Q: It's sometimes a fine line between building confidence and failing to challenge a 10U player. Have any guidance for staying on the right side of that line in practices?
A: At the 10U age group, it’s my belief that you put players in situations of constructive conflict and failure.
Too many 10U practices are designed for players to simply skate in open spaces and around big orange construction cones that don’t skate out at them, move, or want to take their puck. Those types of drills and situations are good for a while, but it soon becomes critical to put 10U players in game-like situations during practice, so that they are forced to deal with the conflict and failure that they will face in a game. The best way to create this game-like environment is through small-area games that create the competition, puck-pressure and decision-making of an actual high-level hockey game.
In other words, practice needs to emulate the game. Otherwise, how can we expect our players to move forward and develop at an efficient pace?
The purpose of practice is to develop skills that make the game easier and help players have more success in games, yet some practices I’ve seen do the opposite, because they aren’t representative of the physical and mental challenges players will face in games.
We want to build confidence and we certainly want our young players to have success, but what I have seen time and time again is once the players figure out what gives them success, their next step is to find the shortcuts to that success. As coaches, we need to stay one step ahead of these shortcuts in order to ensure that practice is consistently challenging and instilling the right habits in our players. This is particularly important for some of our stronger, more advanced players at the younger ages.
Here’s an example:
Consider the skill of puck handling. Handling the puck in open space or around cones is fine, but too much of that type of un-game-like training begins instilling the bad habit of overhanding. To counteract that and instill good habits and instincts, we need to put players in an environment where they are forced to possess the puck while under the threat of another player or players taking their puck. It’s a much more challenging and game-like form of training that makes kids better puck handlers and better hockey players.
If you’re looking to efficiently bring out the best in players, practice needs to be more difficult than games.
The author, Roger Grillo, has coached for more than 20 years at the high school and college levels. He spent 12 seasons as the head coach at Brown University and was a Spencer Penrose National Coach of the Year finalist in 1997-98.
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