A coach saunters up to me after my session on playoff preparation. It’s a small room so it’s a short saunter. More like a mosey, actually.
He has that look coaches get when they’ve tried everything and just can’t seem to nail the answer. You know: furrowed brow, slightly clenched teeth, shoulders begin to sink in frustration. His kids are competitive 10-year-olds, pretty good, too, he says, and adds he inherited their skill. He gets it. His players are good only partly because of what he’s taught and how. He’s willing to give to credit his predecessors.
“What they don’t do well,” he says, “is think. We’re almost in playoffs. And no matter how many times I’ve shown them, they’re still all over the map when we forecheck.” The more he talks, the more anxious he gets. He picks up a rink sheet and draws what he’s taught all season.
“Looks fine,” I say.
“Then what am I missing?”
“At this stage of year, you have no choice but to do something backwards,” I tell him.
His jaw starts to dangle a bit. Backwards? Huh?
I explain thusly. Normally with even the simplest of tactics, you show kids early in the year very narrow parameters of space to use when forechecking or defending a zone or anything really. As they gain confidence and skill, you gradually—ever so gradually—increase the space of their tactical responsibility. Their age and skill will determine what the maximum might be.
Except, I explain, you’ve done the opposite. You’ve taught your tactics with the largest space available. What you’re observing are kids who have too many options and decisions to make for what their little brains can handle. There’s likely nothing wrong with the tactics or principles you’re exposing them to. It’s the approach.
Which means you now have to do the reverse. Bring it all in. Package it—okay, market it — by saying they’ve now played all these months with an understanding of such-and-such a tactic. As you move to the playoff run, you reduce the rink to lanes. For atoms, there’d be four. Outside the face off dots are two lanes. There are another two from centre ice to the outside dots.
Let’s talk forechecking, and this is a for instance, not a suggestion you would use such a forecheck. You show them in practice how the three lanes nearest to the puck carrier MUST be filled by the three forwards. Or the two lanes. Or show them that the puckcarrier’s lane must have two forwards in it and the third forward in an adjacent one. Or whatever you wish.
Coming up with simple drills to illustrate these is easy. What do you think?
“Lanes. So simple. And yeah, they do have a ton of trouble with big space.” And he saunters off to his playoff practice.
Next week: Playoff Practice Secrets.
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