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Skills and Drills

There are many skills that can be developed to help with the learning and improvement of slalom, however here is a quick list of the most useful:


Skill: One-foot balance & control

Since all of our weight is almost always on one foot or the other at any one time, we need to be able to comfortably balance on each foot no matter which direction it is going or which edge it is on. We’re unable to have our weight in the correct place if we need to split it between our two points of ground contact. We also need to be able to switch our feet between forwards and backwards whilst keeping the weight on one foot.

Drill 1: Skating on one foot.

If you are not yet able to propel yourself along on only one foot, roll forwards in the scissor position, with the back foot on the toe. Now try meandering the front foot from side to side. Eventually you will be able to pick up the back toe. This drill is a whole lot easier when your wheels are rockered.

Once you are able to go forwards, try going backwards. Your feet will be in the same configuration, but this time your toe wheel will be leading the way, even though it is behind you.

Drill 2: 3 turns.

’3 turns’ from artistic skating are a great way to learn to switch your feet between forwards and backwards whilst keeping your weight on that foot. There are eight basic 3 turns (forwards to backwards/backwards to forwards, clockwise/counter-clockwise, left foot/right foot) and they are so called because the foot traces the figure ‘3’ on the ground. There are plenty of videos on the internet, but attending an artistic skating class specifically to learn these would be a pretty good idea even if you have to be the inlineskate and jeans wearing weirdo – I speak from experience.

3 turns begin on one edge and end up on the other edge after the switch. In slalom we also use rockers (ouside edge to outside edge), counters (inside edge to inside edge) and what I call ‘swivels’ where we use a centre edge and swivel on the middle two wheels.


Skill: Edge control

Skating with our skates on the correct edge means the difference between free flowing movement and grinding to a halt. You need to be at home on either edge whilst going forwards or backwards. You also need to be able to feel which edge we are on and get our skates on an edge without having to look down and check. If you find it hard to get a particular edge then there are two usual reasons – either you simply lack the control as yet, or your skates don’t suit your body mechanics. Neither of these are a problem because the first can be solved using these drills, and the second can be solved by adjusting the alignment of your frame in relation to your skates. If your frames are not adjustable then might want to consider getting some skates with adjustable frames.

Drill 1: Alternating between edges during toe and heel rolls.

  1. Roll forwards in a scissor position and put the back foot up onto the toe.
  2. Roll forwards in a scissor position and put the front foot up onto the heel.

For each of these wheel-rolls, allow the foot that has all four wheels on the ground to flop from side to side, from edge to edge. Gradually extend the time that you spend on each edge.

Repeat this on the other foot and also whilst going backwards.

Drill 2: Pivots

Practicing the pivots (see ‘Pivots’ section) whilst varying the edge on the satellite foot is challenging if your edge control is weak, however very useful, since it is pivots which make up the tricks that you are learning in slalom. Typically the satellite foot needs to lean away from the pivot point in order to maintain flow in slalom. Pivots also enable you to improve your control of the edge on the pivot wheel.


Skill: Rotary motion

One of the most common problems during slalom tricks which have a rotation element is the upper body not joining in the party. The feet can do everything necessary to make a trick work but if the upper body doesn’t rotate along with the feet then it isn’t going to end happily. Similarly if the upper body gets thrown into a rotation too much, then the rotation won’t last very long because the upper body will flick back like an unwinding elastic band. Once this skill is developed, it may need re-developing for every new type of rotating trick.

Drill: Pivots

Any trick that you are using will have pivots associated with it. Go and work on those pivots and don’t be content with a 180 degree rotation. Go for at least 360 degrees or more. If you are unable to achieve a complete rotation with any pivot then take a look at the behaviour of your upper body. Your entire body, including legs and arms should be absolutely frozen during a pivot. Any movement of the upper body to encourage rotation is poison to you – it may help you to rotate further but it is also concealing your lack of skill in this area and not assisting its development.


Skill: Falling

Skating in its entirety is all about falling – falling from foot to foot or even falling well and creatively through the air when doing a trick in aggressive skating. Falling is king. A great way to develop the falling sensation for yourself is a little exercise that works wonders for getting kids and beginners able to start skating in the first place. Its called the Gingerbread man.

Drill 1: The Gingerbread Man.

Stand in a stick-man position, as if you’re stuck on the door to the men’s room, or alternatively lying on a baking tray with other freshly made gingerbread man cookies. Now, everyone knows that if any of your joints move then you’re going to break and little crumbs of gingerbread are going to fall to the floor – an unpleasant scenario that you’ll be wanting to avoid. Whilst maintaining your rigid shape, start toppling from side to side with your feet parallel – if your feet are in a V position then you’ll start skating forwards. You should try to recreate this toppling feeling every time you skate, whether it’s freestyle or in a straight line.

Drill 2: Toppling from pivot to pivot.

You can also work the falling skill by toppling to and from different pivots (without cones), as this is exactly what we do in slalom. Try to hold each pivot as long as possible before eventually toppling into another pivot – your satellite foot will need to be leaning away from the pivot point to facilitate the toppling. When you topple into the next pivot you should find that you have fresh motion from the falling motion of your centre of gravity.


Skill: Spotting

Spotting is the art of rotating your body whilst keeping your head facing one direction. It is great for reducing dizziness when on or off cones, however when doing slalom it also enables your speed and smoothness to increase considerably. By steadying the head your point of view remains the same, reducing the time lag that you get when your mind adjusts to its new view of the cones as your head moves gradually around. A constant head position also keeps your upper body more steady, giving you a smoother flow through the cones.

Drill: Learning to spot

Start by just standing in one spot and looking at something on the wall. Slowly turn your feet until you feel that you cannot go any further without taking your eyes off your focal point. It will be up to about 180 degrees. Then keep your feet where they are and flick your head around to look at your focal point again before allowing the feet to once again continue around to face the same way as your head. This is typical ‘spotting’ which is done by dancers. In slalom it is ever so slightly different - if we did this then we would have cones flying everywhere. In slalom we look down. So put a cone on the ground, say 40cm away from your feet, and repeat the above exercise whilst looking at the cone instead of a point on the wall. You will find that you can turn a lot more before your head needs to flick around, making it easier.