My son has been staying with me for a few days, as he moves into a new hockey job close by. With that, you can imagine the hockey conversations that go on (and you’d probably love being a fly on the wall for some of them).
Anyway, a few minutes ago, I leaned across the back patio table and said to Mike, “Ya know, more questions come to me having to do with people skills than those involving hockey play.”
Am I thrilled at that? No. But, do I think such questions are necessary, or valid? Yes, I do. In fact, still learning at my age, I sense that there’s something to be appreciated about such questions — by me, and by the powers that be within youth hockey’s higher ups.
– Dennis Chighisola
Why Am I Involved In Hockey?
Dave’s question came via email, explaining about some problems he’s recently had with one of his players…
In a nutshell, he’s now second guessing himself about appointing a new player as an Assistant Captain prior to getting into his team’s season, because — despite the kid demonstrating great work ethics in the early going, he seems to have come with some serious excess baggage. Readers are going to cringe when I tell them that Dave says the kid has been bullying some teammates. (Like some kids of similar ilk that I’ve coached, I can believe Dave when he says that most of the boy’s improper actions take place when adults aren’t watching.) And, with that giving us a fairly good sense of his character, it should come as no surprise that the boy also is known to take some stupid penalties at times. Sad to say, one Assistant Coach has resigned, at least partly because the boy’s parents “…can’t promise the kid will change…” Trying to steady a team that is already struggling, Dave wonders about removing the “A” from the boy’s jersey, suspending him for a game, whatever.
Just wondering, but is anyone else’s blood boiling right now? I’ll tell you, that I steamed as I read Dave’s initial email, and I’m hot again as I type. Over 40-years of coaching all levels, I’ve been there, done that, and all this does is bring back a lot of very bad memories. Ya, I love coaching — and teaching the game, but there are those very few individuals who take all the fun out of trying to help kids.
Okay, my being equally upset doesn’t help Dave one iota. So, after reading his email a number of times, I somewhat cooled, and tried to see this mess in a whole new perspective. And, the first thing that came to mind was something close to this article’s title, in that, “Why the heck is this kid even playing hockey?” I later changed that a bit, wishing to ask the boy’s parents, “Why do you even encourage your son to play hockey?”
Rushing to my favorite search engine, Dictionary.com gave me what I was looking for, as in the definition of our sport:
ice hockey – noun – a game played on ice between two teams of six skaters each, the object being to score goals by shooting a puck into the opponents’ cage using a stick with a wooden blade set at an obtuse angle to the shaft.
Not exactly the greatest definition I’ve ever heard, yet it did give me the key word or phrase I was looking for.
For, within that single sentence, it says that hockey is played between “two TEAMS”! It doesn’t say anything in there about satisfying the twisted wants of an individual player, nor does it say anything about parent opinions!
So, I scrambled back to the on-line dictionary again, just to make sure I’m not wrong here:
team·work -noun – 1.cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause. 2.work done with a team.
I’m sure my readers (and Dave) know where I’m going with this. For, although it’s probably not spelled out enough as one of the qualifications for enrolling in ice hockey, there’s little doubt that one is signing up to become a member of a team. And, in case a parent has other ideas, he or she should understand that his or her son’s (or daughter’s) commitment is to the team.
As an aside here… A very long time ago, I coached a kid who I considered almost a second son. Actually, he was a gem, as were his parents, but he was a bit of a loner, and maybe not exactly cut out to play a team sport. As an older teen, he made a choice on his own, and he became more famous than most of my other star players while participating in another, slightly related individual sport. My only point here, is that not every youngster has what it takes to give of himself or herself, and be a good team sport member.
So again, I’d rephrase my question to that boy’s parents, and ask them, “Does your son really want to be part of team — and to give somewhat of his individuality to be a good team member?” Oh, I can imagine the argument. However, there is no arguing with a definition that has been in existence for eternity, and one that won’t vary no matter where you look it up. In a nutshell, there is an understanding that comes with enrolling ones son on a team.
From there, I’ll suggest that the parents in question need to have the same conversation with their son: “Do you know what it means to be part of a team?”
Personally, I never enter into conversations like the above with anything but the hope that all will work out rightly. I mean, I would love for the parents in this case to ultimately understand what I’m asking them, and I’d pray that the boy might realize he’s been wrong by not blending with all of his mates, and by not handling that “A” with the utmost respect.
Will what I suggest work? Man, my guess is that we’re all going to win some and lose some. The shame of it all is, it’s been my expeerience that, the parents are going to determine everything in the end.
Okay, I guess everyone has an understanding of how I’d deal with this in 2012, this after reflecting on the various successes and failures I’ve had with similar situations in the past.
For sure, I would suspend the wayward boy for one game, no matter the outcome of any future deals. Hopefully, what’s done is done, but it also carries with it the one game suspension. And, I would let it be known that every subsequent infraction will carry a similar suspension, until the player changes his ways. (There is no need for a single player in a lockerroom to feel fear or any other discomfort because of a teammate. And, lest anyone blame the coaches for not being present every second the team is at the rink, I can tell you that that is virtually impossible, and that a kid who wants to do something rotten is going to find his or her chance.) An apology to his teammates wouldn’t be out of the question as far as I’m concerned.
I would suggest to Dave that he use the “A” as a bargaining chip, or do as he feels most comfortable. If the family sincerely comes on board with the team concept, perhaps the boy will also be the Assistant Captain Dave had hoped. That honor can be stripped away at any time.
Lastly, there can be a tendency on a coach’s part to question himself or herself, as in, “What could I have done differently?” And my answer would be, “I doubt very much.” Dave and other head coaches have a ton of responsibilities, and they’re responsible to a ton of players, not just one.
As a PS here, I would do anything I could to get the Assistant Coach back. Good men — and willing men — are hard to find.
This topic has been a long time in coming, but it took the mom of a young Squirt level goalie to get it out of me.
Actually, rather than commenting further on another fairly popular CoachChic.com article, Gail chose to email me with further details of her (or her son’s) situation, while also including some further questions. And it was about halfway through reading her letter, that I knew I had to address things in a broader way, as well as share it with all my hockey friends.
– Dennis Chighisola
Hockey Parents: Take the Game Personally
Sometimes I opt to reprint an entire email, if it suits the purpose of an article. In the case of Gail’s letter, however, the details of her son’s plight aren’t as important as the feelings I sense she’s experiencing for her son’s sake. I’m not diminishing a bit what her son is going through right now; it’s just that I believe Gail’s overall feelings might be softened a lot if I give her a slightly different perspective.
Now, the first time I recall dealing with this topic was about 5- or 6-years ago, with the dad of a pretty good defenseman on my NEHI Junior High School Team…
The dad wasn’t disrespecting this old coach at the time, but he was sorta moaning about the defense partner his boy was playing alongside.
Ya, when matching younger players, I will purposely pair D in certain ways — maybe placing an offensive kid with a defensive minded one, a stronger player with a slightly weaker one, etc. So, with his son being a big, really skilled and really aggressive kid, it made sense that I’d have him playing with a slightly weaker, or more defensive minded partner.
I had to drink in the dad’s feelings for awhile, and really think about what was going on. From what I was gathering, the guy was spending more time watching his son’s partner, what with the list of errors he could so easily spout about that other kid’s game.
That’s when the idea of a parent taking things more “personally” came to mind. If you can appreciate what I’m suggesting here, that dad’s boy wasn’t going to make it or break it in the long run because of his mate. In fact, since my old NEHI Teams were all about development, I wanted all of my team’s parents to understand that their kids’ future had nothing to do with our wins or losses, how other teammates were coming along, etc.
My idea of taking things personally wasn’t aimed at the kids being any less the good teammates. In fact, once I formulated my line of thinking, I made it known that I wanted the parents to watch their own boys’ development while allowing the kids to see the games as they always do. I mean, I think it’s beneficial that players live or die with their teams, being jubilant after a win, and down after a team loss. I happen to think that both extreme emotions are kinda good for them, and it’s part of the reason we all — players, parents and coaches — enjoy being involved in a team sport.
On a personal level, I’ve seen my own (son or grandson) on a given night put in a heck of a performance in a losing cause. Just as surely, I’ve sensed they’ve stunk out the joint while the team managed to win. You have to know that I have always cheered for their’ teams to win, but at the same time I had to be aware of whether Mike or Anthony was on the right track when it came to long range development.
So again, I wasn’t talking about my Team NEHI players or their parents being selfish in any way. If a parent was going to get his or her money’s worth, though, he or she had better keep their eyes on their own son’s development.
In her case, Gail’s son happens to be a goaltender. There aren’t any defense partners to be concerned with, nor forward linemates. At the same time, goals will be scored against her son, these sometimes being his fault, and sometimes the fault of teammates. And that’s where my different approach to things comes into play.
Of course, there’s certainly more to my idea of taking things personally…
When it came to that long ago defenseman’s dad, I had to remind him that his son had to control his temper, or learn to play with more control or discipline. (Does it make sense to my readers that some parents will focus more on their kids’ teammates, maybe as a defense mechanism — or so they can avoid thinking about their own youngster’s shortcomings?)
What I also tried to constantly remind that dad of was his son’s long range goal. The boy was headed to a highly competitive high school hockey program in 2-years, and it wasn’t going to be easy to make the team — or get steady ice-time — if any major deficiencies showed in his game. Hey, in high school hockey, one stupid penalty can get you buried on the bench and forgotten for a long, long time.
I also tried to convince that dad — and all the other parents on our team — that stats or won/loss records in junior high school can’t be taken with the player. In other words, getting a regular shift on a good high school team is more a matter of “what have you done for me lately, kid”. That’s why I say that development is so important. If your team is winning but you’re not improving, you’re dead in the water come the high school tryouts. If you pay attention to improving with each day, I’m betting on you to be a star someday.
Okay, up to now, Gail may or not yet see my point in all this. For her sake then — and especially for her son’s sake, let me translate much of the above to their current dilemma…
To be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily handle matters the way her son’s coach has. From what she’s written to me, her son considers himself to be a full-time goalie, while he shares the net with a boy who has just decided to switch from a skating position to goaltending. Even so, I guess the head coach is suggesting the two boys switch between skating out and playing net, while Gail’s boy prefers to stay between the pipes. I tend to side with Gail and her son on that one, and I’m sure I’d have the two boys split each game (probably playing the most experienced one first or last depending on the opponents).
Still, that said, I can’t get away from the idea of putting development first. I presume that Gail’s son has visions of someday playing for his local high school or Junior team, so I’m going to remind her that his tryouts for such a team are about 5- to 6-years away. Who started in net here in 2012-13 won’t matter then, but what will matter are the things he learned between now and the big tryout date.
Gail doesn’t mention what level of Squirts her son plays. However, if he’s not ultimately working within the highest level in her son’s region (like A, AA or AAA), his serious playing days will probably end when he graduates youth hockey.
By the way… There is nothing wrong with a youngster or his or her parents not having higer aspirations. To just have fun — right now — is okay. However, since a youngster’s self-esteem and true enjoyment of the game is usually based on at least some success, I have to point right back at that taking it personally kind of thinking.
Part of that taking things personally calls for the parent to watch a boy’s play within the context of the game. In other words — while not beating on her son, Gail or the boy’s dad might judge which goals he might have stopped, what he could do better in the future, etc. It might be true, that others really caused some goals, but a player doesn’t grow from worrying about others. So again, my message to Gail would be that she should care a whole lot more about how her own boy is doing.
Then, because my old Team NEHI programs ran the gamut in weekly training — from on-ice practices to off-ice practices to on-ice skills to special positional coaching, I didn’t have to mention to those parents about yet another import point. However, in Gail’s case, I might suggest that she look into extra weekly goaler training if her son isn’t taking advantage of such. Talk about a way for him to develop on a personal level.
Lastly, for Gail’s sake…
Based on the current conditions — with your son playing every other game, I would do my darnedest to make the best of it. Ya, the situation does sound like it stinks, but it is what it is, at least for this season. Making the best of it would include your son working hard at every practice, finding some other ways to help his game away from the team, truly encouraging his goaltending partner when it’s his turn to play, and then having some fun when it’s your son’s turn to get into the net. Again, the idea is to make the most of a not-so-thrilling situation.
I don’t blame any hockey mom for living and dying as she watches her youngster deal with various hockey challenges. Trust me, that we dads frequently ache inside as we watch our own ride the youth sports roller coaster. If there’s a problem — and it’s what I learned long ago while dealing with that Junior high school dad, it’s that there is almost nothing to be gained from worrying about teammates or coaches. In the end, which team a youngster makes — next year, the year after, and for the years after — boils down to how well he or she develops as an individual.
In closing, all the above was intended for every CoachChic.com reader, at every level. I don’t care if you’re the parent of a Mite or a highly touted older guy; it’s important for you to be both a good team person and one who watches very closely for how your own son or daughter is developing.
My taking it personally approach can sometimes benefit a player. I mean, the greatest distraction in the world can come when a youngster worries too much about a teammate’s shortcomings. (Ya, right, as if everyone doesn’t lack in one area or another.) So, if a parent sees just a hint of that, I’d nip it in the bud. I’d frame it in a positive way, however, reminding your son or daughter that long range success is going to be based on his or her own skills and playing smarts, and not on the mistakes a teammate might make.
I also feel the need to mention that the parent of a kid who wants to go further in the game not depend solely on what’s offered by his or her youth hockey organization. There, nearly every player is developing at the same rate, doing the same drills, etc. The player who may want to go beyond most others has to somehow get extra training, even if it’s at home.
Then, from time to time I get the guilties writing a piece like this. I mean, some parents might be thinking, “Sure, Dennis, it’s easy for you to observe your own and make corrections, because you’re a 107-year old coach!” Naw, if I’ve helped my own at all over many years of parenting, it’s because I first recognized the need to take their development very personally.
Position Assignments for Young Hockey Players
- The team we’ll be envisioning is classified Squirt B, although I gather from the fact that the organization doesn’t have “A” and “C” levels, that the team in question is likely a mix of all three levels
- The team is comprised of 15-skaters plus a dedicated goaltender
- At least three of the skaters prefer to play defense (and they evidently still play back when asked to skate a forward position)
- A number of players evidently came to the team having previously played set positions for quite some time
- There seems to be some strong disagreement among coaches when it comes to playing kids at set positions, even through one complete game (in other words, kids might keep changing assignments throughout a game)
- Despite the above arrangement — of intentionally and constantly changing kids’ positions, the kids are still often being criticized for not knowing where to be
and I’m sure John would like that, too!
I’d much prefer to field questions related to skill problems, troubles with a team’s breakout, or maybe a player’s being out of shape. Trust me on that, that such things are easy for me to deal with. Trying to solve some other things are for less so, and you can trust me on that one, too.
– Dennis Chighisola
Handling Disruptive Hockey Players
Of course, you have to know that a long time member, Tim T, hit me with one of the latter just this morning. My difficulty with handling one of “those” kinds of questions isn’t so much that it’s hard, but that they’re usually a matter of philosophy. And, the problem with discussing philosophy here is that no two humans are built alike, which means that what’s comfortable for me isn’t necessarily going to be comfortable for another. Worse yet, I don’t believe there can ever be a right or wrong answer when dealing with things that boil down to philosophy. Still, all that said, let’s get on to Tim’s problem…
“Our Pee Wee team has a few undisciplined players and it’s disruptive in practice and hurts us in games. None of them are bad kids, just things like not coming to the circle when called (would rather shoot a few pucks into the net than come when coach calls), sometimes two or more talking when I am, not putting forth 100% effort in drills, etc.
I am looking for some tips on how instill the necessary discipline in these players. My challenge is to accomplish this while not letting the entire practice breakdown to the point where our well behaved kids are just standing around while coaches deal with the ones requiring discipline. We have tried using push ups, bag skates and putting players in the penalty box for a short amount of time.
We usually have one head coach (me), one assistant and sometimes one or two parent volunteers on the ice during practice. Any suggestions for how they might best be used? I have been the one running the drills, but am thinking of turning that over to the assistant while I work on the discipline.
Well, Tim, I think anyone passing through here is going to now totally appreciate why I cringe at seeing a question like this one come to my inbox. I’m tough, though, so let me still give this one a whirl.
If there’s one problem I see here, it’s that the season has already begun, and Tim (like any other coach) is already into doing things the way he normally does. So are the players at this point used to doing whatever it is they do.
As an aside, I have written elsewhere in these pages that coaches should do an end-of-season evaluation — for themselves. I mean, each coach should make note of all the things that went right or wrong over the season, and then spend a short portion of the off-season considering how to keep the good and how to deal with the not so good. As I’m also known to suggest, rules announced before the team first takes the ice don’t seem personal; it’s like they were made for everyone. On the other hand, try to make a new rule after a player is habitually late (or whatever), and it’s seen as extremely personal to that player or that family.
In defense of Tim, this is his first go-round with a traveling team, having only spent last season helping one team, and then only briefly running a house league team with few practices.
Tim should know that I’ve tried both approaches to meting out punishments during a practice, sometimes nailing just the offending player/s, and sometimes bagging the whole team for the sins of one or two. And I can admit that I saw no rhyme or reason to either approach sometimes working and sometimes not.
As yet a second aside… It’s been my experience that some of our wayward kids are just normal kids with too much energy or too little attention span. Those kids I believe we can work with, and bring them back into the fold. I’ve also had to deal with some kids with serious learning or behavioral problems, and they are almost never salvageable.
I hate to write that last sentence, but that has been my experience. If you think about it, at least one of the reasons kids enroll in hockey is because it’s a team sport. As such, however, it requires kids who are willing to blend with the others. For those who can’t, there are individual sports where those types can sometimes excel.
All that said, I really do think it’s time for a team meeting, this to include parents as well as players. (My guess — or my experience — is that the parents who really need to be there will have something better to do. Grrrrrrrrrr! Maybe an RSVP would give Tim a better sense of who plans to attend, and maybe it will also give him a chance to persuade the right people to show.) As hinted at up above, I can’t tell Tim to be anyone other than himself. However, I will suggest a few topics I think need covering…
I think the whole thing has to be approached from the aspect of hockey being a team sport, and as such, the actions of one or two impact greatly on all other team members.
It should be noted that the players who are inattentive during practices eat up a great deal of practice time, which in turns cuts into the chance for other kids to learn new things.
It’s also been my experience that the kids who don’t pay attention in practices really screw up the works in games. In other words, most of the kids know how to cover face-offs or how you’re trying to breakout or forecheck, but those things can’t be successful without everyone on the same page.
Tim might open things for discussion concerning how he might handle the practice-time problems — like punishing only those who misbehave or making it a team thing (which usually causes the good kids to grumble at the not so good ones).
Tim might also throw it out to the crowd about how the games will be handled. And, while I’m not him and he’s not me, I might be inclined to briefly sit a kid (or two) for not getting himself ready to play when the time was right: in the most recent practice.
Then, I know that most youth organizations look for feedback from the past year’s coaches when teams are being assembled for the next season. And I would be up-front with all the families, in that I’m only going to recommend players who are truly deserving. I might even put a scare into some, suggesting that I’ll definitely tell future coaches about the problems given player might present.
Now, I’d like to think that I’m not a mean guy (and most folks who know me would vouch for that). At the same time, I am all about fairness, and I know I can be tough on a player if his actions seem to be unfair to others.
I’d also like to think that I look to use our game — especially at its younger levels — for the purpose of teaching life’s lessons. And in this regard, I think a coach would be doing the offending player/s a huge disservice by letting the wrong work ethics persist.
Of course, most of the above centers around a yet to be determined meeting, while I know that Tim has a practice coming within a day or so. Hmmmmmm… What to do?
Personally, I would not change the way he’s been doing things, that to include Tim running the practice and others watching his butt and helping. If there’s anything that can go wrong with that, it’s that other guys don’t necessarily do a very good job of watching the head coach’s back, and some are more a hindrance than help. And that stuff has to be cured as soon as possible, maybe to include putting a helper or two in charge of watching over the wayward kids.
I would also consider holding a mini-meeting off to the side and before the next practice with the problem kids. The subject of that gathering might include some of what Tim thinks is necessary from what I listed as possible meeting notes. Then… Ya, then…
It’s been my observation that kids who stray need company — even support. So it’s likely that the two or three kids who are constantly a distraction hang close together as often as they can.
With that, I would tell them that I don’t want to see them near each other during any part of the practice. Go mix with the other kids, but the instant they’re seen together, the pair or threesome (or whatever) are headed off together to do something physical.
If the kids ask why, I’d tell them that I suspect it’s only one player who is causing the others to get in trouble, and I’m going to be looking for that one guy. (Hey, so I tend to lie a little when it comes to solving crazy problems — !)
Lastly, and finishing as I began, I have to say that handling such problems seems not an exact science. It’s also difficult in such circumstances, because it’s not fair for me to put words in Tim’s mouth, nor ask him to be me. And, as everyone probably sees by now, there probably isn’t a right or wrong to any of this. Purely, it’s what one guy (or gal) can get to work.
PS: I think the thing that makes Tim’s problem a little more difficult than what some others might face is that he seemingly has to deal with more than one player who is taking the team down. Handling a solo player with behavioral problems would be far, far easier.
I honestly think this post deserves — and is likely to get — lots of feedback and some differences of opinion. I’m all for that, and I’m betting Tim is, too!
Not long after I completed this piece for Tim T, I received another question that I felt fell awfully close to the above (the hockey mom who sent it may not have initially thought so, but I’m hoping she’ll hear me out).
Anyway, not sensing this really required a separate article, allow me to deal with Tina F’s question here…
Punished for Being Late to a Game
Actually, that hockey mom did an awesome job of explaining herself and some recent circumstances, so I’ll let her introduce the problem…
This weekend my son was benched for the whole first period of his squirt game. The game started at 7:20 am. The kids were told to be there at 6:40. My son arrived at 6:47 and sat the whole period. I was told that a kid squirt level or under cannot be benched for this amount of time. I was also told that in (her son’s league) the organization could be fined $500 for benching a kid at this level so long. I have requested a meeting with our club president and would like to have all my ducks in a row. What do you know?
First, I’ll suggest that Tina might look a little deeper into that league rule. It’s just my hunch that such a rule would include a few exemptions, maybe like allowing a coach/team to bench a player for reasons having to do with discipline, breaking team rules, what have you. (My guess is that the rule is in place to ensure all young kids get fair ice-time under normal conditions.) I’m not guaranteeing that, but I sure would venture to bet something like that is so.
Secondly, I’m going to ask Tina to consider what should be going on within a team lockerroom. For sure, I can’t speak for her son’s coach, but I can tell you all the way I think, and how and why I run a team a certain way. And, I’m kinda hoping that most of this makes perfect sense…
I know that a lot of coaches require their players to be at the rink a specified time prior to the game’s official start. For me, it used to be one hour prior to game-time when working with youth teams (far earlier when I coached my college team), but I changed my mind on the youth team application a few years ago.
As a brief aside here, I always like to remind parents about how they most likely feel as they prepare for an important meeting. If there’s travel involved, they’ll surely take into account their vehicle being up for the trip, as well as current weather and traffic conditions. If there’s one thing most adults want to avoid when it comes to something important, it’s running in to it in a panic, and knowing that they’re just not going to feel right the rest of the way.
That said, parents oftentimes forget that their kids have the same things going on in their minds (or stomachs). In fact, the higher up I’ve been able to observe players, the more I’ve seen them arrive (on their own) hours early. They like just being there, being able to fiddle with their gear, get themselves totally ready to play, and also bond a bit with their teammates.
And, please don’t discount the importance of all I’ve said in that last sentence. For example, 10-minutes before game-time is not the time to discover a helmet screw missing or a broken skate lace. And, whether anyone wants to believe it or not, the kids who arrive early tend to bond with their teammates, while the perpetual late arrivals almost never really do. (Please trust an old coach on that last one.)
I mentioned earlier that I’ve abandoned the rule about being at the rink an hour prior to game-time, just so parents of young ones didn’t panic on icy roads, whatever. What I arrived at instead was to ask every player to be completely dressed — and parents gone from the lockerroom — 20-minutes prior to game-time.
Trust me, that I still had some parents push that 20-minutes early thing, rushing into the lockerrom at the last second, and then needing to spread all the gear, tie skates, find the helmet, fish around for the gloves. I cured that in short order, though, requiring that late players let us know they’re at the rink, but then go find another place to dress (I don’t care if it’s out in the rink runway).
The reason for all this is that those last 20-minutes are “my time”! It’s a time when my players can relax without distraction, and it’s a time when I can go over things in preparation for the game. That’s a time when we’ll deal with a missing player, some slight changes in the line-up, whatever. And it’s even a time — say in the last 5- to 10-minutes — when everyone can put on their proverbial “game faces”. It is not a time to listen to stories about flat tires, and it’s not the time to start looking for Johnny’s missing glove. Again, it is “my time” — a lousy 20-minutes.
Now, as much as I believe the league has some exemptions for that rule about benching players, I’m also suspecting that the coach for Tina’s son’s team established that rule some time ago — the one that required everyone to be there by 6:40am. I almost know it wasn’t created on the spot, or just this last weekend. Whether the length of punishment was established ahead of time might be another matter. Still, from a very old coach’s perspective, Tina was wrong, be it one minute late, seven minutes, or an hour.
Maybe Tina and others now know why I switched my requirements the way I did. Still, very far away games have caused a problem with that 20-minutes early rule, and I might think to make an adjustment to an even earlier time should I return to coach a youth team again.
If Tina might have a complaint, it’s probably the length of the punishment assessed her son. Hmmmmmm… One period for being late by 7-minutes. Hmmmmmmmm… Late is late, though, isn’t it? And, to be honest, I doubt missing just a few shifts would prove much of a deterrent to others sauntering in at any old time. So, while I’m betting Tina didn’t purposely get her son to the game late, my guess is that the length of punishment her boy received surely has gotten the attention of every team member.
Okay, I’m kinda hoping Tina isn’t thinking right now that she’s sorry she asked me, and I’m surely hoping she’s not thinking about sending a pipebomb my way — . Really, what I’d like to see from all of this is for Tina to become the world’s greatest hockey mom, and for her son to be appreciated by his teammates and coaches. As I give or entertain references for older players nowadays, one of the best things said about any kid is that he’s the first one to the rink and the last to leave. Coaches like to hear those kinds of things, but so do future employers.
Bottom line — if Tina sees it in her heart… Scratch the meeting with the President, and tell him you see things differently now. Next, see if you can get just a minute with the coach. Apologize to him for being late, and you might even mention that you understand the reason he has rules (and I’m hoping you do by now). The way I see things, Tina, there is hardly anything to gain should you be found in the right in any of this, but a whole lot more can be gained if you just graciously accept what happened.
Once again, I expect that this one should
attract plenty of feedback (but no firebombs — please)!
I received a rather disturbing message last night, this from an old friend and the mom of a former student. I say it was disturbing, because it pretty much signals what can be wrong with youth hockey, as well as any other youth sport.
I guess this could have easily been titled “An Open Letter to Some Old Friends”.
– Dennis Chighisola
“Puck-hogs” and Their Parents Have Feelings too!
Now, some of what I’ll repeat is only slightly doctored — as the old “Dragnet” television series used to state in each episode, “to protect the innocent”. With that, here’s the gist of what that hockey mom wrote…
“As you know, some hockey parents can be crazy, and the parents on my son’s team have been complaining about him — not that he is doing something wrong, but because he is good and scoring 4 goals a game. My son’s coach tried to talk to the coach of a higher level team to have him moved up, but that coach said my son isn’t ready. My son’s coach doesn’t want him, because parents are complaining — instead of passing the puck, my son will take the shot and score. I told his coach that any kid at 6 years old is going to take the shot if he thinks he can score. And if he wants my son to pass more often, why doesn’t he teach him how?”
If you get just a few things from all that, appreciate first that we’re talking about 6-year olds here — un-dawgone-believable. :/ Moreover, we’re talking about a catch-22 for this single mom and her son, whereby he might be too good for his current team, but the next level coach says he’s not ready to move up yet.
My friend continues (again with some editing on my part)…
“Oh, a parent was also complaining about my son in the stands as I was sitting in back of her trying to enjoy watching my kid play hockey. My daughter says to me, ‘Why is that women talking badly about my brother?’ So I politely leaned forward and said, ‘That’s my son and he is still learning.’”
I already said, “Ugh”, huh?
Well, the mom continued to explain to me that another woman jumped in, which caused the coach to evidently later call my friend a troublemaker (whatever). She went on to say that her son gets along with all of his teammates (knowing the boy, I would have bet on that). And she ended with a couple of what I believe to be earnest questions or thoughts:
”As a parent am I not supposed to protect my 6 year old from people yelling negative things to him in the stands?”
“If the kids are fine, what are parents so upset for?”
“I thought this might be a bit of a jealousy issue too.”
To begin, I’m going to suggest to my friend that she not engage the other parents UNLESS her son is truly affected by them. If she thinks I’m siding with the other parents on this one, I am definitely not…
Actually, that hockey mom already answered the second question, because those other parents surely are jealous — and jealous as hell. I don’t know if it’s a defense mechanism or what, but some of them — or at least the vocal ones amongst them — are likely frustrated that my former student can do some things that they can’t, and they don’t have an answer for what they’re seeing.
This aside… Last spring I kinda got on my friend about her son needing something extra to build his confidence and puck skills. The mom argued with me a bit (in a friendly way), suggesting that he was just a hard worker, and that she wanted him skating with better players who would force her son to become better. My side of that argument was that things work exactly the opposite when we’re talking about the development of a young player. If her son played over his head, he’d always be playing in what I refer to as “panic mode”, or just always scrambling to keep up with the others. In most instances, kids like that don’t even get to — or dare to — handle the puck. My idea was to give her son one more year of an “instructional hockey league” I created just for the off-season, this to include 5- to 8-year olds who were still learning the game or feeling their way. I told her he’d get to handle the puck lots, and that his confidence would grow immensely. Well, she finally gave in to me, and the proof is in the pudding — or in the 4-goals per game that he’s now pumping in.
FYI… I’m guessing a few others from that boy’s team were also in my league, so their question to me might be, “Why isn’t my son scoring 4-goals per game?” And my answer would be that their youngsters weren’t at the same stage of development as my friend’s son. All he needed was those weekly games — against slightly less experienced talent — to put him over the top — in handling the puck more and in the resulting confidence. The bulk of the kids in that league were still working on basics, and they got tons of that for their time and effort.
Okay, so now the blame game…
- Without a doubt the parents all need to take a pill. They have to appreciate the boy for what he can do, and then try to help their own ultimately be able to do that. I know the hockey mom who wrote me, I know her to be a nice and friendly lady, and I see nothing she did wrong. I mean, is it really her fault that her son has suddenly kicked things into a new gear?
I’ll mention my son a little later, but let me tell you that my grandson was a totally different animal… A few times — at a very young age, he heard the boo-birds, and he chose to slide an otherwise easy goal to a teammate who would almost inevitably fall on his face, and thus bring about all kinds of groans from the stands. And, oh, were the parents of that kid who muffed the easy goal embarrassed. So, parents, be careful what you wish for.
- I don’t think the higher level coach should go off Scott-free on this one. Oh, I know the boy we’re talking about, being as young as he is, still has difficulty with his attention span. And I’m going to suggest that it’s the mental side of his game right now that’s holding him back from moving up, and certainly nothing physical. So, could that coach help some with the problem at hand? Hmmmmmm… Could be.
- And that brings me to the boy’s current coach, who I feel is almost totally to blame for nearly everything that’s going on. Up front, let me tell you that I’m a full-fledged member of the coaching fraternity, and I don’t often take my brothers to task. Worse yet, I know and really like that young guy. At the same time, he is the captain of that ship, and everything that goes on is totally under his control — from the parents’ attitudes and actions to what’s done in the nightly practices.
I need to remind him (and others) that the object of our game isn’t to NOT score. And to ask it of anyone — especially a 6-year old — just isn’t right.
For my money, all the kids on a AAA (or even AA) Mite team should be taught HOW to pass, and it should be reaffirmed on a nightly basis. None of the drilling should be viewed as “this is to cure our puck-hog”, since every kid on that kind of team should be learning both the passing and the receiving side of that skill. In fact, it’s been my experience that the less experienced players are hardly ever in good enough position to feed them the puck.
Actually, in reference to the passing, the hockey mom in question asked me what she could do about it. Ha. She doesn’t run the practices. And, while a private coach could teach him the fundamentals of feeding good passes, anyone who still believes it’s this youngster’s fault ought to reread the story about my grandson. Yes, there are two sides to a pass, so it’s just as important that every other team member be proficient — at not only catching passes, but also putting the puck in the net right after.
I would not lose sight of the fact that puckhandling is what really separates the best young skaters. That’s what gets them quickly up the ice past most others, that’s what usually gets them to the net sooner than others, and it’s the ability to confidently handle the puck with the eyes up that helps them see all the last minute passing and scoring options.
Without a doubt, the best player is the model, and what all the others should want to be. It’s definitely not the other way around.
And, trust me on this one, because I’ve been there countless times… Tournaments and playoffs will be coming soon, and those games too often boil down to “my best player” against “your best player”. So, to think about unloading your best player, or belittling him into not scoring, just doesn’t make sense. And, I hope no one believes they’re going to program a 6-year old to not score for most of the games, but then suddenly turn it on when a grown-up wants it.
Being quite familiar with the organization all this is taking place in, I sense that a future star might be worth more to the program than a coach. (There are other teams in the league who will be all too happy to scoop a top player, and the powers that be in my old home program won’t take kindly to losing such a kid.)
Okay, I promised to mention my son, partly because I shared this with my friend, the hockey mom… Well, he went to three NHL training camps and the 1988 Olympic tryout camp in Lake Placid, among quite a few other things most kids just dream about. Ironically, while he was the designated puck-hog on his earliest teams, a few years later I noticed that most of his teammates from those early teams were gone from the sport — within a few seasons. The kids who continued to play and enjoy the game had parents who took personal responsibility for their own, and they gave their own chances to get better.
I’m also reminded of a piece I wrote long ago in reference to lopsided games, mentioning the fact that it’s no fun to be on either bench as one team thumps another. At the same time, I suggested that it’s almost a wasted night if the superior team goes overboard to keep down the score. And I’m suggesting about the same in reference to the better young player. I mean, while everyone else is encouraged to do all they can and play their best, it seems a waste — and just plain wrong — to ask one player to not do so.
Lastly, take this all as you will. However, it’s coming from an old guy who happened to have head coached from youngsters through high school, juniors and college, been through at least three generations of players, and sent 20-ish guys to the NHL and hundreds to top college programs. Yes, I’ve seen it all, and I’ve seen the above described scenario more times than I can count.
PS: Lest anyone back home be bothered that a hockey mom wrote me and asked for help, you should know that she knows that’s what I’m here for. Actually, that’s a big part of CoachChic.com’s being, and I and some other specialists are always here to help anyone who asks.
This is a late addition — some 4-months after the original was posted here. The funny thing is, I always wondered if Wayne Gretzky got any crap in youth hockey when he lugged the puck so much. Now I know.
Take a peek at this video, and listen to Wayne and his dad reflect back on those years….
This one falls in kind of a gray area, mainly because it doesn’t really have anything to do with teaching the game. However, since it comes from a long-time CoachChic.com friend, I’ve made an exception and included it here.
Also, this isn’t the kind of topic I dwell much on. So, since my grandson is nearly done his undergrad march towards someday working in a pro hockey front office, I’ve asked his input.
– Dennis Chighisola
Should Facemasks Be Made Mandatory in the NHL?
Good friend, Jerry Z, begins with his question, “Do you think there will ever be a change to wearing mandatory facemasks for players in the NHL?”
Offered as ammunition, Jerry continues, “After seeing Chris Pronger, Dan Paille, Nathan Gerbe and countless others go down with severe facial injuries, I think the game has gotten too fast and too dangerous.”
Jerry continues, “When you talk about the NFL, no one even questions the need for facemasks. With hockey, you have a much faster game, with the additional great risks of the composite sticks, quicker booming shots, ricocheting pucks, big bodies zooming in an enclosed area, and flashing skates. It seems like a new era, kind of like when goalies switched to wearing masks with the advent of the curved stick.”
Thoughts from Tony Chic
No flies on my young buddy, he begins by saying, “No they (the NHL) never will change.” Anthony does, however, sense that, “… they could mandate shields.”
As he explains, “It’s just how the game is. People know that it is a risk and are willing to take it. It also polices the game, because when looking at it, when people don’t wear facemasks, they need to be more responsible for their sticks. So they end up playing the game with less reckless abandonment. That’s why junior players when transitioning to the NHL have less problems than college players. The college players have a tendency to stick people by mistake.”
Thoughts from Dennis Chighisola
Now you might know why I dared call in my young buddy, Tony C.
For sure, I think he’s right on all that stuff — especially the part about the absence of facial protection somewhat helping to police the flailing of sticks all over the place. (Want to see some false bravado and a bit of madness, just catch a game where everyone is clad as if their grandmothers dressed them.)
I have yet another thought, though… For, to make a rule change such as Jerry proposes, I’m guessing that both the NHL Office and the players’ union would have to back it.
It took a very long time for helmets to be mandated. And a big part of the resistance to that was the thought that fans would somewhat lose their connection with the individual players. I mean, there was nothing like seeing a speedy Guy Lafleur streaking down the wing with his blond mane blowing in the wind. Helmets now at least partially block us fans from seeing what a player really looks like, but just imagine what covering his face might do. Oh, I know there’s the football analogy, Jerry, but I still sense an awful lot of NHL execs want the fans to see what a Crosby or Ovechkin really looks like.
As for the players, I suspect they want a choice. For sure, more and more players who grow up wearing a mask will want to continue doing so. (Anthony’s mention of the college kids brings this to mind. However, during his college off-seasons playing in a summer pro/am league, Tony C chooses to ditch his mask, probably in order to be accepted by his pro teammates and opponents.)
I’ve heard it said that some young pros want to wear the mask, but they’re a bit reluctant. So they’ll wait to get one facial ding, and then they’ll use that as an excuse to keep wearing protection after the injury goes away.
I know of some pros who see the mask as dangerous in its own right, just because it creates some blind spots.
I’m also wondering if there are some players who see their earning power connected to the point I made earlier — in that fans will know them better if they’re easier seen.
Lastly, I will have to go along with Anthony Chighisola in his belief that half-shields might someday be mandated. A great many stars are now wearing them, and it seems we can see their faces quite well.
Oh, boy… My guess is that this subject might bring a host of varying opinions.
So, we invited others to let ‘er rip in the Comments box below.
This post is actually a follow-up to an article entitled, “3 Principles Atom Minor Hockey Coaches Should Follow“, and its in direct response to a question asked under that piece. (I highly recommend that every member read that, and even send it to your favorite coach or organization head.)
For, Phil writes to me about his past experiences in coaching the game, and then he raises something based on his recent observations. For sure, his question is a tricky one, and it’s caused me to take several days to really think about how to answer.
So, with that, here’s my best attempt (please accept my apologies in advance for jumping around a bit with all sorts of random thoughts on the subject)…
– Dennis Chighisola
Fair Ice-time in Youth Hockey
Phil prefaced things in his Comment, noting that he’d had some success in Canadian youth hockey circles, and that he and others “… have always attempted to roll three lines the best that we could.”
Noting the touchiest of things when it comes to this issue, he adds, “Obviously there are dissatisfied parents when it comes to ice time.” (Oooooooooh, ya!)
Then, coming to the point, Phil ends with, “This year the coaches are using their top players a lot more than the rest of the team, with certain kids getting only one shift in a period. My question is, at what age does it become about winning at all costs and development of still young players?”
Now, I’m betting that most readers are going to be surprised that I actually have mixed emotions about this.
On the one hand, I believe that fair ice-time is pretty much a must through at least the Squirt/Atom years. And if I had my druthers, that would continue right on through Bantams and maybe even Midgets. So, some random thoughts…
Of course, parents will argue that everyone is paying the same tuition, so ice-time should be distributed in equal fashion.
I also firmly believe that a commitment to equal ice-time — as in Phil’s concept of rolling three lines — forces a coach to be a better teacher — to all of his or her players. In other words, the coach is going to want to ensure that there are few weak links in those three units, which usually causes him or her to work extra hard to raise the skill levels of the lesser players.
Very much connected to the above concept is the idea of distributing the talent evenly over three lines. For, in so doing, a coach is less likely to favor one unit over another. (I do this all the time, and rarely care which line or defense pairing is going over the boards next.)
On the other side of the ledger is a coach’s attempt to win some games. Ya, I don’t care who the coach happens to be; there is always the inner sense that folks will think you’re a jerk because you can’t help your kids get some W’s. And, yet more random thoughts…
I think it’s important here to suggest that every organization has it’s own aims, and these might be tapered to its different age and competitive levels. I know this can also vary within different countries or within different hockey regions, too. (Some of the Canadian programs I coached against through the years were super-competitive, while most of the “town programs” I see in US-based youth hockey tend to put fun and learning far ahead of anything else.)
On the latter, however… I don’t care what some (or most) organizational mission statements say, coaches can oftentimes feel as though they’re being judged on how successful their teams are. So, given the possibility of either winning or losing a given game, just venture a guess as to what’s going to motivate most of their line-up decisions.
Personally, I feel the organization I currently work a lot with wants me to develop players. At the same time, I know that there’s a great deal of league-wide competitiveness (like, between organizations, and even between owners). Moreover, because organizations actually compete for players during each off-season, it just makes sense that highly motivated players (or their parents) are likely to seek certain coaches, levels or organizations with winning traditions.
Next, I’m going to introduce something that I doubt many folks have ever considered. For, from all the observations I’ve made over about 40-years on my side of a clipboard, I’m going to suggest that a lot of youth hockey rosters are too large for the levels they’re expected to compete at. In other words, an organization deems that a roster should include so many skaters and so many goalies, solely based on an imaginary ideal roster size, or the number of players needed to finance a given team. And, I’ll suggest, this is where the trouble starts. I mean, a team might be able to find 12-skaters who can compete at a given level, but program guidelines dictate that another 3-skaters be added. And, it’s usually those few less-than-up-to-par kids a coach fears putting out when a game is on the line. Make sense?
Yet a few random thoughts having to do with the way this old coach tends to deal with fair ice-time, regardless of the players’ ages or competitive levels…
There ARE times when I feel the need to get a point across.
I’ll bet you’ve all seen the little guy (or gal) who acts like they’ve been shot whenever they’re involved in a collision. You know what I mean: they stay down on the ice (sometimes with a smile on their faces?), maybe waiting to have everyone cheer when they’re finally deemed okay. Anyway, a young one only has to pull that once or twice with me before I do him a huge favor. Ya, I’ll tell him I’m really worried about him, and that I think it best that he sit for awhile. It can seem like a lifetime to a little guy, but I don’t usually let the sitting last long. What I will often wait for, however, is for that youngster to squirm a bit, and tell me a few times that he’s really okay. Again, I feel I’ve done him a favor for the long-run.
As a preface to the next one (and maybe even the previous one?), this short story… A farmer decides to call in an animal psychologist to work with his very stubborn mule. Upon arriving and grabbing the mule by his reins, the doc proceeds to drill the mule right between the eyes with a heavy hunk of wood. The farmer is aghast as the mule buckles and drops to the ground. With that, the psychologist explains, “First, I have to get his attention!”
With older kids, it takes something quite different for me to resort to a benching. One example might be if a young guy has a history of taking selfish penalties, and then pulls the same thing again. A lot like the noted psychologist, I’ll occasionally feel the need to get that player’s attention. So I’ll likely growl, and tell the player to take a spot far down the bench, adding that, “I’ll give you a call when your teammates feel the need to kill another stupid penalty!” Still, much like I do with younger kids, I’ll ultimately let an older guy off the hook. If there’s a difference in the way I handle the two extremes, I must admit that I’ll ask the older kid for a guarantee that we understand each other well before I’ll let him back on the ice.
Only at the older levels — maybe from strong Pee Wees on up, I’ll have a powerplay unit to use in man advantage situations. This acts as a bit of an incentive, not always using the best players, but perhaps those who show most often for practices, or those who demonstrate an ability to follow simple directions.
Then, like Phil, I like to keep rolling all my units through most of a game. Still, there are a couple of times when I might ever so briefly get away from that… In a close contest, for example, I might gather my best players to go over the boards for the last minute or so of a period, and/or late in a game. Again, all of my players will usually get tons of ice-time, but I reserve the right to play those I deem most trustworthy for just a few extra minutes or so. I’ll also often use this as an incentive, employing a number of kids who have to that point played above and beyond.
Oh, and I guess I ought to close by saying that I perceive myself as a teacher first. That posture makes a lot of what I suggest above more do-able for me than what a so-called “door opener” might accomplish. I’m also a long-range planner, and that’s why I’ll use certain “benchings” to gradually bring all of my players onto the same page.
Lastly, that thing Phil mentioned about parents is real enough. Hey, they DO pay the freight, and they DO deserve every consideration within reason. And that’s why I’ll suggest that communication is a key to dealing with the ice-time issue. I don’t think I’ve ever had a complaint about owning the last few minutes of a period or a game; most parents probably see how fair I am the rest of the time. In some instances, parents are annoyed by the same things that bother a coach (like Little Johnny writhing in fake pain after a fall), and I’ve found them to be tickled pink when I whisper to them that I have a way to solve a problem. As often, of course, parents aren’t as aware of a player’s shortcomings, or what he or she might need to do to contribute more to the team. So again, communication is the key.
Okay, a topic like this is bound to stir some controversy. It surely is a tricky one.
So, fire away (only figuratively). Oh, and if you really disagree with me,
just remember that my little buddy Raggs sniffs all my incoming mail!
The following just came in via the CoachChic.com “Ask The Coach” box. And, although it’s kinda late at night, I felt for the young guy who sent it, and I wanted to offer some thoughts as soon as I could.
With that as an intro, I’ve removed just a few things from the following question, just to protect the young goaltender’s identity…
– Dennis Chighisola
“I need some advice, big time. I played high school hockey as a goalie the past couple of years and did great. this year I tried out for the local junior empire team. Despite playing incredible along with the other top goalies at the tryouts i didn’t make the team, at the the moment I’m at community college part time, thinking i was going to get my big break. but I didn’t. It seems like no one is giving me the chance even though i know i can take my game to the next level. I feel like I’m coming to the end of my career, end of the line and i don’t know what to do, i still want to keep playing competitively but i always feel like the underdog. what should I do?”
Help for a Discouraged Hockey Goaltender
Ironically, I often write or say that, “Others will tell you when your hockey playing days are over.”
That IS usually true. Yet, I don’t think there’s anyone on the face of the earth who can really tell anyone else his (or her) playing days are over — until the player wants it to be that way. I mean, even if one is rejected numerous times, there are still usually plenty of other places to play.
I also tend to think that goaltenders can mature later than skaters. So, there is always the chance that a goalie can get better and better with age, and that he could pass by all the rest a few years down the road.
As an aside… Obviously, the latter is hardly do-able without a ton of work. And the kind of work I’d be envisioning would be Rocky Balboa style (if you know what I mean).
As far as future opportunities go, I will suggest that nearly everyone is a “walk-on” at Division II and III college hockey tryouts. In other words, there are few guarantees at those levels, and it’s more a matter of a player showing what he can do at the tryouts. Walk-on goalers have been known to make it at Division I schools, although the chances probably aren’t all that great. Then, minor league professional hockey leagues abound — across North America and abroad, and these provide further opportunities for players to extend their playing days.
All that said, the day comes for all of us when we feel we’ve gone as far as our skills and energies will take us. And, when that day comes, I always like to see a player leave the competitive game with a good feeling — like he gave it his best, he attained the highest level he could, and he had a hell of a time along the way. (I’d also like to see him have a college degree in his back pocket.) For some of us, coming back to coach keeps us close to a game we grew to love, and it at least partially fills a certain void.
To be honest, I don’t think I’m any sort of an authority on this subject. So, I would love for others to jump in here, in hopes you might shed a different light on this subject, and perhaps give this young man some even better advice.
– Dennis Chighisola
I can hate myself for not keeping my side of any bargain. I truly mean that, and you can probably attribute that to my upbringing.
That’s how I’ve been feeling over the past few months, too — kind of embarrassed, knowing a guy put his faith in me, but that I hadn’t yet come through for him.
The reason for this is because I lost an awesome question that came in via our Ask The Coach feature. Chalk it up to the electronic age, I guess, in that an important email just up and disappeared on me not long after I’d read it. And again, you can spell that: E-M-B-A-R-R-A-S-S-E-D.
Then, don’t you know, I just found it minutes ago, buried in one of about 50 folders I use to sort and save various on-line correspondence. And if you haven’t guessed it, that email was neatly tucked in a folder that had absolutely nothing to do with CoachChic.com business. Ugh.
Anyway, with egg well displayed on my face, let me first reprint the brief email from John, and then answer it as best I can.
– Dennis Chighisola
“As an adult who’s relatively new to playing the game, do you have any advice on skill development? I have one game per week and usually one on-ice practice per week, so my ice time is limited.”
Dealing With A Shortage of On-ice Hockey Practice Time
Well, John pretty much draws out what this coach is all about.
If my readers will think along with me here, almost ever level of amateur hockey — maybe excluding Juniors and Division I or II college teams — really do struggle for adequate ice-time. Even with some of those higher level amateur teams, the cost of ice is a strain on the budget, unless the program owns its own rink. Of course, minor hockey teams battle this problem all the more: 1) because practice ice is costly, and 2) because extra ice-time can’t even be had at a lot of rinks.
With that, I believe one of the greatest advances in hockey over at least the last quarter century is the knowledge that many alternative training methods exist, and that those methods dawgoned work.
Now, I have to apologize to John in advance, in that most of the following is covered in real depth throughout CoachChic.com, so there’s no way I can go too deeply into each separate idea in this post. Still, I think I can still provide plenty of help.
Number One, I give much credit to the old Soviets for bringing the idea of off-ice training — or dryland — to a whole ‘nother level.
Secondly, I have to thank the scientifically based teaching methods my textbooks call “The Principles of Motor Learning”. For, while it’s helpful for us to know all of those proven theories, the one defining the transfer of skills from one training venue to another greatly supports the benefits of dryland.
Next, I’d like to take that “transfer of skills” thing a little further, suggesting that most stuff done on in-line skates will carry over positively to a hockey player’s on-ice game.
For sure, my list could be far longer. However, I’ve shortened to things I believe can really help John.
Not to be pushing a product here, I still think I’d better refer him to my Hockey Tips & Tricks Store, because there are some scientifically based products there that will especially help with his skating and puckhandling skills.
Still, rehearsing necessary skating skills on in-lines will help a ton, and so will work on a slideboard.
I guarantee that fiddling with a ball as much as possible will help John be a magician with the puck.
Then, firing pucks by the bucket load will ultimately result in a blistering on-ice shot.
Finally, I think John and others who get to see this post appreciate that I run things quite differently if I’m able to control circumstances. In other words, if John was my student, I’d design a program specific to his very needs, and he’d come along pretty quickly. I did just that for the group of high school kids shown in the following video. I produced the video as sort of an advertisement, attempting to show others just how different my kind of training is. I’m including here, though, so John can grab a few ideas from it.
Once again, I apologize to John for losing his question. At the same time, I’d like to help even more, if he can let me know some specific problems he’d like to solve.
We have Erin S to thank for this awesome — and very appropriate — question submitted to Ask The Coach! (Thanks, Erin!)
Erin mentions some background information — in that her 4-year old son’s dad is a professional hockey player, and that the little tyke has been skating since he was 16-months old. The lad currently skates about three times per week, and the combination of an early start and regular ice-time seemingly have him “WAY ahead of kids his age…”
In a nutshell, her question is, “… how much is too much for a child his age?” And Erin goes on with, “… I don’t want to make it a job.”
– Dennis Chighisola
Guiding a 4-year Old Hockey Player
Erin might be interested to know that we actually have a number of folks within our CoachChic.com membership who either are or have been parents of 4-year old skaters. (Craig from British Columbia and Kathy from New Jersey come to mind right away.) And, on top of interacting with those wonderful people, I’ve also run arguably the top Learn-to-skate/Learn-to-play clinics in the New England region for about the past 30-years.
Now, I think that just about everything Erin wrote is relevant to this discussion.
The fact that dad is a pro player can be very impactful in all this. My own son was a long-time minor pro, I’ve been a long-time coach and hockey instructor, and it stood to reason that my son’s young guy would eventually be exposed to the game beyond most other little ones. Same thing with Erin’s son, in that he probably can’t avoid seeing and hearing about hockey — probably 24/7. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all — children of firemen probably want to wear their dad’s work caps, mechanics’ kids probably can’t wait to get their own tool kits, and sons and daughters of hockey players no doubt want to as best they can emulate their dads. Again, I think this natural, and seldom a bad thing.
Nor is starting one fairly young necessarily a problem. I really don’t go by ages when I admit kids to my own Learn-to programs, but instead I take into account personalities. Let’s face it, there are some 10-year olds who won’t let go of the side boards, and some 2-year olds who bust out the rink door hell bent for leather. And my guess is that Erin’s little boy was much like the latter example.
Personally, I think it’s a plus that the little guy is ahead of most other kids his age (see my later comments on this). And, while Erin might think this has to do with the boy starting rather early, I’ll suggest that it also has a great deal to do with the boy’s opportunity to watch hockey more than most others his age. In other words, his young brain and all his body’s signalling devices have likely been memorizing all the game’s movements for a relatively long time.
Okay, now for the more difficult questions…
Number One, I believe that the parent of a 4-year old is totally in charge of everything having to do with his or her youngster’s hockey activities. And I’m especially talking about the atmosphere surrounding hockey activities. Some parents have a way of making each one a drudgery (ugh… or a job as Erin puts it). Others can keep things light, and fun.
Secondly, there’s the issue of whether three skates were week are too much for a 4-year old. Personally, I’d say that’s borderline. Are three trips to the rink too much? No, I don’t believe so. But then, it all boils down to my previous point — this having to do with the feelings (or atmosphere) associated with each trip to the rink. What I’m really getting at is that those on-ice sessions not be viewed as compulsory, mandatory, whatever. (If it ever crosses Erin’s or her son’s mind that, “Oh, I HAVE TO go to the rink today!” I’d say it’s time to take a break.) In fact, blowing-off an occasional session just might reap some rewards, because I’ve seen lots of kids come back with a vengeance once they’ve missed a session, making the next string of three per weeks all the more productive.
Third, there is something to be said for a youngster feeling good about himself or herself. And in this regard, I’m talking about a player (of any age) taking a look around and realizing that he or she is better at something than most others. I even know some psychologists who will tell us that the confidence gained in one area tends to flow over into other areas of one’s life — like from hockey to school work, to self-esteem within friends, and so forth. So, neither is it a bad thing that we give a kid the chance to excel at something.
Let me now share with Erin and others an analogy I often use…
You see, lobster is a delicacy for me. Why? It’s because I love it, and also because I don’t get to have it that often. Shove it down my throat three meals per day for a solid week, and you can guess how I’d then feel.
In much the same way, I see a very delicate balance between helping a youngster get pretty good, compared to getting him or her so much practice time that they fall out of love with the game. (And, by the way, that constant monitoring of a delicate balance should take place throughout a player’s years in sport. There’s little doubt that Erin’s son’s dad still loves hockey, even as a pro. And, that didn’t likely come about by accident.)
Well, I think that about covers it from this old coach’s perspective, with my main point to highlight how much control Erin and her boy’s dad have over the entire situation. Make sense?
As always, I invite input or other opinions from members, and I also welcome Erin
to Comment in the box provided below. We can keep an ongoing discussion going right
here if that will help at all.
Good friend Fred G just challenged me with a pretty tough question.
In essence, he’s asked if I could put all the components that go into the making of a great hockey player into a pie chart, and then assess the various weights or percentages of the pie each of those would have.
Short answer: wow, that would be almost impossible to do.
Longer answer: I’ll always try to at least explain myself well for the sake of a hockey friend.
– Dennis Chighisola
Predicting Hockey Stardom – Update
To begin, you may have noticed that I’ve taken a recent entry title — Predicting Hockey Stardom — and then added the “Update” to it. My reasoning: that post is very much related to this one. In fact, as I thought more and more about Fred’s question, it struck me that nearly every entry topic on this site at least slightly touches upon the qualities that go into the making of a really good hockey player.
Although I can’t necessarily give these percentage weights, I’ve plotted hockey’s basic skills within my Building Blocks Approach to Skills. The expanded chart can be found within that post, as well as a detailed explanation on how I feel about each skill’s place in our game, and how I believe these skills should be treated in the teaching process. In general, however, I view skating as the base for both a hockey player’s offensive and defensive game. Hey, one can’t either elude or catch an opponent without being quick and agile on the skates. Of course, the other skills — including puckhandling, passing and receiving, and shooting are the offensive skills required to ultimately put the puck past an enemy goaltender.
Individual hockey-specific skills duly noted, there are also quite a few physical traits a good hockey player needs, with this list at least including strength, speed, quickness, agility, and hockey-specific conditioning.
Next, a player absolutely must have knowledge about the game, and he or she must eventually be able to read and react quickly and properly to ever changing game conditions. Ours is a transition sport, meaning that puck possession changes frequently, necessitating that a player constantly switch his or her role — from offense to defense to offense and so on. And, when I said that players must react properly, I’ve also implied that they know, understand and be able to apply both tried and true hockey playing principles along with the team’s planned strategies. Attempting to over-emphasize a point here, please appreciate that reading and reacting require both the mental side of things, and the ability to physically carry out whatever needs to be done.
Now, I apologize that I can’t find a pretty interesting article I ran across just the other day, because it would have contributed further to my premise that there are a kzillion qualities required of a desirable hockey player. The article was written by a former NHL-er, and it listed all the personal traits one should have in order to reach a high level. These are the so-called intangibles — like being a good teammate, being a good citizen, having a good work ethic, etc. And, as I recall, that list of personality traits went well into the twenties.
Okay, so I’ve now amassed a pie chart that might be nearing a good forty or fifty slices, these including both physical and mental components. With that, let me at least supply some of my own personal feelings when it comes to assigning importance to each…
In a perfect world, I would like young hockey players to be placed on a timetable that’s aimed at having them ready far down the road. In other words, with everything geared towards early development, I wouldn’t worry about having young ones totally ready until they are about to enter high school. In other words, I’d have a completely different pie chart for youngsters. Of course, youth hockey circles are far from a perfect world, which means that some development may be lost as parents and coaches care as much about their kids looking good and winning games.
I’ll next call upon that old football expression which implies that, “On any given Sunday…” My twist on that would be, “On any give day, one player may look a whole lot more impressive than others.” In other words, players can do everything correctly over several years, but a lesser player might just do everything right on the day important people are watching.
In most honest opinion, “the total package” usually matters far more than any checklist we might devise. In other words, a given player might have certain strengths and certain shortcomings, but his “total package” has him lead the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring. Yet another youngster may have his own combination of strengths and weaknesses that still allow him to be the best rated defenseman in all of US high school hockey. So, if you get my drift, this very point suggests that, it probably doesn’t make sense for us to try to place more or less significance on any one area of the game. It is, after all, the “total package” that determines if a player is effective or not.
Then, as I’ve written more than a few times within this site, ” We coaches and scouts (including yours truly) can be dreamers.” And what I’m getting at here is that we can be looking at certain players more from a perspective of “potential” than how they actually compare to others. Said yet another way, we might discount already polished players in favor of the “raw-boned” type who “projects” to be far better than the rest someday down the road.
With all that, I might offer to Fred and all my other member friends that, many scouts and high level coaches speak with slightly forked tongues when they state in public the kinds of skills they’re looking for. Oh, for sure, they’re going to tell everyone within ear-shot that they like to see great skaters, whatever. The fact of the matter is, they very frequently select players for drastically different reasons, and they are as often wrong about their choices as they are right.
PS: I felt it necessary to say all I have here, mainly because of the very last few paragraphs — in that final decisions on players don’t always (if ever) make sense, or fit some predetermined checklist.
At the same time — because I know I’m frequently responsible for guiding the fate of my own students and players, I do follow something akin to a checklist. It begins with my bringing players through the aforementioned Building Blocks Approach to Skills.
As players mature, I’ll then address age-specific physical traits like speed, strength, agility, conditioning and more.
Along the way, I also try to instill in them a firm knowledge of the tried and true playing principles, while at the same time encouraging the kind of character any future coach would appreciate.
Ravi, one of our long-time and very active members, suggested I address something here at CoachChic.com.
What brought us to discussing this was the flurry of trades that took place before, during and after the recent NHL Draft. More specifically, some not-so-nice things came to light in the media, once a guy had been traded. Interestingly, we never seemed to hear those negatives before the given trade. Once a guy was shipped out of town, however, it seems all his behavioral issues were fair game.
Some of what we’ve recently heard had to do with the players’ off-ice activities, and some of them intimated that a certain player wasn’t as good a teammate as he could have been.
Ravi and I talked on Facebook about that stuff, until he finally asked me to address it here. I told him that I’d just recently watched a video done by our good friend, Shaun Goodsell. And, while this doesn’t deal with late-night carousing issues, it offers the best advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to being a good guy or gal in the lockerroom.
– Dennis Chighisola
Being A Good Hockey TeammateLoading...
I don’t know about you but, that stuff really meant something to me.
I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team — youth to college — whereby players didn’t at least somewhat pay more attention to teammates they knew well, and less to those they didn’t know so well. That, at least to me, is human nature. So, I can’t necessarily fault kids for doing what comes comfortably to them. Of course, what Shaun had to say is an awesome way to look at that, and I’d highly recommend that every coach (and parent) make their young player aware of that viewpoint. Just imagine what a lockerroom would be like if every player took that approach.
Then, just to give you a hint of something I’m working on — and maybe suggest something other coaches might try… I’m digging through Google right now to find ideas for “bonding”, or “ice breaking”. A lot of companies are now doing this, calling in specialists who will run all sorts of games that tend to get folks laughing and working together. A lot of what we’ll find in that regard involves purely mental tasks. But, what I’m looking for are games involving small groups, these intended to get participants depending upon one another, and cheering for each other. After all, that’s what we look for during a game.
Anyway, I hope this gets everyone thinking — about how hockey players can be good teammates.
Well, I love it that one of our newest members has taken advantage of my offer to help, any time it’s needed.
I’m talking about Sandy N, asking me a question about measuring a hockey stick…
– Dennis Chighisola
Hockey Stick Measurement Help
Sandy began with the following:
Hi Coach Chic,
Sorry to bother you but I’ve been searching your site and have not had any luck on finding the info for sizing a hockey stick.
By now, I hope Sandy knows she wasn’t bothering me at all. Again, I invite all of my hockey friends to bother me in that way.
Sandy also gives me the opportunity to point-out the Search box that’s available at the top of each page. For sure, searches can be tricky. But I suspect she should have found a lot here within CoachChic.com when it comes to stick measuring.
I found some other web sites say it should come to the players nose but then they conflict by saying it should be when the player has his skates on or off.
No surprise there — that she might find a bunch of conflicting recommendations. Why? To my way of thinking, this is one of those areas that gets bombarded by wives’ tales.
I mean, I’ve heard or read that a hockey player should measure his or her stick to the nose, the chin, the mouth, the whatever. And, like Sandy, I’ve also discovered various authorities(?) suggesting these measurements be taken when the player is either wearing or not wearing skates. Hmmmm…
Did I suggest these are all wives’ tales?
Just for the heck of it, does holding the stick upright to measure it take into account a player’s unique stance? And, does it bring into the equation the “lie” of the stick? (The lie of the stick is the angle at which the stick’s blade and shaft meet, and this varies from stick to stick.) Oh, in the event you weren’t able to answer those two questions, I’ll give you the answers: No! No!
Now, before finishing here, let me say that I spent quite a bit of time searching for a video that might show advanced level players holding their sticks in an upright position. The best I’ve ever found for doing this is to scan an NHL bench while players are standing for their national anthem. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find many videos that stayed focused on a bench area for very long. However, I’m hoping the following one will accomplish what I’m aiming for…
Okay, as I said earlier, there weren’t any great views of a bench area, or prolonged shots where we could really study ALL of the players. Actually, the players I spotted in the above video ran the gamut in the ways they cut their sticks… A few were up near the chin, while a few were much lower. And, while we wouldn’t be able to find each team’s “stickhandler”, I assure you they’d be leaning on sticks that came to about the middle of their logos.
Anyway, Sandy ultimately closed with:
Can you clarify or do you suggest a different method?
Thanks and have a great New Year!
What I did was to send her to a video that shows and tells the viewer just about everything he or she would need to know about a stick — from selecting one to measuring it to eventually doctoring it in various ways. That video: “YOUR Stick“. Within that short film, I explain a simple way to measure a hockey stick that takes into account the player’s unique stance, and the lie of his or her stick.
Oh, in closing, I hope I’ve inspired you to ask me questions. I love fielding them, and helping you always makes me feel kinda good.
The above is a question I recently fielded from a hockey coach, and it’s a good one. Actually, I sense it’s one of those that I wouldn’t have even thought to address without being asked. (See how valuable your questions and Comments can be?) So, with that, let’s get into…
– Dennis Chighisola
Naming Your Hockey Lines
I almost know that the coach who posed this question did so because he didn’t want to designate kids as first-liners, second-lines, and so forth. Anyway, that’s my thinking. I’d prefer not to give my kids the impression that one line is any better than the other, and I even like them to battle it out to show which unit can be trusted more than the others.
While on that subject, I like to keep a lot of stats that are based on a unit’s performance. (In my case, I like to form 5-player units, but this philosophy also works when evaluating forward lines and defense pairs.)
As for my suggestion, it would be to go with colors. Take my current Mite AAA team, for example… Three different 5-man units are dressed alike for our practices — in red, blue and yellow. So, I simply refer to them by their colors.
By the way… Not every organization can afford extra shirts just for practice sake. However, I think every family could manage to purchase a t-shirt of a designated color, and these could easily be worn over another jersey.
Up above, my junior high school team wears their color-coded hockey practice jerseys to any practice will include systems work.
No matter which way a team chooses to outfit players and sort them into lines, I’ll suggest that the parents be warned ahead of time that colors may be swapped from time to time. In other words, it’s quite possible I’ll sometime down the road move a boy from the red unit to the blue, etc.
Okay, that’s the way I happen to handle this little challenge — dressing and referring to my players by color-coded units. Yet, I am going to bet that there’s a member or two out there who has an even better idea than mine. So, since exchanging ideas is just one of the many benefits of CoachChic.com membership, I’d really like to hear from others on this subject. (Just use the Comment box down below.)
Okay, I lied about that, only because that title sounds better than most others I could think of. Yes, the poorly skilled hockey players also take a beating, but that’s so because they often skate with their eyes down, or they don’t have the agility to avoid a lot of really big hits (ouch).
Still, thanks to Craig S, I have the opportunity to tell you all about how – or why — I think the better hockey players take such a beating.
– Dennis Chighisola
Only the Great Hockey Players Take a Beating
Now, Craig gets this going by describing the conditions his very little guy, Sam, is playing under in an instructional hockey league out in Western Canada (that has to be an awful lot like the Mighty Mites level I talk about elsewhere here).
As Craig tells it, “Sam has been complaining that kids are tripping, slashing and bodychecking him.” I guess Sam is one of the youngest players, at 4-years old, but as his proud dad says, “He’s quite nifty with the puck and can turn, spin, toe-drag and (do) the rest so he’s the guy they are chasing much of the time.”
And, therein lies the reason for this article’s title. My son was a wild stickhandler, his son Anthony is like that, and so are a ton of my other students sprinkled around the region. And, if these kinds of kids have the puck a whole lot, what do you think will happen?
Actually, I want to share something with Craig (and other members), this having to do with conversations I’ve had with both of my own guys and with another student of mine who is currently starring in local high school hockey.
First, I’d like older players, parents and coaches to think along with me here… For, what we want for our guys is that they take away something they can use to become better. So, while I could have coddled Tony Chic, for example, what would that really do for him? Oh, deep inside we hurt for the kids who might take a beating, and a few alternatives might fleetingly pass through our minds. However, I think we really need to leave-off with something that will help a player — something positive, and something useful.
Anthony Chic is sorta fun to have such conversations with, ‘cause he’ll play right along with me. So, I put it to him at the start, asking, “You’re a pretty good puckhandler, right?” And when he agreed, I asked if a few hacks might come along with his having the puck more than most other guys. Again, he agreed. Then, I asked if he’d trade his skills for those of the guys who seldom get slashed or hooked very often. “Of course not!” he answered (as a if a light bulb suddenly came on).
Oh, the welts sure do hurt at times, and I personally cringe when I see some of them. But, to the “puckhandler” — or to the great player, those can at least be turned into badges of courage.
Now, if you’re talking to a young player along these lines, you don’t have to use my wording. My point is to somehow steer him or her towards something positive – or sorta turning a negative into something they can use. The way I’ve done it, at least my guys have felt more proud of their skills, they recognize that they’re a little bit special, and those things tend to make at least some of the hurts go away.
As an aside… The boy pictured to the far right must look like an abused child when he undresses at night. First-off, he is quick, he’s highly skilled, he has the puck a good deal during our Team NEHI Jr HS games, and he is getting absolutely smoked about once or twice each game. Okay, he’s still young, his skills are still improving (although they’re already real good), he hasn’t totally discovered how to get out of trouble yet, and he is also dealing with the growth spurt issue I mentioned a few days ago.
Also, as I intimated earlier, I don’t ever like to see one of my babies get hurt. Yet, short of that, rival players are oftentimes helping these kind of guys or gals to get even better. I mean, while opponents are running at the couple of really top-notch puckhandlers I currently have, my kids are kinda using them as moveable pylons. (Of course, those pylons hit back, but…) On the other side of the spectrum, though, the not-so-talented kids aren’t carrying the puck enough to get that kind of challenge.
Now, what I quoted above from Craig was more of a statement, and it gave me the opportunity to address something I thought worthy of sharing. However, he was really steering his way towards a question…
What Craig wanted to know in the end (besides how to help his son endure this), was whether it was right or wrong that coaches don’t call many (if any) penalties in that instructional kind of hockey structure (where coaches run the games on-ice, rather than referees).
As for me, I wrestle with that question a bit…
In a perfect world, I would have no scores be counted, and no standings kept. Oh, I’d let the kids celebrate their goals – that’s a good thing, but I wouldn’t ring them up in lights. For, with just that, the coaches on the ice would be thinking more about development than they would the “W”.
Also with that, I think you’d see opposing coaches getting together and making better decisions about how to run the games, how to call penalties, etc.
As an example of what I mean – about calling penalties… There are some kids who are so timid in the early games that they need to be encouraged to “get involved” in the play. That said, can you picture how calling a boarder line penalty on him or her could make that kind of player all the more fearful of sticking his or her nose into the fray? On the other side of the ledger, though, we might actually be helping if we call those border line jobs on a kid who is overly aggressive. Yet another thought of mine involves kids digging for pucks around the crease, because – while we want to protect young netminders, we also want to encourage skaters and goalers alike to be a little tough in that area. Of course, none of this could take place under strict hockey rules. Naw, it could only happen if opposing coaches were working together, and just doing what was right for each youngster.
By the way, Craig ended by mentioning ages, as in his thinking “… coaches are reluctant to call even obvious penalties at this age.”
Well, my feeling is that the more that’s accomplished with young ones, the easier it will be to help them solve some other things when they reach the higher levels. So, if the ideas I suggested above were used at Sam’s level (or with my Mighty Mites’ age group), I happen to believe those kids would very easily be able to inch their ways a little later towards “real hockey” or “officiated” games.
As a final aside here, I have one other tip for puckhandlers or parents of puckhandlers… Every time my son or grandson took a little dingle, I inspected his gear to see if a gap in protection allowed that (or if faulty equipment or gear that was too small was the culprit). If the gear was basically okay — and it was in a gap where my guy was taking the hits, I’d frequently take the time to sew some extra padding or plastic in to cover the exposed area. (Hey, I’d take my time and do it while relaxing watching TV, or while sitting outdoors on a nice summer night.)
Oh, in case you’re wondering about this altering of equipment…
My feeling is that consumer level gear is made for someone named “Joe Average”. I mean, it wasn’t designed for my physique nor for yours or your kids’. The fact of the matter is, a certain piece of equipment might “fit” both of us, but it really doesn’t totally do the job for either of us.
Another problem is that hockey equipment (and a lot of other sports gear) is made to be sold. In other words, a company might be able to produce an awesome piece of protection, but the general population wouldn’t be able to afford it. So, doesn’t it make sense that manufacturers do the next best thing — by cutting back on the costs so that the masses can buy it?
So again, with the probability that the gear you’re using doesn’t totally do the job, my suggestion is to inspect it, and maybe adapt it to do what you really need it to do.
Oh, and this goes for goalie equipment as well… Todd Jacobson and I have had more kids get dinged because of gaps in their goaler pads, and we’ve quickly recommended that they either replace the gear (maybe they’ve outgrown some), or get to sewing and patching as I’ve described above.
Of course, most of this article is just one Old Hockey Coach’s opinion. But, I truly do believe in it.
Ya, this is another post you’ll probably either love or hate, so I’d really like to know how YOU feel!
The following post is in answer to a question submitted by member Jamie L.
Jamie helps coach his son’s Mite C team, and he’s asking for suggestions in aiding the kids on that team with their backward skating speed.
So, with that, let me give this one a try…
– Dennis Chighisola
Backward Skating Help for Beginners
To begin, I have to caution coaches about being overly concerned with backward skating speed. Oh, for sure, a back-skating defender needs a certain amount of speed — he or she must get off the mark rather quickly, and at least initially reach a decent level of speed.
However — and this is a BIG however, to push lesser experienced players to try for fast backward skating just might introduce a lot of unwanted extra movements.
Trying to explain this better here… I’d like for a moment for Jamie and other members to put themselves in the role of an attacker… For, as you’re moving down the ice and approaching an enemy defender, I’m sure you’ll be looking for ways that defender might become vulnerable. The photo to the right shows a defenseman leaning forward and towards his right, which would suggest to you that you could quickly cut towards your right and leave him hanging there. (Oh, notice that the player in that photo also makes matters worse, as he looks down at the puck. Tricky puckhandlers just love that!) Actually, if you click on that photo you can see the play on video. The attacker doesn’t take advantage of the D’s mistake (shame on him), but you should see in the slo-mo portion just how vulnerable the defender has made himself.
That established, I want to suggest that any upper body movements by a defender — like bouncing around, lunging forward, or pumping the arms — will put him or her in trouble. You might imagine how risky it can be for a backwards skater to bounce around (constantly jeopardizing his or her balance), and pumping of the arms is just as dangerous. And, lunging or leaning forward (like the player in the adjacent photo) makes it virtually impossible for him to be mobile or to react laterally with an attacker.
In much the same way, a very large cross-over step commits a player in that direction, and it would take too long for him or her to react-back should an attacker make a quick cut.
So, too, can wiggling during the skating motion make a player extremely vulnerable.
Now, for my money, the best backward skating drill in the world is the one my in-line student, Jerry Z, is performing in the next video. While a player is doing this, I’m asking him or her to keep a steady upper body. As you’ll see, this drill was initially a real challenge for Jerry (he’s far better at this now). What you might also notice is that he wants to lean forward, but the hopping motion is going to put him on his nose if he doesn’t come up and over his skates. (By the way, this drill is far tougher on ice blades, since those are rounded on the bottom.) Carrying one’s body weight over the middle of his or her blades is the steadiest he’ll be, and this posture also offers the best chance for quick lateral movements. Go ahead and click on the photo below to watch that video, and I’ll add some further thoughts after that. (Jerry would probably laugh about this now, but you might noticed that I yelled at him early-on, so that he’d switch to holding his stick in just the top hand. That’s important for a D when he’s playing a 1 on 1 situation.)
Now, anyone who got into my previous post, “Help for Beginner Cross-overs“, has to think there’s a lot of contradiction between my current suggestions and the earlier ones. But, there are and there aren’t…
For example, the large cross-overs I earlier prescribed for beginners are awesome for learning outside edge control. They are not useful in playing our game, however, for the reasons I stated above. In fact, once my students and players become pretty proficient at crossing, I’ll switch them to practicing the 2-step drill also shown in the earlier post.
I might further suggest that a player (and we coaches) separate the defenseman’s backward take-off from his or her actually being involved in playing a rush. In other words, he or she might use a little extra body movement and larger, more powerful cross-overs to get going off the mark. Thereafter, though, playing an attacker requires the steadiness I was looking for in the above hopping drill.
Okay, so what should Jamie do with all this? My suggestion is to use all the drills I’ve shown in these two posts. Each will satisfy a given need. I would not make young players push for backward speed, since that’s when all the unwanted extra movements creep in. In time, the kids’ backward skating should reach a point where I might be able to help further. I just hope I’ll still be around to offer further advice at that time.
Well, this post is probably deserving of a lot of questions and Comments. So, please fire away. You know I love that.
Now, this entry was inspired by a coach asking for some guidance when it comes to changing on-the-fly. More specifically, he was wondering if there is a certain age or level when players can be expected to learn this. So, let me give that a whirl, and let me add as much as I can about making those kinds of changes…
– Dennis Chighisola
Hockey Line Changes
Getting right to that coach’s main question here, my feeling is that the time to teach changes on-the-fly has an awful lot to do with a team’s overall game awareness. Said yet another way, I’ll suggest that youngsters who have their basic skills under control, and those who are able to understand basic positioning should also be able to learn how to make exchanges while the game is in progress. So, I’m guessing that decent Squirt or Atom players should be able to learn it.
As an aside… I asked for some input on this subject, and I received a couple of good suggestions — about things I’d want to be sure to include here. And first to arrive in my inbox was the suggestion from Mike M, who said, “Do them quickly and often to win games.”
Ya, quickly and often, which brings me to the timing of our shifts.
Now, I have to chuckle a bit as I think about how the earliest levels of our game frequently start-out by playing 2-minute buzzer-hockey. The reason I’m laughing to myself is that an awful lot of kids, parents and even coaches believe that sort of timing should continue through later years, with the players staying out there on the ice for several minutes at a whack.
Of course, watching just one pro or college hockey game should change that impression. For, teams at the highest levels probably play something closer to 30- or 40-second shifts. Yup, go out, bust your buns, and then get-off!
When it comes to the timing of shifts, I’d like to insert this personal feeling, as well… You see, while most folks are (rightly) concerned about the length of time players are out on the ice working, I’m as concerned for the players who are sitting. This is a three-pronged thing with me…
- First, players who are sitting for any length of time are physically cooling-off, and I think this gets worse with the length of time they’re off their skates. So, while there’s definitely a need for players to rest and catch their breath, I believe there is a point where time away from the ice becomes a negative. (Is there a greater chance for injury as players sit for long stretches? I don’t know, but I think this ought to at least be considered.)
- Secondly — and this is probably something most members haven’t thought about before… I honestly believe that a player can get mentally out of the game if he or she is away from the action for very long. In other words, I think there’s the real danger that a player can lose his or her focus and intensity during a long stretch away from the ice. Consequently, I think a coach can keep his or her players more alert by quickly getting them back out there — quickly and often, as Mike M says.
- Then, maybe my third point is really a combination of the previous two. For, I know that players like to stay in a certain kind of rhythm over the course of a period — especially my good players, and it’s hard for them to do this unless there’s a reasonable sort of rhythm to their shifts.
So again, as Mike M might say, “Do them quickly and often!”
As another sidebar when it comes to keeping my players in the flow of things… It’s always driven me crazy when my team has suddenly taken a string of penalties. All the above points come into play when that happens, with a number of my guys sitting and getting cold, getting themselves out of the game, mentally, and also getting out of that proverbial rhythm.
Oh, I might add one more thing to the timing of shifts… I usually like to keep the earliest shifts in a period a little on the short side. I want to get everybody a quick taste of the action, and I also want to delay the build-up of lactic acid as best I can. I might lengthen the shifts just a tad in the middle of a period, and then go back to shorter ones as the period winds down. This approach is really just a personal thing with me, but I’ve sensed through the years that my players have benefited from it.
Now, as for going about the teaching of line changes, I recommend that members next watch my brief video on “Dumping the Puck“. As you’ll see there, the right kinds of dump-ins provide units the “time” to make changes without getting caught shorthanded.
I also believe bench decorum plays a big part in effectively getting changes on-the-fly. So, I highly suggest these things…
- During each period, all defensemen should sit on the defensive end of the bench, while all the forwards sit on the offensive end. Getting our guys (or gals) even closer to their end of the ice, the next defense pair will sit closest to the defensive zone, and my next forward line sits closest to the offensive zone.
- I make it a rule that players who are going out next should keep a very close eye on the man they’ll replace. In other words, the instant a centerman enters the play, the next centerman must keep focus on him (or her). Why so soon? The idea is for us to never get caught shorthanded — should a player limp to the bench with an injury, should he discover an equipment problem, whatever. The point is, unforeseen things can happen seconds into a shift, and the next player up has to immediately notice if or when he’s needed.
Then, there’s the matter of the actual exchange of personnel…
As much as I like having players go over the boards as they enter the ice, we coaches must take into consideration the height of the boards in comparison to our players. Under normal circumstances, this probably suggests that those at least below Pee Wees aren’t going to be able to make the climb. However — and believe it or not, I’ve actually coached at a few rinks where even high school players weren’t able to get over the unusually high boards. That in mind, I think all players should learn to properly enter and exit through the bench doors. And for more help in this area, I suggest that members refer to my article on “Buzzer Hockey Line Changes“. (Don’t let the title fool you; there’s valuable information there about older players changing on-the-fly.)
Next, there’s the matter of when to change. And for this, I have the following suggestions…
- You’d think that growing-up amid farms would have provided a great atmosphere for a young boy to hone his whistling skills. Or, perhaps, that the powers that be could have had a course on whistling in my long ago Phys Ed studies. The truth is, I can’t whistle a lick. If I could, I’d use that as a signal for my guys to change. Instead, though, I’ve had to resort to calling-out loudly, “Get a change! Get a change!” (Oh, well…)
- Now, the lengths of shifts can’t be totally dictated by the timing we’d like. No, conditions for a successful change aren’t going to fall exactly every 35-seconds or so. That said, I’ll usually opt for less than the desired time if it looks like going any longer is going to trap my guys out there. For example, I have to know there’s the possibility that a unit heading down-ice on the attack is going to ultimately have to backcheck, and then breakout again in order to get a change on-the-fly. And, presuming they’re not going to have the juice to accomplish all that, I’ll probably call for the early change.
- I might also call for an early change if a unit has been bogged-down in their own end for an extended period of time. Hey, it’s just better to get fresh legs (and minds) out there, and to give the unit coming-off a little time to regroup.
- Of utmost importance is the need for the players on the ice to be absolutely sure the puck is safe before they turn and head-off. I mean, even though they see the puck being dumped, they mustn’t head to the bench until they’re absolutely sure that it is going to safely get through rival players and land deep in their opponents’ end.
Now, despite the fact that the next players up are supposed to be watching the man they’ll replace, I also like my players yelling their positions as they come-off. In other words, as the left winger comes to our bench, he yells, “Left wing! Left wing!” I don’t know; it’s just a safety measure that makes me feel good.
Then, Deb K inspired the next suggestion… You see, she’s not only a youth hockey parent and coach, but she’s also a referee. So it should make sense that she’d joke a bit and offer, “Tell coaches about the changes so refs aren’t having to educate from the ice “
Deb’s comment in mind, this biggie… From my perspective most of the “too many men on the ice” penalties are caused by the players who should be coming-off the ice, and these usually come about because the man coming-off either changes his mind or he fools the player who is supposed to replace him. In other words, the guy coming to the bench gives every indication that he’s coming, the new player hops over the boards and onto the ice, and then the player who is supposed to come-off doesn’t. (I don’t know of any way to actually practice this key communication, but I surely do beat it to death in conversations with my players. I mean, I make it a very big deal that guys coming-off shouldn’t fool their replacements or change their minds at the last second.)
Finally, if a hockey coach feels that line changes are an important part of his or her team’s game, then it should make sense to practice these as often as other plays. And, once established, it wouldn’t hurt to review them on occasion, and to also frequently talk about the principles involved.
A lot of things go into proper line changes, and I almost fear I’ve forgotten a few. If you think I have, please add a Comment so that this topic is eventually covered as thoroughly as possible!
The following question was submitted by member Eric S. It’s a good one, but it can be difficult answering long distance (or without being able to actually see where his players are at a given time).
Nonetheless, I do know that Eric works with a fairly talented teen group, so I’ll approach things from that perspective.
– Dennis Chighisola
High Intensity Skating Drills
Q: Eric states that, “We always spend the first 7-10 minutes on the ice having our boys run some high intensity skating drills without pucks. Currently we have them run overspeed circles, once forward, once backward and once transitioning @ the hash marks. Then they do two sets of iron crosses and then one other high intensity start/stop drill that we developed. They have been doing these for about 3 weeks and we want to replace one of the drills with a new one every few weeks to keep things fresh. Can you suggest a few other drills of this nature that we could incorporate?
A: First, Eric, when you say that you do these rather intense exercises in the first minutes of a practice, I’m trusting that effective (and long enough) warm-ups are done prior to the hard skating. As you’ll read in some of what Scott Umberger and I have said, (other than the obvious injury prevention) more growth is gained from a workout if the muscles are properly warmed.
Continuing on that first point for a moment… Members might like to know that I begin most skill oriented practices with drills that need to be done slowly, and ones that tend to enhance skating technique. So, instead of using specific warm-up exercises on the ice, I kill two birds with one stone by having my guys do useful drills at a gradually building intensity.
Now, as for some drill suggestions, I’ll first remind Eric to refer occasionally to my video on “29 Must-do Advanced Skating Drills“. A goodly number of the exercises shown there would likely suit your needs. You might also check the few entries I’ve done in reference to speed training or over-speed training for some really good tips.
Then, a couple of things come to mind for specific drill ideas…
- It sounds like you’re attempting to satisfy my first suggestion. I mean, remembering that players need to be able to go quickly in four different directions (forward, backward, and in both lateral directions). My “2-step Drill” (shown in the above linked video) is a great one for lateral work.
- What I like to do with those directional drills is to also incorporate quick changes in direction. For example, if I want my players to work at quick, short forward bursts, I’ll begin the drill with the players first skating backwards, then breaking and shifting their weight to go forward. Sometimes we coaches will run races and oversee the drill with whistles or voice commands. However, a lot of the time I’ll let my older players work on their own. In other words, I’ll tell them what to do, and then I’ll allow them to do the drill in their own area (which frees me and the other coaches to move among them and to offer tips or feedback). Again, these can be done in all four directions, with the players beginning with a movement in the opposite direction.
- Now, I only do this next one with my older guys (because it’s pretty stressful). Actually, it’s the same kind of drilling I’ve just described, but with a plyometrics component added. For example, adapting the drill I just explained… My players will start skating backwards, but then they’ll jump in the air and immediately dash forward upon landing. Again, it’s pretty stressful, but it’s also pretty effective. And it can be adapted to use in all directions. (I’ll try to get some video of this form of training later this week and attempt to update this entry — or do a follow-up one — as soon as I can.)
Oh, by the way… When left to their own devices, most players will turn towards a favorite side to do their stop and take-off. Knowing this, I dictate ahead of time how they will stop — with a vee, turned to the right or turned to the left.
- Oops, one more great one just came to mind… By now, I’m sure you know how I like to adapt ideas from other sports. Such is the case with a sprinting exercise called “The Towel Drill”. In the gym or on a track, one sprinter has a towel around his or her waste, while a partner holds the ends of the towel to provide resistance against a short run. Part way through that brief but intense sprint, the partner lets go of one towel end, thereby letting the runner really burst out. (I tend to think there’s an over-speed component to going from lots of resistance to no resistance. ???) I like to use this drill both off-ice and on. And, when we’re on the ice, I have my guys hold their mates’ jersey-tails instead of using towels.
Come to think of it, the above drill could be adapted to accomplish a little striding technique work as Jerry Z is shown doing (using a bungee rope) in a recent video (click here).
Finally, Eric, I like the fact that you are attempting to rotate drills (much like I’ve also described elsewhere, or a lot like strength trainers use in “periodization”). Hopefully these few tips get you started. However, if there’s anything more specific you’d like me to deal with — or a drill you might want me to invent for you, please don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck! (Oh, I just remembered to ask: When are you going to send me some video footage of that “high intensity start/stop drill” that you developed? I know I’d love to see it, and I’ll bet others would, too!)
This PS to my members: Something evidently has (at least on occasion) gone wrong with the submission of questions. I mean, they sometimes aren’t immediately relayed to me as they should be. So, if you don’t see your question dealt with in a day or so (and I should answer that quickly), please email me. I really want those questions, and I especially don’t want anyone to think that I’m not responsive due to some technical snafu.
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Carol, a new Twitter friend and a Manager for her youth program’s Atom Division, posed a REALLY tough question for this old coach.
As she put it, “What are the three top principles an Atom minor hockey coach should follow?”
Of course, it would have been easier to troubleshoot a hockey skill problem, or to suggest a solution for some area of team play. Offering what I might consider to be top principles is yet another challenge. Not only that but, my guess is that Carol would likely get lots of very different suggestions had she polled other experienced coaches.
That said, I took the better part of today — thinking long and hard — to arrive at what is to follow.
(Oh, by the way, for those who aren’t familiar with the Canadian age level known as “Atom”, it’s basically the same as the “Squirt” designation used in USA Hockey.)
– Dennis Chighisola
3 Principles Atom Minor Hockey Coaches Should Follow
1) Give every player a reason to look forward to the team’s next get-together
I’m not so naive as to think there aren’t a lot of things that go wrong in a typical hockey practice or game. In fact, I can’t blame coaches of losing teams for feeling plenty of frustration, and I can also appreciate how difficult it can be to stay positive under such circumstances.
Still, there is a time for everything.
For sure, players need to be pushed and prodded. And when it comes to younger players, I’ve even pretended to be mad at the lot of them.
That out of the way, I choose my parting words VERY wisely. I mean, I actually delay entering my team’s post-game or post-practice lockerroom for about 5-minutes. During that time my kids get to partially undress and I get to gather my thoughts. Oh, there might be nights when I’d like to blast them, and there are surely a lot of nights when I’d like to go into a 20-minute talk — on why we should have done this and how we could have done that. In reality, though, what’s done is done, and the only thing that’s important at this point is our next game or our next practice. So, it seems the most productive thing I can do as I send the kids on their way is to give every player a reason to look forward to our next get-together.
2) Continually look for “teaching moments”
Over 40-years of coaching, I have a pretty good outline — or checklist — for readying a team. My season’s plan is pretty detailed, and my practices are planned to the minute.
Yet, unusual things happen all the time — during practices, and especially during games. Sometimes it’s a rare circumstance that crops-up during a game, sometimes it comes from a great question posed by a player, sometimes it comes about because of a difficulty experienced by a player, and sometimes it stems from an outstanding play.
No matter, I call these “teaching moments”, and I think they’re worthy of holding a good old fashion bull session. Actually, I sense that my players (young or old) have enjoyed these. Better yet, I sense these kinds of discussions stick with a player for many, many years.
3) Think long-term
No doubt we’d all gain a great deal of satisfaction from seeing some of our players go on to do well at the game’s higher levels. That said, coaches dealing with the youngest players have to realize just how significant their contribution really is to that cause.
On the negative side of things, my work as a skills analyst has me spotting numerous older guys who struggle just because they weren’t helped when they were young. Not knowing their history, it’s often hard to know exactly what went wrong. But my educated guess is that some of their earlier coaches either skipped steps in certain teaching progressions, or they didn’t establish in their players a certain kind of discipline or mentality when it came to skill work.
This brief aside… A lot of years ago I attended a coaching symposium that included a roundtable discussion on skill development. (If it wasn’t so sad it would have been laughable. But…) An NHL executive started by pointing to the other members, suggesting that they had to get the skill development accomplished because his guys couldn’t practice often enough, what with all their games and heavy travel schedule. The Major Junior coach obviously took exception to that, complaining that he had to concern himself with winning games or he’d lose his job. And so the buck-passing went, all the way down the line, with each level offering its own excuse and asking the same basic question as the others: Why don’t you guys down below send me skilled players?
I tell that story because I too often hear coaches at the youngest levels make their own excuses — as in, “Oh, my players will get that when they move-up to the next level.” Not so, of course, at least from what those guys at the roundtable had to say.
To my way of thinking, the seeds for great skills and playing smarts should be planted early. And so should the lead-up skills be taught so that players can later skate like the wind, handle a puck wildly, thread perfect passes and fire absolute bullets. Having your players eagerly looking forward to their next team event will help towards that end. Finding plenty of “teaching moments” is going to help young players think the game better. And, thinking long-term tends to help us coaches resolve that age-old win-at-all-costs versus development-first issue.
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Jerry Z — yes, THAT Jerry Z of CoachChic.com in-line fame — submitted a VERY good question the other day. As a matter of fact, it might be one of the best ones I’ve fielded to date. You see, I quite often raise the points noted below as I talk to my Team NEHI hockey players. And I especially get into this stuff when their offensive efforts are failing. So, here’s what Jerry asked…
– Dennis Chighisola
Q: What do you consider the most important factor is in shooting? Whether it’s to be accurate? Hard? Quick? (I assume each shooter is different, but how would you prioritize practicing?)
A: Really, I have a very short answer for Jerry. Before I get to that, however, I’d like to share some information that should help players of all levels, including elite guys and gals.
First, although every player IS different, I probably wouldn’t change the basic advice I’ll be sharing here. Oh, I do talk to forwards and point-shooters a little differently (which is a topic for another time). But, no matter what position a player plays, he or she really should be aware of the following…
Now, to really make my point with (head strong?) young players, I’ll use a couple of very familiar subjects — namely, the NHL’s top scorers’ list, and a popular segment of the NHL’s skills competition.
Most often I’ll begin this kind of discussion by asking my guys if they recall who the top scorers are in the NHL. Once things have settled down, and once they’ve tossed more than enough names my way, I’ll move-on to ask them which guys had the hardest shots in the most recent NHL slapshot competition. Once again, kids will usually get a little rowdy and argue amongst themselves (I like when they get into it like that), but we ultimately do boil the list down to a couple of really strong shooters.
In a way, my players have played into my hands here. I mean, I believe they can envision at this point the top scorers and the hardest shooters. And they’re usually ripe by this time to answer a few of my planned questions.
The first thing I’ll put to them is whether any of the NHL’s extra hard shooters are near the top of the league in scoring. I’m usually looking at a bunch of open mouths by now, and a whole bunch of players who really want to know what’s coming next.
What’s next? It’s that most of the guys found near the top in scoring — probably in any league — are those who have moves and put their shots on-goal quickly.
Now, before someone offers the fact that there have been many great shooters at or near the top in NHL scoring, I’m going to say that is absolutely the case. In fact, all of the guys who tally a lot of points can fire the puck. But, that’s not my point.
My point IS that top scorers shoot quickly. Seldom are they one dimensional (with just a big shot). Again, they have moves — or dekes, and they can usually launch the puck with lightening speed from any spot or any posture.
Before going further let me share some of the keys from another brief conversation I often have with my students and players, this having to do with a match-up between an attacker and the goaltender…
- Please consider that the goaler probably desires two things in such a confrontation.
- He’d like to be able to see the puck (which suggests that screens must prove very frustrating to him).
- A goalie needs time. I mean, most goaltenders own the best equipment their money can buy, and they spend a lot of their practice time learning how to place that expensive gear in the right place relative to the puck’s location. And, given enough time to put that gear in the right spot, I’m betting that the hardest shot in the world isn’t going to find its way to the back of the net.
And that, my friends, is the basis upon which I answer most questions having to do with shooting.
That shooting quickness and shooting power belong at opposite extremes should be easy for me to now argue. Accuracy, on the other hand, will take a little more explaining.
From what I’ve said about the goaler’s needs, you should understand why I see a quick trigger as the most important shooting trait. It should make sense that the ultra-quick shot has the best chance of catching the netminder out of position.
Now, don’t get me wrong on this next one, because I believe it’s awesome to have a powerful shot, and I work with my guys plenty to develop their hand, forearm, shoulder and core strength. At the same time, the most powerful shots usually take time to uncork, and that’s often exactly what a goaltender needs to get himself or herself in the right position. And that’s why power takes a backseat to shooting quickness in my book.
Shooting accuracy is a tricky one… Frankly, every shot should be on-goal. (What is it I’ve heard some coaches say? “You can’t score on 100% of the shots that miss the net!”?)
This short story… A lot of years ago I read an article about a pro team that had just played our local NHL entry. The visitors had beaten our guys, and their coach in a post-game interview gave a lot of credit to his point-shooters. As he described the situation, his team hadn’t been generating much offense from the blue line, so they decided to make a one-game pact. All the defensemen agreed to not take any slapshots, but to instead just throw pucks on net as quickly as they could. The result? Three goals originated from the point. My assessment? Those kinds of shots got on-goal fast, there was a better chance they’d be accurate, and the combination of quickness and the screens that took place in front of the locals’ net took-away the two things the home team goaler wanted — as in sight of the puck and time to get in position.
Still, for all I’ve said to this point, Jerry is really asking about how much time HE should devote to each of those shooting skills. So, my honest answer to that one? I think he — and all players — should work on all three areas. As a relative beginner, however, I might suggest that Jerry give his shooting strength a slight priority at first. Once he’s able to rip some pucks (or balls) fairly well, shooting quickness would come next. All along, though, he should try to practice hitting spots, and he should always try to put his shots on-goal.
Don’t forget, you really help me — in a lot of ways — when you leave a comment.
I’ve always promised to respond to my members’ needs. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction when I’m able to do so. I hope to accomplish that here, responding to a long-time member’s question.
As he explains it, Ravi is considering taking some figure skating lessons in an attempt to improve his hockey play. Before he does, however, he thought to ask this old coach about the merits of such.
Then, because there are more than two skating sports, please allow me to discuss this topic on a slightly broader scale.
– Dennis Chighisola
It’s probably been close to 20-years since I attended a hockey coaching symposium that included a lecture on skating by former NHL coach Pierre Page’. As I recall, Page’s college Masters thesis involved a study of the hockey skating motion (actually, I believe it aimed to also determine the factors that make some skaters faster than others).
Pretty obviously, this kind of lecture was scientifically based. And, all these years later, I notice that numerous other biomechanics experts agree with the points made by Page’.
All that said, he made a comment that day that really struck a chord with me. Apologizing in advance, that lecture was a very long time ago, and I’m probably not going to get it exactly word for word. However, the gist of what Page’ said was that, “Some skaters find it easy to make quick movements, while others are better at moving smoothly.”
I think Page’ suggested that the numbers are probably close to evenly split within any group, with about half tending to be quick by nature, the other half tending to be smooth. (Ironically, I could envision my own players back home as Page’ spoke, and I could immediately identify those two type of players within my own roster.)
Still, what was to come next was something even more profound, and even more appropriate to this discussion…
What Page’ pointed-out — and what I’ve found to be true, is that a player with one strength tends to have difficulty with the other. In other words, a naturally quick skater quite often has problems with smoothness, and the smooth skater frequently struggles to make quick foot actions.
Now, I have a gut feeling on this subject… For, what I’ll suggest is that the naturally quick skater is loaded with fast-twitch fibers. That’s what makes him or her quick. And, at the other end of the spectrum, the nice, smooth skater is probably dealing with mostly slow-twitch fibers, thus his or her struggle to execute really quick movements.
Are there players who fall in the middle of these two extremes? I don’t recall Page’ addressing that. However, I’d answer that in the affirmative. It just makes sense. In fact, I’ll suggest we could plot all of a team’s members on a Bell Curve, with small numbers of skaters falling at the two extreme ends, the majority falling in the middle. The group would still be split on the two sides of the bell — half being smooth and half being quick, but there would likely be only a small number of players who were extremely quick or extremely smooth.
Next, allow me to insert a brief but related personal experience… Going back to my earliest days of running hockey skills clinics, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen figure skating instructors salivating at the rink’s side boards as they watched my kids fly around the ice. Inevitably, they seek me out after the class, offering something like, “Wow, would I love to get such-and-such-a-player into figure skating!”
I usually — as politely as I can — shake my head and laugh. And then I usually follow with, “Little wonder. You guys start your skaters moving around the ice like little statues, worrying about their form from the very the beginning. Then, years later, it bothers you that your skaters are boring!”
Quite differently from their approach, my first aim is to create little daredevils in my Learn-to-skate and Learn-to-play clinics. I’ve always figured it would be easier in later years to tone them down a bit, rather than to do as most figure skating coaches do, later attempting to light a fire under their (robot-like?) kids.
This all brings me to a subject I frequently write about and speak about, or what I call “The Nature of Our Game”. In general, this study includes our ultimate arrival at what it’s really like for a participant to engage in a given game — be it hockey, figure skating, checkers or Monopoly.
Oh, I could go on for quite some time with this topic. However, let me cut to the chase… Hockey, of course, is a game of transition (meaning players must continuously switch between defensive and offensive roles), and it’s quite often referred to as a game of constant reading and reacting. Figure skating and speed skating, on the other hand, are more like planned events. In the case of figure skating, a participant usually performs a predetermined routine, with that routine being rehearsed hundreds of times. Nor are there many surprises in the sport of speed skating. Skaters in that sport know their always-counter-clockwise route beforehand, as well as the distance they have to travel.
Okay, let’s now return to the earlier line of thinking — in that some players are naturally quick, and some are by nature smooth in their movements. Let’s next consider the needs of each kind of player. For, doesn’t it make sense that a slow footed skater could use plenty of work on his or her quickness? And, does it make just as much sense that the quick but not so coordinated player could use help with his or her smoothness?
Those things in mind, I’m going to suggest that the quick but rough-around-the-edges player would likely benefit from a little work at body and blade control — or the things a figure skating instructor might be able to help with. As for the hockey player who is already smooth but lacks quickness, I’ll suggest that a figure skating kind of practice would only reinforce the slowness.
Don’t get me wrong here… The skating segments of my clinics and team practices include a little of everything — from figures-type work to some speed skating drills to exercises borrowed from quickness and agility kinds of sports. (I even borrow some skate sharpening techniques from speed skaters, but that’s a story for another time.) My reasoning: Quite obviously, players within my group have numerous and varied needs, which means that I have to cover all the bases.
Finally, I hope members soon come to know that I like to answer most questions in the way I’ve just done for Ravi. Oh sure, if I watched him take one twirl around the ice I’d likely know exactly how to advise him. However, I’d much prefer to arm him and my other CoachChic.com friends with as much information as possible. In that way, every different type of skater should be able to troubleshoot his or her own needs.
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Actually, this topic should have been one of the very first ones addressed here. After all, isn’t skate tying part of the foundation for all a hockey player will do once he or she hits the ice? Thankfully, though, a member recently mentioned his bout with “lace bite”, which caused me to put the following together — for him and for all my other CoachChic.com friends…
Now, we have to begin with a premise (or two) here. I mean, the greatest skate tying job in the world isn’t going to help a player if his or her skate boots aren’t 1) of good quality and 2) properly fit. Those things assured, the boots should support a player through the rigors of hockey movements, even with a poorly done lacing.
And that last point is important to keep in mind as we go about tying the skates. In other words, a quality boot that fits right is already somewhat supporting the feet…
- So, understand that there is absolutely no need to pull the laces very tightly in the lower to middle eyelet areas. Worse yet, to tie the laces extra tightly over the arch area of the foot is going to put pressure on the arch, and it’s also likely to cut-off blood flow (since this area contains blood vessels that supply the lower portion of the foot). My advice then is to tie the lower and mid eyelets as you would dress shoes or sneakers.
- The real “support” in a skate boot stems from the leather (or more likely the modern day synthetic materials) that surround the ankle. And it’s the top three or four eyelets that — when pulled pretty tightly — will draw the skate boot snuggly around the ankle. (The number of holes involved in this can vary, but it is usually in the ball park of three or four eyelets.)
That’s it, folks.. Because there’s no real supportive impact in the lower to middle holes, and because there’s a danger of causing great pain by tying those areas too tightly, the laces down below should be left relatively loose. And, because the top eyelets are the ones that affect support, these are the only ones that should be pulled snugly.
Then, a few more tips…
After years of video analysis, I can spot from the far end of the rink a player with excess tape or laces wrapped around the ankles. There’s something unnatural — or rather robotic — to his or her movement, because they’ve lost the ability to really flex or snap the ankle from being so encumbered. (In a way, they’ve pretty much removed the ankle joint from the skating motion.)
Like the premise that skates should be of good quality and fit properly, it just makes sense that spending $2 for the right length laces is worthwhile. And, although there’s nothing wrong with using a light wrap of tape to just keep the lace-bow in place, excess tape should not be used in an attempt to gain extra support (hey, good boots and the right lace job take care of that).
Now, I’m always fearful of sharing this last tip, mainly because I don’t want the parents of younger, weaker skaters rushing things (let them first learn to skate and let them develop some foot strength). However — and this might help that skate bite victim… A lot of years ago, a pretty stylish skating pro player suggested I try not using the very top eyelets in my skates. (He was talking about stopping short at the next to last hole on each boot.) As he said (and it’s the very opposite of what those who bind their ankles with tape or laces achieve), “It really helps to get more flex at the end of each thrust!” I tried, I loved it, and I’ve ever since I’ve been advising my older players to do just that.
Since this article has brought about some spirited discussion by way of member Comments, I thought I’d add the following picture just so that we could all have a pair of skates in view while pondering various opinions…
Q: Alex, a local friend (and a hockey parent), said he’d read my article on Planning Tonight’s Hockey Practice. I guess he liked the fact that I was firm in my commitment to get certain things done on a given night. But, he wondered if I REALLY stuck to that plan.
Hmmmmmm… Actually, the more I thought about his question, the more I thought my answer would benefit both coaches and parents.
A: Quite honestly, I’d have to say that I stick to my plan something like 98% of the time. I mean that.
I don’t know how other coaches or parents feel about this, but I usually don’t finalize my plan until a few hours before I head to the rink.
Most of our practices fall about 2-days after a previous practice or a game. And there’s something to be said for designing the next practice while the last session is still fresh in my mind. (I wouldn’t criticize another coach for doing just that.)
Of course, I have my game notes — and notes from earlier practices — to fall back on, so I’m not likely to forget too much in reference to the kids’ needs. At the same time, I like to rely some on my gut. In other words, my players are going to get the most from me if I’m really into the practice. So, the final plan is likely a mix of exactly what the guys need, and what I’m really going to enjoy teaching.
Okay, so when do I vary from the script?
Sometimes I realize that I’ve either over-shot or under-shot my players’ capabilities in a given drill. So, even though they don’t realize it, I’ll make a small adjustment of some sort to give the guys a fairer challenge.
Probably the greatest reason to change things comes from our practice attendance. For example, imagine if my game notes dictate that I help a given kid (or two or three) in a certain area, and I put a detailed drill into the practice just to help him (or them). Then, picture that the kid or kids who need help don’t show. (Darn.) So, I’ll probably see that drill coming-up, and I’ll substitute something else in its place.
I think a coach also has to read the mood of his or her team… Now, I’m not talking about changing things every other night. No, it’s important to stick to a plan, and to get as much repetition in as possible — from practice to practice to practice. At the same time, there will usually be two or three times in a long, grueling season when we coaches can just see “that look” on our players’ faces. We can tell they need a change-of-pace, and we probably ought to give it to them — right then and there.
Two follow-up points on the latter problem…
First, parents would be wise to monitor their young athlete’s mood year-round. As I’ve said elsewhere, “Sometimes it pays to just go dawgoned fishing!”
Secondly, and as I’ve also pointed-out elsewhere, there are some real benefits to “going fishing” or blowing-up a practice practice.
Oh, and by the way… When I suggest I’m blowing-off a practice, that doesn’t mean that session won’t have huge value. For, while we might not work on our forecheck or powerplay that night, we are probably going to do some things that will cause my players to both laugh a lot and leave the rink absolutely exhausted. What I’m talking about is a solid hour of races, weird games, and other confrontational activities the kid want to succeed at. Ya — just for a night, your players and mine will go all-out in that kind of practice, just so they can own temporary bragging rights. Again, I might do this only a few times per season. And again, I’ll tell you that the times I’ve done it have reaped us huge rewards for months to come.
Finally, I do really think we (players, parents and coaches) have to stick to a plan. However, if either a small or large change needs to be made, I think we’re doing the right thing by altering that plan.
The following is another great question sent me via the Youth Sports Coalition. As with many others, it’s a real challenge. More importantly. I believe my answer is something every CoachChic.com member ought to consider.
– Dennis Chighisola
Q: Anonymous asks a pretty tough question, and one for which there probably isn’t a right or wrong answer. As the parent of a second year Bantam describes the situation, his/her son is currently extremely small compared to others in his age group. Perhaps repeating some medical advice, Anonymous does state that, “…it will be several years before he will start to catch up size wise to his peers.” With that, the parent asks for advice on two hockey playing options for next year — one offering more practices but possibly less game-time, the other likely to give the boy more playing time but less practice. Oh, then he/she suggests a third possible option, as in, “Is it time to just give up on hockey?”
A: If anyone wants my opinion when faced with a choice between games and practices, I’ll always opt for more practices. Practices are where players get to hone their skills; no one ever improved from playing in a game (I could write the equivalent of “War and Peace” on this subject).
That said, the mentioning of a third option by Anonymous bothers me a little. I mean, I’m wondering if the idea of packing it in is just something that’s crossing the parent’s mind, or is it a feeling the youngster has openly expressed. No matter, please read on…
Actually, I can’t help raising a point I think about often. You see, all winter long I get to watch the guys coming and going from a local senior league that plays next door to where my team practices. It’s a night-out for those older guys — feeling part of a team again, getting some exercise, hanging long after their games to have a few beers, swap war stories and have some laughs. The funny thing is, the teams are a mix of former NHL players and other old pros, long ago college players and probably some guys who didn’t play that high when they were younger. Plenty of my former high school and college players are there too, which brings me to sense that they must have really loved the game if they’re still at it.
And that’s the point I want to raise for Anonymous’ sake, in that, on a Monday night in Hingham, MA, it seems to matter not where the guys had been long before. As a matter of fact, it appears to me that all of those senior league members have returned to where they began, just playing the game for the love of it. And if we think about it further, the guys who reached fairly high levels only stayed there for a fraction of all the time they’ve played. Or, said yet another way, they’ve spent most of their lives playing just for the love of it.
Now, if Anonymous can agree with what I’ve said to this point, perhaps the most important next step is to resolve his/her son’s reason for playing. Oh, hockey isn’t for everyone, and there are countless other things a young teen can do for enjoyment. However, if the boy feels as I suspect — still loving the game, this might at least help ease some current bumps in the road. Perspective is everything, you know. And by that, I’ll suggest that the best and the least players on any young team had better not be going to the rink on a given night with visions of the NHL (whatever). No, I think it better that every youngster head-out with a smile, and mainly just for the love of it.
I hope Anonymous understands why I dealt primarily with the larger question here. For, that solved, it’ll probably become clearer which team his/her son should aim for.
Then, despite my 40-ish years in the game, I wouldn’t dare predict which young players will or won’t “make it” in the end (and I’ll further suggest that professional scouts couldn’t do any better). Sure, anyone can spot the kid with potential on a given night. But things change rapidly in a youngster’s life — physically and interest-wise. Besides, it’s hard to measure what’s inside a young player, beginning with his love of the game.
To go along with all my other fun hockey duties, I’ve just recently become an adviser (or expert) with the Youth Sports Coalition, primarily attempting to help hockey parents, coaches and players with their skills related training problems. And, although the following question (submitted by a YSC member) doesn’t really deal with a training challenge, I think it truly is something most newer hockey families face.
– Dennis Chighisola
Q: Stacy, a concerned hockey parent, wonders whether an 8-year old son is in the right place for his skill development and competitiveness. Stacy notes the options — like house or travel teams, and then asks if a young player might be better-off waiting until he is older and more competitive before trying a higher level of play.
A: To begin, let me provide my personal take on the differences between house leagues and travel teams…
For sure, there ought to be a place where youngsters can play hockey without having to be overly committed. The house programs I’ve seen through the years tend to offer just that — with one game per week, maybe an occasional practice, everything taking place at the neighborhood rink, and all this coming at a relatively low cost.
Each of the above categories are adjusted a little (or a lot) when one makes a so-called travel team. Regular practice is an important part of these programs, some teams can play more than a game per week, games likely take place at a number of “away” rinks, and some distant tournaments might even spice-up the playing schedule. Of course, all these extra offerings do come at a steeper price.
I must say that I’ve noticed most hockey parents choosing the house league option for their own reasons. I can’t blame them for having to weigh the costs. But I also sense a lot of parents opt for the lesser commitment to fit their own personal lifestyles. So I tend to admire Stacy’s question, in that an 8-year old boy’s needs seem to be the main concern.
Oh, a first aside… I know it’s hard to predict what a youngster is going to want 5-years from now. However, if Stacy even senses that the 8-year old is going to want to make a high school hockey team someday, a course of action should be evident in awhile.
Now, let me draw some other distinctions between the two levels, at least as this old coach sees them…
By its very nature, a house league can probably only promise some fun and a chance for a youngster to tell friends he or she plays hockey. If Stacy is looking for true development, it isn’t likely to take place here.
As a second aside… I’ve always felt that the quality of coaching at a given youth level has a lot to do with the available “parent pool”. In other words, if the coach of a given team is going to come from among that team’s parents, there are likely to be more knowledgeable guys and gals available at the AAA level than in a house league. To explain further, I believe that a lot of players make higher level teams because their parents are pretty savvy about the game.
Make no mistake about it, Stacy, your son can’t truly develop unless he gets great coaching. (In my book, “coaching” and “teaching” are synonymous.)
As far as advice goes, I think there’s an in-between option for Stacy’s son (and others facing similar decisions). For, within most travel programs, each level is usually divided into at least three teams, with each team stocked with similarly skilled players. These “A”, “B” and “C” teams also usually adjust their competitiveness to fit the ages and abilities of their players. So, what I’m suggesting is that an on-the-fence 8-year old might get quite a bit more by moving to at least a “C” level team. Actually, there’s probably little difference in the competitiveness at the house and “C” levels. Yet, the latter represents a small step towards a youngster eventually making stronger teams. And it also gives gives the parent and player a season to make a more educated decision the next time around.
Thanks for the great question, Stacy, and good luck!
Q: Sid, a hockey coach from Ontario, notes that his team’s passing skills “weren’t all that great” over the past season, and he’s asking for any sort of help I might be able to provide towards improving that skill with next year’s team.
A: I have a great video on that subject that I promise to post as soon as I can. In the meantime…
Recalling my long ago studies in the old USSR, I’ll never forget a lunchtime break I spent outside the Spartak Sports Complex in Moscow, this with a couple of my study group buddies and a former Soviet player who was acting as our interpreter. For, the moment I mentioned passing, Nikita’s eyes lit-up, and my views on that subject began to change forever.
In most instances, North American youth hockey parents and a lot of youth coaches view passing as purely a tactical ploy. Oh, for sure, it is an important part of our game’s X’s and O’s — advancing the puck up-ice quickly, moving the puck to an open teammate, etc.
What lots of folks fail to really think about — and what Nikita made me overly aware of — is the great skill required to make good passes, to get open properly, and to then receive the pass. (For a good reminder on where passing falls within our game, I highly suggest reviewing CoachChic’s Building Blocks Approach to Skills.)
Now, Sid, as it so happens I felt kids on my recent junior high school team were also struggling with their passing game. A good many of them were new with me, so they brought with them the aforementioned problem — of seeing it less as a skill and more a matter of tactics.
Thankfully, I thought back to something I didn’t see in Moscow but did hear about. What I understand is that some Soviet coaches had their players practice with sticks that had about half their blades missing.
I decided to try this approach with my kids, and I gave them and their parents a few weeks warning. In other words, I asked them to be on the look-out for discarded sticks with just a portion of the blade missing, and then gave them a target date for when we’d begin using them. I also asked parents to trim the blades — or smooth them so they posed no real safety hazard.
The following video shows one of my players working with his half-stick at a weekly off-ice practice. Once you’ve had the chance to see the stick in use, I’ll add a few more comments below…Loading...
What I realized in our first attempts with the half-sticks was that my kids really had to concentrate.
Thankfully, passers seemed to care more about sending good passes, perhaps because they understood how difficult it was going to be for their partners at the other end to make a catch. From the video, you might notice how much care my young demonstrator makes in sending his passes with long, sweeping motions.
You ought to have also noticed how careful the demonstrator was about catching the pass. I mean, he really had to soften his hands and give with each catch. (I now sense that a full blade sometimes allows the kids to act lazily on their catches.)
By the way… I believe the best passes — and even the best receptions — are made with the heel-to-middle area of a stick-blade (one almost always creates a wobbling pass when sending it from the toe of the blade). So, these half-sticks had a way of forcing my players to only use that heel-to-middle area.
As far as using those sticks… I asked my kids to carry them to every practice session. And, I’d ask my players to switch to those sticks whenever we did a puckhandling or passing drill that didn’t require a slapshot at the end. Interestingly, the kids seemed to like them, because I’d often have individuals ask if they could use their half-sticks at other times.
So, I suggest Sid try these next season with his team, and other coaches should likewise consider giving them a try. Furthermore, I think older players and parents of younger players could find ways to incorporate half-stick training — in team practices or while practicing away from a team.
Q: Michael G. has a tough one, if only because I think anyone’s answer is going to be a matter of opinion. That said, Mike states that, “I see the words “hockey sense” in some articles I have recently read. One is the January issue of USA Hockey, and another in the March 2 sports section of the Boston Globe titled Another Carpenter not to be missed. The phrase “hockey sense” seems to describe the ability of a player to read and react quicker to a play than the other players. My question to you is … Is “hockey sense” something you are born with or can a player develop it over time from strong coaching and game time situations?”
A: As I intimated at the start, I think “hockey sense” is difficult to define. As a matter of fact, I suspect two different observers could watch a given hockey player and have different feelings when it comes to that player’s “hockey sense”.
Still, I think most of us have a fairly good idea of what that phrase means (to us), even if we’re not likely to be able to put it into words.
Actually, two things I’ve written in the past initially come to mind here…
- In just answering Megan B.’s question — about “A Puckhandler’s Field of Vision“, I compared puck-skills with driving a car, and I went on to suggest that we’re not really comfortable with either skill until we’ve done it so many times that it’s almost become an involuntary action (and reaction).
- I long ago did a column for “Hockey/USA” in which I tackled the subject of “Seeing the Ice”. In that, I tried to describe what I felt analysts or color commentators were really trying to say — about the likes of a Gretzky, a Drew Bledsole (he was the Patriots’ budding young quarterback then), and a number of other noted athletes. Interestingly, when I suggested to a former LA King linemate of The Great One that Gretzky had more individual skills “on automatic” than we mere mortals, the former King answered, “Bingo!”
Now, those things mainly focus on physical skills. And I DO believe that great individual skills play a part in a player demonstrating “hockey sense”. (Although a lot of dads — the ones with kids who can’t skate or puckhandle a lick — try to convince me their young ones are really smart out there on the ice, I have a hard time believing those kids are ever going to get to show their smarts beyond youth hockey!)
Then — and once a player has his or her hockey skills pretty much on automatic, there’s obviously a mental component to that “hockey sense” thing.
For part of this, I’ll refer Mike and other members to the video I created on “Critical Periods in Motor Learning”. For, I truly believe that we humans learn (or don’t learn) many traits necessary to “sport sense” during infancy and just slightly beyond. Picture, for example, a ball or puck moving and an athlete moving to intercept it. Would you believe that some athletes find this simple tracking skill easier than others? And, I’ll suggest that some other very basic — but very critical — human/sport skills (like balance, proprioception and hand/eye coordination) are either learned or not learned when the timing is right. As I suggest in that video — and backed by some other very knowledgeable folks, the brain and all the signaling devices to the muscles have to be developed very early-on.
Next, there is the need for a player to “read” and “react” according to solid, time-tested hockey playing principles.
So, where do the influences come from that help one play with so-called “hockey sense”? Well, when it comes to certain basic abilities, I’ll suggest that they’re a combination of genetics and environment (as in the things youngsters are exposed to during “Critical Periods in Motor Learning“). Those who should know this stuff will also suggest that hockey players should dabble in other sports — because these not only make him or her more athletic, but other sports also challenge players to deal with new mental challenges (think about that one). Of course, most players rely on a wise and artful coach to instill the necessary individual hockey skills and to teach solid playing principles. Oh, ya, and I’ll suggest that knowledgeable parents can help in many ways.
Finally, Mike and other members might now understand why I’ve structured this site the way I have. I mean, I couldn’t see the sense in helping a player to be better skilled while ignoring his or her abilities to “think the game”. Nor could I see advising a player to be smarter without helping him or her attain the skill level necessary to executing all the X’s and O’s. So, if you get my drift, I very much feel hockey training has to be approached in almost a holistic way.
Oh, as a PS (and a very important one): Guess what. Over the past month I’ve been dealing with some specialist so that I might launch yet another category here at CoachChic.com. The title of that new area? “Mental Training”! And, as my very first installment, I’m going to introduce something I developed long ago called my “Think ‘n Skate” program. Ah, you’re going to love it, Michael!
Q: Megan B. thanks the old coach for answering her previous question (but hey, that’s what I’m here for!). Then she goes on, “I’m wondering now about how to develop better vision on the ice when I’m handling the puck… I tend to get tunnel vision when I try to break the puck out of the zone, which – frankly – drives me, my coaches, and my teammates nuts. The problem only shows up when I have the puck on my stick. Otherwise I play quite well… There’s just something about the puck that narrows my field of vision. Advice?
A: Actually, Megan, you can put yourself in with countless other players I see in my rink travels, including guys playing at some fairly high levels. What I’m talking about are players who can skate like the wind and play good defense, but their game slows almost to a halt once they have a puck on their stick.
Now, I’m going to once again refer to my Building Blocks view of offensive skills, suggesting that puckhandling is the Number Two skill, right after skating. For, how else can a puckcarrier control that little black thing and at the same time scan the ice for enemy checkers and open teammates?
Next, this brief aside… To begin, try to remember your first time driving a car. In all likelihood your hands were squeezing the juice out of the steering wheel, your eyes were glued straight ahead, and your body was so rigid you could hardly stand it. Remember too, trying to remember where everything was — I mean the brake, the turn signal switch, the…? (Got you giggling, Megan?) Next, fast-forward to today… For, you likely tune your radio, check your hair in the mirror, take a sip of coffee and fish for something in your briefcase without even thinking about driving the car. Why so? It’s because you’ve driven a car so many times that the movements and reactions are almost on automatic — they’ve almost become involuntary movements akin to breathing.
Of course, you’ve probably already guessed where I’m going with this… For, right now I’m suggesting that you’re puckhandling skills are pretty close to where you were as a rookie driver. Chances are your puck movements aren’t anywhere near involuntary status yet; if fact, my guess is that you have to look down at the puck a lot, and you probably panic a bit as soon as a rival checker comes your way.
Okay, so how do we fix all that? For sure, experience with the puck is going to solve a lot of your problems — just like experience behind the wheel ultimately helped with your driving skills. Better yet, the new Incredible Stickhandling course I’ve just posted is aimed at taking you from beginner to advanced over the summer months (so that you’ll be more than comfortable with a puck next fall). I suspect that course will be fun for you (and it should be). And trust The Old Coach by doing things his way, like not rushing to get through the exercises. Then, there is ultimately going to be a series of exercises in that course that are going to deal specifically with the vision issue. (They’re so easy a lot of folks are going to wonder why they hadn’t thought of them!)
Honest to goodness, that course will solve anyone’s puckhandling problems. It’s likely to make a patient follower extremely strong with the puck, and it’s surely going to make fall’s games more fun. (I promise, Megan!)
The good part of this Q and A section is that I’m getting to make some great new friends, and the ones I’ve answered here so far have submitted some great questions. If there’s a tough part about this, it’s that I’m already getting overwhelmed (the first month into this new site)! So, please be patient with me (hey, I’m trying to hurry – LOL); I intend to answer each and every question — promise!
– Dennis C
Q: Jackson H. asks for some ideas for timing his team’s breakout, especially when it comes to when his off-side winger starts moving down the ice. The immediate problem, as Jackson notes, is that, “We have one winger on our team that always seems to leave a little too early, making it difficult for the centre or puck side winger to pass to him.” In particular, Jackson is looking for some sort of a cue to give kids in that position, as in, “Don’t cross the _____ before _____…”
A: Right off the bat, I have to give Coach H. credit in looking for simple cues. That’s what our job should be about as coaches, simplifying the game for our players any time we can.
That said, I think much of what we’d want here should be based on what we’re trying to accomplish with the far-side guy.
So, being not-so-simple at first, let me provide a little insight into what I like to do… For, both defensively and offensively, I like to create depth in the deployment of my 5-skaters. As this translates to my breakouts, it would likely have two defensemen back aways at first, a puck-side winger and centerman moving mid-defensive zone, and the far-side winger moving into neutral ice.
I think one cue that would help Jackson’s guy quite a bit (and his currently not doing this is likely the real problem), is that the off-side winger shouldn’t take-off until he’s absolutely sure the puck is being moved safely to the second wave (the other winger or the center). That, in of itself, will probably prevent a far-side guy from getting too far ahead of his mates.
I might add a second thought here, as well… I’ve noticed some of my lead breakout guys sometimes moving so far ahead of their teammates that their stick-blades are blocked by a rival defenseman. I mean, my centerman or winger with the puck is trying to feed that guy with a cross-ice pass, but an opposition defender — or the defender’s stick lies in the way. Really, it’s just a matter of inches — or at most, a few feet, but a clear path MUST be seen from the passer’s stick-blade to the blade of the potential receiver. As simple as that sounds, however, a lot of young players just don’t seem to grasp the concept.
Well, I hope that helped you, Jackson, at least somewhat. If not, though, please don’t hesitate to clarify your question even further.
Q: Nancilee H. notes that, “Women are a different breed of player than the men.” And she goes on to ask, “How can someone pick the right equipment for their game?” And, “Are there any brands that are better suited for a woman?”
A: Ah, what a difference a generation makes! I mean, not too long ago the few girls who were playing hockey had to get by with whatever they could fit into (from gear that was really designed for boys or men). Not so today, though. The popularity of young ladies’ hockey has brought about a lot of changes, including quite a few pieces of hockey gear made just for women.
As for the individual articles, I’d suggest a new player visit a pro shop she trusts — especially when it comes to the protective gear. I don’t think it necessary to go into each individual piece, except…
I purposely posed The First Rules in Speed Training and my video on Over-speed Training very early, because I’ll need to refer back to them often. That’s the case here, as I recommend that Nancilee and all women of slight stature seek gear that 1) is very light, and 2) allows free movement of the limbs. Remember: heavy or bulky gear is not only going to slow movements or get in the way of nice, smooth moves, but it’s also likely to teach you to be slow.
On recommending brands… I find this difficult to do today, because new gear is always hitting the marketplace, and it’s quite often better than those I just endorsed.
Then, there’s the matter of the hockey stick… Ever since young girls and older women started playing this game, I’ve recommended they use a “junior model” stick. These always satisfied their unique needs, in that those sticks are nice and light, they have scaled-down shafts for smaller hands, and they’re flexible enough so that they can be easily bent (which enhances the user’s wrist and slap shot).
Finally, I’ve just been made aware of a company that actually offers sticks designed for women. As I’ve recommended for years, they’re supposedly light, thin and have nice flex. They’re called Stix-for-Chix, and they can be found at The Hockey Czech Republic!
Hoping this helped, Nancilee. Thanks for the question!
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!
Q: Fritz, the dad of an 8-year old, notes that, “My son is currently using a Sherwood PW wood stick.” He goes on to ask, “Are there any benefits to using composite?” Then, showing he’s a pretty wise hockey dad, he also mentions the fact that a lot usually has to be cut from the butt-ends of his son’s sticks due to his smaller stature.
A: Addressing first things first, I’ll suggest that a wooden stick is good enough for a young player, so long as it is light, and so long as it has a thin enough shaft to accommodate the youngster’s small hands. Truly, light and thin sticks help a young player develop quick hands (while heavy and thick ones tend to slow his or her movements, and thereby teach the hands to work slowly).
In the bigger picture, I might lean towards composite sticks for most older players. I say most, because local pro shops aren’t likely to have on hand the quality wooden sticks available to the pros (and other elite players). The point I’m really get at here has to do with consistency — as in it being more likely we can find close to an identical balance or feel in composite sticks of the same make and model.
Then, in reference to Fritz’s comment — about having to shorten his son’s sticks… He obviously knows that any reduction in length also lessens the stick’s flexibility. In other words, while a stick may feel proper when taken right from the rack, it’s going to feel at least slightly different once it’s cut down. And, shooting strength is primarily derived from a player’s ability to greatly flex his or her stick shaft.
Finally, sometime back I created an extremely informative video called “YOUR Stick“. Understand that it runs the gamut — from absolute beginners to very advance players. So, I advise Fritz (and other members) to watch the entire video, thereby being able to grab the various parts that apply to his son’s current needs. I promise, just about everything one needs to know about sticks — from selection to cutting to taping — will be found in that little video. (It’s linked directly up above, or look for it under General Skills Advice.)
Q: Deb, a Colorado-based coach of high school aged kids, asks for advice on managing players with emotional problems. She goes on to point-out that, attending to their needs can tend to consume a lot of the team’s practice time.
A: To begin, Deb shouldn’t feel alone. In fact, over the many years I’ve had a special section in my player application forms for noting such needs, the number of kids with ADD, ADHD and other special learning problems has drastically increased with each passing season.
I might suggest that Deb and other coaches do something like I’ve mentioned above, by acquiring the necessary information on all the players long prior to a season’s start. (Absent a request, parents might let their child’s coach know in advance if there’s a learning problem of any kind. I think it’s THAT important for a coach to know.) Just knowing about the various kids’ needs will be helpful. Moreover, I actually have a lot of parents amazed — and thanking me — because I asked for that input.
Next, those of us in charge of any group have to realize that each individual has slightly different learning needs (and I’m talking about everyone here, including those without learning difficulties). To mention just a few… There are those who learn best by seeing the information presented, there are those who prefer to hear it, and there are those who do best in a discussion-like format. That said, it’s necessary for us to frequently vary our presentation approach so that we meet player’s needs. (I’ll have to remember to post some ideas on that subject in a future post.)
Finally — and with all due regard for our presentation techniques, I’m going to suggest that the slightly hyper kids crave less talking and more action. So, a fairly fast paced and physically challenge practice probably keeps their attention best. Better yet, I might be inclined to hold a few competitions per practice — like races, and games of tag and keepaway.
Any members have additional ideas?
Q: The mom of a student I’ve had regularly in The MOTION Lab, Sue, wonders about the merits of having a slideboard around her house.
A: Hmmmmm… A great question, a great tool, and an even better subject for discussion. In particular, that “having a slideboard around her house” part gives me an opportunity to offer some thoughts — and a little bit of scientific advice — when it comes to using such a tool…
First, should Sue or her husband (or any other non-skater in the household) seek some effective exercise, I’d say, “Go to it!” Work on a slideboard can surely challenge a user’s legs, buns and more. I’ll also suggest that a moderately paced, extended “skate” would provide a great low-impact aerobic workout.
That said, serious skaters have to be a whole lot more mindful of their aims when on a slideboard. The primary purposes of this tool are to 1) commit proper striding technique to muscle-memory, and to 2) strengthen and condition those muscles associated with forward striding.
FYI… I want my players to be explosive in their skating, and I also think that an athlete’s concentration dwindles as he or she spends more and more time at any given exercise. So, I prefer that skaters get their aerobic conditioning in other ways.
Which means that Coach Chic highly recommends short, relatively intense bouts on the board, these performed with very careful attention to proper full-body mechanics.
Also, know that I use different boards for different age groups. For, while younger — or weaker — kids often revert to terrible techniques in order to propel themselves across a board that is too long, a stronger skater can’t get full leg-extension if the board is too short.
Q: An Arizona-based hockey mom writes seeking some oft requested advice… She says that her boy has been complaining about his skates a lot lately, and that he’s even cried at times because his feet hurt so badly. Then, noting that the current skates are hand-me-downs from a cousin, she asks for advice in the purchase of her son’s first pair of new hockey skates.
A: Not that there is a single piece of UNimportant hockey gear, but… If I had to prioritize equipment purchases, I’d allot the majority of my budget to 1) good quality, properly-fit skates and 2) a safe helmet and mask assembly. Thereafter, go with used or hand-me-down stuff. (As an FYI, my next focus would be on those articles of equipment that can either slow or help quicken hand and foot movements.)
Now, passion for the rink is paramount to any player’s growth. I mean, it’s essential that he or she really look forward to getting to their next practice or game. However, as this hockey mom is discovering, skates can have a huge bearing on a youngster’s comfort and enjoyment during the learning process. They’ll even affect a beginner’s ability to execute various movements and to thusly gain the confidence to take-on far greater challenges.
So, starting with the initial problem, let me bet my house on the likelihood that my young Arizona friend’s skates are either too small or they are being tied improperly. I’ll deal with the first point shortly, but let me initially explain the skate-tying process…
Appreciate that nothing — I said nothing — can be done to overcome skate-boots that are either broken-down or too large. Additional support can’t be found in extra pairs of socks. And, pulling the laces too tightly over the arch-area will likely cause pain in of itself, and also cut-off blood flow to the toes. This in mind, the lowest eyelets should only be tied like sneakers or dress shoes. Just about all of a skate’s support is found in the boot’s ankle-area. So, it’s essential to seat the heel all the way back into the boot, and then snug-up about the top three eyelets so that the leather (or whatever) is pulled firmly around the ankle. Don’t wrap excess lacing around the ankle, but instead tie a double-bow or acquire the correct length laces.
As for proper fitting, appreciate that we can’t feel through the toe of a skate as we might shoes or sneakers. So, it’s necessary to reverse the measuring procedure… Remove most of the lacing so that the tongue of the boot can be pulled all the way forward. Next, have the player slide his or her foot all the way forward until the toes hit the end of the boot. This done, measure the excess space left between the player’s heel and the back of the boot. To derive the most support and feel from the boot, this excess space should be no more than about the width of a pencil.
Then, on socks and growth… Fitting might be done while the player is wearing thin sport-hose. As growth occurs, the thickness of the socks might be reduced. (FYI… A lot of my advanced players have worn women’s knee-highs — for a lot of reasons. And, a great many advanced players prefer making themselves feel “one with the boot” by going barefoot.)
Finally, I’m guessing something within the above helps that hockey mom solve her lad’s problem. Still, if she or her husband has a related question or needs clarification, I invite them to email me directly. Good luck!