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  1. Dave says:

    Dean – Great post. I would love to hear more Scotty Bowman wisdom if you find it. I watched a presentation from a few years back by Mike Eaves of University of Wisconsin, and he claimed passing was the big difference between hockey at different levels. Even at the NCAA D1 level, he said, players often struggle with passing with consistent accuracy.

    How do you provide the right environment to develop great passers?

    • Dean Holden says:

      Dave, I think I have some more Bowman stuff somewhere, so stay tuned!

      I spend time (15 minutes) working on puck control skills and passing / receiving mechanics each practice during warmup with my Atoms (9-10 YO). I teach technique and then try to challenge the kids to perform sets of 10 consecutive, correct executions of each movement. Then I might up it to 15… 20, etc. as they improve. I introduce the concepts of ‘personal bests’ (PB’s) to try to inspire their passion. I also have them compete against partners, other positions, etc. I have found that challenges and competition help bring out one’s motivation to focus…

      Sometimes the skills warmup is ‘easy’ and sometimes it is ‘hard’ – IE: for hard, I do lots of nervous system overload (control one puck with the feet and one with the stick.) I can add different conditions onto these as well; different ‘rhythms’ – foot puck going one way while the stick puck goes the opposite direction (L-R / R-L) Very tough! Better puck control skills help develop ‘touch’ and ‘heads up’ abilities; because ‘feel’ and ‘vision’ are so important in sports. (One must have the head up to scan the area for passing targets, decision-making, etc.)

      I also ask players to do this sports skills homework on their own time; either in practice during ‘self-directed time’ or while on the outdoor rink.

      This year I am taking a baseline measure for consecutive, stationary (on ground) stick juggling with a tennis ball. Open blade (forehand and backhand), recording the scores, then asking the kids to practice on their own, with a definite re-test date (a couple of weeks later) so they have a deadline. We will make it competitive by posting the scores and names… We will see how much (if?) they improve!

      I have done this with the National U18 soccer girls – ball juggling. Left foot only, right foot only, left knee only, right knee only, head only. Some weaker kids started at 20+; the best ones were a few hundred. Over 1-2 years (primarily done on their own time!), most were scoring over 1000… many into the 2000’s in a row FOR EACH measure!

      The women’s soccer coach at North Carolina, Anson Dorrance, has a minimum standard of ball juggling. If you can’t achieve it, you are cut. I think it is 1000 juggles with one or both feet? Don’t quote me on the number…!

      So far as more on the environment, for younger ages – U8-U12 – I do skills for 30 minutes (making it ‘fun’ with challenges, PB’s and tests), and play games for the rest of practice – could be 30 -45 minutes. (I focus on 1 v 1 for the first month or two, then intro 2 v 2, 3 v 3, odd-man situations.) Older kids (junior high grade 7-9) get more time in games with a 15 minute skills warmup. My high school kids get almost all games (5 minutes of skills).

      My reasoning is based on the ‘golden ages’ of skill acquisition and hockey sense as per the CS4L LTAD. Once you get older, the magic windows close. You can still get better with any deliberate practice and Dynamic Systems Theory practice (competitive games) – see, but I ask the older kids to do more on their own. Older kids, if they have been playing for a while, are usually better passers from an accuracy / power perspective (even through their mechanics might not be ideal… it’s tough to ‘fix’ old habits when it comes to mechanics and an older player. They have to be HIGHLY motivated… so I just work on making the best of what they have! Nothing drastic!) To improve passing and receiving under pressure, you need the right environment with a knowledgeable coach and other players – and the 2 v 2 and up games require lots of passing (direct and indirect) to be successful!

      Hope this helps, Dave.


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