Creating Speed of Mind in a Hockey Player
Posted by Dean Holden at October 6th, 2012
Alan Bass, Feb 18, 2012
Over the last few hundred years that hockey has existed, both professionally and casually, players developed their abilities and their understanding of the game by playing shinny, pond hockey, or just playing around in the comfort of their own backyard, driveway, or basement. However, over the last couple decades, hockey has transformed into an indoor game, played only within the context of a 200’ x 85’ rink surrounded by Plexiglas and boards filled with enough ads to look like a NASCAR event.
Although it has its pros (e.g. bigger rink size, higher quality ice, much less chance of frostbite), one of the biggest problems is that it has taken away the creativity of the game that is so crucial when developing players, from mite to NHL. Last week I wrote an article about the importance of developing speed of mind in hockey players and gave examples of how Soviet hockey architect Anatoly Tarasov did so with his teams, but how else is this accomplished on the ice within the context of a team practice?
Tarasov once said: “If a training period does not offer a creative atmosphere or depth in grasping a particular topic, if it does not stimulate the player to a higher level of technique, and finally, if you can feel that the players are not ready to do battle, if they show no hustle or daring, you should not expect such a team to improve its game.”
As any coach will tell you, it is difficult to get players to both buy into a practice and work hard enough to improve. The key to doing so, however, at any level, is to create an environment that is fun, challenging, and presents opportunities for players to grow in all aspects. I’ve attended enough practices at various levels of hockey, from youth to NHL, where the drills being done are the typical, trite, “skate down the ice, shoot, get a pass, go back down the ice, shoot, get back in line.” There is almost nothing in hockey worse than this, because it is both a waste of time, and causes players to become disinterested in the game to an extent that it might affect their play when it comes time to put these skills into use.
However, there are multiple ways to get players to be creative. The way in which a coaching staff can do this is to be creative themselves – draw up drills and games that can be utilized in order to pique players’ interests, force them to pay attention, and allow them to try new moves, ideas, and techniques, while still benefiting themselves and the entire team.
One way to do this is to add multiple pucks into a drill that otherwise would have utilized just one. For example, have a defenseman start behind the net, and two forwards come out of opposite corners, each with a puck, and curl around the faceoff circles. As they come around the circles, the defenseman can come into the slot and attempt to defend both forwards (to make this easier, make sure the forwards stay between the circles when they both come in with their respective pucks). Although most defensemen and goaltenders will fail in this drill (it is quite impossible to stop two pucks at the same time), it will encourage them to be creative and use both their body and their equipment in ways that they would not have done otherwise in order to achieve the desired goal of preventing goals from being scored.
Another way this can be accomplished is by creating a man disadvantage for an offensive team. For instance, force a team to play 3-on-4 (or 3-on-5 if you’re quite precocious), both breaking out the puck and playing in the offensive zone. To keep the drill purely offensive, if they turn the puck over, have the defending team simply ice the puck down the ice and make the three players start again (rather than having them defend a penalty kill situation). Albeit frustrating, this drill will cause players to move their feet and use more creative means to both get into an open position and create scoring opportunities.
Lastly, a way to create creativity, awareness, and on-ice intelligence is to have players switch positions for typical drills. For example, have a defenseman move to right wing, or have a center move to the left side, or a winger back to defense. Not only will this enable them to pick up a different skill set, it will also create a better understanding of how opposing players in different positions think, allowing your players to make better decisions and play more effectively.
Many of these drills will raise some eyebrows with players, other coaches, and media members (or parents, if playing youth hockey), but the result will be smarter, more creative hockey players that can think the game at a level high enough to succeed in any situation.