- Move your feet. Great forwards are great at battling and managing the puck. I tell the defensemen that I train that if you are not moving your feet, then you are doing something wrong. This is not to say you should have happy feet, but when you get the puck you need to move your feet. When you are shooting the puck, you need to move laterally. Lastly and most importantly, you have to move your feet to get great gap control.
- Communicate. If you are not communicating on the ice with your D partner and goalie, then you are doing something wrong. I am talking about being a second set of eyes for your partner and navigating for them vocally—loud and clear right on the ice.
- Master shooting the puck 13–15 inches off the ice. Both forwards and defensemen should work on shooting 13–15 inches off the ice, which is the hardest slot for goalies to see and the hardest shot to block. Most goalies will butterfly and the puck will go over the pads. It’s easiest for goalies to block shots on the ice or top shelf. I used to practice this shot myself for hours a day. Stack a couple of pads in your goal to force yourself to aim in that very difficult area for goalies to block—again, 13–15 inches off the ice.
- Control the gap. Gap control starts after the breakout pass; defensemen should race up as fast as they can to support the forwards. Don’t ever think your job is done after your breakout pass. Skate up for the back pass and be ready to jump into the play—but be ready to get right back. If a turnover happens, you have created great gap control for your 1-on-1. Remember, if you are not moving, you are doing something drastically wrong. The game is geared towards offensive defensemen. The days of the stay-at-home defensemen are gone.
- Use a longer stick. With your skates on, you typically want the stick at your chin—but defensemen should try an inch or two longer for a better reach. Stick on puck sounds basic, but defensemen need to do it at all times. They need to strengthen their arms to hold the stick firmly with one hand. Their stick should be disturbing their opponent at all times. I used to carry those grippers in my car and I would practice my grip all the time. Reach and arm strength is everything.
- Skate faster backwards than forwards. Bobby Orr. He was the one. He was the first player who could skate faster backwards than forwards. When I coach—whether it’s a Squirt team, prep school or my highest level select team—we start off practice with three laps around at full steam. Forwards go forward. Defense goes backward. We may have to wait for them, and we do, but that does not make them feel good day after day of watching the forwards wait. As a defensemen, you can never turn your back to your opponent. I ask kids, “Would you cross the highway with your eyes closed?” You need to face the traffic or opponent at all times. Always stay square, looking at them in the face, with your long stick disturbing their flow if they are carrying the puck.
- Study your teammates. To this day, I can remember guys’ jersey numbers and which hand they shot with. The defensemen especially need to know their team as the game is fast and you need to know which side your winger/center is going to catch a pass. It will become part of your subconscious memory. You will know who you are passing to by looking at his or her number. As a defenseman, you need to know what kind of blade your D partner so you can pass to the correct side. (There is a song on the radio right now that makes me laugh every time I hear it: “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5. It makes me think of Jaromir Jagr not Mick Jagger. When I played for the Penguins, I had the luxury of breaking out the puck and passing it up to Jagr. He told me, “Jeff, don’t worry about getting me a good pass. You worry about getting the puck to me. Shoot it at my head, my chest—as long as you get me the puck. I can slap it out of the air, I can grab it. Just get the puck to me every time.”
- Take TREMENDOUS pleasure in your breakout pass. A good breakout pass used to feel as good to me as scoring a goal. Defensemen start the play and a bad start can turn into a disaster in your end. A bad breakout pass will get you benched in the pros and sometimes even in college. “Remember, you have more time than you think, but not as much as you would like.” Take that extra second to sit the puck down and give a nice pass. If you throw a grenade to a teammate, then it will eventually blow up and end up in your net.
- Don’t get beat. Even in practice, you should feel a little on edge—worried about getting beat and not doing your best on each and every drill. This is for the guys and gals who are taking the game seriously. I was always scared one of my teammates would beat me. You should all feel that way. If you want to raise your bar to the next level, this is really great advice. The players who are somewhat nervous in practice are focused and giving it their all, and guess what? They will produce in the game. I am not talking about only goals. Good breakouts from the D. Forwards winning battles. Every time I had a 1-on-1 battle I treated it like life or death.
- Fake a shot first. Almost every single time I took a shot, I would do a fake shot first. This is a beauty at younger levels, but it works during prep school, college and—believe it or not—the pros.
- Defensemen have no time for crossovers. I was an old dog that had to be taught this new trick when I was playing. Now, I try to teach kids this early on now so they cannot fall into this trap. The game is too fast today. Defensemen need to hone pivoting not crossing over. This allows you to always stay square with your opponent. Watch Nicklas Lidström; he never crosses over, hence he very rarely gets beat.
- Stay inside the dots. This is obvious but never forget it—stay inside the dots and force the forwards wide to the boards. Protect your house—your goal, your center ice. Those forwards ARE NOT WELCOME IN YOUR HOUSE. Get them out!
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Jeff Serowik, a former NHL player and founder/president of Pro Ambitions Hockey, for this story.
Of course you learn from your mistakes—and you need to be held accountable for the team to win—but there’s a difference between what good players and great players replay in their mind. In my opinion, 95 percent of players (myself included) think about the open net they missed, a failed defensive assignment resulting in a goal, a buddy pass that got their teammate rocked, a poor decision on a 2-on-1 and on and on. The list of mistakes and failures I experienced in my playing days is literally endless. It covers the entire spectrum from “why am I beating myself up over something so small” to “the entire team hates me for that game changer.”
The problem is that thinking about these mistakes makes you hide and shrink your game. The mistakes I’ve talked about here are specific situations. No matter how headstrong or confident you are, this pattern of thought can only lead to your brain continually replaying and magnifying the negative action. Trust me, you can't control it.
Think Differently: Missed Opportunities, Not Mistakes
Great players replay the game in their mind a bit differently. They essentially see missed opportunities. They ask themselves self-reflective questions such as:
- Why didn’t I drive the net hard for that rebound in the first period?
- Why didn’t I gain the zone on the power play instead of dumping it in?
- Why didn’t I play more physical and take away my man’s stick down low?
- Why didn’t I get rid of the puck quicker because of forechecking pressure?
- Why didn’t I have a more aggressive gap against their top line?
It's way bigger thinking in a fluid situation. Your brain—consciously and subconsciously—can then try to find ways to improve when faced with a similar play.
Push Your Game, Don’t Shrink It
It’s way more productive to push your game then to shrink it. We respond to what we keep track of and think about. You all have the skill to be playing at the level you’re playing at or the coach wouldn’t put you on the ice. Why not make this subtle change in your thinking to expand your game rather than mental beat-down sessions that constrict it. As the saying goes, a boat is safe in the harbor but was made for the open ocean. You can play a safe “off the boards and out” game, but puck possession and skill are key. This is how you were made to play and it separates you from the pack and helps your team win games.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brett Henning of Score100Goals.com for this story. Henning is the author of 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players, and was a member of the Inaugural National Team Development Program and 2000 World Junior Team with USA Hockey. He played Junior Hockey in Canada and at the collegiate level for the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted by the New York Islanders before a back injury ended his on-ice career.
Editor's Note: Thank you to reviewer Jeremy Rupke of HockeyReviewHQ.com.
- To skate well, hockey players must have well-constructed boots that fit properly with blades made of well-tempered steel, properly sharpened.
- The skate boots support the feet firmly while allowing skaters to lean their boots inward and outward. Good boots have reinforcing material in the counter (instep) area. The reinforcing material makes that area of the boots especially supportive for the arches and ankles. If boots are well made, you should not be able to squeeze the counter and ankle areas together.
- Top-of-the-line boots fit better, provide more support, last longer and offer better protection against injury from pucks or sticks. Choose your skates wisely—they are instrumental in preparing you to develop the skating skills necessary for speed, agility and power.
- Lack of good ankle support almost guarantees that skating will be difficult and uncomfortable. Ankles that cave in cause pain!
Note that unless there has been a specific injury to the foot, weak ankles are generally a myth. If ankles cave in, the cause is usually boots that are ill-fitting or have poorly constructed counters.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Laura Stamm of Laura Stamm Power Skating for this story.
Jumping rope is easy to add to any workout. It can even be used between sets of a strength training exercise to keep the heart rate at a certain level. In a recent study, this has been shown to improve muscle recovery.
If you think jumping rope is just for kids on the playground, I challenge you to try this workout. We use our 3D jump rope sequence for beginning hockey players. As with any exercise make sure your physician has cleared you for vigorous activity.
Perform each of these drills for 15 seconds, getting as many jumps in as you can.
- 2 foot normal jump
- 2 foot side-to-side jump
- 2 foot twisting left to right
- Rest for 45 seconds
- 1 foot alternate skipping
- 1 foot high knees alternate skipping
- 1 foot skater hop alternate skipping
- Rest for 45 seconds
- Repeat steps 1-8, one more time
I guarantee this 3D jump rope sequence will get your heart rate up! You will also experience the added benefit of working on your foot speed and coordination. You won’t get this kind of workout sitting on a stationary bike! Check it out here:
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Dr. Chad Moreau for this story. Moreau has trained hockey players from youth players all the way up to NHL players and Olympic champions. He is well educated in the biomechanics of the sport, which makes his off-ice hockey training workouts specific to the game of hockey. Watch for his tips in this space and check out HockeyOT, a comprehensive, personalized dryland training program on the web.
Why do kids play sports? Surveys conducted in the United States and Canada indicate that young athletes most often list their sport goals in the following order of importance:
- To have fun.
- To improve skills and learn new ones.
- To be with friends or make new ones.
- For thrills and excitement.
- To win.
- To become physically fit.
The findings clearly indicate that the primary goal of professional athletes and many adults—winning—is far less important to children. What really matters to kids is having fun! So, the key to gaining lifelong benefits from sports is to focus on participation and fun—not simply performance.
What about winning? Winning is fun when it happens, and it’s great when your child has good coordination and athletic talent. But it’s also wise to be realistic about the abilities and attention span of a typical hockey Mite. For example, it takes a certain amount of motor control and understanding for a youngster to skate and handle the stick. But realistically, while some kids will focus on what’s happening on the ice, you’ll see others “horsing around” or telling jokes. And that’s OK! It’s to be expected!
What’s important is the joy of the activity. By 9 or 10 years of age, a child usually gets more interested in playing hockey the right way. However, at any age, it’s not the parent’s job to push the child or live vicariously through him or her. The parent’s major role is to support the child and enjoy the moment.
How can you help to promote fun? Get excited about almost everything that happens. Find something to value and encourage in your child. Consistently reinforce indications of skill improvement, effort and good teamwork. Say, for example:
- “I love how you skate fast.”
- “Way to go! You showed a lot of effort and improvement.”
- “It’s great to hear you encouraging your teammates!”
At the same time, look for opportunities to reinforce good sportsmanship, and keep things in perspective. For example, if your child complains about losing a game, you might say, “I know it’s fun to win. But everybody eventually is going to lose. How do you think that team felt last week when your team won? (Although this should not happen to Mites in USA Hockey as nobody is technically keeping score…) The important thing is to play, have fun, and do your best. Did you have fun?” Hopefully, your child will say “yes,” and you’ll see evidence that he or she enjoys playing hockey.
What if your child isn’t having fun? It’s possible that your child isn’t developmentally ready to play hockey and follow the coach’s instructions. If that’s the case, you might consider an activity that’s a little easier or more suited to your child’s temperament and capabilities (such as soccer, gymnastics or swimming). There’s no need to rush a disinterested or poorly coordinated child into any sport. And let’s face it: Not every kid wants to grow up to be Sidney Crosby. The bottom line is to do what is best for your child—not what is most pleasing to you.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., for this article. Dr. Smoll is a sport psychologist at the University of Washington and co-director of Youth Enrichment in Sports. To see previews of his Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit www.y-e-sports.com.
What can parents do to help combat performance anxiety? Parents are in an ideal position to help their young athletes develop healthy attitudes about achievement and an ability to tolerate setbacks when they occur. Research published in the Journal of Youth Development indicates that by educating parents, they can effectively reduce athletes’ competitive anxiety. Sport psychologists Frank Smoll and Ronald Smith are co-authors of the study.
“Over the last 20 years, there’s been a trend to teach coaches how to create a healthy psychological environment for young athletes. There’s also an important need to educate parents, so they can support and supplement what trained coaches are trying to do. Parents and coaches working together are a powerful combination.”
The University of Washington researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of coach and parent education in their study of 151 boys and girls playing in two different basketball leagues. The average age of the athletes was 11.6 years. Coaches in one league participated in a Mastery Approach to Coaching workshop developed by Smoll and Smith.
The workshop content emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. Parents participated in a companion Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports workshop that taught them how to apply mastery principles and how to reduce performance anxiety in their children. Coaches and parents in the second league (a control group) were not offered the workshops.
Preseason questionnaires showed little difference in the levels of performance anxiety among the boys and girls in the two leagues. However, by the end of the season, athletes playing for trained coaches and whose parents attended the workshop reported that their levels of stress, worry, and concentration disruption on the court had decreased. Players in the other league reported that their anxiety had increased over the course of the season.
“This combined approach helps both coaches and parents to create a mastery-oriented climate,” said Smoll. “We never ignore the importance of winning, because it’s an important objective in all sports. But we place winning in a healthy perspective. As a result, young athletes exposed to the mastery climate had less worries about their performance, and they were better able to concentrate while playing.”
“Fear of failure is an athlete’s worst enemy, and the sport situation can easily create this type of anxiety,” said Smith. “The encouraging thing is that educational programs for coaches and parents can give them the tools for decreasing pressure and increasing enjoyment. And an added bonus is that athletes who are not afraid of failure typically perform better. When coaches and parents are taught stress-reduction principles, they can be a winning combination for kids.”
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., and Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., for this article. Drs. Smoll and Smith are sport psychologists at the University of Washington and co-directors of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program. To see previews of their Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit www.y-e-sports.com.
Don't celebrate every goal in a blowout of 0-11 proportions as if your team just won the Stanley Cup. Of course players can celebrate and congratulate other team members on goals. They just need to be sure their celebrations aren’t rising to the level of gloating and goading the other team. (And sorry to the third-line wingers who never score and finally get a goal. You have to show a little class, too.)
Parents and fans (by which we mean grandparents) need to show a little restraint, too. Clapping and yelling “great goal”? Fine. Jumping up and down and screaming “woo hoo” while clanging your cowbell for the 10th goal? Too much.
Think about how you feel when you’re on the other end of a blowout. (And if you haven’t been there, rest assured you will be at some point!) Then celebrate accordingly.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to the parents who’ve endured this situation and suggested the topic.
Allowing your child to find his passion is key. Maybe he is interested in the arts or music. Being a musician myself, I did not participate in structured sports activities as a kid. I loved to ride my bike and I played tennis and racquetball, but my passion was in music. The challenges of being part of an orchestra and a musical theater group are very similar as those in sports—the tryouts, competition, performances, making the group. Any group activity requires harmony and chemistry between individuals to produce something greater than the sum of its parts.
Sports, music and other activities are training grounds for life. The lessons your child learns, beyond the skill of the activity, are endless: teamwork, leadership, commitment, physical strength, motivation, preparation, mental toughness, and confidence. With continued practice, learning and support, he is creating and growing into a powerful person. As a parent, I would view that as a ta-dah!
Editor’s Note: Optometrist Dr. Lynn Hellerstein, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO, has been a pioneer in vision therapy for more than 30 years. See It. Say It. Do It! provides easy, practical, step-by-step strategies and activities to enhance children’s visualization skills.