04 March, 2018

Skill Development Tips

I seem to have been doing a lot of “bookmarking” of articles, videos and websites lately - both on the web and on Facebook. Yesterday, I decided to go through my 152 web bookmarks and maybe delete a few that are no longer pertinent (there were nine about handling pivot tables in Excel alone!). Once I got through them I realized how much great material is available out there for learning - not just about coaching, but about everything. Obviously, a lot of the great material gets shared by “friends” on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and many things get sent my way by e-mail as well - and for that I am much appreciative.

I contemplated just posting a list of links to some of the great articles I “re-found” yesterday but, I know what I would do with a long list of stuff so, I wanted to share two great videos with you this week that made an impression on me.

The first was sent to me by a colleague who I have gotten to know through sports development. He regularly sends me awesome book suggestions but a few weeks ago sent this gem. Watch to the end as there are different drills, including some terrific off ice stuff:



Now, let’s be clear, these seven and eight year olds might be the Russian National U9 team. They are clearly not their version of Timbits house league hockey. But, it is amazing the skill level of these young players. I travelled to the Soviet Union in 1988 and 1990 and saw this training first hand. Nothing much has changed but, at that time there was only one team for each age group in Minsk where we had camp. That would be like only having one team for each birth year in a city the size of Edmonton - no other young kids played hockey at all.


What strikes me is the sheer joy that seems to exude from the players on the video (well, not so much the white team at the end!). They just look like it’s a big game, a challenge to try to navigate through the “maze” of stuff strewn around the ice surface. If there is a good takeaway, as important as skill development is for players of any age, as coaches we need to make it fun, make it a game. The video reminds me of a game I used to be obsessed with when I was about eight years old called Labyrinth (see picture below). It was a maze that you had to get a ball through by turning knobs that tilted the game surface. I see the obstacle course in the video as a big Labyrinth game for hockey that players would practice over and over to be able to get through without losing the puck.



Another video that blew me away when I saw it a few years ago comes from USAHockey. If there was ever an argument for playing half ice at the younger years this is it.



My takeaway from this is how important it is to create as many puck touches, passes and shots in practice time. If that means making the ice smaller for your player then so be it. Don’t worry about the parent in the stands who wants to know why you are only using half the ice. And don’t think this only applies to young players. This is a key concept for all teams, all ages, all levels.


Looking for more puck touches for your players can also lead to some creative ice scheduling. Let’s say the Minor PeeWee’s and the Major PeeWee’s have back to back hour long practices. With a little creativity, you could share the ice for the middle 30 minutes of the two hours with each team taking half ice. This would allow for small area games AND more ice time for each team. Coaches in this scheduling situation could also have both teams on ice for the entire two hours and divide the in different configurations: three quarters ice (one team inside the blue line, the other team from the blue line to the far end), half ice, down the middle from goal to goal, or even diagonally corner to corner. (By the way, I stole this idea from David Fisher, a fellow coach who works in my office.)


A coach mentor of mine once said “the most skilled team will win in the end, you want to make sure you are the most skilled team.” Skill development is crucial to team success AT ANY LEVEL AND ANY AGE. Make sure when you are planning your season next year that skill development is a big part of your plan.



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