BETTER IDEAS ... BETTER HOCKEY
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HITTING ABOVE OUR WEIGHT CLASS
I was lucky to follow my mentor and legend, Jack Cleveland, as the varsity hockey coach at Upland Country Day School, a K-9 school in SE PA. And, we had our own rink. We played an extensive schedule, including area elite teams, NE Prep teams, as well as other K-9 schools and JV prep, boarding programs. As a small school, with a total enrollment of 200 or less, girls and boys, it was difficult to compete at this level, with so few players from whom to choose. In order to compete then, we had to do everything a bit better, and a bit different. In examining the practices of many teams, we came to the conclusion that much ice time was being wasted with players standing in line and listening to coaches speak. We also noticed that many of the practices were heavily drill oriented, with players practicing skills seldom used in games. Our big advantage, obviously, was our ability to practice just about every day. Other prep programs though, had the same advantage. We had to practice better and more efficiently if we were to continue our success. Understanding the basic
educational concept of 'learning by doing' or in hockey-speak, 'let the game teach the game', we became radical proponents of using, predominantly, small area games to teach the skills of the game. Besides being more efficient, it was more fun. And the players learned the nuances of the game without much coaching interference. The only limit to the success of using such an approach, was the limit of the coaching creativity in designing appropriate and effective games. Along with my mentors, Juuso Wahlsten, Tom Molloy and Matt Greenlaw, we were well ahead of our time in utilizing these methods in our coaching. USA Hockey eventually supported this concept roughly 10 years later. In speaking with many prep school coaches and an NHL scout, I've learned that of the many players they see, many shoot well, stick-handle well, and skate well, but they lack the ability to understand and play the game. This, we believe, is the result of using solely drill oriented practices with little to no emphasis on 'how to play the game'. We do realize though, that there are many skills of the game that can only get better by doing repetitive drills. When required, we try to make sure that there is little standing in line. We only have a finite amount of time to practice. It's important that we don't waste what's been given to us, and that we come to practice with a well-thought out game plan. Small area games then, becomes the friend of the players and the coaches.