Are any two hockey plays identical?
Don’t use the pros as your guide. Their skill level, experience, knowledge and ability to assimilate information dwarfs those of mortal beings who tinker at the game.
At the elite junior or midget levels, there are semblances of similar plays, particularly with specialty teams. By that age, players have usually been well coached and have experienced enough to understand how to run a play. However, their youth, exuberance, and impatience sometimes do them in, especially when the opposition does something different or with pressure. Problem solving in a fast-paced sport does not come easily to adolescents.
Which leaves everyone else in the game. If junior kids have difficulty running similar, let alone identical plays, we can’t expect them to happen with younger, less skilled players. Yet I often see coaches running drills where tactical situations are practiced with few, if any, contingencies.
For instance, when was the last time you saw a minor team execute a forecheck pattern the same way, shift in shift out, for an entire period? It sure doesn’t happen often.
I suggest an experiment to illustrate just how much a play changes even when the same circumstances are created.
Set up a 2 on 1 drill from the far blueline while you and your players stand in the two offensive zone corners to observe the attack coming at you. Use the same two forwards and lone defender and have them start the same way from the same place on each repeat.
You’ll notice that even though the same kid may start with the puck, his choices of what to with it and when will vary. Even if you order him to start the identical way as before, even if you tell his partner to follow the same route, even if you order the defender to do the same thing, there will be slight variations in speed and angle. What’s more, having now done this same drill a couple of times, all three players will be looking to make some kind of nuanced change in order to succeed. And of course the goalie will adjust accordingly so that he, too, can succeed.
All of that is if your players will actually do exactly as asked since the will to succeed at a drill (get a goal or shot, stop the play, stop the puck) is likely to trump your orders. Just don’t take it personally. The game is too fluid to have shackles placed on the thinking processes.
So if no two plays are identical, what then must be your approach to practicing tactics?
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