Who thinks about hockey in the dead of summer? Frankly, only unusual people like me who use the cozy weather to bone up on research, check out who’s doing what, and soldier on in the pursuit of further coaching knowledge.
Every conversation I have with a coach, including my own reflections, seems to draw out new questions. So here’s one we’ve all wrestled with, no matter the level: what do I start the season with?
One fellow once shared he wanted his youngsters to learn how to play as a team right off the bat. To that end, he was going to spend most of his early season practices showing positioning and giving his young charges direction on where to go, when, and why. Good thought. Wasn’t going to happen. How quickly a team gels is never a function of moving them around a zone like chess pieces. It takes time, lots of time. For younger kids, playing as a team might mean little more than completing three successive passes anywhere on the rink. If you can get them to learn offensive and defensive support, that’d be fine as well.
But it’s not realistic to expect kids to play as a team right out of the gate. What we should be striving for is developing in them an understanding of the pieces that comprise playing as a team. Support, as mentioned, is one. Passing to retain puck control is another. Compete level to regain or retain the puck works, too.
Each of those in turn requires a particular set of skills and individual tactics that need to be sewn together like a quilt. Unfortunately too many coaches fall back on their own experiences in, say, junior. There, teams retain a good chunk of their rosters from year to year so that creating team cohesion is more fluid. Plus of course those players have years of experience behind them. Kids even into bantam don’t have much of that. Even a group that’s been together for a few years sees roster moves as well as huge changes in growth and development, not all of which are positive.
So we’re back at the question of what to begin the season teaching. Skills? Certainly. But how you start has to be linked to what you want the final product to look like. It’s so easy to get caught up in the here and now. The season begins shortly and we need to cover so much.
Only the first half of that sentence is true. No, you don’t have to cover everything. You have six months to touch on the key items. What you must be able to do is expose your players to multiple elements of the game, focusing on skills, building those into some simple individual tactics and then constructing a playing philosophy around it all.
Next week, let’s look at some examples of ways to start things off.
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