Hockey’s regular season maybe finished but hockey itself is back in full swing. Spring hockey, development classes, lessons and camps have players and coaches alike buzzing all over again.
The important thing to remember, however, is it’s still spring. This isn’t the regular season. Putting more energy into winning hockey games in the spring than you do in the winter is an insult to the game itself. That effort should be devoted to the process of development, not the result of winning games.
The purpose of hockey in the spring is to get better at hockey. To prepare for the regular season.
As coaches and instructors, we’re tasked with providing a positive experience by which the players improve their skills, their positioning and their understanding of the game.
How do we do this? Well, by reading the next four posts in this guide, of course! Presenting the first in a four-part series, The Offseason Coaching Manual. Today we ask and answer the question: how do you engage your audience?
Whether you’re teaching a powerskating class like Karen Kos or an edging course like Victor Kraatz, chances are you’re going to have players who don’t know each other. It’s always easier to engage in a new activity when we’re comfortable, so break down the walls by getting your group talking with each other and you.
One of my favourite activities when I start a new class is going around and asking everyone to state their name and their favourite hockey player. It’s funny and it takes the edge off. Yes, I do this because remembering names is hard. Yes, when a player can’t think of their favourite player I assign them an Edmonton Oiler. Nothing screams inspiration like an obscure Tommy Salo reference!
While the role of the coach is to transmit information in the most efficient way possible, this method will vary depending on the audience. Lots of kids will watch a peer perform a skill with much more interest than watching a coach for the simple fact it’s not the norm. Again, this loosens up the group and lets you cheat - you can see issues with the skill and correct them in the demo player before the rest of the group makes the attempt. This way, your players are engaged because they’re already ahead of the game - the first time they attempt the skill they’ll have something on which to focus because they've already seen someone their age try it.
Spring hockey is not about working on systems. The ice costs money and systems can be taught elsewhere. Really, hockey players these days are smart enough to digest information written on a whiteboard before a game. This isn’t a problem with powerskating classes, but it’s nearly a pandemic issue when it comes to organized teams. Spring hockey sessions are meant to practice skills and develop habits - nothing exposes good or bad habits like small-area games and competitions. Pitting players against each other will
force encourage them to try their best instead of getting beat. This is the one area of spring hockey where it’s alright to treat the kids like animals freshly released into the wild.
Everything we’ve talked about here is no good if the player forgets or simply doesn’t know what their goals are for the season to come. Again, spring hockey is supposed to be fun and educational, but it’s also simultaneously intended to improve future prospects.
Ask your students:
After all, it’s summertime. It’s the offseason. No one is thinking about hockey 24-7, particularly not the minor hockey player who’s gone six months without riding a bike or swimming in an outdoor pool. That doesn’t mean we can’t remind them when they’re on the ice in order to make the hour a rich one.
It’s for these reasons we need to alter our approach from the winter somewhat. Everyone knows it can seem cruel to step inside a cold rink when it’s 30 above outside, so we better make damn sure we’re creating a fun, enjoyable and productive experience.
And the best way to do that? Engage your group with constructive communication, demonstrations and activities.
Let’s have a good summer, everybody.