While teaching in hockey schools, I earned a marvelous education in how to/not to conduct teaching sessions using stations.
Granted, off-season hockey schools require a different approach than in-season teams. One major difference is the sheer numbers. It’s not unusual for schools to have 40 or more children on the ice. You can have quite a disparate array of skills on the ice, so homogeneous groups in stations is essential.
With a team, setting up stations for skill or multitask skill instruction is trickier. As I wrote last week, the number of stations should be dependent on the number of quality coaches you have available. But there’s another factor: do you spend a specified amount of time in each station or change stations only when most of the kids have done enough reps to show they’re getting somewhere with the skill?
Normally, coaches set a time frame per station and rotate once that time is reached, regardless of whether the kids showed improvement in the skill. This makes sense for a few reasons. For one, we’re locked into a tight time period on the ice. There’s no flexibility such as in a classroom or on a soccer field. As well, it’s much more manageable. Thirdly, it mostly eliminates the coaching burden of determining when exactly it’s time to move on.
From a learner’s perspective though, rotating stations according to the kids’ needs and improvement makes more sense. You could tell coaches they’ll rotate sometime within a 10-15 minute block. Then, during the teaching, speak to each coach to find out if their kids are showing some progress. Eventually, of course, you have to rotate in order to get the desired skills covered. In station 1, maybe the kids are doing fine with their puck handling. But in station 2, the tight turns aren’t going well. Station 3’s back stride is okay. So one group is not improving. What to do?
A solution: instead of rotating the players, leave them with the same coach for the entire teaching session. For instance, if 30 minutes have been assigned to station work, you can have one coach work with a group of kids going through all three skills. Then that coach can determine when to move on according to the kids’ needs. He may spend only 5 minutes on puck handling and 10 on back skating, but 15 on those turns because that’s the weak skill.
The obvious downside? What if that coach is not strong at teaching all three skills? This is where it’s important to brief coaches before practice and ensure they’re capable of doing the required teaching.
With a little more thought put into teaching through stations, you can get kids to improve at a pace that’s right for them.
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