top of your foot can cause lace bite because those laces are like little thin ropes, and they put a lot of added pressure in one spot” Hineline says.
“Lace bit” is sharp pain on the front of your lower leg and top of your foot. Correct lacing helps prevent lace bite. In addition to tightening your laces adequately, correct lacing also includes choosing the proper lace length, so you can avoid wrapping laces around the skate.
“You don’t want to wrap the laces around the boot because if the lace comes up over the side of the boot it will rub the leg where the tendons are and that creates tendonitis. The tendon thinks it’s getting damaged; it starts to grow a protective coating and gets thick,” Hineline says.
Both parents and players should remember to leave themselves time to lace the skates properly. Although the mother in the picture here is a nice, quiet, uncluttered environment, that is not the reality of the hockey locker room.
If your hands are no stronger than your player’s, you can always find a willing coach, parent or older player to help. One mother says she’s only had one coach balk at helping tie skates in four years.
Just be sure to get there early so you can find a helper who is not busy helping other players. Skate tying is a pain, so make sure your player looks the helper in the eye and says “thank you.”
Health concerns play an important part in dictating proper skate lacing technique, but gear maintenance also influences procedure, particularly for proper storage. Loosen your top lace completely, and then the next one until the lace tip is right at the boot. Continue loosening down the skate and pull the tongue out to allow for drying.
“You want the skate to dry because sweat gets into the skate, and will cause the rivets to rust,” Hineline said. He also recommends coating the rivets with finger nail polish to avoid rusting, after purchasing a new skate.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Rose Conry, an intern with the Grow the Game Initiative, for this story. Rose studies journalism at Northwestern University, loves all sports and sails competitively with the university’s club team.
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