The first few weeks of the season provide coaches with an opportunity to stress fundamental habits that they wish to see their athletes develop. In regards to our team there are a handful of observations we have made as coaches thus far. As we make these observations, there are continuous discussions on what we can do as coaches to improve our players.
The very first thing we did with our players this season was having them balance on two pucks with their hands against the glass. Once the players were balanced and in a good position with proper posture, we began to work on their strides. The players were instructed to, with one leg at a time, guide their skate out far and diagonally keeping the puck underneath their skate blade. I emphasized doing this drill slowly and in control, with one leg at a time and a full recovery to center before doing the next leg. This drill may seem silly to some. I view it as a way for us to remind players to have long powerful strides in control. It also serves as an additional stretch and builds their balance. It seemed it was best done before we conditioned our players through vigorous skating.
After the fall sports season it is common to see players come in with short choppy strides as if they are trying to run in their skates. If we do not address this issue with proper technique our players can develop bad habits. The drill above develops positive muscle memory and gives our players a better chance to improve on their skating from day one.
What is important to keep in mind is that practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Every practice plan requires consideration of skill development and skill blending. A practice that builds in not only intensity, but fundamentals as well, is the best practice. When these practices are carefully layered throughout a week and furthermore throughout a season the finished product is inevitably a team of improved hockey players.
It seems that with our team the attitude they bring to the rink is an asset. The players come happy and focused. When the players are focused they care about the little things and are more likely to pay attention to the little details. I often tell players to spend a little bit of time before they get to the rink or step on the ice to think about what they are about to do. This could mean planning to work on certain skills or technique. It could also mean envisioning how hard they are going to work or what plays they imagine making. This mental practice puts a player in a good place internally heading into a game or practice and can ensure that good habits are being formed.
For coaches, pre-practice thoughts should include points of emphasis for each drill and being able to explain why everything in your practice has the potential to be constructive. We now live in a society where young people like to know “why.” When they understand where you are coming from their trust levels rise and they maintain a quality effort level.
We have at least 75 practices a year for a 20 game schedule. This ratio helps put the importance of practice into perspective. As coaches it is our job to create a well-structured practice environment in which the players are happy. Even when certain situations are difficult or we hold our players accountable, it is important that we still see smiles on their faces. After all, they are playing the greatest game in the world.
*This weeks column is dedicated to all of the hockey moms. A special thank you to my Mother who helps out so much behind the scenes. Whether it is washing team jerseys in bulk or offering up a hot meal on the go she continues past my playing days to epitomize the “hockey mom.” She is always there to listen and offer advice throughout the season and it is much appreciated. I think I speak for all current and past hockey players when I say “Thanks Mom.”