The art and science of teaching skills to hockey players

larkin josi fastest skater

Mike Bracko

Mike Bracko is a skating coach, skating researcher, strength & conditioning coach, and fitness educator. He holds a Doctorate degree in Exercise Science and Biomechanics, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach. He played hockey in the AJHL, BCHL and NCAA (University of Illinois-Chicago). Mike has authored 16 DVD’s on skating instruction and performance enhancement. He does 200-300 skating clinics with 400–500 hockey players every year. He specializes in 1-on-1, small group, and team skating with youth, minor, junior, and pro players.
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Skills are taught through demonstration, practice, and feedback.

Skills are taught through demonstration, practice, and feedback.

Athletes enhance their performance by practicing the movements they use in a game. Skills are learned with the brain, nervous system, and muscles which when memorized, is called a motor program. This is motor learning, which is the acquisition of movement skills through study, experience, or teaching/coaching.

Do muscles really memorize movement?

Muscles do not have the ability to memorize movement.

Learning and improving hockey skills requires the brain and nervous system to learn when to activate the muscles to contract and relax, to perform a smooth coordinated movement. This is called motor learning, and is defined as set of movements aimed at learning and refining new/different skills by practicing them.

Developing a motor program is going from consciously competent (where the athlete has to think a lot about the movement or skill) to learning the skill and being unconsciously competent. When the athlete can perform the skill without thinking about it, he or she has developed a motor program.

What is the best way for hockey players to learn a skill?

It is always best to practice the way we play.

A coach must understand how players move during a game to develop drills that emulate the game-performance skills. When players practice the movements used during a game, their motor program is developed so that, eventually, they can “turn the program on” and do what was practiced.

This means coaches must watch high level hockey to see how skills are used during a game. This can help a coach see what is done in a game, and develop drills based on plays during the game.

Examples of game-performance skills and drills include:

  1. Design drills to get players to shoot while they are striding, gliding, and stationary.
  2. Use drills to pass, and receive a pass, while striding, gliding, and stationary.
  3. Have players skate like fast professional players do, with a wide stride and quick recovery.

The importance of teaching game-performance skills

When drills are designed using game-performance skating, shooting, passing, and puck-handling, the player can quickly and relatively easily, go from practice to game without having to think about what he or she needs to do. Practicing the way we play will give players a better opportunity to excel.



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