There are certain phrases you hear on a regular basis when you wander around a minor hockey rink.
"Can I get something from the booth?," is probably at the top of the list, as kids who have just sweated buckets on the ice want to quickly replenish those lost calories by downing as many sour keys as humanly possible.
A close second?
Much-more traditional hockey-based expressions such as “Skate!”… “Shoot!”… and "Pass the Puck!"
Skating and shooting are always good, especially when the kids actually shoot the puck at the other team's net. However on most coach's phrase lists, "Pass the Puck!" takes precedence.
It's not easy to entice a bunch of 9-year-olds to pass. At that age, especially in house league hockey, there's usually a wide gap in the skill range of the players. A lot of top-end players are simply too fast for some of their linemates and even if they wanted to dish the puck, often times there's simply no one who can keep up to receive the puck.
There's also the "greed" factor. If you've ever read Lord of the Flies, you know that young boys aren't always good at sharing. In the bestselling 1954 novel, the conch shell represents power and prestige among the lads trapped on a deserted island. In hockey, replace the conch with a puck. "Now that I've got it, I'm keeping it!" That seems to be the philosophy, and it's a tough habit to convince kids to break.
With that said, there are a few things you can try.
One method our house league uses to promote passing is to award one point for a goal… but two points for an assist. Pretty soon those two point helpers start to add up and, from the department of potentially scary numbers, can you imagine Wayne Gretzky playing in a "two points for an assist" league?
Another way to recognize assists is to present a "best pass" award as part of your postgame dressing room activities. We've used hockey cards in the past and it's always fun to see a little guy's eyes light up when he pulls a Sidney Crosby card out of his pack. By the same token, it's also tough to see him choke back tears when he realizes he's been cursed with three Maple Leafs to sully his card collection. (And what would a hockey blog be without a shot at poor old Leaf fans, right?)
Enticements aside, you can also appeal to a player's leadership qualities when it comes to sharing the puck with teammates. Hogging the puck is rarely a problem with your less talented players, as they rarely have the biscuit on their stick long enough to succumb to selfish thoughts. So, try to sell your high-end players on the concept of passing by using the top players in the NHL as an example.
"You know, Sidney Crosby always has way more assists than goals. In fact, when one of his teammates is struggling to score, the coach often puts them on a line with Sid so he can help get their confidence back. We have some kids who don't have a goal this year and you can be our Sidney Crosby and really give them a boost by setting them up."
Of course, there's also a very practical reason for passing the puck; it's not only the sportsmanlike thing to do, it's often the right play as well. Trying to stickhandle through five players by yourself or jamming the puck home from an impossible angle doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you've got a winger wide open or two of your teammates standing all alone in front of the net.
Ultimately, what you're trying to achieve as a coach is to make passing a fun, smart and effective piece of hockey strategy. Don't forget, you're dealing with kids who are just learning the "team" aspect of hockey so they're not going to pas the puck every time.
But if you're patient and persevere, you'll soon be hearing another phrase around the rink.
"What a pass!"