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Part 2: Balancing the Science with the Art of Coaching Hockey

11/23/2016, 5:00am PST
By Kelvin


When was the last time you made a mistake? Maybe you forgot to take out the recycling and your significant other let you hear about it. That’s a small mistake. Maybe you forgot to pick up your child from hockey practice, thereby granting them free reign of the North Shore Winter Club. 

That’s a not-so-small mistake. 

This is the second in a two part series (which will probably turn into a multipart series*) investigating the relationship between the science and the art of coaching hockey. Here’s part 1.

Everyone mistakes each and every day in our daily routines. Even writers. Some days we make more than others. The good news is that in regular boring ol’ everyday life, there isn’t a gigantic angry opponent trying to capitalize and exploit those mistakes. 

The Science of Mistakes

Last week we dug into the science of hockey, the tactics, and the x’s and o’s that have made so many coaches famous. 

What that science doesn’t tell you though is the art and the care that went into the delivery of those tactics. Case in point, I’ve had a firm understanding of the game for years. After all, when I played college hockey I often had the best seat in the house. Running plays and designing breakouts is a crucial component of the game because it physically puts everyone on the same page. 

The issue is that there are five players and a goalie on the ice for the majority of the game. If one player skates in the wrong direction or fails to execute a play, then the whole system falls apart. 

This happens more than we care to think. We expect every player to understand each play and their position within it. 

But it’s not always that simple. 

Defining the Self

Why do players make mistakes?

1. Ice Time. 

One of the big reasons players make mistakes is because they don’t share the same vision as the coach when it comes to their spot in the lineup. In plainer talk, they don’t get the right ice time - the right amount, the right type, the right situation. Most of that disparity comes from their parents. 

2. Confusion

There are a lot of moving parts during a hockey game. It all happens so fast. The smallest bounce of the puck or an improperly timed pass can have big consequences on a player’s ability to execute a play. This is why I work on our team’s defensive zone coverage for about three hours a day every day every week. 

3. Confidence

Confidence is a player’s greatest asset until it isn’t. Swings in confidence can happen in an instant - one confusing sequence, one lost shift, one bad pass - they all contribute to a void in confidence that’s incredibly difficult to fill. It’s strange how that works - confidence is so much easier to lose than it is to gain. 

The Art of Coaching

Hockey players operate on a spectrum of confidence. If they’re playing at a level that suits them then they’ll be much more likely to find a sweet spot where they’re challenged while still having fun. 

Hockey players perform better when they’re having fun. They’re relaxed, the confidence flows and they don’t have to think. They just have to … do. 

So how do hockey coaches build confidence in their players? 

Next time. 

*See, I knew this would be more than two parts.

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