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Deflections: The hand off

Like it or not, agree with it or not, Hockey Canada’s removal of body checking below bantam will have a significant impact on coaching. It’s not something that’s been really discussed much either.

The obvious reason is because checking has long needed to be seen as a skill to be taught rather than a component of a player’s personality which he either could manage or couldn’t. Teach puckhandling? Sure. Agility skating with a puck? Absolutely. Shooting? Of course. Checking or contact skills? Well, hey, that’s what the one-on-one drills are supposed to highlight, right?

So a committee of Hockey Canada people, including a colleague of mine, cobbled together a collection of terrific videos, melded them with four PowerPoint presentations (what was life like before PowerPoint?), and added ice instruction. The aim is simple: what has not been taught as a series of skills by most coaches is now being completely handed over to them.

This hand-off is not without its risks. The clinic of three- to five-hour length (varies somewhat depending on how it’s handled by local branches) is literally placing the entire responsibility of teaching checking skills in the hands of our amateur coaches. Many have little coaching experience and most have formal training amounting to not much more than a day or two of certification clinics. Mentorship remains slapdash in most areas of the country. The flavour of the day in 1999 has evolved only in edible morsels, not in the delectable chunks everyone had hoped to swallow whole.

On the other hand, the status quo clearly wasn’t working. Few actually taught checking in any way, shape or form. In many areas, coaches hired local ex-elite players to dash in, spend an hour with a couple of teams, collect a tidy sum, then leave. The one-off event was usually a collection of drills rather than a detailed progression of skills. Plus, there was no follow-up and mostly little distinction made between body contact and body checking, let alone the types of skills required for each.

At least now, as a formal Hockey Canada event, only trained and qualified instructors will lead the way. As well, there will be a formal and vitally important link between the ice session and the off-ice presentations which will offer more education than coaches have ever before received.

Still, those of us who will teach these programs wonder about what happens after coaches attend the new clinics. Then, too, how is that different from any other skill instructions coaches have had in certification clinics? Who will do the follow-up?

Are we then saying that once we’ve put coaches through these clinics, nothing more need be taught?

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