Empower your creative instincts this summer
Posted by Dean Holden at June 9th, 2012
Jack Blatherwick, 22 March 2012
“Empower your players. They have to make instantaneous decisions on the field. We coaches can’t make those decisions for them in games … and we shouldn’t. We must let them make mistakes and learn. Brain scientists tell us that the more we correct players and tell them what NOT to do, the more we lose creativity. Development depends on how well they learn to read the game. Make suggestions later. Encourage players to try new attacks, but don’t tell them what NOT to do.” — Jürgen Klinsmann, U.S. Soccer Coach on developing ‘field sense.’
Rink sense, vision, read-react decisions, creativity, confidence, poise: These are the highest priorities for success in hockey – more than skating, shooting, stickhandling, passing, receiving, strength, speed or acceleration. Of course the secondary list is important, but training for instantaneous mental skills is under-coached – and negatively impacted by over-emphasis on systems featuring mistake-free, rigid, defense-minded game plans.
Why do I bring this up at the end of the season rather than at the beginning? Because I have no confidence that advice from the leading soccer coach in the world will change youth coaches in hockey or soccer. Winning each game has become too important to employ a fun, relaxed, trial-and-error approach to development in the U.S. Therefore, we are not promoting enough offensive geniuses for the large number of participants and world-class facilities in our country. After all, in a recent poll by The Hockey News, American NHL players believed only six Americans rank in the top 50.
Expert TV commentators in playoff games will not point you in the right direction as you plan for summer development. They sound like broken records, “Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Team A has to be more physical this period. They must establish a physical presence. Finish checks. Take the body. Count the hits (not the creative passes). Don’t get too cute. Don’t make turnovers. Don’t over-pass. Dump it in deep. Don’t get fancy.”
Of course, playing the body is important, and by playoff time, you must avoid mistakes, play solid defense and finish checks in the D-zone. But we’re talking about summer programs to develop offensive playmaking abilities. So, model your summer training after brilliant playmakers like Wayne Gretzky or the Sedin twins.
Unfortunately, they aren’t doing commentary on TV, but you can bet they wouldn’t advise you to hit more than you pass this summer? Real experts – those who have done a lot of research on learning – recommend unstructured scrimmage games to develop rink sense, vision, read-react decisions and poise. This is hockey without a scoreboard, without constant warnings from coaches about mistakes – hockey with thousands of quick decisions, trial-and-error, relaxed fun and plenty of mistakes.
Don’t pay for structure this summer. You get too much of that in the winter. Shoot pucks on your own; stickhandle; work on skating off the ice; play other active sports. Keep it simple, fun, and constructive.
Save money and improve your game. Minimally-structured, fast-paced scrimmages are hard to beat. Volunteers can run these. Get two different colored jerseys so there is lots of passing. Two goalies are important. Leave the scoreboard off and compete for pride and prestige.
Herb Brooks would say, “The only mistakes that matter are mistakes of omission.”
Try anything. Pavel Datsyuk would…