Everyone has an opinion about what the kids should be working on when they’re on the ice, and in 2016, the key will be to cover everything so its fun and the kids learn something while they’re at it.
One of the main priorities of hockey coaches, particularly at the initiation level, is not only to herd all the kids together so that they might do a little bit of teaching here and there, but to move that herd in a manner such that multiple skills are developed.
For me, no matter what skill is being developed, it always comes back to the puck.
Let me explain.
At its core, hockey is a sport that uses one primary tool: the puck. This element doesn’t change. Players are different sizes, they shoot differently and they all have different tendencies. They even select different types of equipment.
But the puck never changes.
So at its core, development still hinges on our ability to retrieve and distribute the one and only puck.
This is why competitions involving more than one puck are so valuable.
For instance, take a normal game with one puck. At any given moment, a good percentage of the players are static, or facing in the same direction. Players are inherently dependant on inertia, which means they’re content to watch the puck.
Adding more pucks, however, in games such as Thief, Puck Pirates or 3 Puck, forces players to change direction more often as they react to different situations. As they change direction, they’re utilizing their edges more through crossovers and tight turns.
And thus, a simple game that might, on the surface, seem like an activity intended purely for fun, is actually a productive skating exercise.
What else is being developed in these situations?
Hockey Canada has done extensive studies on the amount of time players are actually in control of the puck in games, and it’s a staggeringly low amount. It makes sense, there’s only one puck and there are ten or so players on the ice during the flow of play.
So a crucial aspect of development is how players play without the puck and how they get the puck back.
In games like 3 puck, pucks dwindle as they’re deposited into the net, so the chances to handle the puck also dwindle. Sometimes you see coaches playing what basically amounts to backyard shinny, in which one puck is chased by 25 kids all at once. On the other hand, coaches will cut numbers down to 2 on 2 or 1 on 1 situations, pitting players against eachother.
Why? Because in a game, there’s only ever going to be one puck. Players need to learn how to get it back.
Coaches these days are so smart that what was once seen as a punishment is now absorbed as education by young players. No pucks means players are working on their edges, their stride, their crossovers and their stops and starts.
Skating: because you’ll never get the puck if you don’t skate.
So, we see that even when there are no pucks on the ice, we’re still thinking about pucks.
The basic point of hockey will never change: score more goals than the other team by putting the puck into their net. Development has taken our country by storm in the last decade, and rightfully so - learning more about the greatest game on Earth is fun!
As long as we’re finding the right balance of skill development while keeping our eyes on the prize: the puck.