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Deflections: Evaluating talent – skill tests vs. scrimmage


After years of coaching and teaching the game, one thing still leaves me stumped: how on earth do you score a child’s skill test results?

My background and early training in university, along with skills instruction from some terrific hockey teachers were heavily focused on analysis and correction. You know what a skill’s components are; you see what’s wrong; you break it down; you find ways to correct it.

This was actually easier with elite teenagers than, say, house league kids. Elite players were motivated to do whatever it took. House league kids not so much, plus they lacked many of the essential balance and fundamental movement tools.

So when a local association board member took me to task on my suggestion to replace skills tests with scrimmages, I had to resort to skill analysis mode. The idea was that to place house league kids on teams at certain levels one had to see them play in games. The obverse of my point, as this chap voiced it, was that skill tests did the same thing. I’ll skip by the fact a few people like him felt that what had always been done needn’t be changed. However, they wanted to give scores for each child’s performance on a test. From these scores they’d place kids on teams.

The actual tests don’t matter. My response was something like this: Child A weaves through a pylon test quickly, loses the puck twice, and misses a pylon. Child B goes more slowly, doesn’t lose the puck, but never places his feet in the proper position for a tight turn. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is the best, what score do you give each and why? No one could answer me – In fact, I couldn’t either.

What were the test criteria? Completion of the pylon course? Puck retention? Proper execution of the turns AND puck retention? Speed? Speed regardless of losing the puck? Not missing a pylon? Impossible to say.

Skill tests do have a place. They allow one to establish - with the right criteria - benchmarks for checking on skill progress over a season. But to place kids on teams of various levels according to some arbitrary scoring system with vague rationales makes no sense on any level.

At least with scrimmages, one can say the kids are getting a fair chance to show what they can do – not to mention it being a lot more fun. While giving scores for scrimmage play will always be subjective to some degree, at least there’s a more direct link to the objective. Which is, what can the child do in a game?

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