The use of stations is widely accepted as one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground in a sport teaching environment. Stations are used in varying ways at every age level and calibre. Even when defencemen and forwards are split for specific drills, it’s really a type of station approach.
There are, however, a number of elements related to using stations that coaches probably haven’t considered very much. For one, are all coaches capable of running a station? Let’s say the head coach, in a half-ice practice, has 15 skaters, two goalies and three assistants. Of the three assistants, one works only with the goalies. Another is a parent who’s there merely to help out but has no real coaching or teaching skills. How many stations should this team have?
The answer is two, not three and especially not four. Now the retort might be that with only two stations, not much skill work or multi-task instruction can be covered. True, but what is covered will be more efficiently taught. Since the goalie assistant works just with goalies, he/she can’t be expected nor asked to govern a station. Another assistant isn’t really there for much more than setting up, organizing and whatnot. This leaves the head coach and one key assistant to run stations. With two people on the staff who are competent teachers, the kids in the two stations will get the proper feedback and instruction.
If this team were to go with three stations, there would be one where the players are merely being drilled, not taught, simply because the particular coach overseeing the station doesn’t have the tools to do it. Why even put him/her in such a situation?
A sad reality of station work in minor hockey is how little consideration is given to the skills of the coaches running them. One coach told me at a coaching clinic how he reviews the stations with his assistants to ensure they know an activity’s expectations and skill teaching points. To which I asked if he often has the opportunity to watch carefully what his assistants are doing. No, he said, he’s too preoccupied running his own station. In theory, his briefing others coaches is perfect. In practice though, just because a coach has been given a plan doesn’t mean he’s able to implement it and its components properly.
This presents another problem. If the head coach, who presumably has most of the key coaching and teaching tools as well as training, is himself running a station, who’s seeing to it the other coaches are doing what’s asked?
Effective use of assistants is integral to the proper running of a team, especially in practice. With the objective of providing kids the optimal instructional environment, the head coach needs to know how to best use assistants’ skills.
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