If you watch enough hockey – or even just a little – it’s not hard to pick out the good players from the ordinary ones, the clever plays from the dumb ones, or the poor skills from the weak ones.
Most of the time it’s pretty obvious and it’s likely the same no matter what sport you watch. Ultra slow motion replays of sports events makes errors even more stark.
This is what analysts do: watch, break down the play, describe what was done and every now and then offer an alternative. Except, as the better NHL analysts frequently point out, an event that occurs in a blink is not so easily changed.
However, while it may be fairly clear what’s gone wrong or isn’t working, knowing how to correct a behaviour or skill is quite another matter. Which is to say, there’s a massive difference between analysis and coaching or teaching. In hockey, lots of people can analyze. Not many can effectively correct errors. Problem solving, not to mention the creation of new positive habits, is what coaching is about.
A good analyst can trace observation skills back even further. Yes, it was a poor shot selection. However, what were the factors that forced the player into making that selection? Was it the position of the defender? Lack of offensive support? Did the shooter first try to evade a check then find himself with few options? Does the shooter have poor balance when shooting off a particular leg and tried to compensate? And of course, which of these is correctable in practice?
At the younger age levels where errors are more observable, coaches are tasked with both correcting the major errors and establishing new skills the right way. It’s a tall order, especially in a volunteer-based system where few coaches have strong technical backgrounds.
Many rely on how they were taught (if they were taught) or on their own skills. Neither is of much help to a kid who just cannot do a proper two-foot stop and cheats on it in every drill. What’s going wrong? What to do to fix it? In the middle of a good drill, where executing the technique is the objective, can the coach pick out the major technical flaws AND offer feedback on correction?
The same holds true for tactical play. It’s patently clear – and frustrating – when a team can’t get out of its end. The tendency is to look at the last bad play and blame it. The challenge for minor coaches is to figure out what led to that bad play. Then, in practice, they need to find the appropriate fixes.
Analyze? Yes. Correct? That’s coaching.
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