Hockey Sense 2.01
Posted by Dean Holden at November 3rd, 2012
By Jack Blatherwick, Let’s Play Hockey Columnist, 29 October 2012
Chris Pryor hit the nail on the head when he wrote in his column (LPH Oct. 18) that hockey sense is one of the most important aspects of a player’s makeup and might be the most valued by scouts.
Anyone who watched Chris play or train and saw the uncommon passion in his eyes would know why he was as smart a player as he was intense and competitive. His desire to learn whenever he was on the ice is the first clue about developing hockey sense: Significant learning only occurs when the student is passionately involved. This is why FUN and PASSION are two critical components of every practice.
Discovering how players develop rink sense is one of the most important jobs of local, state or national youth programs, yet the topic is not discussed as thoroughly as it should be. Somehow we dismiss this project with thoughts that hockey sense is inherited, not learned.
I have no doubt that creative geniuses were born with a brain that learns this better or faster than dummies like me. But there is no doubt it is learned – most likely at a very young age, and always in a fun, relaxed environment without verbal instruction from adults.
Researching this question is a top priority for every youth or high school coach. As a starting point, check out Dean Holden’s website, where he has compiled a helpful set of short lessons to coaches regarding “Sport IQ” at (www.getsportiq.com). I lose interest quickly when a coach’s career is equated to numbers like 500-300-19 … perhaps because mine had too big a number in the middle. I judge a coach by the number of creative playmakers who developed under his guidance.
Wayne Gretzky’s father did the right thing: He flooded a pond in the backyard and LET his children learn. I’ve asked dozens of brilliant players where they developed rink sense and creativity. Their answers invariably start with “pond hockey” or “playing in games and watching others play.”
Structured practices that emphasize systems are never on their list. At the end of his playing career, Gretzky was quoted in the Toronto Globe and Mail, “If I were coming up today in minor hockey, I probably wouldn’t have made it. There is too much emphasis on systems and not enough on creativity. It’s stifling.”
Wayne Gretzky-Style ‘Field Sense’ May Be Teachable. That is the title of another article that will help coaches tackle this project. Jennifer Kahn describes objective studies to investigate this skill and adds some practical conclusions (http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/15-06/ff_mindgames/).
It’s easy to draw X’s and O’s, but too many thoughts about systems can handcuff players. I’ve seen teams virtually glued to the ice, because coaches over-emphasized positioning. That problem can be cured with repetitions of quick sprints to loose pucks, but it must be done every time you have a session on D-zone coverage. A basic system should be a platform from which players can react quickly and creatively. The system should EMPOWER players, not slow them down.
There are not many clear answers yet, as Pryor pointed out in his column. However, we MUST keep working on this project. Start with competitive scrimmage activities across ice, half ice or full-ice. Scrimmage at smaller rinks like the ones at Velocity or Hat Trick, because read-react time is reduced in the crowded space. Three-on-three might be a good way to increase puck possession, but four-on-four and five-on-five scrimmages demand quicker decisions.
Rig the rules for scrimmages differently each day, so certain concepts are featured. Use an extra player as a wild card for the team with the puck or install two-second pass rules on another day. This encourages players without the puck to support the needs of the passer.
Instead of using only highly-structured drills in which every step and every pass is diagrammed on the board, graduate to a more complex version of the same drill. Let players come up with some of the decisions on where to go and when to pass. Instead of a learning system that always progresses from part-to-whole (isolated skills first), be sure (at a young age) players are getting plenty of combinations of skills in competitive situations (whole-to-part).
Learning experts emphasize that ‘field sense’ must be learned at young ages. Perhaps this is why we might think it is hereditary. It also means youth coaches can never stop trying to cultivate rink sense, because it ranks right there with feisty competitiveness as the two qualities that make or break most hockey careers.