Went to the Rink – Been Quite Awhile

The other day, I was asked to attend a ice hockey practice by a parent to watch their son. They asked me to see what he could work on to get better. I used to coach ice hockey for over 20 years. I love the game.  I had not been out to the rink in over a year or so. I was excited to go to the rink. Couple of hip replacements and not being able to really skate – makes going to the rink difficult.  Off I went and sat in the stands. When I walked into the rink, there was that usual rush, smell and sights. Definitely brought back some great memories. My mind was racing for that hour or so. I watched the player and for that matter practice overall. Something jumped out at me right away…

Watching another coaches practice can be an eye opening experience. I have seen a lot of practices on all levels. When you watch another practice, you can always pick up something that you would like to use in your practice. This practice was a pretty good one. There were some very good things going on our there. Almost every player was moving at all times – my mark of a good use of ice time. Teachable moments were being applied to individual players and the team as a whole. What happened next, was the gauntlet drill. Checking in hockey is one of those items that is important to teach the proper technique. For those that don’t know the gauntlet drill is supposed to help the player with puck control while  receiving a body check. It usually is done along the boards with the player with the puck skating with the puck up the line of the other players wait to check the player into the boards.  Most coaches use the drill to get every player used to receiving a check… Getting other players to check more… This particular drill has to be well supervised. Coaches need to insure that proper checking technique is used. What typically happens is not good. Hands start to raise up towards the head. Players move in close to each other (not giving the player time to recover). Hence someone gets hurt. In this case, it was the teams best player that suffered a concussion when the biggest player used his size and improper technique to smash the players head against the glass. It was not the first check that was improper, but the drill ended when one player got hurt. There were a number of opportunities to have a teachable moment before the injury, but every player and coach was excited about the crushing checks that were being delivered.

With all of the focus on concussions in football and hockey, it is time for coaches to make sure that they are protecting their players and teaching proper technique. I used to tell the parents, “checking is a part of the game. It happens. I will do my best to teach each player the proper way to give and receive a check. Realize, the best part of my responsibility is to teach players how to play in a safe environment and have fun doing it!” If we were to use a checking drill, it was in a controlled and safe way. Never will you see my team run a gauntlet drill. We may have a one on one situation like that, but it will have a coach watching and instructing after each check.  I used to get mixed emotions from some parents on that. The gauntlet has been around a very long time (I used to have to run it). Many of the parents remember their experience. My only comment was did anyone ever get hurt? Where the checks always properly delivered? We will check, but we will do it right!

I met the parents after the practice and gave them my observations. I asked them, if they told their son that I was coming to watch him practice. They said “no.” Practice is important. Sacrifice is important. Does he shoot pucks at home? Does he do stick handling drills with a golf ball at home? How much effort do you think he is putting into hockey outside of scheduled practices? They said some, but not a much as he could. I didn’t want the parents to think that he should only be focused on hockey. He is  young and needs to experience life. He should set goals around how much time he will work on shooting, passing, fitness, stickhandling and studying the game – outside of practice. Have him record his time on what he is working on. He then can see if his work is paying off in playing time, effectiveness on the ice or just how he feels about what he is doing. I stayed till the player came out of the locker room. Asked him if he felt that he gave his all in practice? He said, not really. Stressed to him the importance for him to take advantage of the ice time given. Work hard and excel every time you take the ice. Passed along to the player the same things that I told his parents. I felt honored that I was called. I thanked them all for that honor and wished them well.

Now, I am wondering if I need to get back to being involved…

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