I recently shared the four strategies we are utilizing to build solid people and hockey players in our home, and have been breaking down how we are applying them and what tactics we are utilizing.
This post will focus on strategy three out of four, Nailing the Basics Through Development of Strong Foundational Skills. This might seem obvious, but I am not sure all hockey parents understand how important foundational skills are to a player’s development and their ability to have fun and progress with their friends/ peers. Hockey is unique to nearly every major sport in North America in that you must be able to skate and perform well on those skates (e.g. have speed, agility, and balance). Most sports rely on an athlete’s ability to run and jog, skills we have started to develop early as a child. So in hockey you are not only teaching how to shoot, score, pass, and think like a hockey player but also how to get around the ice effectively.
Many parents may bring their kids to the rink and hope and trust that the stations or practice for that day is building the skills their player needs, and is many times true, but you also must go in with an informed opinion on what your player needs to develop, where they currently are, and if they drills and stations they are being exposed to are enabling them to get better. That is why we have set four foundational skills that we want to make sure our players are developing and if we see they are not getting what they need during practices we find ways to augment their development in the offseason or on our backyard rink.
What are the foundational skills we have prioritized?
- Skating: Ability to balance, generate power with each stride, reach top-end speed quickly, with a high ceiling for top-end speed that delivers advantage vs other players. This applies to both forward and backward skating.
- Edges: Agility in side to side movements and front to back transitions, quick feet that are able to utilize inside, outside, and flat section of the steel/ blade effectively. Increased balance and the ability to generate increased power to aid top end speed and acceleration. This also applies to forward and backward skating.
- Hockey IQ: Situational awareness of the game and what is developing around them, read and react to on-ice situations with limited processing and thought. Knowing the steps that need to be taken before the play develops and other players have put themselves in position where advantage has been eliminated. Finding soft spots on the ice where they have time and space to make a play.
- Stick Handling: Carrying the puck in open ice at tops speed, moving the puck to give themselves an advantage over a defender or goalie, positioning the puck for a higher probability shot, enabling effective passes from a position of strength, confidence in puck support to enable heads up hockey without looking at where the puck is during play.
These are not easy skills to master and players need time and repetition to build the foundation that is needed to advance other parts of their game (e.g. shooting, passing, defending, etc.) and have fun as the speed and intensity increases year over year. Most youth development programs focus on having fun and establishing small areas games or drills that touch on some of these each practice. For our players we do not feel that the standard drills in our association consistently do this, particularly to establish master in the foundational areas, so we augment our winter association season with offseason training that focused in the four areas and spend time on our backyard rink doing edge work and stick handling during the season.
The days of lining kids up on the goalie line for 45 minutes to do lines drills are behind us for the most part and many associations do not buy into this old school method, but as a hockey parent you need to find ways to help your player develop the skills you find most important with consistency and focus, because other players/ parents are (no matter if they tell you or not!) and if your child is not keeping up with their friends or is advancing with the players they know and love then it will impact their love of the game and desire to stick with it. Hockey for youth players is a balance between skill development and fun, and they don’t have to exist on two different tracks but finding the intersection can be extremely difficult. I will go into more detail on specific decisions and paths we have chosen for our players in future blogs.
In my final blog of this series I will discuss how we are positioning our player in the right “pipeline” and touch a little on hockey politics.
-North Star Hockey Dad