“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” The Great One once said.
Chances are, though, a beginning hockey player is going to miss almost 100 percent of the shots he or she actually takes. Learning to shoot well takes practice.
For an 8U hockey player, though, there are efficient ways to get better and tips for doing it. Ken Martel, technical director for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, offers a few of them gleaned from experience.
“At 8U, you’re going to have some beginner kids, then others who might have played three or four years and can definitely shoot the puck like squirts – which is great,” Martel said. “Then they can start learning to pick corners.”
But they can all learn the basics.
Regardless of age, there are some fundamentals for shooting the puck to which all hockey players should adhere. Basic shooting mechanics are critical.
“You want to pull the puck back so it starts behind your back foot,” Martel said. “Kids trying to shoot the puck between their feet or out in front aren’t going to get much on it. There’s got to be a shift of weight from back foot to front foot.”
That shift in weight is important, as Martel notes, for velocity. And at 8U, coaches want players shooting the puck as hard as they can.
“At a young age, it’s velocity, velocity and velocity in terms of what you want to learn,” Martel said. “We want them to go fast and this is a time for those types of things. The fine-tuning will certainly come, but in baseball, you want to swing hard. In hockey, you want to shoot hard. We’ll control it, we’ll fine-tune it. But we want you to shoot hard.”
That doesn’t, however, mean 8U kids should be trying to blast slap shots all over the place.
“For the most part, we want wrist shots and backhands,” Martel said. “Wrist shots are a version of passing the puck. It’s going to help their overall game along the way. A good, hard pass is basically an on-the-ice wrist shot.”
For an equipment edge, it’s recommended that 8U players use a lighter, 4-ounce blue puck instead of a regulation 6-ounce puck. The reasons are myriad.
“Everyone should use the blue puck at 8U,” Martel said. “It’s not just for shooting, it’s for stickhandling, hand speed. If you want to stickhandle the puck and do it smoothly and cleanly with some legitimate speed, the black one moves slow. You don’t develop quick hands by going slowly. Passing and receiving skills are enhanced with the blue puck as well.”
Martel also talked about one of those milestone moments for a hockey player: learning to master lifting the puck, which is so important to scoring in more creative ways (among other things).
Kids who can’t lift a regular puck get so desperate to do so that they’ll pick it up with their glove, set it on its side, flip it, chip it, scoop it – basically anything to lift it, and usually with poor technique.
“When you learn to finally lift it properly, the feeling is unbelievable. It’s an important thing – and one of the reasons we suggest the blue puck at that age,” Martel said. “The black puck is just a little too heavy. 8U players can learn to shoot the blue puck and go through the proper range of motion and get the reward with good technique with the blue puck.”
Practice, practice, practice
Once you learn the basics and have the right equipment, it’s all about repetitions.
“It’s trial and error and learning to use your whole body and not just the upper body when you shoot,” Martel said. “A lot of it just takes time. There’s no magic formula to it other than the time spent at practice.”
That said, overloading kids with internal information is not the way to help them shoot. Just tell them to go pick a spot on the boards and hit it over and over again.
“Keep their focus on that,” Martel said. “Going through the motion over and over, then they’ll acquire a feel. When we start to overdo the mechanical, the learning science shows that it messes them up more and more.”
If you overthink it, you don’t take the shot at all – and you miss 100 percent of the time.