Q: I recently watched one of my 12U kids practice. Their coach didn’t have them “walk through” any systems and it was either them doing drills in stations or playing cross-ice games. Is this good for my player and how will he learn systems?
A: This is a question we get from a lot of parents. If your child’s practice was all station-based drills and small-area games, you should be thanking your child’s coach! 12U players are at a stage of their life where their readiness to acquire skill is very high. While skills are always trainable and can be improved upon, this is where it really begins.
Now that we have established that, let’s get back to your question. Learning systems isn’t what makes a good hockey player later in life. Elite level players from 18U and up didn’t become elite by learning wear to stand on a breakout or forecheck. They are elite because they have elite skills and can perform them at a high tempo and under duress. Systems can and will be learned as players get older. While your child’s coach isn’t technically teaching them systems, by playing a lot of cross-ice games (with parameters) they will be learning the concepts that lead into systems. Concepts such as fore-checking, break outs, power plays, penalty killing, and defensive zone play can all be worked on in cross-ice or small-area games.
Wouldn’t you rather learn these types of concepts by playing instead of being told to stand in a certain spot? NHL and NCAA teams often play small-area games to reinforce whatever systems they are using. One last point when it comes to skills over systems; NCAA coaches and NHL general managers are looking to identify players who have the skills to make plays and have hockey sense, not players who are programmed like robots!
Kenny Rausch began his coaching career in 1996 with Boston University, his alma mater. As a player, he earned Beanpot Tournament MVP honors and was named a Hockey East Distinguished Scholar.