Long time CoachChic.com members know I love fielding questions — because trying to solve them tends to make me really think, and to perhaps even become better at what I do. As I joked to the coach who sent me the most recent one, though — via Ask The Coach, he didn’t have to start his membership with such a toughie. Yup, developing team play in young hockey players can be a slow and tricky process.
— Dennis Chighisola
Developing Team Play in Young Hockey Players
Before I really get going, members should know that I could have named this piece quite a bit differently, or I could have just pointed the coach in question towards an article (or two or three) I’ve done as “More on the Puckhog, Puck-hog or Puck Hog!” ( 🙂 As I explained in the linked post, I wrote several pieces on that topic over many years, and found myself spelling a certain term differently each time.)
That said, I kinda like the way the following was expressed by the sending coach…
“I have a young group of kids I’m working with.
I have one child who is competitive and individually talented. Certainly the best skills player on the team. But he doesn’t play a team game, I’m trying to figure out how to teach him to trust his teammates, pass the puck and spread out.
I have them performing a basic breakout and he is fine implementing it in practice but as soon as we get into the game he forgets everything he has been taught and chases the puck often compete I get with his own players for it , and once he gets it he tries to stickhandle through the entire opposing team. Do you have any drill ideas which will help to teach the whole team to pass more but more importantly this player I’ve been speaking of?”
So, ya, I could have referenced the “puck hog” thing and been done with this one. But something in the above told me this post should really be more about developing team play in young hockey players.
Okay, so here are a couple of fleeting thoughts that came to mind as I read (and reread) the coach’s situation…
Up front, a youngster as he’s described is almost always “the best skills player on the team”. And, as such, he’s likely the model — at least skills-wise — for most other kids that age.
Carrying that a bit farther, I really like it that the coach sounds like he’s understanding, and only looking for the best way to help all involved. (I know some coaches would demonize such a youngster, and make him miserable for doing some things that will be pretty desirable a few years down the road.)
One other thing I bring up often in these kinds of discussions… We all have to wonder what a young Wayne Gretzky went through in his earliest years. I mean, the eventual Great One racked up hundreds of goals in his earliest years, yet it seems no one along the way destroyed his confidence, or punished him for being better than others. I have seen kids beaten on mercilessly in my many years in the game, with some of them turned off to a sport they previously loved, this most often due to a coach’s or the team parents’ jealousies.
Okay, I had to get that out of the way, because that “puck hog” thing was probably the first thought that came to mind for many of my readers. I think I’d much prefer, though, to frame this more as a matter of developing team play in young hockey players — and I do mean in all of this coach’s players…
If I was able to talk with that other coach right now, I’d ask him what he thought of the latter statement — about it possibly being a team problem, more than just an individual one.
I mean, while we all know his young hot-shot feels the need to do it all himself in the heat of battle, I wonder how many teammates are able to actually keep up under such conditions. I know from my many years of observation, teammates at the younger levels tend to stand back and watch as their puckhandling mate takes off. (And, while I can almost guarantee that’s what is happening with the team in question, I’m hoping that team’s coach is nodding to the affirmative right now.)
Let me say that all again, in a slightly different way… In that I believe the real problem — or maybe the course that will best handle the coach’s concerns — calls for raising the skill level (and confidence?) of all players, so they can actually engage in better team play.
Okay, so if the coach can go along with me here, I have a few suggestions for developing team play in all his young hockey players…
My first thought is that keepaway skills put the hot-shot ahead of most others. Some remedial work on handling the puck (covered quite well in our “Puckhandling” category) is probably necessary for the other kids. At the same time, however, I’d address the overall challenge by holding a good 8-ish minutes of 1 versus 1 games of keepaway all over the ice — every single practice. Stickhandling drills are nice, but nothing helps the kids put those skills to game-like use like short (maybe 10-second long) bouts of keepaway.
My second suggestion brings those keepaway skills even closer to game-like team play, because 2 versus 1 keepaway is a lot like the little guys’ game is played, and I think it’s a lot like what the coach is looking for in his players. I hope the coach and readers are thinking along with me on this one, too, in that this kind of competition brings out what the coach is likely hoping for in his star player. In other words, his little puckhandler is forced to continuously look for an open teammate in these competitions, and even learn that his mate is likely to give him the puck back in a few seconds.
Really, though, I think the coach has to concentrate more on his less skilled players in these competitions, by especially teaching them to stay moving and to keep trying to get open. Using modern day jargon, we could say that all the kids should be learning to “support the puck”.
I would really, really dwell on those two “drills”, because I think they’re going to go a long ways towards developing team play in all his young hockey players. I might not abandon either drill over the rest of this season, although some variations could be used weeks down the road, just to prevent boredom.
I’d urge the coach not to forget the need for remedial work. For sure, lots of skating and puckhandling work will bring the rest of his roster closer and closer to their star teammate. My guess, though, is that many of his less skilled players could use the very methodical help I provide in “Passing Basics in Hockey“. (Trust me, that having coached and observed lots of little so-called puck-hogs over the years, nothing will put a halt to their passing than teammates flubbing the passes they do send.)
Then, something the coach might put on his back burner for sometime down the road… I did a rather methodical video on “Troubleshooting a Hockey Breakout” some years ago. I doubt I tell the coach anything new in that post, but I do have a way of reminding even advanced level hockey folks about some very basic things that tend to spell the difference between success and failure.
One other thing, this having to do with the other end of the rink…
I’m not exactly sure where the coach’s young 7- and 8-year old kids are but, I’ve held “timed attack plays” to encourage teamwork among my players.
With young kids, I wouldn’t have them skate too far between thrusts — so maybe I’d start the drill about 20′ from the goal. In other words, a coach can have a ton of pucks collected at a spot out there, with two (or three) lines of attackers behind him.
A group of attackers would have something like 20-seconds to score as many goals as possible (against rotating goalies). In other words, a pair might take off, score a goal as soon as they can, so they can quick return to the starting point for another puck, etc.
The hitch: each player must handle the puck a given number of times (twice?) in order for a goal to count.
Coaches of older teams might like to know that I’ve used this competition on the night before a game — having older players start and return to the near blue line, with the 3-man forward unit scoring the most goals getting to start the next game. I knew that wasn’t such a big deal to me, but my players went nuts trying to win — as a unit.
Finally, I really like this coach — even long distance, just from the way he rather compassionately phrased his question. My only hope is that he and others don’t think I’ve designed an overly simplistic approach to his problem without good reason. I truly believe the solution I’ve outlined is the right approach for young ones, or the best way to help both sides of his team’s problem. For sure, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my approach might not bring immediate results. Still…
Of course, I’m always looking for more input here, and welcome comments down below.