Having the Hockey Skills to Make It!
September 19, 2012 by Dennis Chighisola
This could have just as easily have been titled “As Seen Through A Scout’s Eyes”. That’s where the following observations came from.
Actually, another scout and I were watching some local Junior level games not long ago, when some of the following was discussed.
Then, just recently having shared these ideas as part of an advertisement on my new Florida based website, it struck me that I just had to share this information — and quite a lot more — with my CoachChic.com members.
– Dennis Chighisola
Having the Hockey Skills to Make It!
Before continuing on… Let me mention that I often take breaks in my writing — to stretch the limbs or to rest my eyeballs. I also take mental breaks, which oftentimes have me checking on the latest goings on at Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. And as it so happened, a check on Facebook got me embroiled in troubleshooting a hockey problem posed by the dad of a pretty good 15-year old. So, I’ll include a little about that discussion in here as well..
Here’s how things began… During a break at that Junior tournament, the other coach vented a little frustration at what he’d seen over two nights of play, mumbling something to the effect that, “Those kids are horrible.” He didn’t really mean that, because the kids weren’t exactly horrible. What he was really expressing was a bit of frustration at the things he was seeing, and probably about the things he’d have to correct if he dared sign one of those players. Personally, I was thinking, “Few people up in the stands realize what our eyes are seeing that theirs don’t.”
Here’s what I think (or really know) was going wrong…
Although players and fans (rightly) get excited about a spectacular goal or a thunderous hit, scouts are usually watching a player throughout his entire shift, and we’re watching intently, even when a given player is far away from the puck.
Unfortunately, a lot of players don’t know how to make themselves useful when they don’t have the puck. This too often translates to them almost standing still or gliding around without purpose, when there really should be some purpose. This game is all about pulling together 6-players to attack the opposition net, and 6-players in defense of their own net. (Yes, I even include the goaltender in helping us launch offensive attacks.)
I hate to suggest the following, yet it’s true… Sometimes even pretty good players don’t “look good” as they move around the ice. I almost know that’s a part of what was happening as my fellow coach made his observations — in that most of the guys we watched just didn’t move comfortably, and they didn’t “look like” the experienced hockey players they probably are.
I sense I have a pretty intelligent audience here, and folks who have an idea about what I just said. With that, I hope you can picture along with me…
What I was seeing was team after team of kids with poor skating postures. At times I’d see them moving while almost standing straight up, few of them seemed comfortable moving with their sticks (more on this shortly), and they too often entered collisions not seeming very prepared.
Oh, those hockey sticks… If my fellow coach voiced one of his pet peeves that night, it was about the way the kids were carrying their sticks. As a former pro player, he was critical about the number of guys who went into collisions or body-checks with their sticks held high. But as a long time skills coach, I was as bothered by the fact that most of them seemed uncomfortable with their sticks, in general, and they seemed not to change their grips according to whether they were on offense or defense, or whether defending against a puckcarrier or away from the puck.
In answer to some of that last paragraph, I’m in the process of posting a new drill for you. At this writing, I still need to gather some video footage and photos to demonstrate it. As for much of the other problems we saw with sticks, I highly recommend that members go through the various articles and videos found in this Skills section.
Unfortunately, I sense that too many “vanilla drills” have been used with a lot of the players we were watching. And by vanilla drills, I mean the types of drills that might look good to the folks up in the stands, but aren’t worth much towards the players’ future development, or towards the players’ true needs.
I long ago authored something entitled the “500 Drills” manual, and it was purchased by NHL teams and coaches from other high levels. Yet, I only revert on occasion to any of the old drills I know. The reason: my current players have unique needs, which calls for me to find or create a drill process that helps them.
If you get my drift here, I don’t make a nightly practice plan by just grabbing drills from Category A, Category B, etc. Instead, I’m constantly making note of what difficulties my players are having, and I find a drill to help them. If one doesn’t already exist, I’ll use a little imagination and create one.
The main idea of a good drill is repetition, or repetition of the right mechanics. So, when it comes to those Junior players again, I’m thinking that they haven’t done a whole lot of stuff other than pretty looking vanilla drills.
Now, I kinda hate just talking in negatives here. So, let me at least do my best to turn this towards a positive, or at least provide you some positive advice…
What I’m suggesting is that players, parents and coaches take a look at some game video of a favorite pro, or even watch some of my videos — like on body-checking or breakouts. Watch how a given player “moves” around the ice — like in a seated posture, with the stick always down on the ice, and noticing when the stick should be carried in one hand or two. That, in itself, should help most of you quite a lot.
As for that Facebook exchange I mentioned earlier — with the dad of the 15-year old… It had to do with the dad questioning whether his boy should have been corrected after he scored during the practicing of his team’s powerplay. Hmmmmm…
What made that play a hard one to discuss with the dad was that the boy was successful in the end. In other words, even though he evidently did something that didn’t please his coach, he did score the goal. And I can envision the boy saying, “But, I scored, Coach!”
Well, I can also envision a lot of the Florida kids we were watching the other night (and their parents) thinking similar thoughts to themselves — as in, “Hey I’m a pretty good player amongst my peers!” The problem is, a couple of pretty savvy pairs of eyes watching from rinkside are thinking, “You don’t have what it takes to crack the next level!”
For sure, it’s great for a player to have confidence. At the same time, he has to always be willing to learn more and be able to do more. So should parents want to encourage their youngsters to have good attitudes in that regard, and so do coaches want to constantly rethink what they’re doing or teaching.
Now, as with a lot of philosophical articles like this one, I may have raised as many questions in your mind as provided answers. In that case, I am dying for your questions. Most of what you’ll find here at CoachChic.com is a combination of my experiences and the things you tell me you need or want.
Lastly, that new drill idea is finally completed, it’s something so simple it can be done with Mites to Juniors, it can be done off-ice or on, and you can find it in my latest post, “The Importance of Hockey Specific Drills“.