Getting better. That’s what spring hockey is about. It’s not about winning tournaments, it’s not about learning systems, and it’s sure as hell not about exposure (your spring hockey team winning every game of a tournament 12-0 wouldn’t be impressive even if their were scouts in the crowd, which there aren’t).
And how do hockey players get better when the sun is shining outside and other kids are playing other sports like soccer and baseball? Well, for one, their parents make sure to balance their activities so they have time to join those other sports, even if it means they’re not on the ice as much. Too many parents are so afraid of their children falling behind that they sacrifice the normal things a kid should be doing in the spring and summer for the sake of skating 4,5,6, or more times during the spring.
It’s insane. There isn’t a professional hockey player alive who wants to play hockey 365 days a year. Because then it’s not a sport any more. It’s a career.
Most of us don’t want to be committed to jobs when we’re adults, let alone kids. Treat spring hockey like a job, and pretty soon the kids will do the same.
Alright, rant over. That’s mostly meant for parents anyways, so let’s get back on track, coaches. What are some of the advantages of spring hockey?
It’s fun: if you have a group of kids, parents, and coaches and a positive vibe, going to the rink for an hour in the spring and summer can be a blast.
It’s effective: young hockey players can receive a jolt of confidence when they’re placed in a new group of peers with a similar skill level
It’s educational: with the right coaching methods, young hockey players can learn a ton of new stuff in the spring.
So what do the right coaching methods look like?
The last thing any hockey player wants to do at the beginning of a practice is listen to a coach bark orders just so they can hear the sound of their own voice. Dump the pucks on the ice and put the whistle away. Let the kids have some time to shoot pucks and stickhandle on their own. Move around the ice, grab players one at a time and give them some insight into whatever it is they’re working on, and move on.
Skating might not be the most fun skill to work on, so keep it brief and stress how important it is. Find a way to make it fun. Maybe you could hold some races or relay races so the kids won’t even know what they’re practicing.
3. Pucks & Skating
Put em together! At this point in your practice your team has warmed themselves up, they’ve fired up their edges, and they’re ready for an infusion of tactical skills. Hockey incorporates multiple skills all being deployed at the same time, and we’ve all been guilty from time to time of doing too much all at once, so utilize logical progression and introduce skills one step at a time.
The easiest way to focus on individual skill development is by separating skills into stations all over the ice. It doesn’t matter if you have 45 kids on the ice or 4, stations are the best way to use your ice time. You can have multiple stations devoted to a single skill for a day, like skating or passing, or you can have stations that each hit on their own skill. Stations also make life more fun for your assistant coaches.
5. Small Area Games
This is the most important element of spring hockey. Whatever amount of time you devote to small area games currently, double it. Watch an NHL powerplay these days and it basically looks like a bunch of kids playing a small area game with a little bit of structure mixed in. Assign your assistant coaches to teams as well and make it competitive, put something on the line.
Still want to teach systems and strategies? Small area games is the way to do it. Don’t let your coaches stand around watching, this is your players’ chance to learn. Teach them how to check with their sticks properly when their shift is done. Tell them about the value of moving the puck quickly. Fix their hand position after they fire a shot 3 feet over the net. This is your opportunity to really get into it and coach your players, instead of joystick-coaching them during spring hockey tournament games when you’re up or down 12-2.
Spring hockey is fun. It’s valuable if done the right way. Teaching breakouts to 18 8 year-olds using one puck is not right.
Keep it light this spring, have fun, and before you know it it will be over.