Sometimes you just get flipped a knuckle-puck, one of those goofy flip shots from half a rink away that floats, dips, bounces, and careens off to where it’s not expected. That’s what I got for practice one Friday.
We were to play Saturday and Sunday and had a two hour practice Friday evening. As a rule, I’ve never much liked two hour practices at any level. If a practice has the right intensity and focus, you can squeeze far more out of players in 80 or even 50 minutes than stretching things out. With 13- and 14-year-olds, you can only review skills for short periods. Moreover, their capacity to absorb much tactical content is limited by their skills. The brains may comprehend just fine, however the bodies can’t quite get around to it.
So my challenge was how to keep my bantams engaged for two hours yet still cover those aspects of the yearly plan which seem essential. Then came my “knuckle-puck.” A couple of hours before practice, I was notified that one of my goalies had turned an ankle in phys. ed. class and couldn’t practice. This created a couple of problems (aside from it being too late to call on our affiliate). The offensive play drills centered on needing a goalie for the forwards to learn how to use wraparounds and for the defenceman to work on low shots. The end of the practice was to be a 3 versus 3 small area game (SAG), using two nets in one zone, with the defending team playing with sticks reversed. This was to highlight man-on-man coverage, quick passing and getting to open space, something that would be facilitated by having two nets for attackers to choose from.
With only one goalie, I needed to change the plan. I altered a couple of drills then decided to take an approach I hadn’t in many years. The second half of the practice, after a resurfacing, was a carbon copy of the first. Whatever I taught or showed in hour 1 needed reinforcement and there was no better way than to do it again in hour 2. As to the 3 on 3, we used one goalie, stayed below the tops of the circles, and did the SAG as designed. Of course, as kids would do, they jammed up a bit more than I’d wanted, which is why the two goalie-one zone plan would have been ideal.
The drills weren’t complicated; they never are. But they did require a level of thinking and timing that necessitated repetition. This happens to be a hallmark of the late great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s approach: explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, and repetition.
So that’s we did. In the second hour, they no longer needed to think about how to do the drills or what the objectives were. As a result, the execution was better and the kids more comfortable with the expectations.
Then on Saturday we went out and got smacked 6-0.
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