Weight loss fads and other self-improvement tips are a good reference point in understanding a fundamental principle of humanity: There is no magic secret that is 100% effective for everyone. We are all different, particularly when it comes to what drives us to get better in some area.
Some of us like to be pushed. Others have an internal drive. Still more like to know “why” even if we are told of the benefits from actions.
Applied to 10U hockey players and the subject of working on improving their shot during the summer, we can see that a nuanced approach is the best one. Just ask Dan Jablonic, a Manager of Player Development for USA Hockey.
A perfect example: The 10,000 shot challenge. As a standalone idea, it’s good and simple: Young hockey players are encouraged to shoot 10,000 pucks – about 100 per summer day – to improve their shooting ability.
Some players might see this as a fun goal to work toward and engage in a process that truly leads to improvement. Others might find that it’s a cumbersome box to check – something they have to do to meet someone else’s goal. The second child might see some physical improvement in their shot, but if the process feels like a task it could lead to burnout and a degraded overall experience.
“For us, we challenge that 10,000 number because what is the quality of repetitions?” Jablonic says. “What’s the motivation for the kid? Is it that dad or mom told me to shoot 10,000 pucks?”
So it’s important to understand the individual and what motivates them before starting any process like that over the summer.
“That’s not to say you can’t create your own challenges,” Jablonic says. “Mom and dad know their kids better than anyone. Let’s go have some fun.”
To that end, answer the “why” is important to helping a 10U player understand the benefits of those summer reps.
“We don’t just want to shoot but we want to be having conversations,” Jablonic says. “Where is it hard to score, where is it easier, which we can get from talking to goalies. With the technical qualities from the sticks, understanding that we get the hand away from the body and let the stick do the work.”
When the 10U player is a stakeholder and can understand how specific components of practice can lead to improvement, the quality of the process improves.
“It’s about putting yourself in different situations – transitioning from one leg jump to another leg jump and then shooting the puck, maybe going down to one leg,” Jablonic says. “Let kids get comfortable and explore.”
Along those same lines, Jablonic says, working on different types of shots is more important than trying to shoot a specific number of shots.
“The more we can put kids in different situations that are not scripted the better. Force some different decisions,” he says. “How quickly can you put yourself in position to get the puck and get it to the open spot on the net? Have friends or siblings stand in different areas so you have to figure out open spaces instead of shooting at the same thing every time. I think that’s important for kids to develop.”
And don’t just work on slap shots. Work on getting shots off more quickly. Work on different shot types.
“Backhand, forehand, snap shots, deflections, tip-ins,” Jablonic says. “With kids as creative as they are, this is what we don’t want to take away. Let them have some fun. Getting that, especially at 10U, to be put in different situations will be set up for success at the next level. That’s what we want to promote.”
And perhaps most importantly, recognize that not everyone has the same access or the same motivation. If you can’t shoot pucks, shoot tennis balls. If you need a break, take a break. Try to develop habits and processes that work best for you.
“There are great resources from local affiliates and clinics to help supplement, but it’s not where you have to go do something as a 10U player,” Jablonic says. “As a family it’s your journey and what you decide is best. There is a lot of good hockey associations that can help and I would say if you played last year, go ask your coach go ask how you can improve. And always allow kids to be kids.”