Go small or go home.
When it comes to making young players better, small-area games are the best way to deliver more engagement, more puck touches and more opportunities to sharpen all of their hockey skills.
“Every kid develops in different ways, so you have to be cognizant of skill development,” said Derek Schooley, who coaches three youth teams while serving as head coach for the NCAA Division I men’s team at Robert Morris University. “Small-area games give players the chance to try out what their coaches are teaching them, in tightly focused game situations.”
Skill development for all ages
Small-area games work so well that Schooley incorporates them into his youth practices and those he leads at Robert Morris, too.
“Small-area games give me an opportunity, as a coach, to simulate any number of situations in small areas, instead of using the full ice,” Schooley said. “And, it’s not just us – it goes all the way up to the NHL.”
More involvement and engagement
By incorporating small-area games into practices, you’ll be able to get more players involved at the same time, too.
“Its not just five skating, while everyone else is watching,” he said. “There’s a little more pressure, and a little more competition and, from that, players develop so much more quickly.
“When you’re doing small-area games or station-based work, you’re really doing things,” Schooley contined. “Our players are on the ice a lot more than they would be if we spent all our times playing games and scrimmages.”
Studies have shown that one properly run practice provides the equivalent of 11 games worth of skill repetitions for players. That’s part of the reason why one of Schooley’s biggest pet peeves is seeing youth teams with 50- to 60-game schedules.
“They should be cutting that down tremendously,” he said. “If gameplay becomes your primary focus, your kids won’t get to do as much as they need to improve the wide array of skills they need to succeed in hockey.
“It’s essential that they touch the puck, handle the puck, and shoot the puck, so that they’ll be able to compete and play well in games,” Schooley said. “Those are the things that teach you to be ready.”
Building the foundation
Finally, for parents and coaches of 8U, 10U, and 12U players, now’s the time to build that foundation.
“Your kids are still developing and fine-tuning their motor skills, their skating stride and their shots,” Schooley said. “So, the more that you can work on skill development now, the better they’ll be as they get older.
“My hope is that coaches work so much on skill development when players are young, so when those players get to the junior, college or pro level, they’re just refining those skills.”
Here are three small-area drills that will help your players benefit from big jumps in skill development:
This small-area game simulates tight battles in the corners.
Note: this drill can also be played two-on-two or three-on-three.
Net Front Battle
This small-area game simulates tight battles in front of the net.
Two-on-Two Net Middle Battle
This small-area game decreases the size of the playing surface to concentrate gameplay
Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”
Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future.
USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.
On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.
The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.
The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.
These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.