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Deflections: Whistle while you work


You have to love traditions.

In hockey, it’s traditional to start a practice by throwing all the pucks on the ice and letting the kids slap them around for five minutes, doing nothing of any worth. Kiss 10% of your $200 per hour practice time goodbye. Then you blow the whistle to stop them and start the really important stuff.

There’s this other charming tradition coaches have which is to blow the whistle about four times to get the kids to stop what they’re doing. What if the first blast didn’t do it? Nor the next one milliseconds later when they don't respond. By the fourth, the coach is angry. If a whistle blow can show emotion, then the last one, where the coach turns crimson from exhaling, is it.

Let’s not forget the tried and true warm up drill where the kids skate around the rink and the coach whistles to speed up or slow down, or uses two blasts for a sprint, then three blasts for a change of direction, ultimately finishing with another looooong tweet to stop them.

Finally, we shall begin each drill, or each player’s turn in a drill, with, well, a whistle.

To summarize, in a single practice, the coach has blown the whistle to start a drill; to stop a drill; to change speeds; to change direction; to get the kids to pay attention using some staccato blows; perhaps an additional blow to bring them in, and all ending with one long whistle to indicate the practice is over. Throw in one final frustrated exhale for the stragglers who won’t stop playing with the last puck.

And we wonder why kids are confused in practice and can’t think for themselves or make decisions. Pretty simple answer. Coaches are telling them what to do and when to do it non-stop. If you want your practices to replicate game-like read and react plays, then we need to allow the kids to think in practice. Of course, coaches lose something along the way.

They lose control. Or rather, they perceive to cede control. To most, you can't effectively run a drill or practice without a dose of dictatorial command. It's nonsense. It's also diametrically opposite to effective teaching. Yes, the kids will follow orders. However, they don’t need to watch what's going on or be prepared because the coach will always tell them when to do everything. Is that what we want?

Is it not possible to instruct this way?:

  • it’s your turn to go when the player in front of you has passed the centre line (or wherever)

  • do 2 laps and on the 2nd one sprint for five seconds and do that twice, once on either side of the rink

  • when I blow the whistle to stop the drill, stop the drill, then wait for my hand signal to come to me

  • look at the kid opposite you for the passing drill. You start when he goes.

  • etc.

You can’t teach thinking, decision-making, or read and react by whistling your way through practice. Stash the darn thing.

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