At a coaching clinic, I tossed out examples of how one might use questioning to draw better executed skills from kids. The easiest and most visual one was how to improve crossovers with younger children. Using my hands to demonstrate skate position, I asked the group, “A child who can’t or won’t put one foot on the other side of the other. Why don’t I just ask him to do with his skates what I’m now doing with my hands? Why can’t I just ask him, ‘Can you copy this?’”
Heads nodded. Sure. Seems logical. That’s because everyone in the room knew that the key teaching point for a crossover was foot placement. But what if it’s not so obvious? What if you’re not sure what the key teaching point is and thus can’t pose the proper question?
This happened in another setting, where a group of coaches were unable to identify the key teaching point for making a tight turn (answer: turn head and shoulders first!). The topic came up during a brief discussion of breakouts and the importance of teaching the puck retriever to dig out the puck and turn sharply while stepping up the ice to prepare for a pass or carry.
I threw out questions trying to elicit the right response. When it didn’t come, I commented, “How can you ask a child what he needs to do to execute a better turn when you yourself don’t know what must come first? And what will this do to your so-called breakout?”
Let’s extend this approach from a basic skill and individual tactic to something more complex, like d-zone coverage. The traditional teaching approach has been to place defenders in the zone while the puck is passed around. The coach then points or places players where they should be. “When the puck goes from here to here, you need to go from this spot to there…”
But the game’s dynamic fluidity means new positioning adjustments happen constantly. How will players react when you pose questions like:
Is that D a rightie or leftie and how does that affect your stick position?
Which way should you face?
How do you know what’s going on behind you?
Your centre fights for the puck in the corner. How best to support?
When you (or a teammate) get the puck, what are you going to do?
Each time the offensive unit does something different, you need to pose more questions to see how your players react. The guidance you provide, rather than the dogmatic chessboard approach, will go much further in your players learning to read and react.
And it all comes from knowing the right questions to ask.
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