In their exuberance to provide players nearly the entire hockey curriculum in one season, coaches frequently jam a host of drills into a practice. I’ve seen 50-minute practices with as many as eight drills, exclusive of the warmup and final fun activity. Well-meaning? Yes. Effective? Not really.
There’s a culture in minor hockey that more is always better. More practices, longer practices, more coaches on the ice, more off-ice session, more private instruction, more games, more tournaments, more seasons (as in, add spring and summer). Almost none of it is truly better. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that coaches succumb to these same pressures. They try to cover off multiple skills and tactics in a single practice. Sometimes, in one drill, there’d be a breakout, neutral zone play, odd-man rush then battle for the puck low in the zone. The coach would need a play manual and four extra sets of eyes to both track it all and give directed feedback.
What’s more, the sheer number of drills means that not much time can be spent on each one. The obvious result is that players get fewer reps. This is no trivial matter. In fact, in the list of key teaching approaches, repetition and directed feedback are at the top. These do go hand-in-hand. You can have drills with lots of reps, but if there’s no proper feedback, the players merely learn to perfect their errors.
It’s a tricky balance though to decide when players have had enough in a drill. What’s the gauge or measure to change it up? Fatigue? Perceived mastery? Boredom? Getting the hang of it? This is where that intangible we might call “a feel for coaching” steps in. But that’s beginning with the end.
Unless youngsters have sufficient time to both learn the drill, in the case of some more complex ones, and be able to apply the necessary learning to it, not much has been accomplished other than to show off a drill.
We adults have mostly forgotten what it was like to learn a new sports skill and how long it took to reach even a modest level of competence with it. But this applies to most physical skills, doesn’t it? Learning guitar chords, piano scales, a tennis serve, or even putting on your winter tires are all acquired skills. All took time to grasp. That time in hockey is more or less synonymous with providing kids enough reps to at least feel confident. This would allow them, when the next skill or tactic is presented, to at least feel comfortable with the next stage in their learning.
It only happens when coaches allow lots of reps - with the right feedback.
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