Does early over-emphasis on winning discourage American forwards?
Posted by Dean Holden at January 9th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 3 January 2014
Stamkos and Ovechkin hide out on the weak side – out of sight, out of mind and certainly not where coaches draw the usual X’s and O’s. Then, as the pass arrives from the far side, they blast a one-timer into the open net as the goalie arrives too late.
Datsyuk and Crosby enter the offensive zone, and – like Gretzky often did a couple decades ago – they cut 90 degrees and skate parallel to the blue line, directly into traffic to draw a defenseman with them for a step or two. Then they make a magical behind-the-back pass to a teammate who fills the void left by the D.
Risky? Not when the greatest players in the world execute the plays. The more important question is: How did they get to be the best? Were they allowed to try and fail earlier when they weren’t the best in the world?
You can watch a lot of youth hockey – even many high school, junior and college games – and rarely see these plays. Why? Because winning games has become more important than encouraging youngsters to try and fail at creative, difficult skills … try and fail … then, finally, try and succeed. Of course it’s risky to allow PeeWee forwards to try deceptive, blind passes at the offensive blue line. Turnovers can be costly when we care so much about winning. So if we don’t allow PeeWees to try Datsyuk-like skills, then it’s too risky for Bantams to try it – then high school and college players.
One solution? Turn off the damn scoreboard – at least for most youth games. Our hockey culture must value development and fun over wins. Until we do, we are unlikely to develop world-class creative playmakers and shooters.
A second factor is practice. One-timers and accurate shooting require years of practice, countless hours of repetition. But structured ice time for the team is already at a premium. Therefore, much of the shooting practice must be done on a small patch of outside ice, or on concrete or plastic. Two former NHLers, Scott Bjugstad and Lance Pitlick, have excellent videos and programmed instruction on stick skills (Google is a good starting point).
The most important factor? Goal scoring passion. I can assure you from watching Ovechkin practice day after day, passion is the single most important asset that makes him a prolific goal scorer. Not skating. Not size and strength. Not even the accuracy or speed of his shot. Others in the NHL have greater tools, but no one has more crazy-stubborn determination to score.
Everyone can shoot, but goal scorers can release shots from any awkward situation. This is where real coaching can make a difference, forcing players out of their comfort zone, so they learn to release shots before feeling comfortable. Without coaching, players would choose to dribble a couple times before shooting, set the feet and coast for a second, shoot only when they are moving toward the net or thinking the scoring chance is over if they fall.
One-timers become routine after hours of repetition with soft passes directly between the feet. But expanding this to include passes that require a quick skating adjustment, or even a lunge-dive to get the stick on the puck – that’s preparation for real game situations.
Goal scoring passion is developed, not born. The art of coaching is to make the drill fun and rewarding while challenging players to broaden their comfort zone. Passion is developed by the thrill of competition, not the monotony of rote repetition. However, repetition is essential, so drills must be designed in a way that challenges them and rewards the second effort it takes to be extraordinary.
Youth hockey could easily become nothing more than a routine exercise in obedience: following the system, keeping it simple, dumping the puck in the corner, forechecking, backchecking, hustling. Before we forget there’s a lot more to hockey, I suggest adults and players watch some Gretzky highlights, or Crosby, Datsyuk, Ovechkin. Hey … highlights are the fun of hockey. The thrill of trying something extraordinary is the key to making this a player’s game, not a coaches’ game.
<I posted my thoughts a few days and weeks earlier on keeping score / competition, so I slightly disagree with Jack about removing the scoreboard as I am a fan of this feedback; but I agree with his reasoning. Coaches put far too much stock in W’s and L’s at a young age (Timbits through PeeWee) and beyond and this creates pressure to avoid making mistakes! Make the safe play, don’t draw negative attention to oneself, blend in, become ORDINARY! Bor-ing!
Community (development) coaches appear to be judged on their W/L record, even when the decision-makers (board of directors) say, “We don’t care about your record; all we want to see is that you develop the kids.” BS! Winning prevents / solves a lot of problems! Losing… well, kind of the opposite!
Shouldn’t it be about developing positive life skills through sport? Better people? And if they become better skilled athletes and use sports to maintain or increase fitness, that’s important too. After all, very few become professional athletes so this certainly shouldn’t be the principle focus!
I do agree about Jack’s statements on how to develop goalscoring (through practice!) and goal-scoring passion… and that traditional hockey drills, where most kids stand in line waiting (disengaged) seemingly forever (1+minutes) for a brief 5-15 second rep, are not inherently engaging, efficient or useful (for those in line). Coaches need to incorporate more challenge activities in their practices – be it against yourself (establish a baseline and try to beat it!), or another player(s) or another team (head-to-head competition) One can design times obstacle / skill courses, relay races, or other time / rep (measureable, quantifiable) modality (number of puck juggles in the air, etc.) Competition adds drama, excitement, engagement, personal pride… activity and the thrill of competition are rocket fuel for the players! – DH>