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Brad Bowden - Ask A Player

Proper Sled Positioning – Brad Bowden

For as long as I can remember, I have always been tinkering around with my sled to try to get it to fit me the best way possible. Even now, sometimes I am still not happy with the way I sit in my sled. Sometimes I shift around when I get hit and it gets frustrating. So bear in mind that there is a possibility that you may never fully be happy with the way your sled is set up, that is why you must always work on it and tinker with the little things that will actually improve your game. To save you a few hours, here are some answers to sled set-up that I have been asked over the years:

How do you get in your sled?
My sled is very light. My bucket is the heaviest part of the sled, so it tips over a lot. So it’s up to you – some players on our team like to get on the ice to transfer into their sleds and some don’t. I personally find it easier to get a few feet away from the ice, lean my sled back up against something and try to strap myself down that way. I do this because my blades are about a half an inch apart and it’s very hard to balance when I’m sitting still. Sometimes I get someone to just grab my shoulder to help balance me while I do my straps up. Sometimes it’s ok to ask for a little help from your teammates too! That’s what they are there for, right?

How do you get onto the ice?
For me, getting on the ice is easier for than it is for most people. I am very mobile and can basically pick my whole sled up with my body and kind of drag myself onto the ice, while carefully watching that I don't dull my blades on the ground! Some players on our team like to get right up close to the door and just hop over the lip (if it’s not an accessible rink – many are not accessible yet) and if there is a bit of a lip, may I suggest doing an exercise called a “dip.” You’re going to need to get strong enough to lift yourself over a lot of things in your sled. And if you don't want to rely on getting people to help you all of the time, then I would just say get stronger so you can just pull yourself along in your sled onto the ice. I know that’s easier said than done for some people who may have a more serious injury or disability. In that case, if you can’t muscle yourself up over lips, and a couple feet onto the ice, then I would just ask a teammate to help you out.

What is the best way to get moving from a stopped position?
For the longest time, I used to have a normal stride with my sticks. My picking used to be right in the same spots all the time and I thought that the only good way to get going faster from a dead stop is to pick harder and faster. Although some of that is true, over the past few years I have realized I had it all wrong. You see, you are not always going to be able to get that perfect stride in. Sometimes you need to start moving from a less than perfect position on the ice. So, what I started to do was learn to get the most power from each stride I took, no matter where my picks were located on the ice. You must first practice your normal stride, but when you want to get that extra fast push from a start I would recommend learning to pick from odd angles, and getting as much ice with your picks as you can. There are a few players on our team who have mastered the art of true acceleration. I am one of them! What I do is usually I have my left pick just slightly behind me so I have given myself a nice push from behind, and my right pick is basically grabbing ice just slightly in front of my right side, so I am starting to push off with the pick that is dug in behind me – the left – and then following with an explosive push with my right stick. After I’ve gotten that slight start, I just start grabbing for ice anyway I can. Now all of that is a bit more advanced and you need to start with the basics. If you just want to get a regular push from a normal seated position in your sled, just ensure both picks are at a comfortable position on each side of your body. I would recommend having your arms extended out straight, and then just take a push to propel yourself forward. Keep your stride even and you’re set!

How do you transfer your hand from the top to bottom of the stick so quickly?
This is one of those skills that you just have to practice a lot. I remember when I started playing I had a little bit of trouble getting the hang of it. Sometimes I would just practice sliding my hand on the stick in mid air. It eventually becomes second nature, so practice doing it. You don't have to practice it in mid air like I did, you can simply practice sliding your glove up and down on your stick while you’re waiting in line for a drill at practice.

How do you stay balanced in your sled?
Every sledge hockey player is different. I have been somewhat blessed that my disability (sacral agenesis) makes me almost the perfect candidate for an ideal sledge hockey setup (body wise). I am top heavy and I have a short torso, so my long arms help me a lot. Over the years I have been doing a lot of core training on a Bosu ball, doing different exercises that improve balance through my core (Visit the “Downloads” section at www.hockeycanada.ca/sledgehockey for more information about these exercises). Although I have never biked before, I would say learning to balance in your sled is like learning to balance yourself on a bike, you have to just eventually realize your limitations. Just like a bike, if you lean too far one way you will fall over, and if you stop pedaling without placing your feet down for support, you will fall. The same goes for your sled. You have to practice in it a lot, learn its limitations and then when you have figured all of that out, you can push it as far as you can. Learn how much you can lean into a turn without tipping over. Practice getting hit while you’re sitting still and try not to fall over. Usually it helps to support yourself with your arms when that happens. Like I said before, I would recommend getting stronger. I consider myself quite strong, and I think my sled skills are what they are because I have been strong enough to make doing the little things in my sled easier.

How does body positioning affect this?
Your body positioning is crucial. If you are not positioned in your sled properly, then you may find yourself falling over quite a lot. I would suggest taking a look at where your blades are positioned under your sled and adjusting your centre of gravity. I’m balanced over my blades just enough that if I lean back, I can fall but just forward enough that I can sit level on the blades comfortably in my bucket without feeling like I’m going to tip either back or forwards. You do not want to have you blades too far behind you because if you do that it will also affect how your sled moves, so just play around with your blade positioning and get balanced. When I sit in my sled, I am sitting up high quite a bit – this allows me to get a better stride. I would try to play around with a cushion if you don’t feel you’re sitting high enough for a good stride.

I hope you’ve found all of this information helpful. If you have more questions you can send them to me at sledge@hockeycanada.ca, and I will try to answer for you, or get one of my teammates to help!

Have a great season!

Brad Bowden #27

For more information:
Adam Crockatt Manager, National Men's Teams | Responsable, équipe nationale masculine (hockey sur luge)