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10U: Stickhandling Tips from the University of Michigan

04/29/2022, 8:15am MDT
By Michael Caples

Now’s a great time for 10U hockey players to work on their stick skills, says University of Michigan assistant coach Brandon Naurato.

He’s not talking about private lessons or endless summer training programs, either. 

No, Naurato just wants you to have some fun. Believe it or not, playing mini sticks in the basement or street hockey outside is going to help you become a better hockey player.

“It’s like a 10-year-old learning a foreign language versus adults,” Naurato said. “The 10-year-old can learn it way quicker. And how do you get better at anything? Repetition.”

“The first thing kids need to do is play and have fun. Especially with stick skills – passing, puckhandling, shooting – you can do all this stuff off the ice, so my message is play mini sticks, play street hockey, stickhandle in the garage, do everything with your head up, just get reps and try new things and learn through failure and have fun.”

The Environment

Naurato has seen a lot in his rise through the coaching ranks. After a playing career that included a Frozen Four appearance with the Wolverines and four years of professional hockey, Naurato began working as a development coach in Metro Detroit. Training the likes of Zach Werenski, Jack and Quinn Hughes and Dylan Larkin led to him being hired by the Detroit Red Wings, where Naurato spent three seasons as a player development consultant before returning to his alma mater in time for their Frozen Four run in 2021-22.

He is also a hockey dad, watching his son play 8U hockey in Metro Detroit whenever he’s not with the Wolverines.

“Everything in regards to learning is environment – you get better and better at things when you try things out when there’s no pressure to perform the movement or not, because you’re not worried about turning it over,” Naurato said. “Stickhandle a golf ball in your garage, shoot pucks in the driveway, shoot tennis balls in the driveway. Kids will be blown away at how much better their hands get from playing mini sticks with their hand-eye coordination and all that stuff. 10U is all about fun, failing forward and environment. Mini hockey, street hockey, sticks and pucks – as much as you can get the stick in your hands, the better. It’s not about the private lesson and the strategic development plans – just have fun. Go play.”

Head Up

He does have one request while you’re playing, though. Keep your head up.

“The most important thing at the 10U level, even at the NHL level…when you carry the puck, whether you have the best hands in the country at 10U or the worst, you can make more positive plays with your head up. You don’t text and drive, and you don’t drive with your eyes closed. You can’t make decisions when your eyes are closed and your head’s not up. You have to have your head up when you have the puck, and you have to be scanning and shoulder checking when you don’t have the puck, or you’re defending.”

Add Pressure

Naurato reiterates that repetition is key. Shoot pucks in the driveway, stickhandle with a golf ball, find time at a local rink for sticks and pucks. If you feel like you’re comfortable performing the basic skills of stickhandling, shooting and passing, find a friend who’s working on the same things, and take turns challenging one another.

“Once you feel comfortable with the technical skills, the next thing to do is to add constraints or add pressure,” Naurato said. “Have a player stand in the front of you, the side of you, or behind you, stationary and then moving, and have them try to steal the puck. Outside of using your hands, you need to use your body to protect the puck, that’s the most important thing. You can have the best hands in the world but if you don’t know how to protect the puck, and you’re always exposing it, you’re going to be in a tough spot.”

Just Play

It’s all about being comfortable with a hockey stick in your hands, and improving your skills with it through simple activities.

“Think about it like, if a player’s trying to do the Michigan Move, the first thing they need to do is pick up the puck on their stick. If you’re juggling the puck on your stick or juggling a golf ball on your stick, it’s not to juggle the golf ball on your stick so you can do that exact situation in a game, it’s just to work on overall hand-eye. Passing and shooting skills, the mechanics are identical, you’re just passing a puck flat or saucing it versus shooting it. It’s the exact same mechanics, so just play. The more you can get the stick in your hands the better.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features