I’m pretty amped up this week because tomorrow I get to share something with you that I’ve been holding back for way too long. Make sure you check back tomorrow!
Over the last two weeks I’ve written quite a bit about the various components of long-term hockey development. If you haven’t already, you can check out those posts here:
Hockey Development Post 1 –>> The State of Youth Hockey
Hockey Development Post 2 –>> Hockey Development Resistance
Hockey Development Post 3 –>> The Truth About Practice: The 10,000 Hour Rule
Today, I want to keep it a little lighter and just list some quick ideas on how we can improve our player development systems.
- Practice more. Play less. It’s amazing that almost all youth teams play more games than NCAA D1 hockey teams and have a comparable travel schedules. The next time you’re at a youth game, follow one player and document the amount of time they’re on the ice, the amount of time they have a puck on their stick, the number of passes they give/accept, and the number of shots they take. You can do this 10,000 times and you’ll always come back with the same result. Most players have more puck contact time in a single practice (even a poorly designed one) than they will in a month of games.
- More active practices. Perform a similar tracking activity as above during practice. How much time, both in absolute terms and relative to the total practice time, does the player spend skating and with a puck on his/her stick? How many passes? How many shots? Poorly designed practices will out-perform games in these measures EVERY time, but looking at these statistics will surely demonstrate that we can make better use of our ice time. Players need to move and handle a puck to develop skating and puck skills. Do chalk talks and explain the drills off the ice. At younger ages, there should be more moving than not. 60 minute practice? AT LEAST 30 minutes of movement (standing in line doesn’t count). No exceptions.
- Allow time for unstructured play (pick-up). Almost no organizations do this. Small area games are a step in the right direction. Providing open ice for players to scrimmage and have fun is even better. Coaches can supervise, but not coach. Players will develop skills and learn to compete while developing a passion for the game. It’s a win for everyone.
- Put more kids on the ice at younger levels. Pro teams might need full ice for practices. The overwhelming majority of youth teams don’t. Colleges put 30 kids on the ice at once. Why do 10-year olds need a full sheet for 12 kids? Putting multiple teams on the ice at once will either increase the number of ice sessions available for players or decrease the cost associated for the same number of sessions. Either way the kids and families win. Don’t worry about mixing kids from various talent pools. Kids shouldn’t be divided by talent younger than 10 anyway, and if coaches run quality practices with a lot of skill work, the discrepancy in ability won’t play an important factor in the fluidity of the practice OR the improvement of the players.
- Put less kids on each team at younger levels. Less kids means more ice time, more opportunities to touch the puck, more opportunities to read and react to the play, more development. It’s not necessary to roll three lines with young kids. Go with two and let kids play more. They’ll develop more and have more fun. Kids want to play, not sit on the bench.
- Train more. Hockey has replaced preparation with more competition. The players that sacrifice off-ice training to play in prospect camps get hurt. Short-term exposure should never be prioritized over long-term development.
- Teach nutrition. Most players eat too little (even the ones that think they eat a lot) and rarely consume a quality nutrient. Why nutrition is thought of as a passive relative to peak performance is beyond me. What you eat provides the fuel for EVERYTHING that a player does and all of the internal reactions of his/her body. It often explains why well-conditioned players feel tired, make poor decisions, and begin to feel run down throughout the season. Nutrition fuels recovery. Over time, a lack of proper nutrition and consequent under recovery causes overtraining symptoms and can result in injury. As a last point, remember that if your games take two hours, and you ate your pre-game meal 3 hours before the game, you won’t have consumed anything to provide you with energy for over 4.5 hours when the third period rolls around. Pre-game, in-game, post-game, and throughout the day nutrition are ALL important.
- More parental support. Less parental coaching (unless they’re the actual coach). Dan Bauer says it best in his article “Great Advice to Star the Season“
- Give the refs a break (they’re all bad anyway). I use to tell the players on my team that all refs were terrible so don’t complain when they make a bad call. It’s expected. To be fair to the refs, every call will be perceived as bad by someone (coach, player, parent, etc.). They do the job to the best of their abilities. Sometimes they do well; other times they don’t. It rarely dictates the outcome of a game. Complaining is a sign of mental weakness, and almost never improves your position in the ref’s eyes. Be smart. Be tough. Be quiet.
- Improve skills off the ice. Ice time is expensive, practicing stickhandling and shooting off the ice is not. Grab a wooden ball and spend time handling it on all sides of the body, on two feet with and without weight shifts, and on one foot with and without weight shifts. Incorporate dynamic movement into these skills by throwing on a pair of rollerblades. Buy a cheap piece of plexiglass and practice taking wrist shots, snap shots, and backhanders from a variety of body positions. It’s not the same as on-ice work, but it will transfer.
I realize that’s a random smattering of recommendations, but hopefully you got some good ideas from it. In general, these recommendations come back to a few basic concepts:
- Increase activity time during practices
- Provide more opportunities for skill development during practices, games, and off the ice
- Everyone involved needs to respect every other person’s role (coaches, players, refs, parents, etc.)
Remember, if the goal is to have a player fulfill his/her potential, it’s going to take time and patience. It’s a LONG-TERM process. Think of it that way. Keep doing the right things and it’ll pay off in the long haul.
To your success,
P.S. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow!
P.S.2. If you think other players, parents, coaches, friends, family members, or co-workers would benefit from this information, please pass it along!
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