Skating, Stickhandling, and Watching Hockey
So, one of the things I've noticed as the kids get older, and the player pool gets smaller but more and more talented, is that there's a clear line dividing the ones that will continue to go far and the ones that are kind of stuck in the mud.
Not saying they're not talented -- just that they have habits and tendancies that will be tough to shake if they still have them as teenagers.
First thing is always skating.
I know, I know... Every hockey player can skate.
Especially kids that are teenagers, right?
I don't think they can -- there are an awful lot of really great "public skate" kids pretending to be hockey players out there.
Some dominate, even.
But, like, if you a watch player and they frequently turn their back to the puck during play -- I don't care how fast or agile they are -- they never learned how to skate properly and, as teenagers, this is where that's going to become a huge difference maker.
It's comparable to how the kids that could never quite get a solid handle on crossovers in squirts.
Or the kids that still couldn't skate backward effectively in peewee...
Those "skaters" are really noticable.
They often still make it to bantam -- I've even seen a kid get by only able to stop to one side -- but they also evaporate quickly once their weaknesses on the ice are fully exposed.
I feel bad too -- they're so often blindsided as players they'd previously viewed as inferior suddenly start moving ahead of them on the depth chart.
The ability to move in any direction while always having your top half facing the play is a lot less noticable than the inability to stop...until you watch for it and notice how frequently MOST players do turn their back to the play.
Mind blowing when you start to really focus in on it and then watch an NHL game (more on that below) and see how infrequently those guys do it.
Being fast and powerful can only carry you so far -- kids that are full speed ahead are a dime a dozen.
Kids that can pivot any direction without losing momementum and always face the play are the ones to watch because they're always in a position to make a play.
And I'm not going to say "edge work" -- that's like a dirty buzzword phrase in youth hockey right now.
"That kid can't needs to work on his edges..."
No...that kid needs to work on his transitions...and, well, learn to skate all over again.
So many goofy drills I've seen in private lessons happening on the far end of the ice that get tagged as egde work when, really, just practice always facing the puck. Always.
If you don't fall down or turn your back, guess what?
You've mastered skating and your lower half will be able to take you any direction without even thinking about edges.
The next thing is heads-up stick handling.
I'm am so proud that all three of my kids have always been heads-up puck carriers.
I wish I could take credit...but I'm 100% aware that I'm a head down stick handler.
Always was. Always will be.
It sounds like such a minor thing -- I'd even bet the "best" player on your kid's squirt or peewee team that can stickhandle through five guys is a head down player.
Watch your kid's next game closely.
The best stickhandlers under 5 feet tall are often heads down players...I mean, it's a lot easier to master something when you're looking right at it, right?
I'm a geek -- the main thing I can personally compare it too is a computer keyboard. I'm not looking down while I type out any of this, not at all, and I'd bet money that I'm more efficient on a computer than anyone that needs to look down.
Guitar and piano players would say the same type of thing.
Do you look at the steering wheel when you drive?
Same thing goes for ice hockey.
The kids that become proficient stickhandlers without looking down offer so much more than the kids that do. They see plays developing in front of them that would otherwise go un-noticed.
I'm sure some of the folks reading this that know my kids personally are perplexed as two of them are known to completely whiff on the puck with more frequency than most...but this should explain it.
They whiff...because they're not looking.
But that's good -- we're playing the long game.
The last thing I've noticed with every youth player is that they don't watch enough hockey.
Sure, they still routinely see NHL highlights on their phones and whatever trick shot Swaggy P or Pavel Barber are showcasing this week. Maybe they even attend a professional or college game now and then but, by and large, they don't "watch" hockey.
My kids included.
They like to play hockey. They like to play video game hockey.
Watching hockey, though, is boring.
I get it but they can learn so much from observation.
Like, the best exercise is to have them try to continually watch the guy, on both teams, that plays their postion for their entire shift. Over and over and over again. As a kid attending Hartford Whalers games, I used to watch Mike Tomlak and Pat Verbeek, exclusively.
The tough part nowadays, though, is that the television broadcasts use so many cameras and overuse zoom so that it's really difficult to "follow" the left wing through an entire shift without them changing the perspective four times.
That said, my kids are Maple Leafs fans and when they went on that little run last year in the playoffs, my kids watched every game...
Lo and behold, I absolutely saw them making use of things they'd seen on tv ---escape routes, drop passes, circling, that sort of thing -- in their own games for a few weeks.
So, I guess my advice, if you're playing the long game like we're trying to and not just looking to dominate at the squirt level -- if you notice your kid turning their back to the puck or constantly looking down while they carry the puck...pick a car ride to practice and mention one of those things.
"Hey, try not to turn your back on the play tonight..." or "See if you can stickhandle around without looking down during warm-ups."
Do NOT mention both at the same time. Just one.
Oh, and if at all possible, try to get them to actually watch an NHL game every now and then.
It will pay off.
» Divided Locker Room?
» Update on the Shot Velocity Goal
» The December Doubts
» Hot Take on Year Round Hockey
» Skate Faster: Don't Skip Leg Day
» Youth Hockey Age Levels and Birth Year Teams
» Review: Raven Hockey Sticks
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