Keen Hockey – Applying Constraints to an Ice Hockey Practice

Hockey Coach Constraints

Typically when educators discuss Newells theory of constraints, they are usually referring to manipulating skilled movement or the introduction of skilled movement. I am going to challenge you as a coach to think outside the box and the laws of which you abide by when coaching. If you are up for the challenge then please read on.

Children learn best when they don’t know what they are learning – that my fellow coaches, Is basically how teaching with constraints work. If you can imagine a triangle, and at each tip the words: Organism/Individual, Task and environment. If anyone of these points of the triangle whether or their own or in a combination are manipulated we create an emergent behaviour. This emergent behaviour can be anything you want it to be: follow through on a wrist shot, deeper knee bend when skating, a breakout pass, hinge and reload etc! It comes down to you and your passion for coaching.

Note: you must be an expert in what you are teaching to use constraints effectively. Read up what your teaching, practice it and gain a full understanding.

Now, let’s talk about how to apply these constraints to our practice. I like to use games to develop hockey sense and good habits. If you have read any of the games that I have produced you would understand how simple it can be. For the likes of teaching a breakout pass we play a 3on3 cross ice game where the puck possession team have to make a pass through cones or tyres to a team mate in a good position. Let’s look at the constraints here:

Inspire Connect Lead

Task- pass must be made through the cones positioned at the side of the goalnets.

Environment- we have made the passing area of the ice unopposed

Organismic- players must pass through the cones in order to be allowed to score.

Emergent behaviour- a good first breakout pass.

One for teaching skilled movement. We can look at teaching the basic hockey stop. For this I will use an analogy. Analogies are fantastic tools to excite our little guys. The pirate treasure hunt. Pucks are splattered over the ice in a designated area. Each player has a designated cone (pirate ship) in which they must collect one piece of treasure (puck) at a time and return it safely. The rules are, the players must skate to a puck and unlock the treasure chest by completing a stop. If they don’t complete it correctly then they must return to the ship and come back. It can be done with sticks or with gloves. (Having the players bending down and picking it up is fantastic for balance and edge confidence). Let’s look at the constraints used here:

Task- the whole game design is a task constraint. It’s a subconscious learning style. We are asking the players to stop using two feet. To advance we can then make it weaker side only.

Environment- the analogy is the environmental constraint. They are on a treasure island being pirates.

Organismic- the motivating factor of collecting the most treasure.

Now this game can be changed for players who aren’t yet so good at stopping by simply using a one footed stop and building up from there.

The challenge is set! I have given you some simple examples but please go and make learning fun! Trust me you will enjoy it 100x more too. As always if you have any questions then fire them over to [email protected]

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Dayle Keen

Professional Ice Hockey coach for the Coventry Blaze in the EIHL, Great Britain u20 assistant coach also working throughout the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Featured writer for the coaches site; bringing constraints based learning to ice hockey.

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