A blog dedicated to the fact you cannot make an NHLer,

Obviously you see the sarcasm in my blog name. This blog is about teaching the love of the game, the skills of the game and hopefully open some eyes to the crazy parents that think they can push their kid into becoming a star only to have the opposite happen or be the limiting factor in their kids hockey development. Remember, if you turn hockey from a game into a job, then all is lost and kids will drop out either physically or mentally.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Build an athlete, not a one sport pony.

In Hockey crazed Canada, an alarming trend has been emerging. Sports specialization in kids, earlier and earlier.

What can happen to these kids? Burnout and over-training.
Does this happen to all the kids? Nope, some kids can't get enough.
Should kids pick a sport to concentrate on when they are 8? 10? 16? Not in my opinion, and I have some pretty good examples of why.

Here is a list of multple sport athletes who played at the major league level.

  • Bo Jackson - Baseball and Hockey (football, just making sure you are reading)
  • Danny Aigne - Baseball (Blue Jays) and Basketball (NBA)
  • Todd Helton - Baseball (Astros) and Football (he was the starting quarterback who got injured and allowed Peyton Manning to start in NCAA football, Peyton as a 3rd stringer - go figure).
  • Tom Glavine (was also drafted by LA kings) went on to a pretty good ball career.
  • Randy Moss - Pretty good football player, but did you know he was the best player on his high school basketball team which featured NBA player Jason Williams.
  • Dave Winfield - Drafted in Baseball, Football and Basketball, nuff said.
  • Jon Elway - Second round pick of the Yankees
  • Dan Marino - Foirth Round pick of the KC Royals.

The list is pretty impressive and there are a lot more examples of great athletes to play professional sports. You usually hear of players getting drafted and also being stars in other sports too.

The point is that we ge so caught up in developing kids in one sport that we fail to see the benefits of being a multiple-sport athlete.

Here are the benefits:

1) less chance of burnout
- if they are not doing the same sport day after day there is less chance they will not burn out and time away is always good for recharging mentally and fueling desire and passion for the sport (absence make the heart grow fonder!)

2) less chance of injury
- repetitive strain injuries are getting more and more common in kids due to the early specialization of kids in sport. 10 year olds with knee problems is the last thing any parent or coach wants to to be the cause of. Other sports require similar muscles but with different movements and can strengthened the supporting joints and muscles that are essential for injury prevention but may not be trained in hockey.

3) cross -sport similarities
- this should be obvious with hand eye coordination leading the way. Also think of how basketball and soccer play development is similar to hockey. Quick first step in track and baseball ......the list goes on and on.

4) being a well rounded person
- hockey is a sport that has its own culture, as do other sports. Nobody likes one dimensional people. I should know, I work in the computer/it field

In conclusion, be an athlete first then a hockey player later. 10,000 hours to developing world class skill is a lot easier when you have variety the contributes to multiple sports rather than only one is the way to go. Sidney Crosby and Steve Stamkos are pretty good baseball players, so don't think they did only hockey every waking hour because they did not. They are humans, not robots and should he trained and treated accordingly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Biggest Breakout issue in Minor Hockey

So its been a while since I have written. I have been busy with the kids and their hockey and playing myself.

I went to a Bantam AA (which here in Saskatchewan is the top tier, since we only have one AAA bantam team) and was witness to some very good players that will probably be taken in the WHL bantam draft. I noticed the same issue with breakouts that I see at all levels of hockey.

I am sure there is a fancy name for this, but I call it breakout breakdown. Here is usually what happens:

The defensive team battles for the puck down low. After some good work, luck bounce or rebound the defensive team has the puck. (in these examples green is the opposing team, so we are breaking out of our own end)

Now what usually happens is that the wingers leave the zone way too early like the following example.

As you can see the defenseman's only option is a long pass which is usually met by an interception since nothing works out like it does on paper.

As you can see the defensemen is ussually getting a lot of pressure from the forecheck and once the defenseman for the other team slide back to cover the breaking wingers like here in the bottom .

The Blue defenseman now has lots of pressure and no where to dish it off to since his wingers are easily covered.

The Blue defenseman usually tries a move or two or doubles back behind the net and then his wingers now stop farther down and wait for a pass, which has about a 10% chance of getting through and then the player has to start out flat footed to get into the other teams end.

The Reason this happens is our obsession with breakaways and many players figure that this is the best way to get them is with the stretch pass that we see on TV.

Here is the solution: Explain to the wingers and centerman that they should be able to create a 2 on 1 and the odd breakaways most of the time rather than the lucky breakaway.

Once the Defenseman has the puck have the wingers swing down to the boards near the hashmarks, as shown below:

Now once the defenseman makes the easy short pass to the winger, the centerman follows up towards him for support and the far side winger moves towards center, but does not break up ice. (if this is timed right it will look like you are heading across the ice to help on the other side.)

Notice how the defenseman in green has started to pinch to give the winger no were to go.

If he does not pinch you have lots of room and time, hence the support of the centerman.

After all this you will be able to move the puck up to the centerman, with either a chip up the boards if the green defensman pinches or a direct pass if the defenseman backs up.

As you can see it is pretty straightforward and if the far green defenseman is not backing up once the chip or pass is being made the far winger should break for the breakaway since the d-man would be flat-footed. See here below:

The very worst scenario is that both defensemen in green back up and you will have a 3 on 2 with puck control.

More of the post:

Most players accomplish the opposite of what they are trying to do on the breakout by leaving early for the breakaway. Work as a team and tons of offensive chances will happen. In this method both wingers and the centerman will have to take turns on leading the rush depending on what the defenseman do, but if they each get 15 chances a game the law of averages will keep them very happy.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Power Skating Arm Swing - common misunderstanding

The other day I saw a poster for a local powerskating school and it said"Your arms move forward (push and pull) and no side to side movement." I have not been to this power skating school, but it made me think of how we take to many concepts and ideas based on the resume's of some teachers base on how good of hockey player they were or where they coached before. While most are very knowledgeable, some are just rehashing the things that they were taught.

Since I have not been to this power skating school, I will not say they are doing it wrong, since they may be teaching the correct way. However, the wording is a bit confusing.

Here is my take on this whole arm swing:

Arm Swing. A lot skating power skating teachers are telling kids to push pull with the arms, but that is wrong. They are not 100 meter sprinters, they are skating. The key is the alignment of the arms and the legs, this may be the way they teach it but it sounds wrong from the description. The hand in front of the skater should be palm up and out in line with the center of gravity. The other arm aligns with the skating leg.
You can see how the force/power would be applied best in the diagrams below.

These are some notes from a study of NHL players.
· The correct shoulder (arm) movement for high performance skating is "side to side.", not forward-backward like a sprinter. When the leg pushes to the side the equal and opposite reaction is the shoulder (arm) moving to the side. This motion is confirmed by observation of high performance hockey players - clearly revealing that a side to side shoulder (arm) movement is used during straight skating/striding.
· Observation of forward and back (sprinter pump) shoulder movement shows that it causes a narrow stride. A narrow stride is characteristic of low performance skating.

Watch the video of the 2009 NHL fastest skater competition and you will spot what I mean right away, especially when they show the front back views.

Moral of this post:

When learning or being taught anything, think critically. The source is not always the best indicator of knowledge. Many NHLer's succeed in spite or their parenting or coaching, I am not saying many hockey schools teach the wrong things, most are terrific. Just remember to not be afraid to ask for explanations as to why things are done a specific way.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How to find the coach best for your kids development.

We all hear the horror stories about the bad coaches, but are they easy to pick out?
In hindsight, most signs are telling. But at the beginning things are not so easy. Make sure you know what you want in a coach, then go from there.

For me, kids developing is number 1. End of story.......everything else is just for the parents, association and coaches ego.

The question that every parent should ask the coach and the other parents at all levels of minor hockey:

  • If you coached a group of kids for 4 years and they never won a game, would you be ok with that, how would you rate the success of that team and yourself?
  • If you coached a group of kids for 4 years and they never won a game, but all of them got hockey scholarships to college, would you call that success?
The reaction is almost as telling as the answer, especially since the second question would most likely be met with "That would never happen, you would win tons of games on a team with that much talent!"

Hopefully, at that point the light bulb would go off and the coach would realize that the chances of winning are pretty good when you have the top tier of kids on your team, but to get to that point does come with a price. Usually the price is failure.............lots of failure. This why we always seem true champions rise out of adversity and average people quit as soon as things get tough.

Now back to the questions and answers:

"Losing all the games would be tough on the kids, the parents would probably have me lynched after they got sick of losing"
  • Pressure is mostly perception, this coach might be fine, as long as he doesn't crack when the going gets tough, since he has not lost a game at this point and is already making excuses.
"Kids need to win to move on to the next level, they need to be show what it takes."
  • Stay away, unless this person has an amazing record for development of kids, they probably will be scared of this coach and we learn through failure and correction, not fear of failure.
"Wow, that would be amazing if one kid got a scholarship. You know how lucky you would have to be to have more than one???"
  • This coach's heart is in the right place, but they have already written off most of the team. You need someone who truly believes in the kids and has a plan to get them there.
"I would be so proud, it would be a lot of work and failure....if I can be a part of that development I would consider it my greatest coaching achievement. "
  • Chances are this coach already dreams of this happening. They constantly are learning and putting the kids first. Sometimes this involves tough love and kids being held accountable, but there best long term development comes first.

Moral of the post:

Think about who you want to coach your kids....not because you want them to become NHLers, but because you want them to be great at life and having all the lessons learned along the way to greatness make for an amazing journey.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to spot a good coach.

Coaches, coaches, coaches..............

Kinda like parents, anyone can be one, but not everyone should. We have all heard about the stories of crazy coaches, and any of us that have played minor hockey probably have a couple stories that would seem like, well............... like this guy on the left:

Now don't get me wrong, I do not know enough about Mr. Knight or Basketball to truly evaluate his coaching ability, so my point is more about minor hockey and how coaches can make or break our kids passion for hockey and life in general.

So lets look at some indicators of a bad coach:

1. Poor knowledge of the game.
-This person usually has the excuse that the players are not trying hard enough. The confuse tactics and where they should be used (eg: dumb and chase on a penalty kill or power-play). They also are unwilling to take any accountability for the results of the game. They also consider conditioning to be the key to success with statements like " We are gonna skate the other team into the ground" and your practices include a lot of lines and some sort of humiliation to motivate you.

2. Mr. know it all
-This coach has an answer for everything and no suggestion is given any sort of consideration. This usually comes in the form of a former good hockey player who played junior or even pro. They figure their resume speaks for itself and they know all the right ways.
These coaches can be hell if they are teaching bad habits or techniques and can become outdated in a hurry. The other problem is that they skew the experiences of the past and replay them in the wrong context. "I ran stairs every day and that's how I learned to skate fast enough for junior hockey" would be an example of something that they would like but when you look at it critically then you realize that there is no way that could be more than a small contributing factor.

3. Wins mean everything
-This coach loves winning. Systems, powerplays and short shifting players are hallmark trademarks of this coach. In the lower levels they find two kinds of success which seems to make them think they are doing a great job. The first way is if they inherit a team of well developed players, and then it works good even if those players do not really improve during the year. The second way is that they win early on in the season and then by the end the other teams beat them with skill from improving all year. This usually leads to blaming the kids for not trying hard enough since "they won before against this team."

4. Carefree, do whatever
-This coach just wants to be out with the kids. Teaching them is secondary to having fun. Their idea of fun is to just let the kids do whatever. This quickly gets out of control and the kids get bored. We all know what happens when kids get bored.

5. Good heart, poor vision
- These coach have some knowledge of the game, but they are unable to recognize what is wrong and how to fix it. The fixes put in place are often worse than the initial problem. Tends to blame effort and not dumping the puck in as reasons for losing the game.

6. Tells you what you are doing wrong
-This coach should stay in the stands. Kids are confused enough. What usually happens is that this coach will point out all your weaknesses, but will not tell you anything to fix them. A common statement would be "You are a slow skater, practice more!". The statements come in all shapes and sizes but the message is the same "You have a weakness, now figure out how to fix it yourself". Poor kids...........some improve despite their coaches.

Now lets look at some good coaching traits:

1.Relates to the kids, speaks at their level of understanding.

This coaches talks to the kids at their level in languages they can understand. Gives them an environment to learn that they feel comfortable in. Being uncomfortable leads to thinking and worrying too much. That is best left to parents.

2. Does not treat players all the same

What about fairness??? In a group of kids with skill levels and personalities at all ends of the spectrum??? Of course not!!! These coaches deal with each kid as an individual and helps them accordingly. Some kids need structure, some need to be encouraged, some need discipline, and some need all three. Every kids is different, so treating them the same is unfair to all of them.

3.Encourages failure

This one is essential. A coach that creates an environment that kids are not afraid to fail will enjoy success unlimited. Kids are always wanting to improve, but are usually scared to fail for fear of embarrassment. Image how long it would take a baby to walk if they felt embarrassed every time they fell. Same applies here....heck everywhere. I always learn way more when I fail than when I succeed.

4.Identifies weaknesses, and understands how to fix them.

This coach can make the difference between growing bad habits and fixing them. These coaches explain what they are doing wrong, how to do it right and why the right way is better. This ability is invaluable at all levels. If the kids can buy into the logic of correct methods, then they will be off to the races in no time.

5.Has passion for the game

This coach loves the game. Loves to talk about it, loves to learn new things. You can see the sincerity and how their eyes light up when talking hockey. Coaching is seen as their contribution to the game and their success is seen by them in the success of the kids, not in personal fame or wins. They see hockey as a life tool for the kids. Teamwork, dedication, following your dreams and learning are just a few of the life lessons that this coach will try to instill in you child.

6.Doesn't have coaching secrets

Knowledge is power, but only if you share it. Those who keep secrets/knowledge do this put themselves ahead of the players and their development. The players should come first.
Ask this coach what his greatest accomplishments in coaching and he will talk about others or when he does talk of personal success he spreads the credit around.

Moral of the post

Coaches are a dime a dozen and many people have their heart in the right place, but there efforts are often misguided. Nature of the beast for a volunteer position.
Great coaches are few and far between. I do not think I am currently a great coach, but I truly believe that one day I will be. I do however recognize a good coach when I see one and they have great passion for the game, great desire and humility to learn and put the players development first. They take the time to help players improve when others write them off. Every great player has a story of a great coach that brought them to the next level.........hopefully everyone in life gets at least one great coach.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How to draft like Detroit at player evaluations.

Hockey season is always closer than you think, and player evaluations are always the beginning, and can be either the beginning of a great team or the beginning of the end.

See the guys to the right? Pick them if they are available but if not don't despair since most minor hockey evaluations do not have Datsyuk and Zetterberg cruising around the ice.

"Duh, we would like to have Pavel and Hank on our team, but we only get one star since the rest are ,usually taken up after the first round, sometimes we can luck out with our 2nd pick!!!"

So what if I told you that that you probably have star potential with your first 15 picks. "You're Crazy" is a common answer, but consider this:

Detroit doesn't need the first 2 rounds of the draft:

Pavel Datsyuk drafted 6th round (171th)
-was there 170 better players? Nope!
Henrik Zetterberg drafted 7th round (210th)
-sedins, havlat, ryan miller ->206 other guys who can't hold his jock strap -> then Henrik
Johan Franzen drafted 3rd round (97th)
-maybe the other 96 guys were more clutch when their teams needed them
Darren Helm drafted 5th round (131th)
-131 players better than this guy, 24 points his draft year and all you end up with are a penalty killer and an OK skater (see these two videos penalty kill and explosive first step (47 seconds into video, yep that's Niedemayer and Beuchimen )

There are more, but the point is that anyone can get lucky with a late pick that works out, but Detroit seems to have more success than most, WHY???

Great scouting and a commitment to developing players. Most players in that organization do not make it till after they spend some time in the minors.

Hakon Andersson is the scout that found Hank and Pavel, but not because others had not seem them play, but because he saw something others did not. Past there shortcomings to to the players he could see. He likes to watch a player more than 3 time but less than 10, since after that "you start to pick on the player's minor weaknesses."

The other thing that Detroit does when scouting players is to look for players that fit into their system. They are a puck possession team and look for players that fit that mold. They look for Ability to play in the NHL regardless of size or age.

SO, who do I pick???

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Know your style of coaching and pick players that fit the mold. If you want a fast attacking team and that is what you are going to teach, don't pick big slow ogres.
  2. Understand your limitations. If you do not know how to teach skating, pick players that can already skate. If you have trouble with defiant kids, don't pick them.
  3. Understand your strengths and what you can teach. If a player just needs to learn a wrist shot and Joe Sakic is your assistant coach, pick that player.
  4. Understand the politics of your minor hockey association. Leverage if you can, but only if the players are put first.
  5. Believe in the kids you pick, tell them why you picked them and tell their parents too!

Pretty Good Guidelines, But how do I pick the sleeper picks?

Most teams are pretty even after the first 2-3 picks when the player drafts come in, so how you pick in the later rounds will have the greatest effect on the success of your team.
Here are tips for finding diamonds in the rough.
  1. Talk to parents if you can, find out more about the kid. Did he play all summer or is it his first time this year on ice? Is he an athlete or is he a one sport pony?
  2. Does this player fit into your style of coaching? If not, look for someone else, even in the first round.
  3. What is the player really good at? Stickhandling, hockey sense, passing.......... Find out if his strengths are above the others and if they are intangibles. Intangibles cannot really be taught, only refined, since they are gifts or the result of great development.
  4. Are their weaknesses something you can fix? Are they bad skaters, and it is something you can fix? Many people will initially write off bad skaters or cannot see past someone who has trouble handling the puck.
  5. Attitude................you can teach all of the hockey skills, and if they have a great attitude and a passion for the game, then it will be a season of improving leaps and bounds.
  6. Try to look past reputations ("That kid never back-checks and is lazy") and see if his bad hockey habits are something you can fix.

Moral of this post:

Make a plan for the kind of team you want and look for players that fit the mold. Don't expect to win all your games, think long term and you will be rewarded handsomely. Look at the players you want and how you will develop them for the end of the year. Remember, you do not want the best Novice players, you want the best Midget players so if you put the kids' long term development first then you have already won. No one in their right mind would give up a chance to play in the NHL, for a Atom AA league championship.

p.s I am sure I missed some stuff so ask questions if you want.

What Lebron can teach hockey coaches and players.

Lebron James just changed professional sports.

When he joined the Miami Heat to play with his friends and put together a championship team, he did what many have tried to do, but on a scale much larger than ever seen before. This might be the start of something....

Has this ever happened in Hockey???
Yes, sure has. Remember when Teemu and Kariya teamed up for a deal worth 7 million for both of them for the year to play on a star studded team in Colorado. Now that situation could have been the turning point in the NHL free agency, but a couple of things happened. One,Colorado did not win the cup, and both Kariya and Teemu did not have very good seasons (Kariya was injured for most of it and Selanne only got 38 points in 78 games). The next season the strike happened and people thought the experiment was a flop and we really have not seen anything like it since.

What makes it special now that Lebron is doing it?
  1. 3 players on a basketball team is like getting 2 lines of superstars to all sign in one place.
  2. Lebron is truly a king of the court (2 time reigning MVP)
  3. Salary Cap, means there is more to the game than signing all the big dogs (like the Yankees do in baseball) with big contracts.
I hear that Lebron is full of himself and this was a selfish move to turn his back on the team he built?

I do not think so..........here is what I see. (Please remember, me an Lebron do not hang and go clubbing together so I do not personally know the guy.)

  1. He wants to play with his friends from the Olympic team - sounds like a good guy to me.
  2. He held an hour long special to announce his decision - with all the profits going to boys and girls clubs of America rather than the big team press conference everyone else gets. This press conference was gonna be a big deal without him putting on a special on ESPN anyways.
  3. He took a pay cut for a chance at a championship - he still makes 14 million, but that is down from the 19.5 he could have made, and there is whole dynamic of taking a ridiculous pay cut and hurting all the other negotiation for players around the league. Pretty hard to get what your worth when the top player in the world just signed for 2 million.

The owner of the Cavs calls him a selfish coward who is narcissistic and that he betrayed cleveland and all the fans who supported him.
(click on underline text to read letter).

Lets look at this with an open mind. Cleveland had the best record in the regular season, good playoff runs and seemed pretty close to a team ready to add a player to take them over to the top. Why not bring Bosh or Wade (or any other free agent star) to Cleveland? Obviously there is more to this story that we all know. After reading the letter, I felt reassured that Lebron made the right decision. The way the owner reacted speaks volumes as to how he manages a team. Obviously the owner was not the leader with the vision that matched what Lebron wanted in a owner. So take a step back and think of being in Lebron's shoes. The owner mentions about who we want our kids to grow up and be like. You tell me who your kids should be like: someone who is willing to take a pay cut, share the spotlight and do what ultimately makes them happy or someone who has knee-jerk reactions when faced with adversity blaming others for their failures?

How does this relate to me as a hockey coach???

Lots of kids get bad reputations, bad habits and things that are keeping them from being good hockey players. I challenge you to look deeper and try to figure out what is really preventing them from being good hockey players. This is what separates good scouts and coaches from mediocracy. Don't write off kids, believe in them and understand what you can work with and what you can't. Understand that because a player may want to change teams, it may not be that he is not a team player. Maybe he just needs better direction and leadership, that's where you come in. In most minor hockey systems players develop reputations, just like coaches and parents. Look deeper than the surface (don't forget to recognize a bad situation it is right in front of you) and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

Moral of this post:

Players for the most part love hockey, remember this and believe in them and you will be rewarded handsomely with an abundance of players that will improve and surprise you. Take the time to figure out the whole story, the root of the problem and deal with it accordingly. You might fail, but you might end up with Datsyuk and Zetterberg on your team with your 6th round and 7th rounds of your player evaluations.