Having been away from the rinks for a few weeks, a friend thought I needed to get the old creative juices going again by taking a little drive and catching a local hockey clinic. Man, was my friend right, in that those juices did start gushing as soon as I gazed at the ice down below.
– Dennis Chighisola
Some Hockey Clinic Observations
Let me start by saying that I get paranoid about making anyone else paranoid. In other words, I like to sometimes watch what others are doing, but my intent is to never make other coaches feel uncomfortable, or have them feel that I’m always there to critique things.
Ya, I guess I can’t help judging some; that’s at least a part of what I do. I never want to be cruel, though, unless I think a coach really deserves it.
Anyway, my friend and I eventually found a comfortable spot and a pretty good vantage point, high above the rink. And from there I could see that a program geared to Mites and Squirts was going to be run in a station format. Ugh… A station format…
It seems that’s the popular thing to do nowadays, to run everything in stations. Coaches hear something like that at a coaching clinic, and they go rushing home with the idea that such a format is the end all or be all. What they fail to realize is that there’s still no substitute for good teaching, and no format, in and of itself, is going to bring about great results. Naw, as I’ll reaffirm later, “Drills don’t teach, good coaches do.)
As I explained to my friend, I started using a form of stations in my hockey schools some 30 or more years ago. Those were totally different, though, and for totally different purposes.
The first time I used it was to accommodate more kids, to make the best use of an awesome teaching staff, and to accomplish repetition in an extremely creative way. So, 4 groups of students were separated by their age and skill level, and the groups rotated off and on the ice — to a classroom, to an off-ice skills area, to an in-line area, onto the ice, to a video replay of their on-ice skills training in another classroom, etc. The repetition came by doing many of the same skills, movements or tactics from station to station, the kids were greeted at each station by a coach who really knew his or her stuff, and every station was adjusted to suit the needs of the age group as it arrived.
A few years later, I decided to add another rather brief on-ice station that was aimed at fun and using an array of great training aids. This time, all the groups went on the ice together, but they traveled separately, to work with things like a radar gun, my Skater’s Rhythm-bar, various jump ropes, and a whole bunch of other gadgets I’ve forgotten at the moment.
Probably about 20-years ago, I devised something similar to USA Hockey’s ADM program, this acting as a way to transition kids from their Learn-to-play clinics to playing their first games. I built my own dividers long before commercial ones became available, so that our ice could be split into three stations. An instructional game took place in one area, kids worked on their basic skills in another, and the last station had my coaches teaching a third group how to line up on face-offs and to stay on-side. Part of the beauty of this format was that kids never sat on a bench, but instead kept playing or learning with each new buzzer. My professional staff also did all the teaching there.
Now, one of my problems with stations is that the best available coach can’t be at every location. I’ll give some credit to the guy I watched supervise things the other night, because he was doing as I’d always do, attempting to buzz from station to station, and seemingly jumping in when he noticed an adjustment had to be made. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be at six places at once.
As an aside here… I had numerous ways to ensure the right stuff was happening at each of the stations I described up above. As early as 1980, I was creating the daily age specific classroom videos each group would watch. Each staff member, despite being great coaches with plenty of experience, also received a coaching manual, a video on how things should run, and the list of drills we’d use, each with a clear explanation of what we were trying to achieve in each drill.
Back to that clinic… To me, one station was nearly a waste, because the kids stood for longer than they actually did anything. The idea behind the drill they were doing seemed worthwhile, but I’d have to think long and hard about how it should be restructured. I mean, in the alloted 15-minutes they were in their corner, the kids may have executed the drill 5-times. And that kind of repetition never gets the job done. (If you think about it, more repetitions allow a player to “feel” what he or she is doing, and to sense when he or she is getting the movement right. And, while it could take 15 or 20 reps before a player gets to that point, he needs quite a few more repetitions to begin committing that right movement to muscle memory.)
Another station involved a game I’ve actually shown members elsewhere within CoachChic.com. That game may have been a little advanced for the kids I was watching, but it still wasn’t too, too bad.
A pair of end stations involved attacking a live goaltender and a net. Again, the idea was okay, but there was something definitely wrong with the pace. I mean, it takes like a half hour for a little guy to carry a puck out of one corner, skate out to near the blue line, and then turn and go to the net. Zzzzzzzzzz… Oh, and where do you think the guys in charge of these two stations placed themselves? They both stood down at the start of the drill, instead of having someone in the middle where they could have been providing feedback. (As I’m sure you’ve heard me say before, “I can pay a chimp one banana to tell a kid when it’s his or her turn to go.”)
The two stations in neutral-ice were similar to each other, these having kids spread and working in pairs. If there was a problem, the coaches involved there either stayed too long with one student — like for nearly the whole 15-minutes, or they tied themselves to being a partner for one of the kids. The latter is all well and good if you believe drills improve a player. There’s something terribly wrong with that, however, if you know that drills only provide a format within which a coach gets to teach, correct, encourage, etc.
One last criticism… As my friend and I browsed the rink website, we’d noticed that a single age group attends on a given night, and each group only trains at a single hockey skill for that one night. Hmmmmmm…
First, the concept of repetition is out the window in this format. I mean — at least as it pertains to the youngest students, a 7-year old who can barely skate gets (fair to middling) instruction in one skill area, and then never gets that stuff again.
Secondly, this goes against the Theory of Mass versus Distributed training. For, that theory suggests that only older, advanced athletes can benefit from working on just one skill for an extended length of time, and it would recommend that the kids we were watching should work on a little bit of skating in one session, plus a little bit of puckhandling, a little bit of passing and receiving, a little bit of shooting, and so forth. The idea is to distribute attention to those skills over one practice session and over many sessions to follow.
My friend, who knows little more about hockey than cheering for a favorite team, asked at the end if I had more thoughts. With that, I did say that things could look a little more professional — maybe with all the staff dressed neatly and exactly the same, and with the kids all wearing “clinic shirts” (kids wearing such help things look good, they provide advertising for the program when they’re worn elsewhere, and the added cost would be negligible).
I did end by telling my friend that the clinic wasn’t all that bad. Hey, I’m super-critical about such stuff, as some of my old staff will tell you. I also had to be that way in order to let you in on some of the right things — to do as coaches, or to expect as parents.
The staff down below did accomplish a few important things… I’ll give the guy in charge credit for seemingly working his buns off, and I recognized a few helpers who would have met my expectations. (I didn’t learn all I know in my first year or so, so there’s the chance that the young head guy down there will be better than this old coach within a few short years.) As importantly, I noticed most of the kids smiling as the Zamboni came out at the end, and I also took the time to see that the parents were smiling, both during and after the clinic. For, as I noted to my friend, “Despite there being a few things wrong, causing the kids and parents to smile is still a biggie.”
I hope two things become evident as you read this post: 1) that I’m always digging to find more information for my members, and 2) that I’m willing to travel outside the proverbial box in order to find anything that could possibly help you. If there’s a third thing I’m grateful for, it’s that I’ve been able to make a lot of great friends in social media, with many of them being among sports’ best and brightest.
Count my friend, Dr Andrew Kolbasovsky, in the latter group, and count us lucky that I recently discovered his Family Advantage Network and an ebook that’s as appropriate to our sport as it is to his. (At the end of this piece I’ll give you more info on Andrew, his book, and his website.)
– Dennis Chighisola
How to make a High School (Hockey) Team
Just so you know, Dr Kolbasovsky’s book is really entitled, “How to make a High School Basketball Team”. By now, though, members know me well enough to appreciate that I feel I can learn from anyone involved in sport, and I feel there’s much we can borrow when it comes to other sport how-to’s.
Kicking things off, Andrew suggests that junior high school aged kids should get out and observe high school teams. If there’s something that surprised me — and should surprise the hockey reader — it’s his idea of going to see the local school’s junior varsity or freshman team.
Sure, we’ve all gotten psyched to see our favorite varsity team play, and that’s likely proven a great incentive — that our kids might dream of the day they can play in that school’s fancy colors, before a packed house, and in front of cheerleaders. Dr K is talking more reality, however, in that an incoming freshman’s first challenge is to make the school’s lowest level team, be it either the JVs or the freshman squad.
JV and freshmen hockey teams don’t usually play during prime-time, so some effort might be needed to attend an early morning or late afternoon game. Still, Andrew is right when he suggests that such events are where an incoming player can gain a sense of whether he or she fits on that team or not. Much of what he’ll suggest over the rest of his book has to do with getting oneself ready for the tryouts, but that’s hardly possible without the player gaining a sense of where he or she is now, and how much ground has to be covered in order to fit on an entry level high school team.
While at the junior varsity or freshman game, Dr Kolbasovsky highly recommends meeting with the team’s coach. Wait until after the game, of course, and until a time when you sense the coach is free to chat. Introduce yourself, express an interest in someday playing for him or her and the school, perhaps ask for some advice, and leave an impression that might help him remember you a year later.
Having received some insight into the things a young player might do for the future tryout, Dr K poses this question to his readers: Do you have to be naturally gifted? In answer to that, he points to Malcom Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliners. Within those pages, Gladwell cites numerous well known personalities whom the public believes were overnight successes. Come to find out, few, if any, have ever been such. In fact, it’s suggested that personalities like the Beatles paid their dues in relative obscurity until “suddenly discovered”. Moreover, Gladwell and many others now suggest that up to 10,000 hours of practice might be needed before one can be considered near the top in what he or she does.
Lest anyone question this, let me suggest that we will likely never know the greatest hockey player who ever lived. Oh, we know that Gretzky and Howe and Orr made it to the top of the hockey heap; yet, the player we don’t know is the one (or the thousands?) born with better genes but never worked at the game (the way an Orr, Howe or Gretzky did).
For yet another twist on this subject, I highly recommend that members later listen to a very brief audio recording I did called “A Lot of Things Change As a Player Gets Older“. It’s about a series of conversations I had with my grandson as he constantly asked me, “Gramps, do you think I have a chance to make it?”
Further, on whether one needs to be naturally gifted or not, Andrew says that scientists have studied the secrets of elite level performers of all different types, and that idea of thousands of hours of preparation or practice keeps entering the equation. Just think about some of the personalities you know in these professions: musicians, composers, inventors, business moguls, tennis players, chess masters, and even basketball players. Then think about whether it was possible for any of them to just roll out of bed one morning and become tops at what they do. Hardly, huh — even if they did possess all the right genes?
I know Dr Kolbasovsky and I agree on the fact that 10,000 hours of work is a lot to expect from a youngster. As he says, though, “… you don’t need to become the next Michael Jordan, but you should take advantage of what the science tells us.”
I have yet another way of looking at that… For, all an athlete really has to do is put in enough hours to pass by those he or she wants to beat-out at the next tryouts — in high school, maybe in college, and maybe beyond.
Dr K then echoes something I’ve always told you, in that playing and practicing with your team is good, but it only helps you keep up with others, and never helps you pull ahead. That in mind, he suggests, “Find a park in your neighborhood that you can walk or ride a bike to that has a hoop that is seldom used. Make this your home court and go there often to work on your game…”
Of course, hockey players have some advantages and disadvantages compared to the way a b-baller might find extra practice space. No, we can’t skate without ice, although we can do off-ice skating exercises and also in-line. To my way of thinking, however, most young hockey players — at least usually — have it relatively easy when it comes to finding somewhere to practice things like stickhandling and shooting.
Andrew also suggests kids play in pickup games at local parks. As he says, “Play in as many as you can.”
Hmmmmm… If I have a problem prescribing this, it’s that my CoachChic.com friends come from all over the hockey world, which means everyone has very different access to what I’ll refer to as “pond hockey”. Outdoor ice is obviously nonexistent in my new home state of Florida, it was iffy in my long time home state of Massachusetts — that’s probably also true in the UK, and I’d dare to say that it’s plentiful for most of my friends in more northerly US states, in most of Canada and in European nations like Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic.
Although Andrew doesn’t get a lot into the exact benefits of playing outside pickup games, let me make a few suggestions here… For one, a youngster is going to get better with every time he’s on his feet (which includes skating in hockey), and he or she is going to improve most other individual skills with every dribble, pass and shot.
Then, two things I want to add to this, at least from my perspective…
First, I’ll suggest that the relatively unstructured nature of pickup games lends itself to lots of freelancing and experimenting. I’ll bet that Andrew witnessed that a lot on the courts of New York City. Let’s face it, that new moves are more likely to be invented in those type circumstances than while a coach is watching over a group.
Secondly, instincts come about from repetition. So, it just makes sense that playing lots and lots helps a player recognize various situations. Yes, I like to recreate those situations in my team practices and clinics. However, not many players have access to the good kind of structure.
Andrew continues by suggesting that youngsters should play on as many teams as possible, which brings this old coach to another hmmmmmmm…
On the one hand, I think that most hockey players aren’t lacking for game-time. Of course, youth teams around the world are structured in all different ways, with some getting more than their fill, while others get very, very little training and just a game per week. On the other side of the ledger, I find that some kids are toooooo trapped to team activities and they’re not able to either take a break or get specialized training that might better suit their individual needs.
Let me expound on the latter, as well as add to something I mentioned a few moments ago… For, in many instances, I find that a hockey team’s structure slows the development of a lot of players, just by virtue of a coach usually having to pace things for the lower to middle part of the roster. Team structure, while good and necessary to the kids’ development, also tends to stifle the creativity some players long for.
I used to handle this in two different ways… When I’ve run my own developmental teams, I had at least one practice session per week that was geared almost totally to offensive skills, and these even had my goaltenders and defensemen working on every offensive skill normally thought to be part of the forwards’ play. (Over time, my goalies could roam and fire long passes to teammates up-ice, and my defensemen were as dangerous with the puck as any forward.) As for my own two guys — when they were young, I tried to arrange their weekly schedules so that they were free to attend my open skills clinics, this so they could develop beyond what their teammates were doing.
Okay, so now for my one and only possible argument with Dr Kolbasovsky… For, he says, “If possible try to play in games with older kids.”
Oh, I know exactly where he’s coming from here. His thinking is that the pressures of having to deal with older, bigger, and stronger guys or gals is going to somewhat raise the level of the younger player. Ya, I agree, somewhat.
I think the real common ground for us here, however, is that he’s suggesting doing this as an extra, and maybe as an off-season venture. I can see that, and I can especially see that if a youngster is also getting the chance to play elsewhere most of the time with kids of his or her own age and abilities.
What I don’t want members to forget is my fear of having kids skating “over their heads” for a primary wintertime team. All I’ve ever seen when kids have been over matched, is that they play in what I call “panic mode”, never being able to carry the puck or really daring to make plays.
The good doctor next offers something I love… For, he suggests finding a partner who likes the game as much as you do, so that you might develop a schedule together and then practice together as much as possible. He has plenty of ideas for his basketball playing disciples, and I have as many for young hockey players…
Immediately, I think about all sorts of passing feeds, including feeds for shooting off the pass. This site must have a good 40 to 50 ideas for stickhandling moves, with many of them best worked against a rather passive defender. And, with some protection against injuries, games of 1 on 1 would be both fun and beneficial.
Andrew also offers that, “Playing in games alone is not enough,” adding, “you also need to dedicate a lot of time to practicing by yourself to continuously improve your skills.”
He then goes on to describe his sport’s fundamentals… “Basketball involves the development of many different skills: shooting, passing, screening, shot blocking, defending, boxing out, etc. There are proper techniques for each of these skills.”
I hope that members can see the similarities between those skills and the ones used in our game, because I’ve designed drills for nearly all of those through the years. The only difference is that I’ve referred to them in hockey related terms.
Then, if we can recall one of his earliest suggestions — that a youngster should go watch his or her future JV or freshman team, consider that, “Part of the job of every high school coach is to teach these techniques to players. If you can demonstrate some of these fundamental techniques as you play during the tryouts the coach will take notice.”
Man, can I appreciate that one as a former high school and college head coach. I mean, I loved it when players arrived with the skills necessary to execute our playing system. And, the closer a player was to ready when he arrived, the better his chances of getting some decent playing time very early-on.
I like it that Andrew suggests to youngsters that they observe how things are done by certain college teams or certain pro players. And, not unlike yours truly, he suggests that kids go to YouTube.com should they ever want for more drills. Of course, CoachChic.com members also have hundreds of ideas within this website.
I also absolutely loved his suggestion that a youngster watch as many televised games as possible. In Dr S’s case, he took a liking to an NBA star who played the same position. He learned all he could about the star, he listened to game announcers as they described given plays, and he made note of the star’s favorite moves. (I’ll have to think more on this one as it pertains to hockey, but Andrew feels that college basketball commentators explain the basics even more than those who do pro games.)
Hinting that most households today have access to some sort of television recording technology, be it an old VCR or a DVR, he suggests that players record the advanced moves of their favorite players, replay them over and over, and then emulate them out on the practice court.
Dr Kolbasovsky spends quite a bit of time suggesting ways to get into great shape for tryouts. He even recommends one of our choice exercises, rope skipping.
Interestingly, this thing about conditioning arose in a recent conversation I had with the GM/coach of a Junior level team. It seems the guy is trying to place one of his favorite players with a pretty strong college hockey program, and he’s concerned that the player is only marginal when it comes to skating and a number of other basic skills. (Don’t get me wrong in that marginal assessment, since it’s only so as he compares to some of the best blue chip talents in the country.) On the plus side, the kid is an awesome student, he’s a working fool, and he’ll do absolutely anything a coach asks of him.
When it came to giving my opinion, I suggested that the boy report to school ready to skate everyone else into the ice. I mean, he has to be able to push himself, and then be able to keep going after everyone else drops by the wayside. Trust me, that this isn’t going to work for the kid who has neglected his skills for a lifetime. However, there’s the chance that a college coach is going to love this guy, and he’s liable to be kept around long enough to earn his way into the starting lineup.
Dr K goes so far as to suggest what to wear at tryouts. And, while b-ballers and hockey players don’t dress anywhere near alike, players in any sport should appreciate that, “First impressions are important…”
Between the lines, I think he’s suggesting a player needs to look like a player. And, while we’re in agreement about it being a good idea to wear a jersey from a league the player has played in, I’ll suggest that the sweater from a fairly prestigious team or league (he or she has played in) is an even better idea.
I’d also suggest wearing the same shirt every day of the tryouts. Trust me, that a coach can look forward to seeing “that new kid in the red jersey” — on the next day, the next day, and the next.
Lastly, I sense that most good hockey players already do a lot of the things suggested in Andrew’s book. In fact, I did most of them as a youngster, in several different sports. If this book has some value to the hockey family, it’s because Dr Kolbasovsky tells aspiring young players (and their parents) exactly how the very dedicated kids generally go about their business.
Then, a funny thing… As I wind down on this article, I’m thinking that it’s a Sunday night, I’m working, while most other coaches most likely aren’t. For sure, you could tease me about getting a life, but I’m actually content in thinking I’m constantly out-working my counterparts. I have my lifetime in sports to thank for such an attitude, and that’s yet another message woven within the pages of Andrew’s book.
“How to make a High School Basketball Team” ~ By Dr. Andrew Kolbasovsky of the Family Advantage Network
The above ebook and a number of other helpful resources can be found on the Family Advantage Network, including an article hockey folks should find pretty interesting, “The Chances of a College Athletic Scholarship: Drop the Ball and Pick Up the Wood?”
This entry was sparked by an email I just received this morning in reference to my article on skate tying. But, is this conversation — or that email — really only about lacing the skates? I think not. No, there’s a greater underlying issue here, and one that I’d hate to miss the opportunity to share with my friends and loyal CoachChic.com members.
– Dennis Chighisola
Should You Copy Your Hockey Idols?
My friend started his email with a lie, stating that, “… I spent a whole dollar on your ‘How to Tie Hockey Skates’ article…” The truth is, that article, hosted on Amazon.com, is only 99-cents!
More seriously, my friend Ron continues, “I too heard a rumor that the old Soviet hockey teams would hit the ice in warm ups with no laces in their skates…the theory being it helps to strengthen the foot.”
Yes, I’d mentioned the old Soviets in my article, but it was to only suggest that they skated at times without tying their skates; I’m not sure anyone would dare try skating without any laces in their boots.
Ron then went on to add to what I’d previously written about pro players, “As for how NHL players lace their skates…I’m sure you know who Gordie Howe is…well he had two sons play in the NHL, Marty and Mark. A few years back they produced some instructional hockey videos and they talked about their personal preferences for lacing skates. I was amazed that Mark…a great skater and currently in the hall of fame…would put three of his fingers in between his laces and the boot…he did not need and did not prefer to have the skates laced tight. His skating was very fluid.”
Actually, my skates have always been tied much like Mark Howe’s, or as one might tie street shoes or sneakers, with only the top eyelets pulled snugly around the ankle.
Of course, Mr Hockey had another son, about whom Ron states, ” Then his (Mark’s) brother Marty talked about how he laced his skates…Marty only played a few seasons in the NHL…he said he laced his skates very tight and used ONE roll of tape to tape his ankles. He also said he was more prone to ankle sprains…I wonder why.”
To be honest, I doubt there’s any correlation between Marty’s ankle problems — or the amount of time he spent in the NHL — and the way he tied his skates. However, that’s touching upon an area I’ll want to cover pretty shortly.
Next, Ron mentions that, “I recently read Ray Scapinellos autobiography…he was a long time NHL linesman. He mentioned he barely laced his skates at all. He said the only reason he laced his skates was so the laces wouldnt flop everywhere. So heres a guy who spends an entire game on his skates and barely laces his skates at all.”
He then introduces another part of skate tying, and something my son — a stylish pro skater in his own right — always did. As Ron wrote, “When I watch an NHL game on television…if they zoom in on a player I’ll try to notice his skates. Look at ex NHL player Sergei Fedorov…a great skater. He left the tongue sticking out and did not lace the top eyelet…I believe Alexander Ovechkin does this as well. I’ll also give credit to ex NHL player Doug Brown as well…hes one of your Massachusetts boys…another great skater who barely laced his skates.”
Ron continues, “But every player has their personal preference and I’m sure theres some that get foot cramps from having theirs skates too tight. I heard that Paul Coffey would wear skates 1.5 sizes too small…ouch…his theory being he wanted his skate and foot to feel as if they’re one unit.”
I might just add here that the urge to make the skates feel like a part of the foot is a major reason why many players go without socks. (I’ve often suggested something partway between wearing thick sock and going sock-less, with many of my students over the years wearing “knee high” nylons.)
Finally, Ron concludes with, “… a few years back I started to only lace my skates only to the top eyelet…I no longer put the laces through the top eyelet and bend the tongue way down so it sticks out.”
Okay, I really enjoyed reading that email from Ron, as much as I have the ones he’s previously sent me. Still, while he included a few interesting stories and observations, those weren’t the real reason I asked his permission to reprint the email here. No, there’s something even more important lurking between the lines, and something I feel I really need to get across to my readers, or something I want my readers to convey to their hockey playing sons and daughters.
You should have noticed how differently all the above pro guys tied their skates. And along the way, I hope you started to sense that the way they tied them had little or nothing to do with their on-ice abilities. Yes, I would suggest that Marty Howe hampered himself by wrapping excess tape around his ankles, thereby almost eliminating that joint. At the same time, we should notice that Paul Coffey and Mark Howe both made it to hockey’s Hall of Fame by tying their skates in drastically different ways.
And that brings me to a story I may have told here before… You see, I had this former NHL player who occasionally worked in my summer hockey schools, and I’d cringe every time I saw the size of the knob he made for the top of his hockey stick. Ugh. The thing was half the size of a baseball. His answer, each time he’d see me wince? “Gordie Howe is my idol, and that’s the way he taped his stick!” And I’d shoot right back each time, something to the effect that, “Gordie Howe could have used a tree limb for a stick and still been better than us mere mortals!” And I’d usually go on to suggest that Howe was one of the all-time greats despite the way he taped his stick, not because of it!
Now, I’m guessing that anyone who reads this article recalls the way Wayne Gretzky used to tuck part of his hockey jersey into his pants. And if you were around youth arenas during The Great One’s reign, you would have noticed countless Mites, Squirts/Atoms and Pee Wees doing just the same. Personally, I thought it cute — that the kids wanted to copy that style. Still, I knew Gretzky’s sweater wasn’t what made him great, and I knew that no kid was going to become great because of the way he or she wore a jersey. Actually, if we pressed a kid at that time, we’d have likely gotten him or her to admit just that: that the way one wears a shirt has nothing to do with the way he or she plays.
With that, I need to warn hockey parents and coaches about the fact that some of their kids are doing other things to emulate their favorite players. I mean, whether they come out and tell you or not, they’re choosing their new helmet because it’s like their idol wears, and they’re also often selecting their sticks and their skates because of what they’ve noticed on TV or in some on-line or magazine ad.
Now, having already established that a jersey doesn’t make or break a player, I have suggested that the way one doctors a stick, and the way one ties the skates can influence his or her game playing abilities. Worse yet, some things can have a lasting impact on a player — sometimes for awhile, and sometimes forever.
As an aside here, some might read all this and presume that most of it is just common sense. I’d have to agree. Yet, there I was years ago — several summers in a row, arguing with a giant sized pro guy about the right and wrong way to tape a hockey stick. Ugh.
Consequently, I’m not suggesting anyone get paranoid here (although I kinda do when it comes to some of this stuff). What I am suggesting, however, is for adults to subtly monitor the kids in their charge — both at the local pro shop, and when it comes to the later use of various pieces of gear. Again, shirts and helmets aren’t likely to influence a player’s development, while certain articles of equipment surely will.
By now, many USA Hockey coaching members should have been made aware of the RAE, or the Relative Age Effect. My concern is that more USA Hockey members — and perhaps the most important members of all, the parents — just might not know about it. Moreover, I want my CoachChic.com members to be up on every study I can bring to their attention.
Trust me, folks, that the effect is real, and there’s not much one can do to refute the numerous test results that have brought this phenomenon to the fore. To be honest, I’m not even sure I wouldn’t use the gist of this to select higher level players. But, you can be the judge of that.
– Dennis Chighisola
The R.A.E. and Your Hockey Player
To begin, here’s how Wikipedia defines our current topic of discussion:
“The term ‘relative age effect’ (RAE) is used to describe a bias, evident in the upper echelons of youth sport and academia, where participation is higher amongst those born early in the relevant selection period (and correspondingly lower amongst those born late in the selection period) than would be expected from the normalised distribution of live births. The selection period is usually the calendar year, the academic year or the sporting season.
The term ‘month of birth bias’ is also used to describe the effect and ‘season of birth bias’ is used to describe similar effects driven by different hypothesised mechanisms.
The bias results from the common use of age related systems, for organizing youth sports competition and academic cohorts, based on specific cut-off dates to establish eligibility for inclusion. Typically a child born after the cut-off date is included in a cohort and a child born before the cut-off date is excluded from it.
The most commonly used cut-off date for youth international sporting competition is 1 January. The IOC and FIFA and the 6 international football confederations (AFC, CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC and UEFA) all use 1 January as their administrative cut-off date when determining an athlete’s eligibility to compete in youth competitions, children born before a specified cut-off date are excluded.
Cut-off dates for academic cohort structuring, including the setting of academic years, are usually determined by national education authorities and tend to be based on autumn start dates, so August or September cut-off dates are common in the Northern Hemisphere and February or March cut-off dates are common in the Southern Hemisphere. This tendency reflects the historical need for children to be involved in summer-time agricultural work with school starting after harvesting.”
A research paper from Loughborough University (in the UK) explains the RAE in this way:
“The relative age effect describes the observation that greater numbers of performers born early in a selection year are over-represented in junior and senior elite squads compared with what might be expected based on national birth rates. It would appear that the relative age effect, certainly in some sports, crucially influences the opportunities to achieve high-level sporting performance.”
Actually, while the above two entries focus on comparisons in both the classroom and sports in general, numerous studies have shown the same to hold true in ice hockey, in that players born in the first quarter of a given year seem to have a distinct advantage over those born later, and especially over those born very late in the same year.
Now, let me do my best to put all this into regular language, and also relate it to our hockey players…
As an example, the thinking is that a pair of 8-year olds with birth dates at opposite ends of their birth year are likely to fair quite differently at a youth hockey tryout. In other words, the boy that is closer to turning 9-years old is likely more physically developed and even more mentally developed than the youngster who just turned 8-years old. Oh, this isn’t going to be true in every single case, but it surely is going to be so on average.
Now, that’s not the whole problem. No, based on what we know from the above, it makes sense that the player with the earlier birth date is more likely to make a higher level team, while the drastically younger of the two quite probably will be assigned to a B or C or even house league team.
The main concern here is that the kids making higher level teams tend to get better coaching, and all the other benefits that can come from playing at AAA, AA or A levels. I’ve also always felt that teams with more talent get to practice at a higher level than those teams where many kids still need work on the very basics.
Now, I began my explanation with 8-year olds for a purpose. For, imagine what is likely to happen over ensuing years, or as those same kids become Squirts/Atoms, move on to Pee Wees and Bantams, and ultimately compete for Junior, college or professional slots. The earlier born 8-years — again on average — got the best of everything as Mites, and it’s more than likely they’ll have the inside track on a high quality Squirt or Atom team. And the same is likely to hold true as they move up in each age group.
In a way, some might call that a fact of life. Or, as a few of my friends might say, “It is what it is.” What concerns many of us — yes, including yours truly — is that the cut off date in youth sports, as well as in youth hockey, is purely arbitrary. In other words, the hockey powers that be currently use January 1 as the start of a new age level, for no other reason than it’s the start of the calendar year. (As I recall, in Little League Baseball, the cut off date is at the end of the summer, or near the end of baseball season.)
Here’s yet another concern, at least from my perspective…
Looking back on a couple of 8-year olds again, a half a year or more can represent a huge difference — in age, plus the corresponding differences in size and mental capabilities. And don’t forget that the relative age effects tend to keep getting the slightly older kids onto better teams, where they tend to get better coaching, probably more ice-time, etc.
If there’s a problem, things can start evening out as players move into their teens. In other words, it’s quite possible that a lot of the slightly younger kids will grow to be bigger than some of the older ones, and many of their other earlier differences just might change as well.
So, if you get my drift, it’s quite possible that all the extra benefits may have been provided to some of the wrong kids. Not a lot can be done to make up for the disparity in training or other benefits at that point, either. In a way, some of the kids with the best potential never got what they needed in the earlier years. Come to think of it, I wonder how many of those kids quit along the way, never seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Oh, and just in case anyone still isn’t quite believing the earlier studies, here’s one that might mean a whole lot more to my hockey audience:
“In a replication of studies by Barnsley et al. (1985), and Grondin et al. (1984) the authors gathered birthdates of players in the National Hockey League (NHL), Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The players were categorized according to month of birth. Additionally, the players were categorized by country of birth, reflecting the changes in professional hockey over the period since the original studies. The results indicate that despite the globalization of hockey and changes in minor hockey, relative age effect, that is, a strong linear relationship between the month of birth (from January to December) and the proportion of players in the leagues studied, still exists.”
Okay, so as you’ve been reading this, have you been pondering ways the relative age effect might be overcome? I know that I wracked my brain for quite some time after I initially discovered it.
Only recently did I hear a change that would make at least some sense, without drastically altering the structure of minor hockey. What has been proposed is that the beginning of the calendar year be changed each season. I suppose it could be rotated from January 1 one season, to February 1 the next, and March 1 the next. However, I sense it would take too long for the effects of that system to even things out. Might it be better to flip-flop from January 1 to July 1 and then back to January 1 again? Hmmmmmmm… Think about that one, huh?
Then, in closing, two things…
Let me share what I did as a hockey parent to help both my son (DOB late-May) and then my grandson (DOB late-July) at least slightly overcome their birth dates. Appreciate that I knew nothing about the RAE in the 1970′s through 80′s, or later from the 1990′s and into the new Millennium. Instead, I only hoped to keep my own two guys developing so that they were close to the top in skills and game playing abilities when it came to their respective age groups. Of course, you might think that I have an advantage in all that, while I’ll suggest that anyone could do this if they have a mind to.
As I’ve suggested countless times within these pages, it’s not a good idea to trust all your youngster’s development to his or her youth organization, at least within the earliest years. So I’m a firm believer in supplemental training programs — like and extra weekly skills clinic, goalie clinic, etc. Only through those kinds of programs can a player inch his or her way beyond what teammates are getting.
We have fellow CoachChic.com member, Jerry Z, to thank for pointing us towards the videos below… Thanks, Jerry!
– Dennis Chighisola
Studying The Most Skilled Hockey Players Of All-Time
My guess is that you or the young hockey players in your house have spent plenty of time on YouTube and other such sites, either searching for help, or just admiring the plays made by some of your favorite pros. That, I’ll suggest, is a good thing to do, especially when it comes to developing young players. Without a doubt, we can always learn by observing those guys; I know I surely do.
And that brings us to the two videos Jerry sent me. I’ve actually posted these for two reasons, but let’s take them one at a time…
1) Take a look — I think you or any hockey enthusiast in your house will enjoy them. If nothing else, you have some great players to study and to perhaps emulate.
Here’s Part 1
Part 2 is next…
2) Okay, so what did you learn from seeing ten of the best hockey players who ever lived? This isn’t a test — trust me. However, rather than my usual interpreting things for you, I’d really like to see these guys through your eyes, or maybe even through your youngster’s eyes.
So, let’s begin a dialog, by using the Comment boxes below. I’m really hoping that a bunch of us get involved, and do this thing together.
PS: I’m going to keep this among members-only.
If you oversee the development of a young defenseman, I suggest you pay close attention to this article. For, while I’m probably going to tell you some things you already know, I suspect I’m also going to surprise you some. In the end, however, I think it’ll all make sense to you. That’s my way, you know, explaining things in a common sense way.
Oh, and by the way… Although I can’t recall ever playing a shift on defense, my many years of coaching caused me to focus more in that area than any other, and I sense I’d be comfortable teaching that position to pros.
Moreover, many years ago, I found myself helping an NHL scout. And, in particular, we spent some time together studying video and analyzing the play of several free agent “D”. So, some of my impressions from that experience were lasting, and they very much influenced many of the things I’ll share below with you.
– Dennis Chighisola
What Makes a Good Hockey Defenseman?
I have a feeling that the habit of slotting the biggest and slowest youth hockey kids on defense has finally died — or at least I hope it has. Sure, size can be helpful to a D-man, but a good one definitely can’t be slow afoot or one of those can’t-get-out-of-his-own-way types. Naw, far from it.
That’s why skating is high on my list of needs when it comes to patrolling the blue line well. As a matter of fact, I think the modern day defenseman should be able to skate as well forward — or with the same mobility — as the once traditional centerman would. Of course, because we’re talking about defensemen here, you want to know about backward skating, right? Well…
Many years ago the Czechs did a study to determine how much time defensemen actually spend skating backwards. And, while I can’t recall the percentage of time they arrived at, it was for far less time than most casual hockey followers would believe.
Does that mean backwards skating isn’t important to a blueliner’s game? Not in a long shot. For, while it’s true the “D” don’t skate backwards as much as most folks think, anytime they are skating backwards means the bad guys are coming and the play is likely to be critical.
Then, while I’d like to see D-men have that forward skating mobility I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t mind if they lugged the puck on some attacks with good speed and even some reckless abandon. In a way, I see the modern game requiring all five skaters to be good on defense and good on the attack.
On the other hand, a backward skating defenseman has to be under control at all times. He should have quick feet — or be agile, and really good at lateral movements. All those movements need to be under control, though, because one false, out of control movement is all a smart attacker needs to leave him in the dust.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of backward skating, I’m going to suggest that backward speed isn’t as necessary as some might believe. Oh, a defenseman has to be quick off the line, or quick transitioning from forward to backward. However, I’ve yet to see a “D” need to have a footrace with an attacker while skating backward. Instead, it’s necessary for him to get off the mark, jump to the right positioning, and then hold the right positioning for the rest of the play.
And that last sentence also points to the need for a defenseman to be smart. All the skills in the world won’t help him if he can’t play under control and play situations — like 1 on 1′s and 2 on 1′s — rightly. Smart defensemen also gradually gather all sorts of little tricks they can use when dealing with attackers, including clever uses of their sticks.
Now, I wouldn’t want to encourage developmental aged blueliners to skip their skill work just to play with smarts. However, you’re probably aware of some aging pro athletes who were able to extend their playing careers due to smarter positioning. Middle infielders in baseball can sometimes play longer despite losing their lateral range, and so have a number of pro defensemen lengthened their playing days even though their feet may have slowed.
Then, while I said earlier that it helps if a blueliner has good size, I’m going to suggest that there have been plenty of effective players at that position who were average in size, at best. What I think a top defenseman needs is strength on his skates, or strength in dealing with opposing attackers. That can be true in open ice, along the boards, and certainly in the slot-area.
Okay, having pretty much covered skating and the defensive side of their game, I think another major surprise to some readers is that I place puckhandling as the Number Two skill when it comes to top notch D-men. (That’s also the case in my Building Blocks Approach to Skills.) Actually, I might place puckhandling and passing in a tie, but good passing isn’t ever going to happen unless good puckhandling is accomplished first.
Just as I mentioned earlier — about backward skating being super-critical to his play, so is the handling of a puck in the defensemen’s defensive end. In most instances, a “D” picks up a puck under heavy pressure from enemy forecheckers. And, while it’s important that he protects the puck in that area of the rink, he also has to handle it with his eyes up so as to be able to locate nearby friends and foe. Again, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this play (even though I suspect a great many youth parents and coaches give it little thought). (For some of the fundamental moves a “D” might have to make under such conditions, see my video about “Basic Breakouts“.)
Most readers have probably heard mention of the all important “first pass” in the defensive zone. Trust me, that I hammered away about that with my former high school and college players, and I guarantee you that every high level coach does the same. Let’s face it: a team is not going to be very successful unless the first pass regularly connects and starts a team moving out of its own zone and away from its own net.
It’s been my observation that a number of future Hall of Fame defensemen weren’t all that great at defending against rushes. I don’t mean they weren’t good at it, but that’s not what got them recognized. No, when they were on the ice the puck was almost always safe and usually headed towards the opponents’ end. I mean, any puck they got their stick on was gathered in quickly, and just as quickly relayed to a breaking teammate up-ice.
Of course, every young “D” wants to have a million mile an hour shot from the point. And, while a strong shot from out there can be helpful, I’m going to suggest it’s even more important for pointmen to have what I refer to as “sweet shots”.
In truth, any player shooting from above the tops of the face-off circles should not be attempting to score. If it happens, fine. However, that should not be the point shooter’s objective. No, shots from that far out should be placed into a screen, deflected, or bounced off the netminder for a rebound score.
And that’s kinda where my idea of the sweet shot comes into play. First, there’s not always a lot of time to handle the puck and then get a full windup into the shot. Secondly, a wilder swing too often results in a wilder shot and a missed net. So I (and most higher level coaches) would prefer to see shots that get to the net — aimed towards the net’s middle post, with decent velocity, and on or near the ice. Sweet, as I like to call it, and something that makes it easy for the forwards up front to do their thing.
Lastly, I could probably write a book on this subject — about what makes a good hockey defenseman. Still, if a defender comes even close to executing the things I’ve described here, I’m going to suggest that future coaches are going to love him. To be honest, I believe a 10-year old, a 12-year old or a 15-year old could be helped to possess many of the traits I’ve noted. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen plenty — as young as 8- or 9-years old — with most of these skills.
PS: Oh, and those involved with the more advanced levels of our game ought to check out the recent article, “Improving A Defenseman’s Point Shots“.
I usually don’t include the following kind of conversation within the CoachChic. site, UNLESS there’s a lesson to be learned in the end. Given some time to think, however, I believe it may prove very useful to many members.
– Dennis Chighisola
Hockey — Then and Now
Ron A, a good on-line hockey friend, happened to email and ask me my impressions when it comes to comparing the professional game, from way back when to now. Actually, like a lot of folks younger than me, Dave viewed the days of Bobby Orr, Rick Middleton, Gil Perreault and Mike Bossy as the “old days” — . (Little do most folks know that my dad took me to games that featured the likes of Rocket Richard, Gordie Howie and Terry Sawchuck.)
Still, no matter when he wants to fix the time, I think Ron is right, in that there’s a huge difference between any then and now.
As an aside… I’m betting that old-timers felt that the game had changed quite a lot from Richard’s days to those of Orr, and they’d probably say that, “Guys are bigger, stronger, faster…” Bernie Geffrion had changed the game with his new-fangled slapshot back in the 50′s, yet guys like Stan Makita, Bobby Hull and Orr had brought that to a frightening science.
As yet another aside… I’d be willing to bet that the true stars of one era would most likely be stars at another point in time — given the chance to develop. And I only add that last part, because the chances to develop their unique skill sets — or to even get a look-see — would change from era to era.
One of the things that got Ron going was an article he’d read a few years back, the writer suggesting that, “…the problem with the nhl today isn’t that the talent pool is too shallow from expansion but all the players are so good and they’re skill level cancels out all the other players on the ice.” And Ron wrote that the author also added, “…that’s why there’s all the low scoring games in today’s game.”
Ron felt that the guy had a few good points, and I agree. However, do I totally agree? Hmmmmmmm…
To be honest, I sense that the differences from the 70′s to today are a lot more complicated.
I don’t watch NHL games like a fan much nowadays, although I surely do study them when I get the chance. And, going back just a few seasons, I was absolutely floored by the pace played during the Stanley Cup playoffs. I mean, watching the hometown Boston Bruins make their Cup run, I couldn’t believe the way players were coming over the boards, skating 100mph, leaving the ice after 30-ish seconds, and being replaced by another unit going just as fast and frantically. And it seemed to go on, shift after shift, from the opening face-off and into some over-times. Could guys from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s do that? I don’t think so, except if they were given certain advantages.
I mean, to my way of looking at things, players today have unbelievable advantages over guys who came before them. And that is at least partially because science has advanced so far…
For sure, higher level teams look for bigger bodies nowadays. However, teams at those levels also now have knowledgeable strength coaches on their staffs, and they know how to train players beyond those from past generations.
Higher level teams today also look for faster players. And those players can be helped to perform at even faster speeds, because of what’s known now in scientific circles.
As for that frantic pace I mentioned earlier, credit science again, to help develop players who can go like the Energizer bunny for the length of an entire game.
And don’t think that most of the above doesn’t contribute to harder hits, harder shots, quicker shots, and so many other skills being done harder or faster.
Players today have even greater advantages over guys who came before them, when it comes to technology…
In the earliest days, kids mostly learned by going to live pro games — think about that. There were sporadic games broadcast back in the 50′s and 60′s, and that picked up from the 70′s on. Going back to the early days, kids in certain pockets copied the star player on their local team, which fostered carbon copies within that area over the next generations. National broadcasts suddenly gave kids the chance to study stars from across the land. However, the arrival of cable television into most North American homes ultimately gave kids the chance to see more games — and more star players — than ever before.
Oh, and I can’t forget what home video units did for kids and coaches. I mean, kids for years have been able to play and replay fancy moves made by their favorite stars, and even youth coaches could run and rerun plays to study the X’s and O’s used by high level teams.
The Internet, of course, has been absolutely unbelievable for hockey development. Hey, consider the way you and I can communicate here on CoachChic.com. Picture also being able to plug in almost any hockey or other related term into your favorite search engine. And, my sense is that the education of hockey people is exponential here on-line, because coaches are able to broaden their understanding of the game, parents are becoming more knowledgeable, and the players quite obviously keep getting better and better.
Then, while YouTube.com is part of the Internet, I almost view that as something all unto itself. My grandson has been learning new moves for years by watching his favorite players, and I also think watching certain videos on there has helped him think the game better. My son, involved with Junior hockey, uses it as a recruiting tool at times, while I am often combing through that site for new ideas to share with you. (Just think, that some 8-year olds are able now perform some of the moves they see done by the world’s greatest players.)
Today, every pro team is connected to satellite broadcasts of all league action, which means that one team can in advance study their next opponent’s special teams, what they’re doing lately on offense, defensively, etc. I’m sure they also study rival goaltenders like Major League Baseball teams study opposition pitchers and hitters. Each NHL team has at least one assistant coach in charge of video, usually working with a specialist who deals with the very sophisticated equipment.
Now, let’s get back to the NHL and it’s talent pool…
First, players of today have to pass through all sorts of screenings — both physical and psychological. So, fewer weak sisters are wasting a team’s time, and more worthy players are climbing a team’s depth chart.
Secondly, while hockey’s highest rung might need more players because of expansion, I believe the feeder system has more than kept up. Canada continues to pump out strong players, while the US has grown from just a few hockey hotbeds to the game being played — very well — in numerous other areas. Then, of course, pro teams now have access to some very talented European players.
Lastly, let’s get back to those low scoring games…
I happen to believe that the size and wingspan of today’s players is just one thing that takes away the open space that once existed for star players. There aren’t any poor skaters in today’s game, and most players skate so fast that they close open spaces pretty quickly.
Today’s coaches are all strong tacticians, too, and I sense that they’re showing stifling defensive systems to players who can think and play their system. And, of course, I’ll point to all the areas of technology I mentioned earlier, as reasons why today’s coaches and players are able to approach the game on a totally new level.
In the end, Ron wondered if I’ve spent much time studying the pros, since I seem to concentrate mostly on coaching amateur players. True enough, Ron, that I know my calling, and I do focus most of my attention on helping younger players climb the hockey ladder. Still, I study the NHL-ers as much as I can, just so I know how to help those younger ones eventually get to the top.
Lastly, I hope my CoachChic.com member friends see a whole bunch of take-aways from the above. From my perspective, this entry is loaded with them, if member parents, coaches and players just read between the lines.
You really should read a very recent post I did on “Having the Skills to Make It!“, because it provides a lot of background to the following line of thinking.
– Dennis Chighisola
The Importance of Hockey Specific Drills
As you’ll discover from reading that article mentioned above, this whole subject came about as another Junior hockey scout and I watched a local tournament here in Florida. The kids were mostly 18-ish, and they weren’t bad, on average, but they still had some deficiencies the other guy and I recognized rather easily.
You ought to know that the other scout and I come from both similar and then really very different backgrounds. I taught and coached him early-on, but then he went off to play a lot of minor pro hockey, while I mainly continued teaching, analyzing skills, and coaching some of the developmental levels of our game. I describe all that to suggest that we saw a lot of the same things during the tournament games, but then we also saw some things quite differently.
In my case, I know the difference between good and not so good coaching, and between good and not so good drills. And it’s in reference to the latter that you’ll often hear me grump about so-called “vanilla drills”. Ya, they’re kinda nothing drills — because there’s hardly any benefit to them, except that they sure do contain a lot of activity, and they surely do look fancy to the folks sitting up in the stands. You can usually recognize them when you see six pucks flying every which way, players going in thirteen different directions, and the coaches standing back idly and just watching.
The main idea of a good drill is repetition, or repetition of the right mechanics. And an effective drill also requires constant feedback from knowing eyes. Hey, to keep going without correction means a player is going to most likely just keep reinforcing the same (and often incorrect) mechanics. So, when it comes to those Junior players again, I’m thinking that they haven’t done a whole lot of stuff other than fancy looking vanilla drills.
This aside… Where do so-called vanilla drills come from?
I’d say coaches mostly dig them out of drill manuals, or they sometimes see them performed at a coaching clinic or at another team’s practice. Oftentimes the drills are very good ones, but they’re bad — or an absolute waste of time — if used with a different age group or a different skill level.
What also sometimes goes wrong is that a coach can watch the fancy drill, like how it looks, but not really understand what the purpose of the drill is, or what corrections should be made along the way. (Man, years ago I was at a Canadian coaching seminar where I overheard a guy who worked with Mites get all excited about borrowing a drill some Bantams were doing out on the ice. If you now understand my concerns, there’s no way that guy’s Mites were going to be able to perform even the basics of that drill, never mind all the other crazy things that would ultimately go on.)
Okay, getting back to that Junior level tournament… The things that jumped out at me, in general, were the kids’ skating postures, and the way they carried their sticks. A correct skating posture is covered in numerous posts — and videos — throughout this site, most of them under the Skating section within Highlight Reel Skills. What I’d like to devote some time to here is the proper use of and carrying of the hockey stick.
For some in depth ideas on how many hands to use on the stick at various times, I direct you to my post on “Two Hands or One on the Hockey Stick“.
One thing that drove both the other scout and me crazy was the way kids were carrying their sticks up in the air, and sometimes waving them in the faces of other players. (I’m not suggesting they were trying to play dirty; what I am suggesting is that many of them were carrying their sticks up high without even thinking about it.) The other guy — the long time pro — would think they were playing dangerously, while I saw it more as a skill deficiency.
I will oftentimes trick my older players into believing they should carry their sticks low… I’ll call them in around the center circle while I’m handling a puck. Then, noticing a player with his stick up at the waist, I’ll slide him a quick pass. You have to know that the puck always flies far beyond him, because there’s no way he can react quickly enough to get the stick down to grab the pass. Point made, I’ll go on to suggest that they should always travel with the stick held low or on the ice. And I’ll usually add, “Hey, you can even get lucky when an opponent throws a puck near you. There’s no way you can get lucky with the stick held high.”
And that brings me to what I really want to tell you about and then show you. For, on the way home from the rink that night — which was something like a 90-minute drive, my mind began to wonder in and out, between a conversation with a friend and a possible solution to those flailing sticks.
Ya, if you hang with me at all, you have to get used to the fact that I can get lost in space at times. Trust me, that it’s seldom a reflection on my company, but more my urge to daydream. Anyway, maybe you’re getting a sense of how my brain tends to function…
Probably about halfway along on that drive, I began envisioning how I would have liked to have seen those teenage kids move. For sure, their posture could be better, but so would they look far better if they were traveling with their sticks held low, and with their sticks held in two hands most of the time.
So, do this along with me… I’m picturing those kids moving just as I’d like to see it. I’m correcting their posture as they go past me, and they’re beginning to get more and more comfortable with their sticks held down and steady.
As I’m doing that, I’m starting to think that it matters not whether they’re on the ice or performing those movements in a local parking lot. Hmmmmmmmmm…
Okay, so I’m going to show you the drill I concocted, and then I am going to have MUCH to say about it in reference to it being “hockey specific”…
What I’d done is locate a straight line in my complex’s parking lot (I had a bag of playground chalk handy in case I needed to draw my own line). I then set a small pylon a ways away and perpendicular to the way I’d travel, that pylon representing a teammate holding a puck and looking to make a pass. Not knowing where that player will eventually move the puck, all of his or her teammates should be moving in support, just in case.
In the first video, I’m moving on that perpendicular course, stick down and steady, with my eyes (always) on the puck. Most players don’t have a problem with showing a forehand target, but a lot do when it comes to moving in the other direction and showing a backhand target extended far out in front…
In this next video clip, I’ve had to reverse directions… In other words, maybe I’ve run out of “good space” at some point, and I now have to head back in the other direction.
Now, a lot of viewers may have thought that first drill was on the really simple side. Maybe so, maybe not. However, the following movement — of changing directions while maintaining a fairly consistent, steady target — is done wrongly far too often.
Notice, if you will, that I’m going to switch the stick towards the new direction before I actually make my turn. Why? I do that so that a potential passer is given a warning that my turn is coming. (Too often a player makes the cut, he or she next switches the stick, and the pass has already been sent to where the passer thought his or her mate was going.)
One reason I wanted to show these drills in an off-ice venue is so that individuals could be helped as well as a team. I mean, an adult player could practice these movements on his or her own, and a parent should be able to easily find a spot where he or she could help a young player perfect the moves.
Now, before anyone thinks that those drills were overly simple, I’m going to agree. At the same time, however, I am going to tell you that those drills are “specific” to the problems I recently saw kids having. And I’m going to further suggest that all the fancy drills in the world won’t cure what ails those older teens. These absolutely will! So, are these drills simple? Yes. Are they of the vanilla variety? Definitely not! These simple drills will fix the problems at hand.
For sure, those drills could be taken to the ice. All a coach needs to do is substitute a blue line or red line, and place a puck or pylon somewhere to simulate the passer. The drill could be made to look fancier — if a coach is worried about the folks up in the stands, but simplicity — and repetition of the right movements — is still the key to getting what you want.
At some point — or after the basic skills are learned, a player at a time could skate around a face-off circle while continuing to watch the puck, keep a steady target, and at the right times switch the stick to show an intended turn.
Quite obviously, that’s not the end of helping players move better, or helping them solve passing and receiving problems. At the same time, it gets them well on their way. In fact, I would use this form of drilling — either off-ice or on, and then gradually start adding passes. Even weeks after I abandoned the simplest form, I’d likely bring it back again now and then.
In closing, I’m reminded of the old television advertisement hyping frequent oil changes. The message was that frequent changes were a whole lot less expensive than the engine overhaul that might be needed if oil wasn’t regularly changed. Or, as the punchline went, “Pay me now, or pay me later.” What I’m getting at is my recently observing a bunch of older players who weren’t demonstrating some of the skills a scout might like to see. If the kids knew what my fellow scout and I were seeing, they’d be disappointed, as would be their parents. Where would the blame fall? It would likely be on the shoulders of coaches who used more of the meaningless, vanilla-type drills, and not enough of the type that actually solves problems.
I know I’ve dealt with this topic a number of times in the past — probably because the matter of young athletes overdoing it — with too many games or other activities — comes up too often.
Well, as many of you know, I’m into social media pretty deeply, and I also belong to a lot of LinkedIn groups that are related to my hockey coaching interests. One such group is a great place for me to discover what’s bugging youth sport parents, and it’s called the Sports Parents Network. There, parents and coaches from all sports compare notes and share pet peeves.
Ya, pet peeves…
– Dennis Chighisola
How Much Is Too Much?
Under that Sports Parents Network section lies a discussion group entitled The Benefits of Being a Multi-Sport Youth Athlete. And for my money, that’s a very worthy topic, with a very worthy premise.
Yes, as one member put it quite well, suggesting “… there is something to be said about the well rounded athlete.” Yup, there surely is, and I’ve been saying that for years. In fact, what I’ve done often is to repeat something I read awhile back, this coming from a group of experts, declaring something to the effect that, “The era of specialization was a failed experiment.”
Let me clarify that a bit… For sure, some good players came from that period of time when hockey players were sticking solely to hockey — mainly only playing that sport, and primarily only practicing that sport’s skills. But more of those players seemed robotic in their actions, and as many lacked the athleticism to maneuver their way out of trouble when trouble came.
I can only think back to my youth to recall some of the baseball stars who were often referred to as multi-tool athletes. I mean, the likes of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle could run like deer, they could make unbelievable defensive plays, they had strong throwing arms, they hit for high batting averages, and they could swing a bat with tremendous power. Of course, hockey has had it’s own mult-tool players, and I immediately think of Mario Lemeieux and Bobby Orr as two of my past favorites.
Nowadays, there are a lot of Europeans who demonstrate great athleticism on the ice, and I have a strong feeling why… Most of the European hockey playing nations — and especially the old Soviets and now the Russians — have systems in place that dictate a lot of what their developing players do and don’t do. No, the US and Canada don’t have nearly that much control or influence over their players. So, it’s up to individual households across North America to make the right choices.
Okay, now to insert what really got me going on all of this. For, when I read the following, submitted by group member, Nicholas Adams, I began to shake my head (for the umpteenth time this year)…
”I have found that parents simply sign up their kids for too many activities. I am currently coaching a High School team and just two weeks into the season we have lost players through muscle strains and back problems. The interesting pattern is that many of these players are participating in three maybe four sports throughout the year and each impacts on the other. And this is all classic over use leading to burn out.
I agree that at really young ages kids should be allowed to experiment but once they get to teens, and as a Club Soccer coach too, I would prefer that they pick their sport and stick to it. If you’re missing my practice because you have Lacrosse then my session, my team and the other players aren’t their priority, so stay away.
Suggesting that doing different sports will allow other muscles to rest seems ridiculous, kids need down time, rest is as important a part of preparation as working and by participating in so many sports at the youth age the damage is being done for later life.
The demand on kids to participate in sports is a little maniacal and often it’s down to the parents placing unrealistic demands on them. I agree that at the younger ages they should just play but by thirteen, fourteen you need to make a decision and make sure that the child is part of that decision.”
Phew! I’d say Nicholas nailed that one. Still, let me echo some of what he said, plus add a little bit.
First, it bothers me greatly when folks (in this case mostly hockey parents) hear a little bit of information and then become dangerous. Man, have I seen it — in the stands and on the fringes of a lockerroom before and after a games. One dad says to another, “I heard that if your kid does such-and-such…” And out of the corner of my eye I can see the other dad nodding enthusiastically.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrr… It doesn’t matter whether there’s any scientific validity to what was said, but we can be sure it’s going to get acted upon, and probably even shared with more hockey parents. And before you know it, there starts another one of those wives tales that guys like Nicholas and I will battle for years.
Okay, so what’s the real scoop?
Well, as was suggested early-on, it surely is beneficial for players — in all sports — to work on their overall athleticism. And, I (and all the scientists) will tell you that the earlier the better. As a matter of fact, I have a feeling some hockey parents are pretty shocked when they see my two-part video series on Critical Periods in Motor Learning. I mean, while I’m not sure there’s real proof yet that the learning of some skills begins in the womb, the scientists I quote in the first video suggest that the motor pathways between the brain and muscles must be developed very early if they’re ever going to develop at all. (Here in my country, USA Hockey has begun pushing for emphasis on skills for their member players’ earliest years.)
Research seems to point to the chance for humans to develop most basic athletic qualities between birth and about 6-yeas old. For sure, some other athletic qualities can continue to be enhanced for some years beyond. However, it seems that most scientists are in agreement that the die is basically cast by about puberty. In other words, the athlete is what he or she is by his or her early teens.
Just so you know, I don’t abandon helping my older hockey players or students when it comes to their individual skills. At the same time, I do spend more time helping them do what they do faster, harder and longer. Again, it’s unlikely I’m going to change a player’s skating style a lot, and I’m probably not going to suddenly turn a player with hands of stone into a stickhandling magician.
Then, this suspicion… I have encouraged young players to play several sports for more than just physical gains. For, it’s my feeling that the learning of the rules and stategies necessary to other sports makes them better thinkers or problem solvers — in hockey as well as in their other sports.
All that said, how about Nicholas’ plaint?
If parents (who really do make the decisions in each household) want their youngsters to be well rounded, the time to do that is prior to puberty. I’d even keep a youngster playing another sport or two through the years in junior high school, partly for the physical and mental benefits as described above, but also to act as mental breaks from their primary sport. (As I’m known to say often, I’d even tire of my favorite food — lobster, if I had it every day.)
Getting closer to Nicholas’ concerns, I would not complicate a young teen’s life by having him or her play two different sports in the same season. In fact, I think a lot of athletes have all they can do to keep one high school sport commitment.
Oh, boy… Nicholas really struck a chord with me when he mentioned the need for rest, because to see parents ignore that truly drives me crazy. Just from a physical standpoint, please consider this…
A given muscle basically needs three things to grow.
First, it must be taxed to the point where its cells are broken down. From there, the human body has a remarkable ability to understand the challenge that caused that to happen, and it goes about building new cells capable of matching the new demands. (The new cells will quite often be bigger and/or more energy efficient.)
I think most parents appreciate that proper nutrition — like the right foods and water — is required to feed the new cells as they attempt to grow.
The third part of this equation is the one that seems to give so many parents and some young athletes the most trouble. For, rest is absolutely necessary in order for those new cells to grow. Experienced weightlifters know this, so they usually give the recently over-taxed muscles anywhere from 48- to 72-hours to rest. (What some young athletes do wrongly is to break down their muscle cells, and then go right back to breaking them down again, hardly ever giving them a chance to grow anew.)
Then, while it would probably be hard to scientifically prove it, I’m with Nicholas when it comes to the possibility of injuries occurring when one plays more than a single sport in a season. I don’t know if the conflict in muscles used would cause that to happen, but I can almost guarantee that being over tired can.
Lastly, I’ll add something else I’ve observed after lots and lots of years with readying players for their high school hockey seasons… I’ve seen kids have great success in our sport by not playing a different fall sport, but playing a spring (and even summer) sport. In most instances, a short pre-season is all that’s needed to get a baseball player, lacrosse player or track athlete ready to compete. On the other hand, I’ve found hockey players having a difficult time trying to move from a fall sport without skating and handling a puck for several months. Those are just my own personal observations, though.
Then, let me add one final thought, and something else I’ve been saying for a good many years… For sure, youngsters need lots of work in order to become good — at anything. The problem I see in this is that there’s a very, very delicate balance required between getting enough work and getting too much. That’s one reason I advise parents to (quietly) monitor their own, constantly watching for tell-tale signs that the youngster might be tiring, either physically or mentally. And, even though I strongly believe in athletes working, I’ve learned to err on the side of caution. Actually, I’m also known to once in awhile say, “Heck, let’s go fishing!” I’ve seen the new-found enthusiasm from a short mental break having most athletes coming back like gangbusters.
As I began transitioning from my coaching duties up in Massachusetts to those involved with my new job down in Florida, I’d promised that not much would change in the advice I’d offer members. For sure, I’m working mostly with fairly high level guys now, as the GM and head coach of a Junior “A” team. Still, what I’ll often be sharing here should be helpful to players, parents and coaches involved in all stages of our game. See if you don’t agree when it comes to the following topic.
– Dennis Chighisola
Is Hockey A Simple Game?
As I thought about the current title, I couldn’t help but reflect back on a conversation of about 30-years ago. I’d just returned from my studies in the former Soviet Union, and a crusty old coach and hockey dad was seemingly needling me — or perhaps trying to make himself feel good by putting me down. I don’t think he’d ever opened a hockey textbook or studied anywhere, so it made sense that he’d say something to the effect that, “Hockey is a simple game, and some of you coaches just complicate it!” Hmmmmmm…
Of course, I usually enjoy a good philosophical discussion, and I’m never shy about defending my personal feelings on anything that matters to me. At the same time, I’ll often — as I did then — avoid arguing with a fool.
Had I not been dealing with someone of that ilk back then, I would have tried reasoning with him… For sure, the game’s objectives are easy enough, with a given hockey team attempting to score more goals than it allows. On the other hand, strategies and tactics have evolved to be pretty sophisticated, and so has the science of training. In fact, I’ve seen lots of players injured — or badly inhibited in their development — because certain scientific principles weren’t adhered to. And that kind of explains that guy’s stance, in that he wanted to just open and close a bench door, yell at his players about not scoring or giving up too many goals, without ever having to know how to truly help his kids.
That said, something far different caused me to revisit the question at hand… For, you see, today I spent some time at my new home rink here in Florida, working with a few local Bantams amid several members of our new Tropical Elite Hockey League. And it wasn’t too long into our on-ice session that I started thinking…
- I began with a little work on the players’ wrist shots, which only proved to me that those kids can’t shoot. (Don’t get me wrong, or think badly of that small group of kids. The fact is, they shoot as well — or as badly — as most other kids their ages.) The prescription seems simple enough, in that these kids just need to get a few thousand more shots under their belts.
- We spent the remainder of our time on-ice doing different variations of a passing drill that just further exposed a lot of deficiencies. Once again, the small group of kids I worked with were in the norm for their ages, meaning that they needed a ton of work on both their passing and their receiving skills. So does the cure for this one seem pretty simple, to include my Silent Passing drill and other ideas I’ve outlined in my video on “Passing Basics“.
Okay, so how about some information you can use?
- I frequently feel the need to shape a player’s (or players’) thinking when trying to start positive changes, and that’s exactly what I did when we got into the first shooting drills. I advised those young guys that goalers tend to look for a cue as they anticipate a shot, and that the best scorers put shots on-goal without any warning. With that, I had the kids practice shooting while balancing on one foot for a time, then shooting while balanced on the other. (The idea is to get them comfortable at ripping their shots from any posture.)
- The earliest shooting drills were done in place while firing against the boards. No real problems there. However, as soon as the guys started moving on a goaltender, I noticed them holding back or not really balancing on one skate at a time. I immediately halted the drill, and explained how the best players I’d ever worked with — and especially the ones who passed others and went on to the NHL and other pro levels — dared to try new things, and they even had the ability to laugh at themselves as they failed a few times. Oftentimes we have to convince kids that it’s not important to look good in practice, and that it’s actually okay to make lots of mistakes on their way to conquering a new skill. I also added, “Hey, you’re amongst friends here, so don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid to fail once in awhile.”
- When it came time to do our passing, all the basic problems jumped right out. However, I especially took the time to convince that group of guys about the benefits of making themselves easy targets for teammates to hit. I mean, moving through predictable routes while keeping a steady stick-target makes it super-easy for a teammate to feed you the puck.
- I also had to stress to those young guys the need to put a pass right where their teammate wants it. As a matter of fact, on one attack play, an open man went to the net with a steady target, stick cocked and ready to fire as soon as he received a pass. The problem: the guy with the puck passed it about 4′ off target, and any chance at a goal ended right there. Once again I stopped things, and explained that hitting or not hitting the target was most often the difference between scoring and not scoring.
Now, reflecting on today’s short session, I pretty much know that I’m going to begin with the absolute basics once my Junior “A” team gathers for it’s first workouts. I’m not leaving anything to chance, and I’m going to make sure I don’t skip a single step in any of the skill progressions. To be honest, I wouldn’t skip steps if I was greeting an NHL squad this coming fall, so I’m not going to do it with Junior players. In fact, I’ll suggest that no lower level youth hockey coach or parent move on to more advanced steps until they’re absolutely sure the basics have been mastered.
Then, just to make sure I’m answering the topic question… For sure, a know the sciences and I know some pretty advanced level X’s and O’s. At the same time — and as you may have noticed above, the answer to having a team (or individual) execute at a high level generally calls for some very simple remedies or explanations.
It’s possible you’re heard or read about the recent studies — and concerns that — players born in the first few months of any given USA Hockey (and other federation) age groups have quite an advantage. If you haven’t, though, please have a listen to the second point of the three described in the following video. That done, I’ll share a few of my thoughts.
– Dennis Chighisola
Effects of Birth Dates on Hockey Success
If anyone is scratching their head about that one, let me say what that brilliant guy said, but in terms we grassroots hockey folks deal with every day…
Starting right from the earliest tryouts, coaches of the better teams in each organization obviously pick what they perceive as the most talented kids they can find. Malcolm Gladwell defines them as the biggest, but I’m going to suggest that they are also the most mentally mature of the group. In other words, it’s likely that the light comes on a little sooner for the slightly older kids, so they tend to grasp instruction and concepts better than their younger counterparts. If we’re talking about kids up through 7- or 8-years old, appreciate that a few months difference in age is really quite a lot.
Anyway, next picture that those slightly more advanced kids get placed on a better team, and they more often than not also reap the benefits of a better coach (I mean, usually A Team coaches are more experienced than those handed the reins of a C Team).
Over the course of one season can mean quite a difference in development. However, envision that the same thing tends to happen, season after season, with the only slightly older or slightly sharper kids getting the best of practices, games and so much more.
I have to chuckle a little, in that I arrived at the answer to the problem before Gladwell mentioned it… Yes, a wise hockey federation would create a two-tiered system within each age group, so that kids born in the second half of each year would have as good a chance at developing. For example…
Majors – those born between January and June
Minors – those born between July and December
What they’d call those different age groups could be different — it’s unimportant. But, a country might just reap all the more talented players by bringing them along through such a split.
As I was putting the final touches on this article, and readying to publish it, something struck me. I don’t think the above described two-tiered system would have to go all the way up through youth hockey. No, because I have a sense that most of the damage is done — and it could be undone — in the ages from Mites through about Pee Wees. So, that’s what I’d suggest: splitting the ages through the early years, and then going with traditional setups from Bantams on upward.
Of course, the big problem with huge organizations is that they are usually extremely slow afoot. In other words, I can’t picture federations the size of USA Hockey or Hockey Canada making such changes without a decade of discussions.
Maybe something like that would be better taken on by another (AAU?) or new organization? I mean, it seems to me that just changing their birth date requirements — to start each group with July 1 birth dates — might steal half the players from the established federation.
Okay, short of all that, what might you do as the parent of a youngster who was born in the second half of the year?
First, it’s probably helpful just to understand the circumstances described above.
Secondly — at least if you live in the US, where high school hockey is big…
My son was born in May, so he never had a problem in that regard.
My grandson, on the other hand, was born in late July. Actually, perhaps due to some good behind the scenes training, he always seemed to do very well within his hockey and baseball age groups. Where he struggled was in elementary school, mainly because he was always the youngest in his class. So, as he moved to middle school, we moved him to a Catholic school and also had him repeat the 5th grade. It took some time for him to make the transition from a public education to the private one, but from high school through college he has never failed to make the honor roll or dean’s list. As for sports, that was a huge bonus. Once he moved from the USA Hockey date-of-birth system to being one of the oldest in his school grade, he’s gained the benefits of being comparatively physically and mentally mature.
No matter, or whether you need to dwell very much on all the above… What I do like to do, is be sure my CoachChic.com members are at least aware of these kinds of things.
It was probably about 30 or more years ago when I was sitting in on a meeting with the higher-ups to the forerunner of Massachusetts Hockey. We were laying the groundwork for some state-wide coaching programs, as well as developing the script for a video to be made available to all area youth hockey coaches.
To be honest, I can’t recall what caused me to turn some heads with a long time observation, but I think it was in answer to, “Anything else we might include in the lesson plans?”
What caused others in our small group to snap around was my want to warn youth coaches that, “Most drills help one area while causing a problem in another.”
– Dennis Chighisola
Hockey Drills Bring Both Good and Bad
My decade or so in coaching caused me to know that to be true back then, and the many years ’til now just convince me all the more. Yes, it’s true, that almost every drill we ever use brings about some positive results, while also causing our players to practice something we’d prefer not to introduce.
Want a great example of what I’m talking about?
We all have our players do a ton of drills that call for them to attack a defender and/or attack the net (aren’t there a thousand or more of these kinds of drills out there?). The problem arises when the drill seemingly ends, with the attacker turning off towards a corner to return to his or her line. And, you know that turning away from the net is not exactly what you’d like him or her to do in a game.
Recognizing that many years ago, I created another step to such drills, by having an assistant coach immediately toss a loose puck in the crease, so that our attackers could get used to stopping and going for a rebound.
Still, the drill has to end at some point, which calls for the attacker to ultimately relax and return to line. Some “flow drills” have players attacking, quickly defending, doing something else, whatever. However, in the end, everyone does eventually turn from the play and return to line. :/
Now, the above might suggest that the good and bad influences of drills only occur when we’re doing things like match ups, or attacking and defending drills. Not so, though…
The same can be said about skills work, and especially about cross-training. In fact, if you ever take advantage of my free video series, “You Don’t Need Ice!”, I spend a little time explaining how I happen to deal with that. Actually, I speak there in reference to the Theory of the Transfer of Skills, which governs when slightly related exercises or skill drills transfer either positively or negatively to our main sport.
I do plan to comment more on the latter in a few secs. However, I’d like you to view the following video as kinda of a backdrop to my later comments. If you would, keep an eye on the little goaltender who is playing in a 3 on 3 small game…Loading...
Okay, what YOU probably saw was an undisciplined little netminder, roaming far from his crease, flopping and diving around, and sometimes seeming rather lazy when shots weren’t imminent. I took that video because that’s what all of us would see — from the exterior.
A year or so ago, I went back and forth with a CoachChic.com member about his little guy, also a young goalie who was at the time playing in a 3 on 3 league in the UK. The dad’s concern had to do with water breaks, because he found the pace of an almost non-stop small game pretty demanding for the one player on each team who doesn’t get to leave the ice. (We discussed attaching a waterbottle to the net for quick sips when the boy could grab them.)
My point here, however, is to let you know what a goaler goes through in such a game, and to suggest that the sometimes laziness we see in the video is totally understandable.
Getting back to the main premise — about what’s really happening in the video…
The reason I took those clips is because of what I was really seeing. I mean, I witnessed that little guy performing a lot of really athletic movements that he wouldn’t ordinarily try in a league game. And, just so you know, he was arguably the best goalie in our AA Mite league last season, and he’s more recently been promoted to the Elite team at the Mite level. So, he does play with decent discipline, while also daring to come out for loose pucks, and he’ll even dare to make passes up-ice to open teammates.
Where did all that daring come from? I’ll suggest that it stems from three things: 1) the boy participates as a skater in two weekly skills sessions, 2) he’s a smiling but daring personality who takes to physical challenges, and 3) he seems to practice his athleticism in those weekly 3 on 3 games.
Now, for my personal take on all the above, or the fact that drills tend to bring with them both good and not so good results…
In my estimation, it’s often worth it to allow some negative things to transfer into a youngster’s game, so long as there are more positives coming along with it. That’s how I felt about my little goalie, and it’s also how I feel about teach younger players to body-check and take slapshots — at the expense of occasionally taking a penalty or losing a goal. Personally, I care more about long term development than I do any one game right now.
And I think the same can be said about a given match up drill and some forms of cross-training. As that free video series points out, we should be able to live with a little negative influence, as long as there’s plenty of positives going on.
We can thank Natalie C for the following question, submitted via our Ask The Coach box up above.
And a good question it is, since it’s one that arises throughout the winter as I deal with my own Learn-to-skate/Learn-to-play clinics.
– Dennis Chighisola
Helping A New “Hockey” Mom
Just so you know, I placed the term Hockey in quotation marks because this is probably more about learning to skate — and a lot of other things — than about really playing the game. With that, let’s deal with Natalie’s question in small parts, with hers being indented as follows:
I need some advice about my 4 year old son. At 3 we started skating lessons for him. He really didn’t get much out of these, except learning how to get up from falling.
If there’s anything I can get bummed about, it’s that a mistake may be made before I can really do anything about it. And in this regard, I’d like everyone to know that the two levels of my program run back-to-back, and I control the movement of each student from level to level. It might surprise readers that I have only a few physical requirements when it comes to moving a youngster up to my Learn-to-play group. On the other hand, I make absolutely sure that a little one is mentally up to the new challenges before a promotion is in order. As a matter of fact, I may even let a borderline kid stay in the Learn-to-skate group for a few more weeks after I think he or she is ready to move, but let him or her stay for a few minutes into the next group as a way of testing things and letting him or her get their feet wet. Not so surprisingly, perhaps, I’ve had better luck with kids I’ve held back a few extra weeks than with those I’ve moved up too hastily.
He is 4 1/2 now and he started Ice Mites. Looking at all the kids he is probably below average. He doesn’t need a chair, but he barely moves! He just won’t even try! After 30min. of the lesson he moves his way to the door and wants to be done. He’s been told how to hold his stick many times but won’t hold it the right way for more than a couple seconds.
I think Natalie’s comments here pretty much support what I hinted at above. For sure, the little guy seems as though he could have used another season (or part-season) back in the basic skating clinic. She also brings into this discussion the age issue, which is something that really should be highlighted here. So, with that, I’m pasting in a piece from the FAQ section of my Learn-to website…
- About player ages… A lot of new parents wonder about the proper ages for these programs, to which Coach Chic usually responds, “There probably really aren’t any.” In most instances it has a lot more to do with a youngster’s personality. In other words, a daring 2 1/2-year old might do better than a 9-year old who won’t let go of the boards. So again, it usually has a lot more to do with whether a child will come out onto the ice — and just give things a try, versus there being a set age limit.
That piece was actually written for parents who were considering entering their very young one into the clinic. However, the concept — of focusing more on personality than age — is very appropriate to the discussion at hand. And this should at least help Natalie appreciate why a lot of 4-year olds in her son’s clinic approach the lessons very differently. It’s quite likely that Natalie’s little guy is less mature than some of the others in his hockey group, but I’m not saying that as a bad thing at all. (It’s conceivable that some of his more aggressive on-ice friends will have issues later in a classroom environment.)
When they bring the nets out he wants to be the goalie. I think it’s just a way for him to stand and not try. He says he likes it, but it sure doesn’t seem that way.
This could very well be a good thing. I mean, it seems like the tyke is “into it”, at least somewhat; it’s just that he’s a bit overwhelmed by the hockey group right now.
So, as a parent, how do I handle this?? I’ve been told he’s just too young, but there are plenty of 4 yr olds zipping around out there. Maybe he’s just not ready?
There’s not a lot more to be said in this area right now. However, I may have more positive suggestions to make in awhile.
Fine, but he should learn to honor a commitment. I am just getting way too stressed and frustrated about this. I know that’s not right.
Oh, I am not at all teasing about Natalie’s pain, or the fact that she’s getting stressed over all this. Actually, I was a 20-something and 30-something hockey parent a kzillion years ago, and I was a jerk.
I do think it nice that Natalie wants her son to ultimately learn to honor a commitment — emphasis on “ultimately”. At 4-years old, it’s not really his commitment yet. However, I will suggest that she keep that philosophy in mind for a few years down the road, and I’ll further suggest that coaches like me will love her and her son for that type of sentiment.
I feel like it will be more fun for him once he really starts to skate well, but that’s not going to happen if he doesn’t try.
Okay, now for some positive advice… That thing about Natalie’s son being too quickly rushed out of the skating clinic and into the hockey one is water over the dam. It’s done, we have to somewhat forget about it, but we sure do have to make some amends.
Only Natalie would know whether withdrawing the boy from his current clinic would be right. I am thinking NOT. And that brings me to the suggestion to blend in some supplemental opportunities for the youngster to play catch-up. Here are a few things that come to mind:
1) Another go-round in a learn-to-skate clinic wouldn’t hurt. Actually, it’s possible — at a year older — the boy would do quite well with that kind of instruction, he’d probably blow through some of the progressions, and likely gain some needed confidence.
2) My own boy got to play some minor league pro hockey, and I think back to the things we did as a family that just may have helped him as much as all the formal instruction he received. In that regard, I’m talking about some time on nearby ponds, and the times we’d go as a family to a local rink for public skating sessions. In both instances, there was no pressure, and the chance to kinda free-wheel-it. Best of all were the public skating sessions when my son and some other 5- or 6-year old buddies would chase each other in and out of the crowd. If you folks get my drift here, I’m talking about fun, no pressures, and the chance to actually gain confidence.
3) Every week before my Learn-to-skate kids go onto the ice, we spend about 10-minutes in the lockerroom doing what I call SkateDrills. I’ve made a science out of that kind of training with my oldest students and players, but with the little ones this short session is a chance to rehearse some of the things we’ll later do on the ice. And, make no mistake about it: learning to get up and down, march, jog and jump with the skates on has absolutely nothing to do with ice. No, it’s about handling the body, and handling the body over a pair of thin stilts. That said, I’m suggesting that Natalie find a place at home where her son could wear his skates for something like 10-minutes per day, and perhaps she could allow him or encourage him to try some of the tricks I just mentioned.
Are there kids who acted this way when his age and turned out to be great hockey players? Please tell me what to do? I’m desperate for some advice on how to handle this.
Thanks Name Natalie C
A big right back at ya, Natalie, plus some good news… I make it a big deal over on my Learn-to website about the fact that my son’s son was a “snow eater” during his first winter in my program (at about 4-years old). Truthfully, I didn’t care if he became a hockey player, but I did want him to learn to skate, to swim, etc. Truth also be known, we had to sometimes bribe him with doughnuts to keep him on the ice. In a sec, I’m going to direct Natalie and others to see a clip of how well my grandson ultimately developed.
In the meantime, here’s one last, super-important point… Perhaps the one term I’ve used here more than any other is “confidence”. Honest to God, one can’t do anything well without it, and it’s my main underlying aim as I work with every one of my students or players — no matter their age. And I’m suggesting that Natalie do the very same for her little guy. In most instances, holding a youngster back until he’s mastered a given skill is the best way to instill confidence. For, with that, the youngster increasingly dares to take on new challenges.
Okay, thanks again for that awesome question, Natalie! Take heart; there’s plenty of hope for your son if you just go slowly with him for a time. Then, look for the first video on my Learn-to Home Page, to see a slightly older boy feeling pretty good about himself.
I’m creating this entry for a lot of reasons…
First, I didn’t find the following information; actually, a good friend who knows my unique interests sent me the initial link, which led me to many more interesting pages on this subject.
Secondly, the device demonstrated in this post — and the scientific thinking behind it — is pretty typical of the stuff I like to get into. Do I tend to run ahead of the curve? Ya, I think so.
Lastly, although I like to make sure all the basic hockey concepts are covered within these pages, I have an equal need to keep you on the cutting edge.
With that, get a load of the device and theory shown below.
– Dennis Chighisola
Vapor Strobe Training
Let’s begin with a video that ought to really get you thinking…Loading...
What do you think? Is Nike onto something here? You bet! Just common sense says it’ll work to enhance a number of athletic qualities — for goaltenders and for skaters.
If you’re interested in buying your own strobe glasses, they’re easy to locate through a Google search. I think the ones I found for sale were about $280. (For the time being — at that price, they’re on my wish list — LOL!)
Urging members to purchase these is not my point here, however. What I do want to do is expand your thinking, or open your mind to what’s out there.
I also want to suggest to you that the competition will soon be using these and other pretty sophisticated gear and training methods to jump ahead of you, your child or your team. That’s the way it’s best over recent years — everyone seeking just the slightest edge.
With that, I’ll leave you with a couple of videos I located over at YouTube.com, these showing the strobe glasses in use…
My Twitter friend Joe C (who goes by @Emptynet62) sent me a link this morning to a video that highlights something we’ve all probably seen countless times.
I took the link Joe provided, sat back and watched, then found my mind racing with lots of random thoughts. Perhaps, though, you should watch the same video before I get into all that.
– Dennis Chighisola
Predicting Hockey Stardom
To begin, my feeling is that the cute little guy featured in that piece is awesome. And I mean that in many ways — from his poise on camera to the way he seemingly handles himself on the ice.
I also want to reaffirm something you should have caught me saying over and over within these pages, in that a certain “mentality” is required in order for a player to be a dangerous offensive threat. The move he made in that video more than hints at this little guy having that kind of mindset. But so are there a number of other cues I gathered from his brief interview.
The dad also hinted at this in his mention of a backyard rink. Ya, that’s the kind of atmosphere where creativity is fostered. You know what I mean — where a kid can just fiddle and fiddle and fiddle with a puck.
All those established, I now feel the need to switch about 180-degrees in order to deal with that “Predicting Hockey Stardom” issue. Ya, predicting…
Well, would you believe that NHL clubs aren’t thrilled with having to make decisions on teenage players? That only came about after Wayne Gretzky’s representatives began legal wranglings when he was a teen, these basically suggesting the NHL was depriving the soon to be Great One from making a living by not considering younger players than they had been drafting. My point: National Hockey League teams would much rather make their decisions based on far more data, and the amount of data increases greatly with each year they get to see and evaluate a player. Said yet another way, practically anyone could better judge a player’s pro readiness at age 20 or 21, rather than at 18-years of age.
I’ve mixed plenty with NHL scouts through the years. And, while most I’ve met have been pretty savvy guys, I know that they know their evaluations are not part of an exact science. Anything but, since there are as many player intangibles to be guessed at as there are seeming obvious physical qualities.
And that brings me back to 9-year old Oliver, who isn’t 21, 20, or even 18-years of age. Just how many things can change for that young man in the next 9-years or so? Ha, trying to list them here just might blow this site’s server.
Just on the physical side, injury or illness could shortcut his progression, and so could his fortunes change depending on whether he matures to be 5′ 3″ or 6′ 5″. So could the speed of his movements ultimately help or hamper the boy’s worthiness to play pro.
As for those so-called intangibles, let me at least mention a few… Probably Number One on that list would be Oliver’s eventual coachability. And I think a very close second will be his willingness to work (listen to my short audio, “A Lot Of Things Change As A Player Gets Older“, for more on this). And, slightly related to the previous point, I’ll suggest that kids often do change their priorities as they get older — think cars, girls, jobs.
A given class of future recruits changes from year to year also. In other words, while someone may have had young Oliver at the top of their list last year, a kid named Walter from Alaska might claim that spot now, and a young Russian boy named Igor could grab it the next.
Summing up this part — while that has to seem like a lot of negatives, I’ll suggest that that isn’t my intent. All I’ve attempted to do is be a little realistic. And I’m trying to just point out the near futility in trying to project talent too many years in advance.
That out of the way, though, let me suggest that Oliver has several things working in his favor.
As I mentioned earlier, he seems to have the right mentality. And this, in turn, tends to bring many successes, which should only encourage him to work all the more (in other words, it snowballs — from a want to work to successes to a want to work more, etc).
Oliver’s dad — if he’s not overbearing, also seems a huge asset. Of course, some might think his college playing experiences may help, while I’m not so sure about that. However, I suspect the dad’s development within the Swedish hockey system may help him be a little bit more creative in comparison to a lot of North American hockey dads.
Then, of course, there’s that backyard rink. Ya, I love that idea, and I count it as a biggie in Oliver’s favor.
This might be a topic I don’t need to address with most members. Still, I don’t like to ever leave any important point unsaid.
Make no mistake: rope skipping is beneficial to just about every athlete, and it can help a hockey player in a number of extra ways.
– Dennis Chighisola
Rope Skipping Benefits for Hockey Players
I think it best that I show you a very short video before we get into a discussion on the benefits of rope skipping, this to act as sort of a frame of reference…Loading...
You ought to know that my AAA Bantams arrived at that same rink parking lot right after my young Mites left. And, although I may have presented and run the drills just a tad differently, my older guys did the same rope skipping sequences.
So, basically, both groups began with their individual skipping in place, I had all the kids jog across the parking lot — forward and backwards — as they skipped, they next tried jumping a long rope swung by two teammates, and they ultimately even tried holding their sticks in a hockey posture as they jumped.
Okay, so about that video, and the benefits of rope skipping…
I hope you recognized that those little guys are still growing into their bodies, and they’re only gradually gaining real coordination. So, I’d like you to appreciate how much the simple act of rope skipping is forcing them to really handle their entire bodies. If we think about it, just twirling the individual rope calls into play an athlete’s fingers, hands, wrists and arms. And, once the rope gets moving, he or she has to coordinate the rest of the body with a jump.
One can’t jump at just any old time, so timing is an important part of this exercise. Actually, timing will be crucial in their game as my kids mature. If you can picture it, clumsier skaters tend to miss-time a lot of things, while the better skilled ones do almost everything at precisely the right moment.
Of course, there will ultimately be some other benefits to skipping rope, including a little bit of strength and a lot of endurance (the type of conditioning to be determined by the intensity and duration of each bout).
Now, I could have just as easily shown you some clips of my older guys skipping. However, I believe extremes make better examples. I mean, the above video shows a group of very young human beings as they struggle with a new physical problem. And watching them tends to exaggerate each of the challenges they face — as in coordination, timing, etc.
With that, I’d like you to appreciate that there is a learning curve to everything, including athleticism. So is there a learning curve to hockey specific skills — like skating, puckhandling, passing, receiving, shooting, and all the rest. And, make no mistake about it: the better athlete has the chance to be the better hockey player.
Man, I can’t emphasize that point enough. Much has been written within this website about the so-called “failed experiment”, whereby, during a period in North American hockey history, overall athleticism was neglected in favor of sport-specific training. That period produced less creative players, players who couldn’t handle their bodies well in 1 on 1 match-ups, and players who were more prone to injury. (My personal opinion is that that period also opened the door for far more athletic European players to make their marks in the game.)
Of course, I’m a hockey coach, and I’m not about to abandon hockey-specific training. It’s just that the ideal is to begin with an “athlete”, and then build from there.
Over the years, I’ve also found numerous ways to combine rope skipping with hockey training. Or, said another way, I like to keep building on my players’ basic rope skipping abilities with all the more difficult challenges.
The latter in mind, consider that we hockey types play on blades that are rounded on the bottom, and a great deal of our mobility on the ice is based on our ability to handle our body-weight over those rounded blades. Just jumping while in skates enhances our balance, while skipping rope calls into play all the previously described challenges and ultimate benefits. What also happens with the rope skipping version of jumping is that a player’s landings are almost all unpredictable. There’s a lot going on as the body twists and deals with the rope in mid-air, so that the landings can be on one foot or the other, or on absolutely every part of a skate’s blade. Or, as I can joke at time, “It’s a new thrill every time a player lands!”
There is also much said within this site about a hockey player needing to deal with lots of other problems as he or she handles the puck. And that’s why I ultimately took long rope jumping to a new level. I mean, as partners twirl the long rope, my more advanced players must dribble a ball (off-ice) or a puck (on-ice). Imagine the challenge: timing the jumps with the dribbles, keeping the stick from tangling in the rope, and then also dealing with all the odd ways one can land. Ya, I’d call that a challenge, and I’d also suggest it very nearly matches the kinds of challenges a player faces in real game action.
In closing, a few months ago, I gave members of both my teams homework assignments (with the parents of my younger kids asked to help their little ones). I wanted them to get a head start on skipping (among other things), just so we could have the feeling-out stage out of the way before we met as teams. Of course, human nature being what it is, some kids did, some didn’t, and it was obvious the other night. No matter, I think patience is one of THE most important virtues a coach can have. Anyway, the important thing is that my kids are on their way. Now all I want is for them to just keep growing — in overall athleticism, and then in hockey-specific skills.
Really, this entry was at least partly inspired by my previous post in this category — which included Dr Norris’ pretty intriguing comments on USA Hockey’s new ADM program.
At the same time, I’m hoping that by now my CoachChic.com friends have come to trust me as I search high and low for information that can put them far ahead of others.
So, with that, the following video should prove both entertaining and humorous. You might even see a little of yourself or a child as you watch and listen. Truly, though, Sir Ken Robinson’s line of thinking has much to do with the way I happen to view young, developing hockey players. I’ll save my own thoughts until after you’ve had a chance to see the video, however.
– Dennis Chighisola
Do Schools Kill Creativity?
Okay, I’m hoping by now you’ve gotten the sense that creativity can be stifled within our educational institutions. That established, however, I wonder if you’ve ever considered the possibility that a rather old sport — with so much tradition — can also squelch unique spirits and ingenuity. Huh?
Just think… If it wasn’t for the stubbornness of a Jacques Plante, goaltenders nowadays might still be facing ferocious shots without a mask. One has to wonder if Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion was at all deterred along the way as he experimented with his new offensive weapon, the slapshot. And, we have to really think about the chance that an overbearing hockey coach way back in their earliest years could have totally discouraged the creativity of a Gretzky, a Lemieux, or an Ovechkin.
As for me, I’ll share this brief story… A few years back, I tried a highly skilled little guy on the powerplay with some slightly older players. Right off, that little guy started freelancing with our plays, which just as immediately drew some concerns from one of my assistant coaches. I kinda chuckled at that, as I whispered to my assistant, “That’s what I’ve been looking for all along!” Our plays weren’t meant to be regimented; they were just ideas for what we could do in various circumstances.
Oh, you or I might not be coaching a future Great One. But, then, who knows.? The point I’m trying to really make here is that our sport needs creativity. So, we ought to think twice before making all of our youngest players conform to every old standard.
PS: Addressing this issue just now with a Facebook friend, I was reminded of something I’ve always felt… Ya know, when we have a roster full of good, hard working people, we always long for that one unique player who can seemingly pull rabbits out of a hat. (I think you know what I mean: a real magician when the chips are on the line.) The sad part comes when some coaches get that one special player, beat on him or her for being creative, and seemingly try to turn him or her into an ordinary one.
Oh, boy, I know I’ve caused you to think more than a little on this one.
So, would you mind offering those thoughts? I’d love to hear them!
We have CoachChic.com member, Tim Taylor, to thank for locating this VERY informative video.
Dr Norris isn’t introduced until about the 23-minute mark of the video, so you might want to fast-forward to that point. Also, the audio doesn’t improve until after awhile but, it does ultimately improve.
As for the information in this video, I think long-time members will discover that a lot of its content has been covered within this site. Norris’ version, however, is an even better, more condensed approach to a lot of what you’ll find under Highlight Reel Skills.
Anyway, find a time when you’re not distracted, turn-up your speakers (or headphones), and enjoy!
– Dennis Chighisola
Dr Steve Norris Speaks on the ADM Hockey Program
It’s interesting that my friend, Bruce Turpin, should publish on the following topic at this time. After all, it’s pretty much been my mantra here for several weeks.
Anyway, I don’t want to spoil things by getting into that now; Bruce will do the job even better than I.
Then, just so you know, Coach Turpin knows his stuff. He holds a Masters Degree in Physical Education, and he’s one of the best to ever work within my hockey school staff. So, enjoy, and especially learn from a very bright man.
– Dennis Chighisola
With summer right around the corner, are you being S.M.A.R.T. ?
Summer is quickly approaching! Do you have a plan? Do not miss out on a great opportunity to prepare yourself for next hockey season. You have 10-12 weeks from the end of the school year to the start of a new one, leaving plenty of time to work on developing your game (both physically and mentally). Will you use this time wisely? Do you know how to use this time wisely?
Can you tell me what are you doing today to become a better player (or a better person)?
The above is a pretty robust question if you don’t have an understanding of where you are and where you want to go (ie. what you want to accomplish). How will you know if you ever get there? How will you even know how to get there?
As your summer gets underway, what paths will you take? If you haven’t begun to do so, you need to start thinking about what you want to accomplish this summer and what you want to accomplish next season. Not only thinking about it, but writing it down in the form of clear, concise goals. These written goals will help guide you toward your destination and in times of difficulty can be used to re-focus your efforts and get you back on track.
Your goals should be straightforward and focus on what you want to happen. As you go about creating your goals, you should incorporate the SMART model for goal-setting.
S — Specific: think about what you want to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it, and how you are going to accomplish it
M — Measurable: you need to be able to gauge your progress
A — Attainable: you need to set goals that you can achieve, nothing to easy, nothing too hard, but they need to be outside your comfort zone
R — Realistic: can you realistically achieve this goal (within the availability of your resources, knowledge and time)
T — Timely: have you set a time frame and end point for this goal
Goal-setting can be a powerful tool if used appropriately and consistently. Every college coach I worked with last summer conveyed the importance of goal-setting within their own programs. They stressed the need to accomplish this, not only on a team basis, but on an individual-player basis as well. Some of the many benefits derived from the goal-setting process include providing you with something to strive for, motivating you to take action, creating benchmarks for success, and building up your self-esteem.
I encourage you to take time to think about what you want to accomplish this summer, why you want to accomplish it, and how you will go about accomplishing it. Remember to create clear and concise goals following the SMART protocol; create daily or weekly goals that can be used as stepping-stones along the pathway towards your overall (or long-term) goals; set goals that are attainable, but outside your comfort zone, as they will feel much more rewarding and satisfying when they are achieved.
Let me finish this post, by re-asking the following questions:
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TODAY TO BECOME A BETTER PLAYER
and ARE YOU BEING S.M.A.R.T. ABOUT IT?
Bruce Turpin just began a blog you might want to follow… Functional Training for Hockey
If you have questions or Comments — on this topic, or for Bruce, please leave them below.
As you’ll soon see, there’s a good reason why I’m holding the following from public view. Ya, this is definitely for members only!
You see, this post is a result of the Comments that came-in after I posted “Hockey Stick Measurement Help” (go see that if you haven’t already).
Yes, two awesome members — Craig and Jon — jumped into the fray with slightly contrasting views on what this old coach had to say. So, as I replied to Jon, he’s now “… forcing me to share something I cringe to mention in front of young or developing players!”
– Dennis Chighisola
“Borrowing” from Our Hockey Strengths
Okay, I (and any other conscientious hockey advisers) have to answer questions — at least initially — with the broadest audience in mind. So, in my case, I’ll most often provide a pretty good “rule of thumb” when I answer your questions. Said yet another way, the answer I’ll usually provide will help almost anyone in our game.
That would especially be the case when it comes to equipment — either in the various choices we might need to make, or how we might measure or doctor our gear.
Still, there IS the chance for a player to gain in an area of weakness, IF he or she has a certain strength that can be traded in exchange.
Here’s a short story that might best describe what I’m getting at here…
More than a generation ago, my son and future Olympic speed skating medalist Eric Flaim were best friends, and they attended my clinics together, went to my hockey schools for a lot of summers, and even played on my NEHI team together. Actually, Eric eventually strayed from hockey to the other sport because I added a speed skating instructor to my camp staff who immediately saw some great innate qualities in that boy.
Anyway, that speed skating instructor — Steve — had some pretty good knowledge that could help my players (and I don’t doubt that he learned as much from interacting with us hockey guys).
Actually, at one point, Steve tried to work his magic with my son, owing to the fact that my guy possessed just about every desirable hockey quality EXCEPT FOR STRAIGHT-AHEAD SPEED. What Steve suggested was that Mike try a different sort of skate sharpening, or a slight variation on the type speed skaters use.
As you ought to know, the hockey skate is ground to make a “hollow” down the length of a blade, which creates an extremely sharp edge on each side of the blade. And, those sharp edges provide the hockey player his or her ability to make quick cuts or turns on the ice.
Steve and I had to put our heads together on this one, however, because his suggestion might have been considered a little drastic. I mean, he was recommending that we reduce the edges on Mike’s skates, which would in turn produce less drag or friction as the skates glided on the ice. (In other words, the blades would be sharpened flatter, or with less hollow.) Hmmmmmmm…
Okay, so here’s the reasoning that went into all this — or the reason I suspected Steve’s idea would work… Use see, Mike had unbelievable edge control and cutting ability. So, we figured that — while he’d lose just a hair in that department, there was the likelihood that he’d gain quite a lot in his forward speed. And, the overall combination — of slightly less cutting ability but more straight-ahead speed — would actually equal a plus in Mike’s game.
Mission accomplished! As we’d surmised, Mike’s maneuverability hardly changed, while he gained considerable speed on the straight-aways, again owing to the decreased friction between his skates and the ice.
Now, before everyone reading this runs out and changes their skate sharpening methods, let me say again: that Mike went into that affair with something to trade-off, or to “borrow” from. He had elite-type edge control before the new sharpening, and the later adjustment didn’t even put him back in the pack as far as cutting abilities went.
Saying all that again, in a different way: a player MUST have a strength from which to borrow, if he or she is going to make adjustments that aid in other areas.
All that said, let me now copy and paste something from Jon’s Comment:
“But what I REALLY wanted to mention was the Norwegian Hobbit Wizard that plays for Rangers, Mats Zuccarello. Youtube him. In his debut game for the Rangers on the 23rd he made Tortorella laugh out loud in amazement when he scored on a shoot out goal. He is what you would call a stick handler.
He is 5ft 7 but his playing style warrants a really long stick. His forte is the corners and he can dangle and bedazzle anyone in there and make some inspired passes. With a really long stick. But he actually had to cut off 2 inches off the stick when he came from the European rinks to the North American rinks. I would assume that to mean that playing style matters when they are playing at that level. At my level I think it matters more that I learn to skate!
* After the fact, Jon was kind enough to email me a link to the Zuccarello shootout goal, so please see that below.
Now, without me really knowing this “Norwegian Hobbit Wizard”, let’s just go a little on what Jon has said… Does it sound like this guy has a strength he might borrow from? I’m guessing it’s so, since Jon describes him as “what you would call a stick handler.” In other words, Zuccarello evidently handles the puck far better than most, and he might just be able to trade-off a hair on that skill for a little of something else.
Hmmmmm, that something else… Right-off, I can tell you that a longer stick-shaft will give a player more force in his or her shot (yup, the longer lever arm does that). And, in the case of Zuccarello — because he IS such a great puckhandler, I doubt he’s going to lose much of that skill as he goes to a longer stick.
Once again, however, I fear someone using the latter knowledge without thinking long and hard. So, beware…
In my estimation, puckcontrol comes before shooting. And, man, can I give you some examples of that!
Over the years, I’ve had quite a few big, strong high school and college guys who looked like they could be an asset on my powerplay point. I mean, during tryouts or in practice, they would shoot absolute lasers from the point positions. If there was a problem, it came in the games, when they could hardly ever get-off a shot.
Why so? Well, you’ll have to trust me on this one, I guess, but my feeling was that they were awful puckhandlers, and that they could hardly ever deal with the puck and get themselves set to rip a shot. Just the slight slowness they demonstrated with handling the puck gave opponents the chances to get right in their face.
I got these guys late, of course, and it was a little late for me to change their sticks and teach them to stickhandle the way it would be required to play the way I’d have liked for our powerplay.
As I hope you can see, I fear anyone putting the cart before the horse when it comes to the trade-offs I’ve mentioned above. In fact, that last example might give you an indication of what might happen to a player if he or she goes with a long stick early-on, and never masters the art of puckhandling.
Then, I want to return to Jon’s mention about Zuccarello being good in the corners, etc… I’m not sure there’s a connection between that guy’s stick length and his extra abilities in the corners, and I would even think there isn’t (unless I hear it right from the horse’s mouth). That said, I will leave you with a slightly connected story…
Lots of years ago, I had a certain guest instructor in my hockey school. He was a member of the most famous line on the “Big Bad Bruins” of the ’70s, and a household name among most hockey fans. If I had to add one more thing to that, I’d probably be safe in saying that he wasn’t the big scorer on that line.
Anyway, in a classroom session one day at camp, our guest spent quite a bit of time talking about equipment, how the Bruins’ trainers doctored it at times for the players, and so forth.
When the subject of his skates arose, I mentioned that I wasn’t crazy about his plastic molded ones, having analyzed different skaters wearing them.
Surprisingly, he agreed with me, and he went on to explain how his job wasn’t to be stylish (like his two mates). No, his job included more corner work and controlling the puck with his feet. So the extra thick plastic boots tended to protect him and to make that part of his job a little easier.
Okay, so why did I mention that story? It’s because we fans watch the games from long distance, and we really haven’t a clue why some of our heroes do the things they do. Some of those guys have really good reasons — and they might be right; there are yet others who think they’re gaining from doing something odd with their gear, and they are terribly (and scientifically) wrong. So again, beware of copying your favorite players. Many of them are actually stars despite the odd things they do!
Here’s that Zuccarello shootout goal (enjoy)…
Oh, boy, I can just imagine the Comments coming in on this one
(although you know I’ll love ‘em)!
Most long-time members should know my strong belief in “visualization” or “mental imagery”. In fact, while most hockey folks put the majority of their eggs into their on-ice skills basket, Shaun Goodsell and I are forever urging our CoachChic.com friends to pay just as much attention to enhancing their mental skills.
I think long-time members will also recall my love for several social media sites. Yes, Twitter and Facebook are where I’ve met some of the best and brightest advisers one could ever find, and those sites are where a lot of my current day friends reside.
Such is the case with a new on-line friend, Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter. She’s a Sports Psychology Expert, and I’ll tell you a little more about her once you’ve had the chance to see her special video.
– Dennis Chighisola
Visualization-Performance Coaching Tips for Sports
Okay, after many years of espousing the virtues of mental imagery, I finally came across someone who explains pretty well the techniques we might use when planning our own visualization sessions. So, have a look and listen to what Dr JoAnn has to offer…
Now, since I’m guessing mostly adults will watch that video, I’m wondering if any of you got the feeling those methods would work in areas beyond sport, or beyond hockey. I mean, how about in our work? Actually, how about in our personal lifestyles?
Yup, that’s powerful stuff, and I’ll suggest it will work anywhere IF we follow The Good Doctor’s advice!
Okay, Dr JoAnn can be found all around the Internet. However, besides looking into some of her other YouTube videos, here are some other ways you might follow her awesome advice…
Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter
Sports Psychology Expert
Our good friend Ravi made an unbelievable contribution in a Comment (below), providing us all a link to a video showing Mike Cammalleri using visualization in his own way. That video was so good (as was the narration by Don Cherry) that I thought I’d embed it right here within this post just to make it easier for members to see. Thanks again, Ravi!
– Dennis Chighisola
By the way, folks… The “Bobby” Don Cherry is talking about in that video is none other than the great Bobby Orr. So, Cherry is saying that Orr used similar visualization methods, but he’d practice his in the lockerroom long before games. Wow!
As I do sort of a sequel to an earlier post (“Solving Hockey Training Problems”), I’m almost thinking that a kzillion other articles and videos could have been titled almost the same. After all, what I’ve done for years is to mainly troubleshoot — for the sake of my players, my students, their parents and a lot of other coaches. And, chances are good that you also have to do tons of problem solving if you’re a hockey player, parent or coach.
That said, let me share what got me going on my current rant…
– Dennis Chighisola
More on Solving Hockey Problems
Last week I corresponded with a member who was having some ankle and hip problems. I made sure I told that young lady player that I’m not a doctor, and that my ideas and experiences should not replace her seeking professional medical advice.
That out of the way, I did share with her my thoughts based on about 40-years of experience in such matters.
My first question — again based on experience — was to see if she’d made any recent changes — especially when it came to her skates or any other gear she wears on the lower extremities. Her first answer was, “No.” However, given a brief time, she did say that her latest skate sharpening was not to her liking, and that it made her feel uncomfortable on the ice. Hmmmmmm…
Now again, I am not a doctor. However, think this through with me…
If a piece of gear feels the least bit uncomfortable, a hockey player is very likely to compensate in some way. In this member’s case, I suspect she may have started skating just a tad differently, which might have caused some soreness somewhere. Yes, somewhere, because I’ve seen a change in posture suddenly cause awful back problems, and pain in several other places. So, what’s the chance her way of compensating had her over-stressing her feet and ankles? Could be, huh?
With that, I might further guess that her sore ankles caused her to skate even more differently, with that resulting in some pain in her hips.
Now, this stuff is still all a guess; it’s just that it’s a fairly educated one. (I don’t know if you’ve read through the years how some Major League Baseball pitchers have had their careers ended because a foot or leg injury caused them to throw differently and to ultimately over-stress their pitching arms. But, it is so.)
All this said, today’s post IS NOT really about our young friend’s aches and pains. What it IS about is our need to gather as many experiences and bits of knowledge as possible, in order to be able to troubleshoot any difficulty that might come along.
I used to get teased by a friend who liked to say that I “know too many facts”. That discussion ended, however, when I ran across an article whereby it was stated that (and I paraphrase), “Common sense stems from being able to piece together numerous random facts.”
That in mind, you can imagine how helpful it can be for anyone in hockey to know not only the sciences, skills, tactics and strategies, but also the way equipment should be measured, how skates and sticks should be adapted to the individual, and so much more.
Actually, I learned how to sharpen skates in my earliest years in the game, and I studied all I could about the characteristics of a skate radius. I picked the brains of my friends in the local pro shops, and I’ve even asked a lot of questions of the Zamboni operators. Beyond my Physical Education Degree studies, I even took extra sports medicine courses outside of my formal education. And I’ve forgotten where else I’ve stuck my nose in, just trying to gain more and more “random facts”.
Okay, so the reason I’m saying all this… First, I’m hoping that a lot of the “little things” you need to know are already somewhere within the near 400 posts contained here. I’m also suggesting each member nose around as I have, asking questions wherever and whenever there’s a chance to gather a deeper understanding of our game and a player’s needs. Then, of course, I truly want you to put me to the test, and to ask me absolutely anything you’d like. Hey, I said I truly want you to.
One of the most exciting parts of my job is the chance I get to meet so many great hockey people — from the parents of my little Learn-to-skate kids to my fellow CoachChic.com members to some awesome professionals (many of whom have contributed to these pages).
Consequently, I’m as excited to have Greg Beaudin share with us some very interesting information on a recent hot topic here, floorball.
As you’ll discover, Greg knows his stuff. So, here he is, answering a question many of you may have asked of late (but not necessarily in such a colorful way).
– Dennis Chighisola
WHAT THE BLEEP IS FLOORBALL?
By Greg Beaudin
Innebandy(Swedish), SaliBandy(Finnish), Unihockey(Swiss/German) and Floorball are all the same sport, just different names to reflect regionality. The International Sport Governing Body is known as the International Floorball Federation and the IOC recognizes “FLOORBALL” as the parent term to describe the sport. The Canadian Federation is simply known as “Floorball Canada” (FC) and in the US, they are known as the US Floorball Association(USFbA)
Floorball is a sport for Everyone. It has a MASSIVE opportunity to be a leading team sport option at the recreational level through schools, youth groups, community centers, adult sport and social clubs, hockey associations, seniors activity groups, disabled sports communities and just about any group in Canada that is trying to be active in sports.
As a Hockey Player, Instructor, Coach, Parent and owner/operator of Modern Hockey I have a pretty solid understanding of all varieties and brands of “Hockey”. As I began to learn about Floorball, I started to embrace it for the following characteristics.
To see High Quality Floorball Videos from Europe, click here.
To learn more about Floorball, globally, click here
Most of you know about the 6-part video series that’s – at least for now — available here through CoachChic.com. If you don’t, it’s free to members and non-members alike, and the series (“You Don’t Need Ice!”) is mainly about the things a hockey player, coach or parent might do to make better use of the spring and summer off-season months.
Anyway, I’ve asked for those viewing the series to fire questions my way should they have them. (Hey, that’s part of my job here – to clarify things, huh?)
With that, the first question to arrive is a really great one, compliments of our friend and roller hockey player, Jerry Z!
– Dennis Chighisola
“Specialize” Hockey Training
Now, here’s that question from Jerry:
“In one of your first episodes of the You Don’t Need Ice series, you said specialization has brought about a generation of pretty good robots. I’m wondering if you can expand on that. When did the generation start. Why and how did it start? Do you see hope for the future on seeing more complete athletes? Or do you feel that the current generation of robots will raise more robots and it’s an irreversible pattern?”
Did I say that was a great question (or questions)?
To begin, I’m going to suggest that “specialization” is a personal thing. In other words, I think the choice of participating solely in our sport (to exclude all others) wasn’t some planned plot by the hockey powers that be. Naw, instead I think individual players (or parents of players) ultimately felt that hockey was their best sport, and they decided at some point to just concentrate on that.
I’ll also suggest that the onset of specialization is regionally based, or that it has been influenced by the hockey climate in a give area. For example, during the time of my youth, my dad and I probably couldn’t have chosen to only focus on hockey, primarily because there weren’t enough year-round opportunities to play and practice. (Come to think of it, before the coming of sports domes and the like, there probably wasn’t a prayer of working at soccer or baseball or a number of other sports over an extended period.) Here in New England, the chance to specialize in ice hockey probably began with the so-called “Bobby Orr Era”, during a time when numerous rinks sprouted-up. And, with those new rinks came the need for rink owners/managers to fill their facilities with year-round playing and training programs. Suddenly, kids and parents at least had the option to devote a great deal more time to hockey. And, a lot of them began doing just that.
Again, I’m suggesting that the decisions were personal. BUT, players have also been encouraged – and sometimes pushed – to specialize (by well meaning coaches, recruiters, and countless others). You might imagine the pressures that exist within a hockey hotbed, especially if a young player wants to crack a desirable lineup. At the same time, a player (or parent) might ultimately believe that he (and today, she) has the best chance of “making it” in hockey, and thusly drops-out of other sports.
Now, before going more into this topic, let me share with you the fact that there is at least some benefit to getting plenty of hockey practice. Envision, for example, the differences between a very inexperienced player and a very experienced one. Not to mention all the other skills, I’m sure you can picture how the skating motion is not very comfortable for a beginner, while the long-time skater can usually move around in effortless fashion. And other parts of the game become instinctive to the accomplished player, as well.
That said, perhaps I should now explain what I mean by the “robot-like player”… In a way, I guess I’m describing one who can execute all the typical hockey movements – and perhaps fairly well, while at the same time not being able to handle his or her body in a really athletic way. (That last one IS rather hard to define in print. But, maybe you can envision a truly acrobatic player twisting his or her body while in full-stride in order to avoid a body-check, or his or her skipping and jumping through and over a maze of bodies and sticks while controlling a puck.) In a way, I think the reason it’s hard to define the non-robot-like player is because he or she IS non-definable. I mean, he or she can just do things with his or her body that we can’t predict until there is a need to do something wild or imaginable.
At this point, let me combine the two previous paragraph topics – as in the need for some specializing, and what I (and many others) believe is the danger in specialization.
As an example, many old Eastern Block nations do ultimately offer specialized training to their players. The difference is that they also include gymnastics work and so many other training areas that help encourage great athleticism. (As a matter of fact, so do my local players gain the benefit of specialized hockey training mixed with lots of outside-the-box athletic work.)
Here in North American, however, most youth organizations mostly train on the ice (as in specializing). And, if they do engage in off-ice training, it’s very likely for strength development or dryland exercises of a traditional nature (which pretty much entails more specialization).
Now, one other usual drawback to specialization in North American fashion is the dependency on more games for more ice-time. I could go on about the fallacy of this but, to mention just a few problems: players generally sit for two-thirds of their game-time, only the best players usually get to handle the puck and act creatively, and – most importantly — there is absolutely no chance for the repetitive practice of necessary skills. In fact, I’ll suggest that players only do in games what they feel most comfortable doing, which means they haven’t likely expanded their abilities one iota by game’s end.
European hockey organizations, on the other hand, know the value of a high practice-to-game ratio, and they’re known to stick to something akin to a 3:1 or 4:1 scheme. They also break a year down into four very distinct types of training, taking special care to do certain things for the weeks right after a season ends, and to do other things during the summer months. And, although it’s a bit more complicated than this, I can tell you that their players engage in soccer, basketball or other sports during that span, and they also dedicate a large block of time to gymnastics and other means of developing athleticism.
Okay, so what’s a North American kid, parent or coach to do – especially since the typical youth organization doesn’t offer what I’ve just described above? It’s all mainly explained in my “You Don’t Need Ice!” series – to include some involvement with other sports, plus some experimentation with rope skipping, tumbling and other whole body challenges. Perhaps best of all, almost everything I suggest in that series can be done for little or no cost.
Finally, I like that Jerry asks about the future – and whether I see hope or not. Yes, I do see hope, although it’ll always be a battle, maybe even a never ending one. I sense that going with the youth hockey flow – or giving-in to coach or organizational pressures – is an easy way out, and it’s far too often taken for that very reason. The well meaning guy sitting next to you in the bleachers can also contribute to this, what with his always saying, “Oh, you just have to bring your kid to such-and-such if you want him (or her) to get better!” (Maybe that’s good advice, and maybe it isn’t. But, my advice is to ultimately think for yourself.) Education – or spreading the word – seems the only way to at least gradually overcome such temptations (and that’s part of the reason I hope to always be here for you).
Phew! (Jerry sure did make me work hard on this one. But, you know I’m loving it!)
PS: For his efforts, Jerry is going to receive a gift I’ve almost completed (“__ Things You Can Do to Improve Your Game”). And I’ll soon be announcing to everyone how that free gift can be attained.
Practice Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) like running, swimming or jumping. Also introduce the ABC’s of athleticism:
ABC’s – Agility, Balance & Coordination and Speed.
If you’ve seen my 6-part video series, “You Don’t Need Ice!“, you might find it interesting that I created that about 5- or 6-years ago (or long before the ADM program was conceived?). Actually, my hockey players have been doing things like rope skipping (even on the ice) since way back in the early 1980′s!
Focus on flexibility during this stage.
This is the first window for speed training with an emphasis on agility, quickness and change of direction. Less than 5 seconds in duration.
One of the first posts I did here at CoachChic.com (about a year ago) included the video on “windows of opportunity“, although I’d been speaking and writing that sort of advice well over a decade ago.
Once a week, prior to or after practice, spend 30 minutes off-ice working on the Fundamental Movement Skills and the ABC’s. This can be done through games and challenging activities. Keep it fun!
What comes to mind here is my frequent advice about playing games of tag — on- and off-ice (although I don’t just take that approach with very young players).
Play multiple sports or engage in activities like soccer, running, gymnastics, swimming, skiing or other activities 75% of the time and play hockey the other 25%.
Again, I have to reference that “You Don’t Need Ice!” series, where I not only recommend gaining athleticism and other positive physical and mental traits through other sports, but I also mention in there about the “era of specialization” (when players worked solely at hockey on a year-round basis) having been deemed a failed experiment.
I want to add something else here, in reference to that “75% of the time” thing, because I suspect that some parents and coaches might balk at this. However, don’t forget that we’re talking about very young people here, and especially ones who are in those critical stages of development (or passing through those “windows of opportunity”). Also, while I still recommend other sports for older players, the ratio of hockey to those other sports wouldn’t be quite the same (maybe in reverse?).
Group players into top 1/3, middle 1/3, beginner 1/3.
By the way… It should make sense that players of different abilities have different needs. In other words, while the lower third might need help on mastering something like the front stop, the upper third likely needs to move on to a greater challenge.
30 – 60 players each practice session
Believe it or not, this IS do-able (just find any video on this site where I’m teaching my Learn-to and Mighty Mite kids and you’ll surely see me dealing with at least 60-kids)!
2-3 ice touches per week
50 min ice sessions
An important principle of motor learning is that of “distributed training” versus “mass training”. In essence, it suggests that younger athletes gain more by engaging in short bouts of training distributed over many sessions. Mainly due to their increased attention span, older players might do okay engaging in a longer bout at one given skill or tactic. (On a personal basis, I still tend to take mostly a distributed training approach with my older kids — in other words, doing about 20-ish short drills in a session, and then repeating many of those over subsequent practices.)
5 month’s = 20 weeks per season maximum
50 to 60 ice touches per season
Min 16 half-ice games & 34 practices
Max 20 half-ice games & 40 practices
9 to 13 players/team; no fulltime goalies
I DO have to chuckle here, because I was running one-third ice games back in the late 80′s and early 90′s. And, because I think there’s quite a bit for parents and coaches to know (concerning the value of “small games” — or “cross-ice games”), I’m planning a video right now to post here sometime in early June.
Okay, if you noticed a little sarcasm within my notes, it’s a personal thing with me, and these at least hint at my frequent difficulties with USA Hockey. I could give you several examples of how North American hockey federations so often let down their members. But, this isn’t the place for my personal feelings or experiences with them. Naw, my blog — “Coach Chic’s Hockey Diary” is where I’m allowed to have THAT kind of fun. So, take a look over there if you’re so inclined.
Just in time for the hockey off-season…
A FREE Video Series
“You Don’t Need Ice!”
As always, it’s about the SCIENCES and it’s about getting real RESULTS!
A series of 6 videos aimed at providing players, coaches and parents — from all levels — numerous (and even little known) ideas for jumping ahead of others during the spring and summer months.
This Note from Coach Chic:
I’m going to send you to a sign-up form where I’ll ask a few questions aimed at helping me to get to know you better (hoping you don’t mind).
Thereafter you’ll receive a number of emails — every few days, this so you have plenty of time to digest the videos and other advice.
Hoping you enjoy it,
Click the puck to sign-up for this awesome special gift!
In the record books, Kris Letang is going to get credit for a huge game-winning goal. (I mean, eons from now, it’ll just be an entry in the game’s stats: Pittsburgh goal – K Letang, Assist – S Crosby.) And, I must admit that Letang’s really quick snapshot was a beauty. At the same time, I think everyone watching that game would likely credit Sidney Crosby for making that goal possible.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Crosby’s moves. But, let’s take a look at the play, compliments of YouTube.com and the NHL…
Now, first I’d like to address the physical side of this play. For, there’s little doubt that unbelievable skating and puckhandling skills went into Crosby’s ultimately getting a teammate open for the shot…
Long time members might recognize the skating skills demonstrated by Crosby as being very much like those that can be developed in my various “Must-do Skating Drills“, and especially in the games of tags I’m always recommending.
And, the general puckhandling skills are just like those I like to see enhanced through my “Incredible Stickhandling” course, and in games of 1 against 1 keepaway.
Then, I’d like you to do me a favor and watch that video one more time. This time, however, make note of how many times Crosby extends his reach — so as to really protect the puck — with just one hand on the stick. No way his man can reach in and get to the puck when he’s doing that.
Upon returning, I hope you’ve noticed the way an advanced puckhandler needs to handle the puck with one hand. (You might later take a browse through another of my posts, this entitled “Troubleshooting the Tight Turn“, to get a lot more insight into this and other related skills.)
If any of my long time students (or Team NEHI players) have watched Crosby’s play, they’re probably chuckling to themselves, saying, “Hey, I can do all that stuff!” Ya, my guys practice all of those skills — from the games of tag, to the games of keepaway, to learning to protect the puck, and even dribbling around on one knee, two knees, or on their bellies and butts.
And, the above comment — about my kids feeling they can do all those things — brings me to another part of this play that most coaches and parents will surely overlook…
You know, I always had a suspicion that someone like Wayne Gretzky was lucky to emerge from youth hockey to become the player he ultimately was. (Did I get your attention with that one?). My reason for saying that is because an awful lot of kids with superior talents get beaten down at the younger levels — they’re called “puck hogs” or whatever, and they’re subjected to all sorts of jealous attacks (mostly from parents of kids with about half the talent). The fact is (at least to me), those highly skilled players are the models for which all the others should try to emulate.
Youth coaches also usually want every kid to unload the puck when THEY believe the time is right time. The ironic thing is that Crosby (like lots of other highly skilled players) most likely had it in his mind all the while that he was going to set-up a teammate — in the end, and when the time was really right. And, to that, I’ll add that we coaches (and the fans in the stands) have to be a little more trusting with the Crosby types (as the Pens’ coach obviously is).
Now, a 2-years ago, I had a very experienced assistant coach whisper to me his concerns that a certain forward on our junior high school team was creating his own plays during powerplay practice. My reply, “Listen, we have structure in our powerplay for the sake of teaching, and for the sake of our average players. And we give them plays just so they have a sense of some possibilities.” I went on to explain that most teams die for a little guy like we were watching. That youngster’s mind saw the game in a totally different way than most of his teammates, and he saw things that mere mortals never would. So, I wasn’t about to squash that kind of creativity. Oh, I’d still help the kid with his decision making, and encourage him to still be a good team player. But, I wasn’t doing any of that to the point of turning him into a robot.
As a matter of fact, I’ve written elsewhere here that most teams (or at least most coaches) die to have a game-breaker floating around the ice when the chips are really on the line. And, that’s what a guy like Crosby represents. He can — and did — fabricate a scoring opportunity when there probably wasn’t otherwise going to be one.
If you sense what I’ve been REALLY getting at, though, it’s that all things are relative at the given levels of hockey, and that those game breaking kinds of players exist in our midst, from Mites to Midgets. For sure, we have to help them learn to think the game rightly, and we want them to be good team players. However, I’ll also suggest that we be careful about tampering with whatever it is that makes them different than most of our other players. After all, robots and mere mortals are easy to come by; game breakers are quite another thing.
Women’s Hockey and That Next Step
By Todd Jacobson
I’ve been coaching women’s high school varsity hockey now for seven seasons, and in those seven seasons I’ve seen a game grow by leaps and bounds.
The first season I coached a team I spent a lot of time going out and watching the “good” teams of that time. I noticed almost the same thing with all the top level teams, and I came to one conclusion: one goal scorer, one decent defenseman and an above average goalie gave you a shot at winning a state championship.
Now, seven years later, what I notice is that you need depth at every position. You need a goal scorer on your top two lines, you need good puck handling playmakers on those lines, as well as what I call a “pest”. (A “pest” is a player who just loves to skate hard and cause havoc on the forecheck, that allowing the other players to put the puck in the net.) You need a third line of kids who will work hard defensively every time they hit the ice. Anything they get offensively is a positive, but mainly their job is to keep the opponents off the board and giving the top lines the chance to rest. On defense you need solid defensive defensemen, you need playmaking or rushing defensemen as well (and having 5 of them would be nice). A solid goaltender is what every team in the state tournament has. A decent backup is good to have as well. When a team has this type depth and skill at each position they can be considered a contender.
What am I getting at with all the info provided in the previous paragraph? Depth is happening on every team. Actually, even the weaker teams have depth. The talent pool for women’s hockey is getting deeper, which means more competition for spots on a roster. Players who would have been varsity second liners seven years ago are now honing their trade on the JV rosters across the state.
I can say that women’s high school hockey is where the boys’ sport was 30 years ago, in the sense that the player pool is getting deeper and the players are more skilled. Every player is now looking for an edge on the competition. And the one thing that sticks out for me, when watching the teams around the state, is STRENGTH! The best players I see, year in and year out, are all strong on their feet, strong while controlling the puck, strong while digging-in in front of the net, and strong while moving players in front of the goal.
Thirty years ago the men were starting to lift weights and hit the gyms at their schools. Strength became more evident in the best players, and more evident when separating players in a tryout. So, I find some truth in the statement, “Only the strong survive.” In fact, the farther you go up the playing ladder, the stronger the players are.
If you watched any of the recent Olympic women’s hockey, every player was strong, every player could shoot. I must have seen three or four segments of USA women’s Olympic coach Mark Johnson’s off ice and weight room regiment. These women trained more and trained harder in the gym than they did on the ice.
Watching the women’s Division I college championship this past weekend, you could see the same thing, strength.
So, if you want to play at that next level, or you want to be a player who sticks out at the high school level, the gym and the weight room might be your best friend. I think that the weight room can make a good player better. It just takes a little time, and the will power to stick with it. With that, the results will definitely be evident. Remember, the playing pool is getting deeper, which means that a little extra edge might make the difference in where you find yourself on next year’s depth chart.
It isn’t often that I’ll ask skaters to take a look at a goalie training segment. Naw, you guys and gals USUALLY have enough on your minds without worrying about another position. This time, however, what I’m about to suggest to you might just make all the difference in the world as you approach a new year.
Now, before reading further, I’m going to ask that you click on the photo below and watch the very short video of a Team NEHI goaltender doing a VERY difficult drill. Please don’t read on until you’ve done that, and then I’ll see you below.
– Dennis Chighisola
Starting Your Hockey Year Off Right!
Ah, gotta love those kinds of guys…
Okay, now I hope you noticed my young goalie friend making a mistake and missing the balls one time in the middle of that video. But, more importantly, I hope you noticed his reaction. Just take a look again at the photo above for a hint at what I’m getting at.
Sure, I’ll bet he was a little bit embarrassed to muff the drill. But, did you also notice he was laughing at himself?
Now, most members know that I’ve been doing what I do for about 40-years, and that I’ve taught thousands upon thousands of young players, with quite a few of them making a name for themselves in our game.
Want to know a common trait I’ve seen in all the best of them, though? Well, it’s the same one demonstrated by the goaler in that video. Yup, the best have always seemed to be able to laugh at themselves — or just shrug-off a mistake, and keep going right back at the challenge (again and again and again).
There are countless examples of this in sports lore, one story having to do with the great home run hitter, Babe Ruth. Yes, the Sultan of Swat for a very long time held the record for the most homers hit in a career. Yet, did you know that The Babe also held the record for the most career strikeouts? That didn’t seem to get him down, though. No, he just kept coming back, swinging and swinging and swinging.
And did you also ever consider that the top baseball hitters — hitting around .300 — actually make outs more than two out of three times they go to bat? None of those guys would skip another try in the batter’s box, however. Again, like Ruth, you can be sure they looked forward to yet more swings.
So, this is my New Years gift to all my CoachChic.com friends… If you’re a player, learn to inwardly laugh at your mistakes, and keep coming back for more swings. I promise you’ll ultimately get it, when lots of others got discouraged and dropped by the wayside. And, if you’re a parent or coach, try to encourage this very worthwhile trait with those in your charge.
Happy New Year!
There’s a point I try to get across to amateur hockey players — of all ages, and it’s closely related to this entry’s title — about using one’s down time. I happen to think it’s an important topic, yet I’d forgotten to mention it here until I ran across an awesome video by my good friend and fellow CoachChic.com member, Michael Mahony.
Okay, so let’s have a listen at how Mike uses his down time to great advantage (just click his photo), and then I’ll share with you the way I often recommend much the same approach to those in my charge…
– Dennis Chighisola
Using Your Down Time!
As you can see, Michael wisely makes use of time that he’d other wise let go to waste. And I’m known to do much the same.
For example, my wife would prefer to do the driving on our long treks chasing Anthony Chic’s hockey schedule all over New England. So, whether you realize it or not, I’ve written a good many of these entries from her Jeep’s passenger seat and on one of my trusty laptops. Hey, we can still talk as we ride — and I’m not being rude or anything, but I sure can get a lot of writing accomplished in 4- to 6-hours on those boring highways.
But, let me bring this topic closer to the needs of my favorite hockey players…
For, you see, I don’t believe hockey homework has to always be a drudgery. In fact, I’ll warn parents of very young players that such things should NEVER seem like work to their little ones.
In particular, I think adult players and younger ones who still need work on their basic skills could do something like the following. (Actually, I put this video together in an entry I did long ago for Megan, a site member. And, while the skating drills demonstrated at the start of the movie might require exact focus on what a player is doing, I’ll suggest that the last two exercises could easily be done as part of some multi-tasking.) So, please have a look before I comment further…Loading...
As a follow-up to that video, I’m always suggesting to older players that they could do something like WallSits while watching TV or while doing lots of other things. And so could any player experiment with a stick and ball — as Anthony Chic is doing at the end of that video, also while watching television.
I have often advised my young teen players to kill a couple of birds with one stone, perhaps keeping a tennis ball stashed somewhere in the rec room, and squeezing it for hand and forearm strength while watching TV.
As Mike Mahony is saying, an athlete can use what might other wise be consider down time to enhance his or her physical abilities. And what Mike is also suggesting is that certain kinds of down time happen on a regular basis. And that’s pretty close to what I’m usually pointing-out to my students, team players and local parents. I mean, if an adult player regularly watches the local news on TV each evening, why not do a simple hockey related exercise at the same time? Something like the previously mentioned ball-squeezing exercise, sit-ups, push-ups, and other very simple movements could be done by any aged player on a planned basis. Or, what about just balancing around on one of those air pillows as part of your multi-tasking? Of course, I could go on here with more ways to improve during regular down times. However, you probably know more about what you really need, and even more about what you’d enjoy doing.
The real point here — that Mike and I are both trying to make, is that we all tend to waste some time, and I’ll even suggest that we all engage in a lot of activities that are almost mindless. In either case, there are opportunities within our schedules to get-in some regular work on our game. And, judging by the players I’ve seen take that advice, there’s an awful lot of fun and satisfaction to be had down the road.
Have any thoughts on this subject, or some ideas to share with other members? Just use the Comment box down below. I love interacting with you guys (and gals)!
Ya, that’s pretty much what the pitchman said on the radio this morning…
– Dennis Chighisola
On Sale: Hockey Skates & Sticks!
The reason I’ve decided to comment on this particular advertisement is because I immediately thought of our buddy, Jerry Z, as I heard it!
Actually, the sponsor was a well known hockey equipment super store, but the message wasn’t really for us serious hockey players, coaches or parents. Naw, what they were peddling was “pond hockey gear”! I mean that, and that’s exactly the expression the announcer used: “pond hockey”. And, as best I can recall, that equipment was/is selling for $40 to $60, or thereabouts.
Now, why did I choose to raise this issue here? It’s because Jerry owns two pairs of in-lines skates, with one pair being of pretty good quality and the other pair being rather questionable. (You can go back and see about our previous exchange on Jerry’s sticks and skates by clicking here.)
Okay, I know that sophisticated members usually know exactly what they want when they enter an equipment shop or store. But I can’t blame any new hockey player or parent from being confused when he or she sees the wide array of products carried by some merchants. (I suspect that’s what happened to Jerry his first time around. In fact, why would a new skater even realize that some of the stuff made by a reputable company could be junk?)
Anyway, that’s the point of this article, to help save anyone who might be fairly new to such things. And, if I had to advise new players or parents of new players, here are a couple of things that come to mind immediately…
1) Even though a company might be known for their high quality gear, there’s the likelihood that they also produce low quality equipment for recreational type players.
2) Most of the pro shops (or those located inside local rinks) primarily carry gear that is more suitable to competitive players. They may have some lower priced articles for real young players or adult rec skaters, but even that gear should meet player needs for a time.
3) It should make sense for a customer to ask plenty of questions wherever he or she does shop. Armed with the above information (and loads of other equipment advice distributed here at CoachChic.com), he or she ought to have a better sense of what’s needed before even arriving at the store.
4) All that said, I’m going to share one more thing I’ve noticed… A lot of the so-called super stores hire athletes to wait on their customers. That’s the good part. Perhaps the not-so-good part might be if a family is trying to get “expert hockey help” from a tennis player or swimmer. This again probably suggests going to a rink pro shop when you need advice. They’re almost always manned by current or former players, and usually by people who really like what they do.
One of our outstanding strength coaches and good friend, Jason Price, wrote this piece for Athletes Equation, and it does have a slant towards strength training. However, I’d like players, parents and coaches to look at it more from a “player’s” perspective — in other words, as this same line of thinking might apply to correcting hockey skill-type errors. So, give it a try, huh? I think you’ll see what I mean…
– Dennis Chighisola
The Difference between Error Recognition & Awareness for Athletes & Coaches
Jason Price, MS, CSCS, ATC, CPT, USAW Club Coach
When coaching athletes in drills and lifts, one key point that I try to get the individual to understand is the difference between just recognizing their technical error and truly becoming aware of the error. In his book “The Inner Athlete” Dan Millman describes this difference very eloquently:
“There is a great difference between recognizing an error.. and accepting an error as an error — an acceptance that implies full responsibility for correcting that error. Full awareness implies willingness to change, and we may not be ready to do that.”
As a coach I can’t make an athlete correct an error. I can only direct them towards making the correction. It is easy for an athlete to say they understand or recognize an error taking place. But, it isn’t until they are fully aware of the error that they can correct it.
So, why is understanding this difference between recognizing errors and becoming aware of errors important for coaches and athletes? It is because ultimately it is up to the athlete to make the correction, not the coach. The coach can only teach proper technique or how to do a skill; they cannot “make” the athlete do it correctly. Making errors and mistakes is what athletes must do to learn, grow and improve. But the athlete must want to understand their body and what they are asking it to do.
An example of this is one of the simplest drills in the weight room. The Romanian Deadlift (or stiff legged deadlift) is a simple exercise which requires only movement at the hip while stabilizing the other joints involved. Seems simple, but wait, because it is actually one of the more difficult exercises to coach. Simply, it’s because many individuals are not aware of what their body is doing. They think they are doing one thing and then they do something completely different.
This is where understanding the difference between error recognition and awareness comes into play. Coaches mostly recognize errors and flaws in what is being asked of the individual. That is what we do. But, how many coaches try to teach awareness?
Now this may not be appropriate for all levels of coaching. For the personal trainer, strength coach, athletic trainer, physical therapist and some sport coaches this is exactly what is missing from their instruction on some drills. If an athlete just doesn’t seem to get it and you are hammering home the same points, change it up. Put it on their shoulders to truly become aware of what they are doing. If the athlete or individual doesn’t understand they are making an error, they can’t become aware. Again, using the Romanian Deadlift example, my goal as a coach is to try to make the person aware when they don’t move at the hip or don’t fully stabilize. I can tell them all I want what they did wrong. However, unless they are aware they won’t make the correction.
So next time you are coaching a drill or exercise, instead of focusing on telling individuals what they are doing wrong and how to correct it, ask them what they are aware of, or that they are doing. Ask them how it feels for them try to make the correction without you having to tell them or position them over and over. Yes, this may take a little longer at first, but it will save you time in the long run. For, as the trainee or athlete learns this skill, they will be ready to be aware of what they are doing as they are learning any new skill.
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Okay, while I’m certainly celebrating Jerry finally investing in a better, lighter stick, I can appreciate how you wouldn’t necessarily jump for joy at that.
Still, some of the discussions he and I have had surrounding his new stick — and his change in skates — should provide some interesting food for thought for members at all levels of the game.
– Dennis Chighisola
Jerry Z’s New Stick
For sure it’s taken some time to convince Jerry that a new stick would make a difference in his ball handling (remember, he’s a roller hockey and deck hockey player). So, he finally took the plunge, and here’s an excerpt from his first email back to me:
“I had a game on Thursday night. It was the first time I used the composite stick. Even though the stick is too long — I haven’t cut it down to size yet– I can feel the difference. You woulda laughed… I had a goal where I pushed the ball between the defender’s feet and got it on the other side, then shot high — hit the goalie’s shoulder pads and in. Later I had a pass I sent a guy from pretty much one face-off circle to the other one and he one-timed it in for a goal. The stick is light and allows me to do things I haven’t been able to do before.”
Geeeeeze, Jerry, I’ve been telling you that for weeks!
Days later my good friend wrote me with this:
“I cut the new stick down to a smaller size than I’m used to, so it’s lighter and I can stickhandle with it better. It also forces me to bend the knees while skating. I don’t think my shots go any faster than with a wooden stick, maybe slightly slower? And with a puck it seemed like I didn’t get solid contact at all, especially on one-timers. I need more experience with it.
Okay, some very good observations from Jerry, and ones that are worthy of discussion here.
- Although a lighter stick might ultimately whip quicker into a puck or ball on the slap shot, a shorter stick does usually result in a slightly slower shot. If you can envision it, Jerry’s lever arm — which is the stick-shaft — is slightly shorter, and thusly creates slightly less force than a longer one. Here’s the trade-off, though… Most poor puckhandlers just don’t get-off that many shots (they’re just too slow getting open and tee-ing the puck). So, what I advise players to do is to use a short stick until puckhandling becomes a strength. With that, the player can trade-off a little of that skill — by going to a slightly longer stick, in order to get a little harder shot.
- As for Jerry’s difficulty in contacting a puck, I’ll suggest that the ball is easier to drive than a puck. Thusly, he probably notices more the fact that he isn’t making perfect contact with the puck.
Then, because he is still trying to get some outdoor practices in — and, because he’s still experimenting back and forth between two different pairs of in-line skates, Jerry added this to his most recent email:
“I’m using the (enter brand name) skates that we decided to banish from the games. (If member will recall, I found one pair of his skates to be of nice quality, the other pair real cheapies!) These seem slow and loose in comparison. Do you think I’m hurting myself practicing with these clodhoppers? I’m upset at (enter brand name) for these.
Okay, a couple of things needed addressing here…
- I wrote back to suggest that Jerry stay with the good quality skates whenever he can. I figure he’s going to be able to do more — and improve more — in those. If there’s a problem here, outdoor use will ultimately wear the wheels and require earlier than normal replacement. Still, wheels are relatively inexpensive.
- I told him not to be upset with that skate maker. Most companies make quality skates for competitive players and not so good ones for purely recreational use.
- I also suggested that his stumbling upon poor quality skates was the result of his initially shopping at places other than a pro shop where other, more serious skaters shop. Let’s face it, department stores are going to stock their shelves with cheaper, rec type gear, while pro shops generally deal in quality.
- I usually suggest the latter approach to new hockey players and parents, as well, especially if they need help of advice on selection or fitting. Once a shopper gains experience, he or she can likely find some deals at yard sales!
In closing, I’m hoping members are finding it interesting as I attempt to help Jerry improve upon his game. After all, he asks great questions and makes some interesting observations. And, as many of you might be discovering, he and I are forced to do some of the same kinds of troubleshooting so many hockey players, parents and coaches face.
Can you help me by posting a Comment or question here? And thanks — a bunch!
Dennis Chighisola here, with what I feel is one of the most important posts I’ll ever make within these pages.
To begin, despite my inclination to frequently think outside the proverbial box, I’d like members to know that I don’t make hockey related decisions without a lot of serious thought. In fact, over my forty-ish years in coaching, I’ve mostly relied upon a set of standards I’ve come to call…
The Nature of Our Game
“Hmmmmmm,” you say. “The nature of our game?”
Well, I’m sure you’ll agree that playing ice hockey is very unlike trying your hand at the likes of chess, sumo wrestling, or cricket. And, although we might share some similarities with other games — like basketball, soccer, and the other skating sports, there are probably far more differences.
Yes, every game has its very own nature. Factors like unique rules, a special playing surface and the specific aims for each game make this so.
That said, I’ve always felt that the ability to analyze a given game or sport — to understand the true challenges and demands on its participants — is critical to preparation. For, with this we can go to work on developing the proper traits needed to excel in that specific sport.
Now, I feel the need to add this side note, since I’m famous for borrowing lots of training ideas from other sports. I mean, I incorporate sprint training in my teams’ off-ice practices, I use lots of football-type agility drills and ideas for explosiveness, and the list of training methods I’ve obtained from other sports goes on and on. As I said in the opening, though, I don’t take such decisions lightly. No, I’m more often than not asking myself the simple (or sometimes not so simple) question, “Does this really relate to the challenges my players face out there in the game action?”
If you think about it, training time is extremely limited — especially for amateur players. So, to go off on tangents that have little to do with our game isn’t such a good idea. Moreover, to incorporate training methods that don’t fit with the nature of our game just might hinder a player.
Now, I probably could write a book on this topic. However, to give you the gist of that nature thing, let me at least briefly touch upon the determining factors I noted earlier.
To begin, consider the surface we play on… The rink is surrounded by boards and glass, these aiding a player in trapping an opponent or banking the puck around or over defenders. And, while basketball players might be able to scale a ball the length of their playing surface, our rink’s lines and related rules influence quite a different approach.
Actually, those rink lines deserve more consideration here, in that hockey teams use them for the development of strategies and tactics. I mean — a lot like military tacticians, teams work hard to defend each line as their opponents attempt to attack, while attacking teams work just as hard to gain each zone on their way up-ice. (Thus we also have forechecking schemes, breakouts, defensive zone coverage, etc.)
While we’re on the subject of our playing surface, consider this… Supposing our game was played on a rink measuring about 20′ by 60′, but still included 5-skaters and a goalie per side. How much fast skating and stickhandling would take place? Not much, huh? In fact, we’d probably recruit sumo-sized guys, and develop plays that look more like rugby scrums. On the other hand, what if we played on a rink the size of a football field? Ha, there would hardly be any physical contact, and the star players would likely be fast skaters and great puck-movers. Of course, our game is played on a surface somewhere between those two extremes, suggesting that the most desirable players should probably be both quick and strong.
Also appreciate the fact that soccer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey and our game are considered so-called “transition sports”. In other words — and in contrast to games like baseball and football, the ball or puck is constantly up for grabs. And, this kind of continuous action puts a premium on players who can quickly switch roles, from offense to defense to offense to defense, and so on.
Even something like a roster size influences the nature of our game. For, given a certain number of players, coaches deploy them in waves, with traditional set-ups (for the sake of discussion) using three forward lines and two to three pairs of defensemen. Oh, some might take this lightly. However, that kind of player rotation is where the prescribed work-to-rest ratio comes from — as in a player typically practicing so he or she can efficiently work for x-seconds, and rest for twice that time. (In other words, a unit goes out for a brief shift, then rests while two other units do their thing.)
Now, I’ll bet I wrote and lectured on the following at least 30-years ago, although it’s been only recently that I’ve seen it documented in some scientific studies. What I’m getting at is that the typical on-ice shift is really a series of alternating bursts and coasts. In fact, some of the studies I’ve read lately state that the better players cruise with both skates on the ice for a great deal of they’re time out there. Of course, how well one coasts is not the measure of a hockey player. However, that coasting phase is important, allowing him or her to briefly rest in anticipation of going all-out. And, make no mistake about it: the most consequential plays — either offensively or defensively — are carried out in a matter of seconds, during those brief spurts.
The latter two paragraphs should give us fairly good guidelines for conditioning a hockey player… Yes, he or she should be aerobically (long distance) fit. But, I’ll suggest, not to the point of robbing the anaerobic (explosiveness, quickness) system. Remember: It’s the brief, all-out confrontations that usually spell a player’s — and a team’s — success.
Of course, our sport includes its fair share of collisions and incidental contact (whether we’re playing in a body-checking league or not). So, besides the areas of strength development that aid in skills like skating and shooting, the nature of our game suggests that a player be very stable on the skates, as well as be able to safely deliver or withstand heavy hits.
That said — about the need for strength in our sport, I’ll suggest that there’s a tricky balance required — between the want for strength, speed, agility and smooth, efficient movements. Just being strong doesn’t make one an effective player, nor does just being fast, just being pretty, just being…
Even our decisions about hockey equipment should be influenced by the nature of our game. For, as I just suggested, a solid player needs to possess a number of different physical qualities. And it’s important that the gear helps. Quite obviously, the first consideration is that it should protect the player. However, equipment has to also be light enough to aid quickness, as well as allow for smooth movements.
Then, while I’m hoping all the above noted physical traits make sense to you, a study of our game wouldn’t be complete without considering the mental aspects. For, an ice hockey player surely does have to be able to think and skate at the same time. And, if our game is a “read and react” sport, it’s important for a player to instinctively know what to do in each unique confrontation. Moreover, smart players can follow a game plan, and they have awareness when it comes to the game-clock and the score. And, while some might feel otherwise, I happen to believe thinking skills CAN be taught — IF players are helped early enough. (Actually, I’ve developed several drill formats to help enhance this area in my players.)
Then, just briefly let me suggest that training for other important game skills — like puckhandling, passing, receiving and shooting — should also pass that nature of our game test. And, here are two of my observations… First, all of those skills have to be accomplished in combination with other skills (or amid lots of problem solving). Secondly, the best players are able to execute all of those skills in unbalanced postures (with defenders draped all over them, whatever).
Finally, the above is a combination of science, personal observation and experiences; so take it for what it’s worth. Still, I think it should be helpful that players, parents and coaches have some frame of reference when it comes to the daunting number of choices we have to make. So, hey, maybe this is one of those pieces you’ll want to clip and save!
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Over the coming months (and seasons) I’m hoping to share with members what I’m doing in my various Team NEHI programs. And a lot of the time I’ll also want to let you in on my thinking as I prepare for each of those. Let’s face it, you’re not going to get a real handle on things if I just tell you, “Do this!” Naw, I think I’d serve you best by letting you know the whys and the wherefores of a given practice.
As an aside here, I’m chuckling to myself as I think about my latest undertaking. I mean, I had a number of minor league pro coaching and GM interviews, I head coached in high school and college, and for about the past decade I’ve run teams for junior and senior high school players. But, don’t you know, I just couldn’t resist an invitation to coach a team of beginners from my Learn-to-skate/Learn-to-play clinics. Ya, “Mighty Mites” we’ve dubbed them, ranging in ages from 4- to 8-years old. And, don’t you know, I’m already loving it!
Anyway, I wrote earlier about our first get-together (Teaching the Beginner Hockey Player), or our so-called tryout. But the following will describe our first real practice, as well as my thinking behind each drill. (Oh, and click on the thumbnail photos below for a brief video showing a given drill in progress.)
– Dennis Chighisola
Our First “Mighty Mite” Hockey Practice
As I’ve said countless times within these pages, “It’s important to know where one is!” And by that I mean that we coaches — AND PARENTS — have to adjust everything we do according to the ages and experience levels of our players. In my case, for example, the game changes drastically from my college-playing grandson to my high school guys to my junior high kids and now to my “babies”. And so do the challenges they each face.
1- I did a little brainstorming based on that thinking, and my wife actually helped me arrive at the first drill (as well as some others)… She’s raised two players to pretty high levels, so she knew what she was talking about when she discovered I was headed to an instructional level practice. “Oh, that’s the funnest age!” she beamed, adding that, “I love it when they all fall down!” (Grrrrrrrr… Not my little Weebles! As a matter of fact, take a look at the video below — just click on the photo — to see that my kids actually learned to stop in our clinic, and I can call them together without anyone getting hurt!) Of course, she was still right — on both counts. So I decided to start things with a basic body-checking drill that had the kids bumping the boards with their shoulders, and a little later bumping a partner’s shoulder. The idea is for the kids to gain a sense of what it takes to be stable, and what it takes to resist the occasional bump during game action. And, make no mistake about it: although body-checking isn’t allowed in instructional hockey, collisions take place in absolutely every level of hockey.
2- Hockey skating, in general, is a lot like playing one against one tag. So we did that in pairs, sending several sets of twos at a time into an end zone. We limited their time on these to about 8- or 10-seconds. (Sorry, no video of this drill.)
3- Next, I dumped a bag full of weighted pucks for the kids to experiment with. First, I had pairs passing those heavy things as far as they could, and I also suggested they try spinning the pucks so they’d stay flat on rough ice. The concept is explained more in Passing Basics in Hockey, but what I was trying to do is give my kids a sense of what it took to get a firm grip on the puck and to generate decent power through their sticks. (Really, the idea is much like the boards bumping drill, in that I wanted my kids to search for their strength.)
4- I then had my youngsters try to fire those weighted pucks off the side boards. Standing only about 6′ off, I asked if they could make the loud booming noise demonstrated by a few of us coaches.
5- From there we switched to the blue, lightweight pucks used by all younger USA Hockey teams. Now, to me puckhandling is about experimentation. So I gave the kids a brief demonstration of side-to-side dribbling and then sent them on their way around our half of the rink.
6- Having already said that skating in the little guys’ and gals’ game is a lot like playing tag, I next went to games of pairs keepaway. Yes, that’s basically what the puckhandling game will be like for them — trying to keep that biscuit away from their opponents. So we sent the kids into a zone again in twos, this time having each player attempt to keep the puck away from his partner for as long as possible. (Click on the thumbnail to see a brief video.)
As an aside… When I ultimately intend to put together a number of skill drills, I begin by teaching each segment separately (usually starting with the end skill, then working backwards). I did that in the following series of drills that begin with us beating a defender of some sort and end with us attacking the goal. But, let me explain that further…
7- The end result of many later attack drills was going to be for our kids to shoot on a simulated goalie. In this case, I borrowed a mini-net from the rink to place (backwards) inside the larger net (see the photo to the right). We gathered around the goal for a time, as I explained the difference between hitting the goaler — and making him look good, or hitting an opening to get the goal (see Creating the Early Goal-scorer for great help in this area). And, as you can hear (by clicking on the following thumbnail), I’d asked the coaches to make a REALLY big deal out of whether a kid scored or not. After all, that’s what it will be like in a game. S0, why not make things exciting right here in the practices?
8- We then took the puckhandling to a typical pylon course, except that I used large foam dots to represent what my kids hear me refer to as “the bad guys” (LOL). If you might notice (click on the thumbnail to see a brief video), and thanks to our weekly Learn-to clinic, my little ones are starting to get the hang of using both sides of their sticks as they do this one.
9- Now, I had in mind using some different training devices in place of rival defenders. But I had to first show the kids what those devices represented. So (as shown in the thumbnail and the next video) a coach stood stationary to act as an “open triangle” the kids could attack. This is a typical Mite level play, as the attacker tosses the puck through the defender’s legs and then retrieves it on the other side. You might also hear us coaches correcting the kids on the forcefulness of their passes, since this play calls for just a soft tap ahead so the puck ends-up sitting right where the attacker needs it to be.
10- I eventually brought a metal device out (see the thumbnail below) and placed it in front of a coach, this so the kids could appreciate that the device’s legs would now simulate those of the coach. In this way, the coaches were freed to do what they do best: coach.
As another aside… At one point I teased a very experienced helper about (not) stationing himself at the front of a line. My point in that brief exchange was that he was far more valuable getting out and among the players. And, while I had only a little luck with teaching these really young ones my way of dealing with lines, I suggested to each that, “A coach won’t tell you when to go for now on. Instead, take your turn when the player in front of you gets to such-and-such an area.” Oh, they’ll get this over time. And when they do, our practices will run all the better.
11- Ultimately we put things together, having the kids beat a given obstacle, then move-on to score against the simulated goaltender (click on the photo to see a video).
12- The practice ended with pairs of players racing for a loose puck, with the winner scurrying to the net for a shot on-goal. This also simulates what happens in the little one’s game, in that races to loose pucks determine a lot, as does scoring under at least a little pressure. (Click on the photo to see a brief video.)
Now, I’m betting a lot of readers are going to be a little surprised at how many drills I fit-in during an hour of ice-time, or how much we got accomplished with those little rascals. That’s my (our) job, though, to get as much accomplished as possible on a kzillion dollars worth of ice-time!
Oh, and you might also be surprised to see (or hear) how animated I am with the kids. Well, that too I think is super important to my work.
– Dennis Chighisola
Special thanks to Andy L. for taking the videos!
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Okay, I have to start with a huge smile here, because I’ve just finished what I’ll call — for the lack of a better name — a “tryout” for a new 5- and 6-year old team coming from my winter Learn-to-skate/Learn-to-play program. Ya, they were an adorable lot, with a 4-year old even being one of our better little guys. Anyway, for the sake of those who might be forming a similar kind of team right now, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here, as well as some of the “drills” we started with today…
– Dennis Chighisola
Now, it shouldn’t surprise you at all that almost all of what I’ll share here can already be found elsewhere within the CoachChic.com site. The reason is that I really DO practice what I preach. I mean, if I’ve said, “This is how we should teach _______,” it’s because that’s what I’ve found over 40-ish years will really work. And I don’t care if it has to do with beginners or elite level players; that’s how I’d do it.
As far as “my babies” go, I told a few of their parents beforehand that it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes to get a sense of whether a youngster belongs on that team. In a way — and not much different from older kids, most of us can usually spot a hockey player as he or she comes out the door. There’s just something about the way he or she carries himself or herself.
Of course, it might take a drill or two more to gain a sense of whether a very young one is ready to take a few instructions. Understand that I was only going to start planting the seeds in this first gathering. In a way, I wanted to get a head start on some things I’ll want the kids to ultimately learn. But I also knew that those kinds of drills would actually give me an idea of whether the kids — at their young ages — could focus and understand some verbal instructions and brief demonstrations.
Now, here’s what guided me in my drill selection…
- The younger players are, the more malleable they are, and the more a really good “teacher” can influence them.
- Defensive play may be a factor in the kids’ success down the road. Sure, there might eventually be a time when youngsters can start appreciating a forechecking scheme, different kinds of coverages, etc.
- But, right now the only thing that will really capture these little guys’ attention and enthusiasm — and probably the only thing they can really understand — is offense, as in scoring goals.
Of course, my current youngsters are true beginners at the game, which makes them slightly less experienced than the players I was really aiming to help in that video. So, while I did try a few of the ideas demonstrated there, I had to use another important teaching technique I’ve mentioned a few times elsewhere. I mean, what I had to do was create some even easier to do lead-up progressions to start easing my new kids towards the more difficult skills.
Remember: Really young ones aren’t into too much structure or discipline. So I started things by just tossing pucks out onto the ice and encouraging the kids to just have some fun.
Also remember: Since these ARE really young ones, it’s not right for me to immediately talk to them like older players. So, I quite often during this session called them into a little group by announcing, “Okay, kids, let’s have a really important meeting here.” And, getting them on their knees and focused (for about the 20-seconds their attention spans will allow), I’d frequently start with some kind of question — maybe about the row of pylons we were going to attack, or about the “simulated goaltender” sitting in the net-crease.
I also loosely applied the Whole: Part Method of structuring drills… For example, each little guy got to attack the make believe goalie in one drill, we had 2-player races towards that goalie — this to encourage more speed in their attack, we practiced going in and out of pylons (which I referred to as “the bad guys”), and at one point we played a simple game of keepaway with a puck. At the end of the morning session, I put a couple of the earlier practiced “parts” together by having them — one boy at a time — weave in and out of the pylons at a decent speed, and end by scoring on that simulated netminder.
Oh, and you know my penchant for taking notes… So, at one point during that session I made a note to myself to bring some weights to use for strengthening their stick grips, passes and shots. (What I plan on doing can be found in the “Passing Basics in Hockey“ video, in the section on “Discovering Stick-strength”.)
Finally, at one point during our session — while the kids were playing keepaway, I mentioned something important to two dads who were out on the ice helping… Both dads had themselves played to pretty high levels, so I thought it a good idea to share the distinctions I see. Or, as I said while we watched the keepaway going on, “That’s really what THEIR game is all about, you know.” And I went on to suggest that it’s not about the leftwing lock, defensive zone coverage or a powerplay. No, THEIR game is about getting the puck and keeping it away from their opponents. It’s about weaving in and out of those “bad guys”, and it’s about beating a little goalie who is usually no more agile than the plastic one we’ll use at our practices. And, as I’ve also said at numerous times in these pages, our jobs — as parents and coaches — is to help our youngsters be successful at THEIR level.
Now, before ending I have to say that there’s yet another reason I was smiling — or even chuckling — as I reflected on this morning’s tryout session. As I noted above, these “babies” are as malleable as players can be, and they can be changed rather quickly under the guidance of a really good teaching coach. And while I have a strong belief in my own abilities, I also know I can almost triple our teaching efforts by helping my assistants to be nearly as effective. Oh, my reason for chuckling? It’s because I can only imagine what our games are going to be like when every single young member on our team is able to stickhandle through their opponents and cooly tuck the puck into their opponents’ nets. Oh, boy… I suspect we’re going to be creating some hockey monsters this coming winter!
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I have to laugh at myself a bit, because I sometimes find it funny how my old noggin’ works… What I’m referring to is that one thing often leads me to think of something else, and that just as often leads me to think of something else (and so on).
Such was the case as I read Craig Shaw’s comment this morning. And that thought process led me to answer Craig in the way I did, as well as to ultimately decide to share a few thoughts with all of my other CoachChic.com friends…
You see, as I reflect back on the hundreds of outstanding players I’ve had through the years, I’ve always found they had a few things in common. Oh, I’m not talking about great genetics here; actually, I think most of my best players overcame some shortcomings to achieve what they did.
From a mental perspective, those kids always seemed to have a very positive approach to trying new things. I mean, they could laugh at themselves whenever they were really challenged by a drill. Hand in hand with that was a certain “Show me what you have for me today, Coach!” attitude. And, while some might suggest those traits are genetic, my feeling is that they’re a reflection of their parents’ attitude.
What I’m here today to talk about, however — and what Craig reminded me about, is what I probably did for those kids who ultimately found some success in the game.
As an aside here… You might find it odd that I don’t usually brag about a specific player, or claim to have put this kid or that kid in the NHL or on a National Team. That’s because I don’t believe there’s a coach on the planet who is totally responsible for a player’s success. Oh, I know I helped a ton of young guys and gals along the way (as have other coaches or skills instructors), and I’ve even watched a bunch of ‘em on TV. If you want my honest opinion, though, it’s the moms and dads who give their kids legitimate chances to make it, and it’s the kids who make good use of what their parents are willing to provide — plain and simple. That said, this entry is about one of those “little things” I probably have done right for my kids through the years, and something that probably served them well for years and years to come…
What I’m getting at is my refusal to skip steps. So many parents and coaches are in a hurry to have their kids perform moves like elite players. And I think I may have even been that way as I guided my first generation through NEHI programs. But, being in a hurry almost always means skipping steps. And skipping steps almost always causes a player some difficulties down the road. (Please think about that one, because I’ve seen far too many older players who couldn’t be saved due their failure to master given skills when the time was right.)
Now, one luxury of my job is the time I have to study (and study and study). And, while I’m not done studying the game yet — by a long shot, the way I’ve plotted skill progressions for you within this site is likely the most concise you’ll ever find.
Take, for example, the stopping movement… I bring my students or players through maybe ten steps, from the very beginner challenge to some very advanced applications. (These are described and shown in the three “Must-do Skating Drills” videos under the Skating category.)
Of course, rational people would say it makes sense to NOT go on to Step 4 until Step 3 is mastered. Yet, there’s something that seems to cause younger parents and coaches to get a bit irrational at times — or they get antsy about their kids’ progress, which causes them to skip from Step 3 to Step 7 (whatever).
I’m also (as my noggin’ makes me jump again) reminded of the advice I provided in the “Creating The Early Goal-scorer” video. For, my main aim there was to help you help your youngster succeed “at his or her own level”. Trust me on this one: Most of the other kids in your youngster’s age group are skipping steps, or they’re not even being given the chance to master many of the game’s basic skills. So, a kid who IS slowly lopping-off key steps IS ultimately going to blow-away the majority of his or her peers.
Okay, I may have seemingly jumped around a bit here and there (and that’s likely the electrodes in my noggin’ at work). But the advice I’m trying to convey to you today is to just “stay the course”. There are bound to be ups and downs in a season — geeeeeze, with young players, there can be ups and downs in a day. The thing I’m here to tell you is that others will likely panic with the downs and get a bit over excited about the ups. You, on the other hand, ought to be able to smile at both (yes, even at the downers), because you know you’re on the right course, just putting “first things first”.
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I just received a question from a long-time Twitter and Facebook friend, Sandi, and this topic seems as timely as one can get. And, although it has to do with tournament prep, I’d have advised much the same if she was headed to an important tryout)…
You see, Sandi and her son are on their way to a hockey tournament a few states away, and she thought she might swing a little out of her way on the drive to have her son’s skates sharpened a little differently than usual. (Sandi had read elsewhere about my interest in a new sharpening method.) Thankfully she asked my opinion on this BEFORE venturing off-track.
My advice to Sandi was to NOT do anything differently from the norm as she sends her boy into the tournament fray. In other words, I suggested that she do everything to make her son feel comfortable, which includes doing everything as usual.
If you can appreciate what I’m saying here, there are times when experimentation can be helpful, and there are times when I would definitely avoid doing anything outside the norm. Many — or probably most — hockey movements require fine motor skills, and these can only be thrown-off by different equipment or different equipment alterations.
In my humble opinion, the right time to experiment — or to break-in new gear — is when there are several weeks (or even months) to acclimate oneself to a different “feel”.
Ultimately I suggested that Sandi and her son visit that new kind of skate sharpening shop on their way home from the tournament. At least the boy could try the results of that sharpening at home at a practice. From there, he could experiment and judge better whether he wants to continue using it in future games.
If you happen upon this article prior to December of 2011, I’m planning an awesome tournament for Mite “B” teams, that will take place during the week right after Christmas. Email Me if you’re interested in joining us.
PS: I plan on explaining the skate sharpening process in a coming post. It’ll be pretty in depth stuff aimed at helping my member friends really know their stuff in this area. My hope is that you’ll henceforth be able to also troubleshoot any blade problems when they arise. Then, when I’m really sure about the new sharpening process Sandi and I talked about, you’ll be among the first to know my recommendations.
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A lot of the content this month has to do with being creative, and Todd Jacobson and I have (and will continue to) suggest ways you can solve problems by actually creating new drills. At the same time, many good drills require some sort of training aid (I’ve mentioned previously that a lot of pretty good training tools can even be homemade).
Well, what got me started on the current topic was Craig Shaw’s awesome article on “How Training Like an Astronaut Can be Beneficial to the Brain“. For, in that piece he mentioned a lot of great little training devices that really CAN help a player improve his or her athleticism — a lot.
But, here’s my fear: It’s easy to read an article such as Craig’s, drink-in the main idea, then gloss-over some of the other (might I suggest equally important?) particulars. And in this regard, I’m talking about Craig’s mention of rope skipping, juggling, a trampoline, scooters, wobble boards and the likes. And I’d throw into that mix something like those Bosu aids (or small inflatable disks often used for balance training).
As an aside here, every parent is probably familiar with the oft repeated summertime chant of youngsters, like, “Ma, there’s nothing to do!” And my answer to this is to always have a few gadgets sitting somewhere nearby (these have often been conveniently located in our back hall or at the end of our driveway). Ease in grabbing something to play with is key here. Hey, no one, including us adults, wants to spend a half-hour setting something up, only to have less time to play with it.
All that said, I thought I’d just mention how I’ve come by some of the unique gadgets you’ll often seen used in videos or photos taken up at The MOTION Lab…
– Of course, jump ropes are inexpensive — or, at least the types I suggest using. Those made from something like a 3/8″ vinyl will whip through the air pretty quickly.
- So is a container of tennis balls fairly inexpensive. Actually, the lower the quality, the less bounce you’ll get from one that’s dropped. There are even some great tutorials available on-line that make juggling fairly easy to learn.
- In some of the videos from our Lab, you might notice a goaltender hopping and juggling while wearing a patch over one eye. These eye patches are also readily available — and only a couple of dollars — at most local drugstores.
– And would you believe I found our first trampoline at a neighborhood yard sale? I think it went for about $5. I later discovered that one of the largest department stores in our area carries pretty decent tramps (so the dad of a Lab student tells me) for a little over $20, and these are available on-line if they’re not in stock at the store.
- I know that scooters were a rage when my grandson was about 10-years old, and I still see them frequently offered at low costs in most local department store flyers. Oh, by the way… When Anthony was motoring around our neighborhood, I suggested he split his time on that gadget — I mean, thrusting with his left leg as often as with his right.
– Wobble boards (or teeters, as I call them)? You don’t need to buy one. Two crossed 2″ by 4″ boards about 2′ long will do just nicely (and store very easily). Actually, wait until you see my video on “Chop Stix”, whereby I’ll show you how to make a batch of great balancing, puckhandling and core strength gadgets from a single $3 hunk of wood.
- Then, about those Bosu trainers… They’re dawgoned expensive. However, local department stores carry pretty inexpensive (about 12″ wide by about 2″ deep) inflatable disks that go for about $10 to $12 each. I have a batch of those in The MOTION Lab, and they’re awesome. But, while you could easily get away with owning one, two disks are all you’d ever really need.
Two final thoughts…
Whether price is an issue with you or not, I like to make it one as I offer this kind of advice. (I don’t ever want a player’s chances of improving tied to his or her wallet.) If there was one thing I took away from my long ago studies in the USSR, it was that those folks were dirt-poor. Yet, while a lot of their gear was old and worn (not shiny and new like you see in most US gyms), it — and the teaching — was extremely effective. (I somehow sense my old Moscow friends would smile if they visited my Lab today.) Anyway, seeing what I did back then caused me to forever after adopt the following sentiments…
Yes, I feel the need to repeat something I’ve said quite a few times in other prior posts, in that, “It’s not really the gadget (or weight set) that makes us better; improved skills and greater athletic qualities come from the way we use them!”
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Dustin Pedroia’s Hand-eye Coordination
By Dennis Chighisola
By now, everyone knows that I’m into keeping an eye on other sports. I’ll dig into anything that will help me coach our game better. At the same time, I’m a real baseball and football fan (in particular, a devout Red Sox and Patriots follower), and I usually get into the basketball playoffs if the local Celtics are involved.
So, this being a warm, lazy Saturday morning in August, I spent a little time reading on-line about my beloved Bosox before tackling a more serious todo list.
As you likely know, one article can lead to another, as did the write-up on the Sox’ thrilling win last night eventually bring me to an MLB Pro Blog by Steve Hyder.
Now, I also love ESPN’s Peter Gammons. So, when I noticed Hyder’s recent blog entry was about his interview with Gammons, I really got into it. And I really got into the part where Gammons expressed his admiration for Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia. As he said, “What makes Pedroia special is his hand-eye coordination. As a boy, he played a lot of tennis and pingpong. The other thing that sets him apart is his incredible will to win…”
Oops, back-up… He played a lot of tennis and ping pong as a boy? Hmmmmm… That’s something that deserves some discussion with my friends at CoachChic.com!
So, I hope you’re thinking along with me on this one…
Pedroia has great quickness from side to side, and I’m thinking he really does react in the way a tennis player would. You learn to be light on your feet in that sport, and you learn to be cat-like in pouncing towards any of four directions. (I’m reminded of two hockey players I recommended tennis to a few years back. One was a goalie and the other a forward, and they both lacked that lightness on their feet, or those cat-like reactions. Both players — or their parents — seemed not to heed my advice, though. And, since “what we refuse (ultimately) defines us,” both boys are now out of the game. Ya, I win some and I lose some. Darn.)
As an aside here… There’s a difference between speed and quickness, you know. I mean, speed usually refers to longer distances, while quickness has more to do with one’s reactions. So, while Pedroia doesn’t possess very good speed on the base paths, I think he’s extremely quick in small areas. (Someday I’m going to get into the way I see speed and quickness in hockey. But for now, I’ll suggest that true success in our game has more to do with how well a player deals with short sprints and in-close battles.)
Pedroia also has what I call “hands”. Yup, he gobbles-up just about every ball he can reach. Ping pong, huh? That’s what I’m guessing. And, if you’ve ever seen a high level match in that sport, you know there’s as much footwork and body control required as there is in tennis.
As yet another aside… When I was an older teen, handball was at the height of its popularity (on the courts where squash is now played). I played it often at the local YMCA. The beauty of handball — and how I see it as being such a great skill enhancer, is that the ball can be hit with either hand. Consequently, Todd Jacobson and I have our goalies play a lot of this against the boards at our weekly off-ice sessions.
Now, there’s one thing Gammons didn’t mention, probably because it has little to do with Pedroia’s hand-eye coordination. But, I’m guessing that the young second-sacker’s throwing arm was being strengthened every time he took a swipe with either a racquet or a paddle.
Okay, I have to get on to a lot of other stuff now. Still, I thought this insight into the little things that might go into an ultimate elite athlete was worth sharing with you (even if it is a warm, lazy Saturday morning in August — !)
PS: While I hope CoachChic.com will include every bit of hockey and athletic advice you’ll ever need, I really do encourage you to pay attention to what athletes from other sports are doing (or have done).
Oh, if you want to catch Hyder’s blog, it’s at:
It gives me great pleasure to introduce yet another awesome guest writer in one Craig Shaw. Craig has been involved in hockey for over 30-years — as a player, coach and cognitive trainer (or what he calls a “brain trainer”). He has also worked as an educator, counselor and educational therapist specializing in motor skill and cognitive enhancement. Craig plans on contributing a series of articles explaining what parents and coaches can do to improve some of the underlying motor and mental capacities of their athletes. (And, lest you think this stuff is just for youngsters, know that Craig is also currently using a very similar approach with elite level hockey players.)
– Dennis Chighisola
How Training Like an Astronaut Can be Beneficial to the Brain
By Craig Shaw
Have you noticed how Coach Chic uses a variety of off-ice techniques to improve balance and coordination, such as trampolines, wobble boards and skipping? These kinds of exercises are consistent with what researchers are finding out about brain development. Studies have shown that rocking, swinging, bouncing and spinning babies not only helps to soothe them, but also enhances their later motor development. In one study babies were spun in swivel chairs in several positions ten repetitions four times a week for a month. These babies showed more advanced motor development than the control group. Likewise seniors who continue work on their balance in such activities as walking, dancing, skating and yoga show slower mental decline as they age.
Why is this? Balance (or the vestibular system in the inner ear) is integral to our ability to control posture, body movement, arousal, eye movements, and sensory integration. In other words, accurate perception, a much-needed ability in the game of hockey I might add, largely comes down to a smooth running vestibular system. And how we perceive the world has a lot to do with healthy brain functioning and emotional stability.
Can this ability be enhanced? It most surely can. Balance is one of the easiest things to train, and our body responds quickly to this training. The types of movements that help to train balance involve changes of movement in space:
- Up and down movements – such as jumping, skipping, trampolining or going down a slide.
- To and fro – such as running, skating, starting and stopping and swinging.
- Centrifugal force – carousels, doing the ‘circles’ on the ice.
- Turning movements of the body – movements used in spinning, dancing, rolling or turning somersaults.
- Depth – riding a scooter, skating forward.
The best ways to develop these abilities is gymnastics (I recommend starting them young), doing activities such as those done in Coach Chic’s Motion Lab, and many and varied sports. Activities that require multi-tasking or divided attention, eye tracking and rhythm are particularly good for the vestibular system and the brain in general. Such drills would include juggling, juggling on one foot, juggling on a balance board or a mini-tramp, dribbling while bouncing on a tramp or balancing on a balance board, skipping, skipping while doing mental challenges or singing songs. Standing on one foot with your eyes closed is also effective. (I once worked with a boy who had little confidence in school and came to me for help. I ended up teaching him to juggle on one foot while reciting the Canadian prime ministers in order. When he did this in front of his school, he got a standing ovation! Did that do wonders for his confidence?)
One last thing: now, I have not read any specific studies on this, but it is just an observation that I believe follows some of the ideas that you have just read about. I once traveled to six different middle class elementary schools in Japan to teach them conversational English and Canadian culture. Well, I boiled it down to maple syrup and hockey. Anyway, one school was miles ahead in many ways – ability to learn English, behavior and so on – and I wondered what was different with that school. The only thing I could find was that they had a well-stocked shed holding about 150 unicycles. And did those kids use them! I don’t recall seeing any obese kids, and do you think they had good core strength?
Readying to post this unbelievable article, I can’t resist the urge to add a little something…
In the “good old days”, it was thought that specializing was the best approach to preparing an elite sportsman. Oh, for sure, so many individual skills must become ingrained in the athlete (for example, skating, puckhandling and shooting in our sport).
At the same time, however, modern day scientists have discovered that certain foundation qualities (like those mentioned by Craig) have a huge bearing on an athlete’s ultimate chances at success. Just think about YOUR favorite NHL skater (my guy happens to be the great Ovechkin) or YOUR favorite goaltender… In nearly every instance, these guys are acrobats on ice, or gymnasts on their skates and with their bodies. They’re not one-dimensional at all.
– Dennis Chighisola
I’ve spent a lot of time with the Slapshot Visualization video over the past few days (see it under the free *Gifts download section). I mean a LOT of time — running and re-running it so many times that I can probably recite most of it by heart. In so doing, something really jumped out at me in one of the clips…
Now, those who have been through this site a number of times should probably recognize my grandson, Anthony. Anyway, in a sequence of on-ice stop-action shots, Tony C’s stick is frozen for all of us to see. And, it is frozen in a pretty good bend. In other words, his stick-shaft is REALLY flexed, or loading-up to unleash all it’s power into the waiting puck.
Take a look at Anthony’s stick as it bends quite a bit. (Actually, I suspect we could have found it to flex all the more if some video frames weren’t missing.)
Next, a funny (and at the same time sad) story… I knew the science of such things when Anthony first entered the game. The problem back then was that super-thin shafts weren’t yet available to little guys. So, I actually trimmed adult wooden sticks so that they’d fit into his little (5-year old) hands, and they’d flex when placed under the small amount of pressure a little one could apply.
The funny (or good) part to this story is that folks marveled at how well he could handle that stick and fire the puck. In fact, one teammate’s dad constantly told me, “I get goose bumps every time I see Anthony shoot the puck!”
As for the sad side to this tale… I always tried to be careful in Anthony’s team lockerroom (although that wasn’t always easy). But when I took some ribbing about my young buddy’s homemade sticks, I dared explain the science to any nearby parents who might listen. If there was a problem, few (if any) did heed my advice. Naw, most of the kids never did get the sort of benefits I’m talking about here — either stickhandling wise or shooting wise. And hardly any from that group even went on to play local high school hockey.
So, I’m hoping I get the attention of all my friends here (if that’s really needed). And, I’ll direct you to one of the first videos I posted here when this site first opened — that one on Your Stick. You (or your player/s) won’t be sorry for the quick review.
The following entry is made with some connection to the previous article in this section, Analyzing the Forward Stride (below). So, it would be helpful if members review that video so that they better appreciate what I’ll be suggesting here.
– Dennis Chighisola
Todd Jacobson is as much into chasing down scientific studies as Old Coach Chic. And he’s just as eager to share something interesting when he gets the chance.
Such was the case recently when he sent me the link to an only slightly (hockey) related study he’d found, this attributed to a biomechanics expert, Steve Collins, at Delft University in the Netherlands.
The primary concern of Collins’ study — in my very general terms — was to discover whether the way one swings his or her arms in a walking motion really matters. So he tested a number of subjects as they walked — with arms crossed or held down to the side, with arms swinging in the normal fashion, and with the arms swinging opposite to the normal motion. (You’ll get a chance to see those different motions and the results of his study in just a moment.)
Now, that test had nothing to do with speed, as we running or skating coaches might usually concern ourselves. But it did have to do with efficiency of movement, or the cost of moving in certain ways.
What Collins discovered was that NOT moving in what we’d consider a normal motion comes at a fair cost in energy expended.
I have to say again, that Collins’ study really doesn’t relate that much to our concerns. At the same time, it proves something that should make a whole lot of sense to us, in that moving with the arms and legs in-sync is a whole lot more energy-efficient than any other kind of motion.
I raise this issue (and the reason Todd sent me that link is) because a lot of folks who don’t know the science of skating struggle with the suggestion that a skater’s arms should move in a side-to-side motion once he or she is underway. So, here’s the idea:
In running and walking, the legs are moving back and forth in order to propel us forward; but in skating, the skate blades have to push outward in order for us to achieve forward movement. And in all cases — be it while running, in Collins’ walking study, or in skating, energy-efficiency can only be attained by having the arms travel in an equal and opposite reaction to the way our legs move.
Finally, have a look at a very short video showing Collins’ study, this provided by Guardian.co.uk… The secrets of swing. (News articles sometimes disappear after a period of time, so I can’t be sure how long this video clip will remain available. So, if a member discovers it gone, would you please call it to my attention? firstname.lastname@example.org)
I can’t take credit for this truly mind stretching statement, but I long ago read something to the effect that, “What we refuse defines.”
Hmmmmmm… “What we refuse defines us.”
As I recall, that was meant as advice for living a more fruitful life, as well as for expanding our business horizons.
My take on those words is that each of us has some inner fears that — either slightly or drastically? — limit our chances for growth. But then, since my job here isn’t to advise members about their personal lives or their business approach, let me share with you how I believe this statement does apply to the way we work on our hockey game…
Over the past few months I’ve been watching some new Team NEHI members trying to blend with my long-time guys. In most instances I see them pulling it off fairly well. Yet at other times I’m noticing some kids holding back. Yes, holding back.
As I’ve whispered to more than one long-time team parent, as we’ve watched new kids working within the group, “A number of them have come from youth programs where they weren’t exposed to a lot of new things.” To put it a little harshly, they likely drifted through practices like zombies, mainly because they weren’t asked to really observe, listen or think. In other words, they weren’t forced to learn or try many new skills, or they just weren’t challenged at all.
By the way… In my kids’ case, I haven’t noticed anyone who doesn’t want to get better. No, there are seemingly no problem players in the group, no bad attitudes, no “head cases”.
So, what IS the problem? Well, this might just be where that “What we refuse defines us” philosophy comes in. And it might also be where we have to ask ourselves a very important question — as in, “What is a hockey practice really for?”
Now, I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my late-dad was a long-time baseball coach, and a very successful one. Better yet — at least to me, he was as great a philosopher as I’ve personally known. So, in reference to the question at hand, dad would say, “Work hard in practice, then forget everything you learned once the game starts.”
It might take you a moment to digest that thought, but here’s my take… Dad wanted his guys to play their games in a relaxed manner. The worst thing in the world is for an athlete to tie himself or herself into knots — thinking negatively, or worrying about making mistakes (think The Law of Attraction here). No, the best athletes tend to play “loosey-goosey”. They’re not inhibited at all. And, as Shaun Goodsell might suggest in our Mental Training section, a player must first have great confidence in his or her skills before the games can seem easy.
Beginning to put this all together, I believe that “What we refuse…” statement has an awful lot to do with the inner fears some kids have as they approach new skills. I mean, a lot of kids worry about how they’ll look while performing a given drill, and that is not a good attitude to bring to practice. When I see one of my players seemingly holding back, I’ll tell them about some of the NEHI-ers who came before them (many of those guys you’ve heard about or seen on TV), and I’ll share with my current kids the way those long ago players would laugh at themselves as they’d try something really wild. The most successful ones didn’t hold back one iota. In fact, they’d do what all successful athletes do — trying and failing at first, trying and almost getting it, trying and nailing it, and ultimately owning the new skill.
What I hope you’ll take away from the last paragraph is the fact that there’s a natural progression in mastering any new skill. And it should make sense that one can’t get to the point of “owning” it without first “trying and failing, trying and almost getting it, trying and…”
My dad’s philosophy supports this. For, while he wanted his guys to play the games without fear, he demanded that they practice hard and with purpose. In a way, I’ll put a few words in his mouth, suggesting that, “One does not get the chance to play games with confidence UNLESS he or she has paid their dues at practice.”
So, what is a hockey practice REALLY for? If I had to define it in one sentence, I’d say that, “The main aim of a practice is for a player to be just slightly more capable at the end than when he or she began.”
That in mind, practice is definitely not the place to hold back. Yes, there are some parts of a given practice where form is important, and a player SHOULD be concerned about how he or she looks at those times. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. What this entry IS about are the times when a bit of stretching is required, or where there’s a need to overcome some inner fears, and thereby expand ones capabilities. And for those times, I’ll suggest — as best one can, he or she should DARE to take-on each new challenge, thereby starting that all-important chain reaction — of trying and failing, trying and almost getting it, trying and…
I always attempt to attribute found material to its rightful source. The problem with the following information is that I discovered it well over a year ago, I jotted some notes to myself, and I just never thought to record where I found it. At the time, I probably didn’t think I’d be sharing the material with others. That said, my apologies to whomever did create this list, and I’d surely like to give credit where due if it’s ultimately possible.
– Dennis Chighisola
Now, if you’ve come to know me at all, you probably know I’m into checklists. I just don’t trust myself except to have my faithful list of things to do.
And, when it comes to overseeing the athletic development of my players, I find the following list prevents me from missing a single physical quality:
As you browse that list, notice that all entries point to qualities we’d like to see in our skaters and our goaltenders.
Picture the ideal goaler: flexible, under control, quick as a cat, powerful in moving from position to position, strong in crease wrestling matches, and able to endure a long game while carrying all that heavy gear around.
Also envision a quality skater: free in movements, able to recover when slightly knocked-off the skates, quick and agile in all four directions, speedy on straight-aways, strong in one-on-one tussles, and able to keep going at full tilt through the last shifts of a game.
If you’ll notice, a lot of these qualities also help a hockey player avoid injuries, in particular flexibility, strength and endurance.
So, since we — as coaches, parents or older players — are always looking for some guidance when it comes to readying for a game, I offer the above as a truly awesome checklist.
First, let me introduce a long-time charter member here at CoachChic.com, my Twitter-buddy, Ravi. Yes, that’s where we first met, on Twitter.
Ravi is a Canadian college student plus an adult league hockey player, and we first started going back and forth on that social media site discussing his early season shoulder injury.
Anyway, over about the past year, I’ve found him to be a pretty insightful young guy. He also seems to know himself quite well (something I feel is a huge mark of maturity).
Next — and in keeping with a topic currently emphasized here, Ravi responded to the poll on learning preferences. Better yet, he “tweeted” me with the following personal observations…
In describing what he feels he needs to really get a handle on information, he notes that, “It’s always a mix of the three. With anything physical (ie, a golf swing) I prefer video first, then reading.”
Ravi goes on to note that, “I learn more from reading, but the video provides a base for mental visualization.”
Then, he really describes his most comfortable (and likely his most effective) way of learning, with, “My method is to watch, read, practice… I watch your vids, then read the articles. But like you say, everybody learns differently.”
Is that insightful or what? And, because he’s already gotten a grip on his personal needs, I’d be willing to bet that Ravi learns more, retains more, and retains longer than anyone who hasn’t yet recognized their own needs.
Ravi also brings to light the fact that most of us learn from a combination of senses. Yes, there’s likely one that’s more needed than the others. Yet, I think most folks, like my Twitter buddy, need a little of each — seeing, hearing and interacting — to really grasp the information.
Finally, about the accompanying (rather fuzzy) picture… When I saw it, I just had to ask his permission to post it here. For, that indoor pose (looks like in his garage), suggests to me that Ravi also knows something I’m frequently prodding about here, in that, “A great many hockey skills could be enhanced in a dawgoned closet!” (LOL!)
This is a great follow-up to the last Mental Training entry. (So please be sure to read that first!)
– Dennis Chighisola
Shaun Goodsell, MA
Senior Performance Coach
If you scan or read most articles describing the success or failure of an athlete, inevitably, somewhere in the article there will be the mention of confidence as the crucial factor dictating success or failure. Why is it that so many believe that confidence is so important? I think it is because we are addicted to feeling good and believe that everything begins with feeling good. If someone succeeds we think it is because they believe they can. If they fail it is because they do not believe they can. The fact is that it is much more complicated then this.
What dictates a person’s level of success is whether or not they have the skills to be effective, not how deeply they believe in themselves. Although a belief in oneself is helpful, it is not the determining factor in one’s level of effectiveness. The time athletes spend developing their skills and their subsequent mastery of those skills is the most significant factor in determining their level of success. When an athlete masters skills and transfers their mastery to competitive arenas then a deep level of belief forms. Cultivating this deep belief starts with believing that specific skills are the vital difference makers in competitive situations and the application of those is what is responsible for success.
One story that highlights this concept happens often in the sport of baseball. When a pitcher is unable to get hitters out there might be any number of reasons for that. They are not hitting their spots, changing speeds, lacking velocity, or simply not studying hitters and learning how to get them out.
In football it could be a lack of speed, execution, or game planning. In hockey it could be some fundamentals are lacking making it difficult to create success.
The belief that a person has in their ability to be effective and successful is completely tied to their level of skill development and this is one of the vital factors that goes into helping young athletes shape the kind of mindset that helps them compete successfully as well as enjoy doing it. So next time you are tempted to believe that it was confidence that dictated an outcome, maybe look a bit deeper and see if skill application wasn’t what dictated the outcome.
If the above article causes you to sense that Shaun and The Old Coach might be on the same wavelength, beleve it. Actually, I was think all the time I read it that just about every drill and game playing tip on this website was initially developed with a player’s confidence in mind. And my suggestions to go slowly and to master each step before taking on the next is also aimed at building confidence. Confidence IS that important. With it, a guy or gal is a real player; without it, welll…
– Dennis Chighisola
This one could have been named “Conversations with Anthony” (I hope you get a kick out of that part).
It’s another brief audio clip from a teleseminar I did some time ago, entitled “Starting ‘em Right”. The gist of that on-line call-in show had to do with ensuring kids develop on three different levels — keeping their skills equal to (or better than) those they play with and against, keeping their confidence, and remaining in love with the game of hockey.
Anthony Chighisola (“Tony Chic”) — at about the age he had to start getting serious about his game. (At this writing — April of 2009, Anthony just completed his first year of college hockey, and he achieved more than his share of awards. For a clip of my young buddy on the ice, Click Here and see the third video.)
In this particular segment, however, I share with you some discussions that arose with my grandson as he was climbing the hockey ladder. And it also gives my impressions on how preparation has to change as kids get older.
I hope you enjoy this…
The following is a brief excerpt from a teleseminar I did long ago. The topic is an important one, and something I truly believe I need to share.
You see, I suspect this is one of the most difficult areas for us hockey parents. I’m guessing a percentage of us never consider goal-setting at all, while others might be putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
Anyway, I hope you’ll hear me out on this one, if only for a different perspective…
By the way, I’m not the sort who discounts a youngster’s chances of becoming a professional athlete (or becoming President of The United States). What I do suggest is that there are natural steps to be taken towards any worthwhile goal. And I think I’ve just pointed out the most significant one for a really serious young hockey player.
I just created what I think is an awesome entry about my “Think ‘n Skate” program. If there was one difficulty with that, it was arriving at the right category to place it in.
Yes, it is about Mental Training, and it’s also about a player’s ability to Think The Game. But so does it have to do with General Skills. And, I also mention near the end of that post that I plan on soon implementing that form of training in The MOTION Lab this spring.
Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I did finally list it — and an accompanying video — under Mental Training and Thinking The Game. Have a look, huh? It can really help an intermediate to advanced player!
Please be sure to watch Part 1 in this series as a prerequisite to the following. A lot of the principles described in Part 2 were better explained in the previous entry.
Part 2A – The Answers:
As an introduction to Part 1, I suggested that the information contained there would likely put you far ahead of most other parents, players and coaches. That should have been the case.
However, I probably also scared you a bit, pointing out the possibility that certain mistakes in training cannot be undone later. Yes, there are those “windows of opportunity” — or certain periods in a human’s development that had better not be ignored.
Still, while that might be so — that there’s danger in missing those “windows”, I think I might just be able to ease your mind a bit in the following segments. In fact, I hope to give you some great ideas for helping a young hockey player become far more athletic and far more confident.
Now, due to the length (and file size) required to do this subject justice, I’ve had to divide Part 2 into two sections. So, here’s Part 2A…Loading...
Now, please go on to Part 2B now…Loading...
As a wrap-up to all this information, let me highlight a few things, as well as offer a few last minute suggestions:
- I hope it did ease your mind, that many of the early motor skills are learned naturally by relatively active children. At the same time, appreciate that extra activities can help even more. And, besides typical schoolyard games, rope skipping, running, tag and gymnastic-type activities, participation in other sports can further enhance athleticism and even problem solving.
- Don’t forget the human body’s unbelievable ability to adapt. And, while the example of weightlifting was used, this would also be the case with speed and agility training, conditioning, and numerous other physical abilities.
- The Theory of Transfer was mentioned here… Used in a practical sense, my suggestion is that the likes of shooting and puckhandling away from the ice can really help a player’s on-ice game. And so will mimicking the skating stride, necessary footwork, and numerous other hockey-type movements. If you think about it, the value of off-ice training is great news for hockey players, since ice-time is expensive and sometimes hard to come by. (My video on “Food for Hockey Thought” also explains why some off-ice training might be even more productive than training on the ice.)
- I know I only quickly mentioned “muscle memory” in the video, but this is yet another example of the human body’s (and mind’s) amazing ability to learn and adapt. For, the more one performs a given movement, the more that movement is committed to memory. If there’s a danger here, it’s that the mind and body can’t distinguish between proper mechanics and faulty ones. And this suggests that real care must be taken when it comes to rehearsing certain movements. (I’m usually more concerned with this when it comes to advanced level players.)
- I think we’ll all agree that the right genetics can be beneficial. Yet, I’m sure we’ll also agree that hard work, dedication and “heart” can overcome many shortcomings.
- Of all the principles I tend to hammer at, perhaps I sense the most resistance when it comes to the subjects of skipping steps and dealing with confidence.
- For sure, some parents and some coaches can’t wait to drag their kids from one level of execution to the next. If there’s a price to pay for this, it’s that a player might miss truly mastering some basics that he or she could really use later on. (My brief post on “do-able” drill progressions will help some in this area.)
- Also, if you recall what I said in conjunction with our observing those two sets of twins… I worry not about the two youngsters who find physical challenges easy; as a matter of fact, they’ll likely to continue to get better because they’ll probably practice a lot on their own. I think the other two will be okay, because the extra (organized) work we’re giving them is ultimately going to help them also feel good about themselves. But, left to struggle for any length of time, there’s a good chance they’ll not want to practice or play. I’ve termed it a “snowball effect”, in that the ones who feel good about themselves tend to get better, and the ones who don’t, well…
- When it comes to believing in oneself, I like to look at is as if every player carries with him a “confidence bank”. In other words, confidence gets put into that bank with every successful drill, and with every success in a game. But so are withdrawals made, as the player suffers setbacks along the way. Here’s my real point, though… When a struggling player — with an already low confidence account — suffers the next (small or large) failure, there’s a chance he or she will be devastated. (Depending on the bank account and the nature of the setback, this could even force a player to quit.) On the other hand, picture what happens to the player who is carrying a near full confidence account when he or she has some difficulty. I’ve seen it countless time (in hockey and in the business world), and you probably have, too. For, that guy or gal hardly misses a beat, or he or she is almost shocked that things didn’t turn-out perfectly (because they always have)!
- Along this same line of discussion is the matter of playing levels. And lest anyone think I’m pushing for a player to be a big fish in a little pond, that’s not the case. What I am talking about, however, is giving a developmental level player the chance to have his or her fair share of successes — in the practices and in the games. Here’s a simple test, though… If a player is in a level where he or she won’t likely control the puck very much — or he or she is just going to play in what I call “panic mode” for a solid hour, I say, “Get ‘em out of there!” On the other side of the ledger, I think it’s pretty helpful to future development if a player can carry a fair share of the play, and maybe even dare to experiment a bit.
All that said, I’m adding another brief video as sort of an afterthought… Actually, this is a recruiting video made by my grandson’s prep school so that he could send it to college recruiters. I didn’t make the video, and that’s not The Old Coach’s voice cheering in the background (I had a hard time getting to many of those distant games). However, what you should know is that Tony Chic was able to grow in the game according to the principles described here and elsewhere at CoachChic.com. Actually, you’ll see him demonstrating some of the drills in many video posts (mainly because I would have felt guilty dragging another player away from training). Anyway, tell me if you think he can move his feet pretty well, if handle the puck and control his body. Also, let me know whether you think he still has plenty of confidence in his bank…
Ya, with all due respect for fixing hockey shortcomings, let me tell you something I’ve come to understand after a kzillion years in the hockey wars…
For sure, a player doesn’t want to have any glaring weaknesses. Yet, want to know what draws the most attention to a player — and what very often wins him big-time recognition? Well, it’s one HUGE strength (and I’m talking about as close to world class as one can get)!
What I’m talking about is speed that is frightening, or a shot that makes goaltenders tremble. And while those aren’t the only qualities I could list, I hope you get my meaning here, in that it has to be something that’ll cause a coach or a scout to go, “Wow!”
Come to think of it, the NHL Draft will be coming up in a few months, and that usually represents a chance for others to gain an appreciation of exactly what I’m suggesting. For, sure as anything, we’re going to hear NHL execs touting their latest selection as “…an unbelievable _______-er, but he still needs a little work on his _______.” (Yup, the pros take all sorts of players with shortcomings, so why must we waste too much sleep over that?)
Yes, talent raters — be they scouts or tryout coaches — like to be wow-ed. Or, said yet another way, they like to see something they can build a dream upon.
Okay, there’s a good chance I just upset your applecart with all the above. So, let me try to put this thing into perspective…
Of course, any long-time member should know that I’m really into our game’s basics, and that I want my players to be fundamentally sound, through and through. At the same time, I don’t build players to be “Joe Average”. Naw, it’s pretty likely I can see at least one strength in a kid, and I’ll — besides working on his basics — look for a way to really bring out that strength.
Take, for example, the different body types…
Besides later (after puberty?) starting to work on his body strength, why dwell on the fact that a player is on the small side? Quite often such kids handle their bodies better than bigger guys, and they’re frequently a little quicker or better in fine motor skills (like footwork and/or puckhandling). So, I’d find one or two of those good qualities and start enhancing it or them. And I’d aim to help him or her undress defenders with stickhandling moves or frighten them with blazing speed.
And how about the really big guy — the one who has more difficulty handling his body than some of the littler players, but he does do well in the tough going? Oh, I’d really work on his skating and other fine motor skills, but I’d also try to help him become “hell on wheels” (if he was willing). I mean, have every opponent on the ice looking over their shoulders and worrying about this guy cruising around.
Can you appreciate what I’m getting at? It does no good to bemoan a kid’s shortcomings — beyond a point. And to ignore his strengths while dwelling on his weaknesses is likely to keep him or her hidden in the middle of the pack. And what I’m also suggesting is that a kid’s strength (or few strengths) is the only thing he has that can break him out of that proverbial pack.
Once again, though, just to be sure I’m not misunderstood… I am saying that a player should work hard to improve upon his or her shortcomings. At the same time, however, he or she HAS to magnify the one thing that might ultimately carry him or her to much higher levels.
I noted previously — in one of my Coach’s Notebook entries — that I’d noticed a good many of my young players either being tossed around by opponents or losing the battles whenever they had collisions on the ice.
So, I tried to think of ways I could recreate those situations in a practice setting.
In the first part of the following video, you’ll see my kids paired (with others of equal height and strength), and the pairs are doing something called “Shoulder Bumps”. (In a lead-up drill, I have partners lock arms, just so they stay close together and under control. That established, I’ll let them unlock the arms and go a little more live with their bumps. This form of drilling can also be done with the players not moving, or just bumping while in one spot.)
The second part of the video shows pairs of equally sized kids wrestling. I only let a given bout last for about 10-seconds, because it really does take a lot out of them.
What I’m trying to accomplish in both drills is to give my kids a chance to search for a strong posture. This should especially be noticeable in the second (wrestling) drill, whereby you’ll see most of the players really spreading their skates and lowering their butts.
By the way… As you might gather from my video on “Checking”, controlled versions of these drills wouldn’t be bad for beginners and non-body-checking players. Hey, collisions and jostles for position happen at every level of our game.
Then, I want to point-out to parents that they can use modified versions of these drills (and numerous other ones found on this site) to help their youngsters behind the scenes. Neither do players have to be on the ice to benefit from these drills. All a parent has to do is think a little, and make a few slight adaptations, to help a player stay on his or her feet while rivals take the spills.
Q: Megan B. describes herself as an adult who is relatively new to playing the game. She goes on to ask The Old Coach if he has any advice on skill development, adding that, “I have one game per week and usually one on-ice practice per week, so my ice time is limited.”
A: Aaaaaah, smiles to Megan, because I loved seeing that question come in. After all, she pretty much describes what all adult recreational players go through — getting limited ice-time while still wishing to improve their skills. Furthermore, I’m sure Megan knows — along with all the rest of us, that improved skills are ultimately going to make the game even more fun.
To begin, I’m going to offer an idea that is sure to help every member, young or old, new or very experienced. For, what I’ll suggest is that a player (or the parent guiding a player) should arrange training conditions so easy that the work is almost sure to be done. Megan probably asked this between the lines, in that she likely doesn’t want to drive a half-hour several times per week for a couple of fairly costly extra skills clinics. No, something like that is apt to take about 4-hours out of her night, what with travel, dressing, the ice-time, undressing, showering, dressing again and then traveling home. And, if the time required doesn’t ultimately get to her, the slightest health, work or personal complication WILL make it awfully easy for her to skip a training session (or two or three or four).
Now, what I’m getting at is that Megan should seriously consider training at home, or at least somewhere that isn’t going to present a huge hassle.
As an aside here… My notes from last night’s hockey game included a need for me to advise one teen to do some hand strengthen exercises. Actually, an observation like that is worth sharing with all of my kids. So, we sat for a few minutes as a team at this morning’s off-ice practice, where we discussed that subject and a few others. In reference to hand strengthening, I suggested that the kids squeeze tennis-sized rubber balls as a start-up exercise. Then, in keeping with my want to make this easy for them, I offered the idea of doing that for a short time each night as they watch television.
That’s what I mean by arranging training conditions that are so easy that the work is almost sure to get done. And that’s what I’m suggesting to Megan, hoping she can create circumstances that are easy for her to undertake, and ones that aren’t likely to annoy a roommate, family members or neighbors.
Then, since she is relatively new to the sport, my guess is that improvement in the two most basic skill areas — skating and puckhandling — will result in her quickest improvement:
- Although rather costly, a slideboard is an awesome tool for smoothing the skating stride and adding great power. (Thankfully, I’ve previously commented on the proper use of The Slideboard below.)
- Easily done indoors is an exercise my older players do frequently. I call it the Simulated Skate, and I’m including a short video clip below to show you what it looks like (I’ve also included a few others).
- At the end of that video is a clip of the same young guy performing WallSits. This exercise — working up to about 15-seconds, resting between sets for about 30-seconds — helps a player get used to sitting low in his or her on-ice movements. (Oh, and while the stickhandling shown in the following video is purely optional, I included it just to keep this player’s mind off the pretty intense burn that can usually be felt in the thigh muscles.) I’d avoid doing this exercise if knee pain arises.
- Down the road I’m going to do a special post on something I call SkateDrills. Briefly though, I’ll suggest that Megan can wear her skates indoors on a carpet area (or on a carpet square), and actually practice things like cross-overs, hopping on one skate and the other, jogging lightly, and balancing on one skate while kicking the other. I’ll even suggest she experiment a bit with this idea, perhaps working on skills closer to her current needs.
- Then with the spring gradually coming to New England (Megan is a fellow Bay Stater), in-line skates can be excellent cross-trainers for on-ice skaters. Roller training transfers best if the skates are close to a player’s on-ice ones. And, if a safe area can be found, I always suggest getting rid of the heel stopper. (Skaters tend to be overly conscious of that extension, consequently making abnormal cross-over movements.)
- Something like the ball seen in the following video is awesome for quickening hand movements. (Ours are wooden “Swedish Stickhandling Balls, but a golf ballis also good.) Just fiddling with it is going to improve Megan’s puckhandling.
- A very simple — but very good — drill is to stand with the eyes closed and just dribble with soft hands while feeling the ball and the vibrations coming up from the stick blade to the hands. One can even try to sense where the ball is on the blade.
- Finally, the above drill is one of a series of off-ice puckhandling drills that will appear in the Highlight Reel Skills section very shortly. So, if Megan and others can start with the above drill, there will soon be enough advice here to take an enthusiast player from this spring to late summer, and from beginner to pretty advanced.
Well, I hope that helps you, Megan. Be sure to let me know if you need clarification on any of this. And, good luck!
I know I touched upon this term in my very first post in this section. However, it’s THAT important for me to go into yet more detail here.
Also, although this topic might be appropriate under the General Skills section, there are two good reasons why I’ve chosen to introduce it here and at this time. First, I know I’m going to address it in other ways — and to all members — at numerous times in the future. Secondly, though, I find that parents and coaches of very young players seem to wrestle the most with it. So…
When I say “do-able”, I’m suggesting that those with the say make sure that drill selections are really attainable for a given player or group of players.
For example, here’s something I’ve far too often seen or heard at rink-side or at a coaching clinic… A couple of guys are huddled and observing a high school or college-type drill, and I’ll hear one say to another, “That’s beautiful! I can’t wait to use it!” A little later, however, I’ll discover that the coach who intends to use that drill is actually working with 8-year olds (or the likes).
And, I’m going to suggest that subjecting very young players to advanced or elite level drills goes against everything known about motor skill development.
When it comes to using advanced X’s and O’s drills here’s the difference I see in advanced versus lesser experienced players…
More experienced guys or gals can usually cover a great distance in a short period of time. Experienced players also tend to make fewer skill-type mistakes. So, the combination of those two things help make the advanced drill function fairly well.
As for what I’ve seen happen when very young kids are asked to perform a NOT-so-do-able drill… First, it takes forever for each player’s little legs to negotiate the length of the ice, or even the length of one zone. Secondly, passes hardly ever connect — as in some being far off the mark, and others not being caught. And the result is that players seldom get to step #2 of a drill, never mind to steps #3 or #4 or whatever! And what usually happens is that young kids end-up standing in long lines as they wait for a couple of teammates to complete the drill.
Of course, the need for drills to be do-able also pertains to ones geared towards physical skills — like skating, puckhandling, passing, shooting, checking, speed, strength, conditioning and a whole lot of others… In some cases, safety is an issue, or some physical harm can be done to a young body. However, even if that isn’t a real concern, frustration quite likely is — as in the player or players trying to do something that just plain ISN’T “do-able”!
Now, I plan on ultimately sharing with you the most important “principles of motor learning”. In the meantime, though, let me at least provide a tip for dealing with those supposedly non-do-able drills…
If you’ll recall, I touched about this one a little in last month’s entry, The Best Advice I Could Ever Share. But, let me clarify things just a little more. For, you see, almost everything IS do-able; it’s just a matter of how we — those in charge — introduce a given drill. For example, when it comes to an individual skill, the advanced level of execution we desire for our kids might be something like a 9th or 10th progression. In other words, it would take our young players that many steps to reach such a level. So, the answer — or my way of dealing with this problem — is to study the higher level skill, and then reduce it to something very, very basic. I mean, it would be something akin to step #1 in the line of progressions, and it would be very, very do-able! Thereafter — or after step #1 is mastered, the learned skills and confidence should then make step #2 do-able. And so it would go: stretching the player to the next do-able step, the next and the next.
The following video should give you a fairly good understanding about the principles behind “over-speed training”. Take a look — it’s just a short one. Then, after you’ve seen that, I’ll give you a further tip (below) that might help enhance speed at home or at a local park…Loading...
One of the simplest and easiest ways to perform over-speed training is to sprint downhill. The grade downward needn’t be — and actually shouldn’t be — too steep. For, while a player wants the help of gravity to go down the hill faster than normal, poor mechanics usually come about from running down too steep an incline.
Part 1 – The Science:
I probably should apologize in advance that this isn’t a very glamorous subject. Nor does it make for an exciting video presentation. At the same time, our knowing about the “critical periods in motor learning” — especially as these pertain to athletics — is going to put us far ahead of other parents, players and coaches.
From necessity, the following video includes a lot of quotes with accompanying graphics. But I’ve also included a number of short video clips showing my students or players performing some rather unique drills. Over time, I promise to show you hundreds (if not thousands) of these drills, along with detailed explanations.
Finally, while this video might be mostly technical — and its claims might even cause you to worry some, I promise that the next one, Part 2, will ease your mind a bit, and it’ll also include lots of practical advice when it comes to applying these scientific principles.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Loading...
Please continue to Part 2.
As I mentioned last month, I have an on-line radio show called Coach Chic’s Hockey Secrets. And, while it’s free, and I welcome you to visit there when you have the time, I’m also going to occasionally edit some show segments and enter them here for you, because they contain information I’d really like you to know.
Now, let me remind you that noted skills analyst, Jack Blatherwick, expressed some pretty strong feelings (as did I) when it came to comparing Russian and North American training for young players.
In this second audio segment, Daniel Coyle takes us to a small, out of the way tennis club in Russia, where we learn the ways of the Spartak coaching staff. (Sorry, that while I mention a link to Coyle’s column in this recording, my understanding is that that piece is no longer available on-line.)
This is good stuff. And, while perhaps neither you or I can change the way things are done in our local youth organizations, we surely can borrow some of these ideas to help the young ones in our charge.
I hope you enjoy this…
Hoping you’ve had a chance to really absorb last month’s entry, about ”Creating the Early Goal-scorer“, I thought I’d go a little deeper into my reasons for eventually creating the obstacles featured in that video…
You see, I spotted something frequently happening when my players went live — or tried the moves they’d just learned against live competition. And, what I noticed is that my attackers were actually executing their dekes pretty well at times, but the defender or goaltender was too frequently getting lucky and foiling the play. I mean, the attacker did everything right, yet he or she received negative feedback just because of lousy luck.
Hand in hand with the above goes my feeling that progressions should go from no resistance to increasingly more resistance. But the jump from practicing moves to going live left no in between steps. “Oh,” I thought, “if only there was a way to practice those moves in an intermediate step, perhaps against a not-so-live defender or goalie.”
The SMG (or simulated goaler) was my first creation. For sure, I’d owned lots of gadgets to cover a net — like nets with pockets in the corners or plywood sheets with specially located holes. Those weren’t as realistic as I wanted, though, and they certainly didn’t offer a chance for my kids to practice moves; they’re really only good (so they say) for shooting accuracy.
Eventually, I also created various versions of a simulated defender. I don’t think there’s one better than another… The main idea is to provide three obstacles — representing the defender’s feet and stick-blade, or the three open areas we want our attacker to work against. (FYI… I no longer carry the professionally made Attack Triangle shown in the video, although I believe they are still out there on the market.)
As suggested in the last paragraph, I don’t think the looks or construction of a given obstacle matter.
That said, here are a couple of ideas for parents and coaches who want to help a youngster or youngsters perfect the moves:
- a mom or dad could easily stand with feet spread (on or off the ice) and hold a stick down to simulate all the open triangles;
- a coach – dealing with numerous players — could have them pair-up as demonstrated in the video by some of my junior high school kids (I always ask that the player assuming the defensive role “be a good teammate” by offering a steady posture);
- more recently, I’ve devised a next progression on the way towards working against a live defender, having a teammate move rather slowly towards his puck-carrying partner.
Finally — and as you’ll hear me often say, progress comes from the doing. In other words, the gadgets don’t improve an attacker, practice does!
Okay, don’t let that mouthful scare you (it’s pronounced: pro-pri-o-cep-tion), despite the fact that I’ll suggest this topic is pretty important for anyone in sport to know…
To begin, I think we’d all agree that balance is important to a hockey player. And, with that, you should know that balance is derived from the fluids in the inner ear (and that it might also be referred to as equilibrioception).
That term out of the way, let me spend a little more time on the subject at hand. For, proprioception is defined as the sense of one’s orientation of the limbs in space. Or, said in an even simpler way, it’s the ability to use our limbs without having to actually watch them. Hey, even with our eyes closed, we have a sense of where our arms and legs are, and we also sense where and when we’re moving them. And this awareness — or the ability to know where our limbs are, is required for every movement we make.
Muscles, tendons, joints and the inner ear contain stretch receptors that relay positional information through the central nervous system and to our brain. The brain consequently analyzes this information and provides feedback about our body’s orientation and movement. That relayed information also tells the body how to react, as well as how much tension the various muscles have to apply for a given movement. So can the skin, the palms of our hands, the soles of our feet and other sensors work together with the brain to sense muscle tension, weight shifts, load and range of motion.
Of course, these basic senses are natural in humans, thereafter being continuously retrained, as a body attempts to deal with numerous everyday movements. And, while they are at first unconscious abilities, they can be enhanced with training.
So, does this all sound like something we hockey types should be aware of? You bet! Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb to stretch the meaning of proprioception a bit, suggesting that I think it’s at least partly what we see in that athlete we refer to as “a natural”. I mean, there’s a grace about him or her, and a lot of this has to do with his or her balance and body awareness. Just picture it: a player flying down the ice, bobbing and weaving in and out of opponents, moving the limbs in a pretty efficient stride when needed, and even knowing — without looking — where a little black biscuit is out on the end of an extended stick and arms.
Finally, from the above, you should know that proprioception and balance — while not exactly the same — can still usually be enhanced at the same time, or with the same exercises. Consequently, future posts — here and in the ones From The MOTION Lab — will provide you plenty of ideas towards that end.
Most balancing exercises — combined with some sort of skill work with the hands — will yield improved hockey-related proprioception.
Whenever speed is your aim, it’s important to obey certain scientific (as well as common sense) rules.
It should make sense that a player can’t train at top speed if he or she is tired. So, drilling should be done early in a workout, the working phase shouldn’t last for more than about 12-seconds, and the athlete needs adequate rest before being able to go all-out again.
It should make further sense that heavy, bulky or tight gear can slow or
otherwise inhibit proper movements. As a matter of fact, the concept
of “over-speed” training takes this even further, utilizing the likes of
downhill running and reversed bungees to actually assist a movement to be faster than normal.
For those who don’t know, I have an on-line radio show — or podcast — where I enjoy sharing tips, tricks and training shortcuts. Coach Chic’s Hockey Secrets is free, and I welcome you to visit there at your leisure. At the same time, I’m going to occasionally edit some of those show segments and enter them here for you, mainly because they contain information that’s important for you to know.
That’s the case here, as I’ve taken some valuable quotes by well known skills analyst, Jack Blatherwick, as he describes what he believes are key differences between the way Russian and North American youth programs operate. Actually, this is a two-parter, with the next segment coming next month.
Please pardon my extra passion when it comes to this subject; I know I can be rough on my listeners at times.
Just press the arrow to play (and enjoy)…
I know a lot of hockey folks think that a stick is just a stick. But I’m here to suggest that every decision — in selection, measurement and doctoring — can have a huge and even LASTING impact on a player’s ability to stickhandle, pass and shoot. So, no matter your level of expertise, please give this simple video a look-see. I promise there will be a point or two that will even surprise the most advanced viewer…Loading...
A Unique(?) View of OFFENSIVE Skill Development
1 – For sure, skating is the name of the game. So, it should come as no surprise that I see this skill as the foundation for all other areas of effective hockey play. And, without capable skating skills, it would be difficult for a player to be an elusive attacker.
(Actually, if we were talking about defensive skills here, I’d also have to point out that great skating mobility/agility is required in order for a defender to keep-up with dangerous rival attackers.)
2 – What might surprise you is the significance I place on puckhandling — as the second most important offensive skill. Please think about this, though… Without the soft hands that usually come with great stickhandling ability, it’s difficult for a player to be either an effective passer or receiver. (Since “puckhandling” includes proficient use of the skates, players demonstrating this quality add even more moves to their attacking bag of tricks, and they are also more often able to corral errant passes.) Nor can a player be a truly effective passer if he or she isn’t able to handle the puck with his or her eyes up, thereby seeing rival defenders and open teammates. Then, consider the fact that a great many goal-scoring opportunities require a puckhandling fake or deke.
3 – Next on the way to developing a very talented offensive player, I ask you to view passing and receiving as “skills”. Sure, these are important parts of tactical play. But, great passes — sent dart-like and flat, right to a teammate’s stick-blade — require great hands, or great skill. And, as I hinted earlier, skilled players just tend to control more passes under difficult conditions.
4 – Then, with great skating mobility, with the hands of a good stickhandler, and with the sweeping motion acquired through proper forehand and backhand passing technique, a player ought to be a lot better able to sweep, wrist, snap or slap the puck on-goal.
Finally, consider addressing each skill within these Building Blocks areas both separately and in combination. In other words, each progression within a given category should initially be mastered separately. However, since our game calls for executing numerous skills in combination, drilling should gradually include these combinations. (Take heart on the
latter; I’ll ultimately be providing you plenty of ideas for complex skill drilling.)
Note: If you haven’t already, I’ll highly recommend that you take a look at a related post, The Best Advice I Could Ever Share. I it really is appropriate to all levels of our game.
I guess I ought to preface this first post with the fact that I’m now working with about my third generation of hockey players. Yes, I’ve coached or instructed thousands of kids over nearly 40-years. So, over that time, you can guess that I’ve pretty much seen it all. And, over that time, I’ve also had the chance to see what seems to work, as well as what seemingly doesn’t. Which brings me to that best-ever advice…
Perhaps this short story will give you an idea of where I’m heading, here… You see, a lot of years ago, I happened to be watching a video-tape of the great Denis Savard executing his famed “spinarama” move. If you’re not familiar with that move, don’t worry (and I will show it to you sometime later); the point is that video showed a fairly high level move, done by a very high level player. As I watched that tape a number of times, though, I realized that Savard’s move was really a combination of a few very simple moves, and moves that some of my intermediate level students were already working on. So, upon returning to my clinic, we spent a few sessions perfecting those basic movements, and then I started showing the kids how to combine them into a spinarama. Yes, within a few weeks, some of my 9- and 10-year olds were making that move as nicely as the great Savard.
Now, I wouldn’t blame parents of very young players for seeing the likes of an Alexander Ovechkin, and wishing they could help their youngsters gain such great skills. What I’m here to promise you, though, is that — barring insurmountable physical or learning limitations, it’s absolutely possible for a young one to be gradually brought to elite level abilities.
Of course, the key word in that last sentence is “gradually”. For, as you’ll learn elsewhere at CoachChic.com, rushing through — or skipping — progressions can result in a player being extremely frustrated, or downright discouraged.
So, going back to that little story about Savard again… My suggestion is to look at any desirable skill, and attempt to break it down into little parts. “Do-able” is a favorite term of mine when it comes to those part-skills. I mean, while we’re trying to gradually help a young player grow, we also want him or her to gain a great deal of confidence. Hey, let’s face it: a confident player loves practicing, so the combination of skill growth and added confidence tends to snowball in a really positive direction.
If you’re getting the feeling I’m preaching patience here, I surely am. In fact, when it comes to helping young players to become highly skilled and smart, I’ve learned that, “Slow and steady definitely does win the race!”
In re-capping the best advice I could ever share with you… Know that it IS possible to bring an experienced player to advanced or elite status; the secret is to do it in small, do-able steps — or parts. Over time, those parts can be gradually put together into more complex skills. All the while, confidence-building patience is the key.
Finally, know that you’re not going to be alone here. Naw, let’s take the trip together…
I can’t tell you how psyched I am to kick-off this section. We’re going to explore some really interesting training concepts here, and I can’t wait to show you some drills that are sure to quickly elevate any intermediate level player’s game.
For example, I have an awesome video planned for next month; it’s something I created a few years ago, and it’s aimed at teaching young players how to be goal-scorers. I think you’re going to love it, but there’s some stuff I feel compelled to explain beforehand…
As I’ll tell you in that video, I’ve worked with guys right through to pros. Yet, even though I know all sorts of high level tricks, I don’t show them to my younger students.
As an example, I’m thinking right now about one trick a pretty nifty professional player once shared with me. However, the interesting thing about that trick is that it would only work against a really experienced goaltender.
What I’m getting at is that the exact same move that pro described would hardly ever work in youth hockey. And, I’m betting it wouldn’t even work at the high school level. The reason? It’s because elite goalers tend to think differently than younger ones. Appreciate that the challenges they face in games are far different than those experienced by their younger counterparts.
So, why waste time teaching these kinds of things to younger players, especially when they have plenty of more important problems to worry about?
As a matter of fact, I want to remind my good friends to heed some of the advice covered in earlier posts… For example, don’t forget to stick with a slow, methodical approach to each skill’s progressions. Don’t forget that jumping ahead on progressions is sure to cause a player at least some frustration. And, I’m sure we’ll agree that confidence suffers when a player becomes frustrated. Yes, in a way, the frustrated player is feeling that he or she is not good enough.
All that said, here’s what I’m really getting at today… A Mite is basically competing against other Mites. And, so is a Pee Wee competing against other Pee Wees. So the secret to helping a player feel REALLY good is to help him or her succeed against their own age group. Plain and simple.
In fact, I think that last suggestion — about just competing against the current age group — makes the whole thing easier to focus upon, and subsequently very do-able.
Now, looking ahead to next month, I promise a video that is going to really simplify goal-scoring — for any decently skilled youngster in about the 8- to 12-year old age range. I’ll suggest that learning just 3 basic moves will get a player through traffic and to the net. Then, once at the net, I’ll provide a couple of great ideas for beating a goaltender IN THAT AGE CATEGORY.
Finally, as you get to know me, you’ll likely appreciate that there’s little I do without good reason. Said yet another way, I’m hoping you really dwell on the points I’ve made today, because this line of thinking is truly going to help as we move forward.
Coming next month… Creating The Early Goal-scorer – In 5 Easy Step!