Monday, December 03, 2012

Skating Evaluation Drill

     Have you ever began a season and wondered just how good a skating team you have?  Of the five basic technical skills of hockey (skating, shooting, passing, stickhandling, and checking), skating should be the skill you evaluate the most it should be the skill you work the hardest at.  My reasoning for this is simple:  If you can can skate well in hockey, it makes learning/performing all the other technical skills easy.  If you don't believe me, ask yourself how well you can check without excellent skating skills?

     The problem with evaluating skating is that there are very few drills out there that can give a quick look without taking up copious amounts of ice time.  If you've done evaluations, you know the frustration of having to evaluate 40 kids on a single sheet of ice, who sometimes may or may not have a jersey number, or a different coloured jersey depending on position.  The reality is that sometimes you may see a player skate for 10 seconds out of a 90 minute tryout.  

     The drill shown below is one of my favorites and one that I use for pee wee and up.  The older players will gripe about the simplicity of this drill, but they need to be reminded that part of any tryout is attitude and willingness to do drills the coach wants them to do.  It's not like you are making them run the gauntlet.  You just want to see what they are capable of.   You can also use this drill from time to time to evaluate the skating skills of your players at different times during the season.  The beauty is that you can use a stopwatch if you want to, but you will generally see great progress as the season moves on.  This is also a great drill to use to evaluate a players readiness to return to play after recovering from an injury.  This drill is taken from Hockey Canada's Skills Development manuals (an excellent resource for any coach!).

      I apologize for the crudeness of the drawing, but there is a glossary in the upper right corner to help you make sense of it all.
Magic X Skating Drill
      I usually place the cones a little closer together as to reduce time, space, and sometimes speed.  You can place the cones further apart as your players progress. One key teaching point I forgot to include above is, "heads up", as players in their pursuit of speed might keep their head down.

     Yes Martha my dear, there are progressions to the this drill.  Add these variations to the drill to make the drill harder or to look for certain skating elements:
  • Two foot jumps over the cones (heads up on the middle cone)
  • Tight turns around each cone
  • Backwards through the cones
  • Use pucks to test skating and stickhandling
  • Ask your goalies to use shuffles and keep their stance through the cones
     I hope you enjoy using this drill.  I know I haven't put many drills on here, but from time to time I'll an old fave in here and you are welcome to give it a try.  I have to give a shout out to BC Hockey and Hockey Canada for providing the absolute best drill sheets out there!

Any comments gladly accepted.

Keep smiling and keep your stick on the ice!

More to the Portland Winter hawks story than meets the eye!

     Unless you have been living under a rock or consciously make an effort to ignore hockey totally, you are probably aware of the recent penalties handed out to the Portland Winter Hawks Junior hockey team.  It seems the Winter Hawks were playing against the league rules in recruiting and paying players to play in the Rose City.  Fair enough rules are rules and leagues put forth rules to ensure the safety of the players, and also the financial stability of the league.  However, the WHL set about to make an example of the Winter Hawks and put forth severe punishment that will see the Winter Hawks not only lose draft picks for the next 5 seasons, but also have to pay a huge fine of $200,000, which is a lot for any junior club.

    Now I understand that the league is looking out for its best interests and wants to have a level playing field, but I find it hard to believe that the league is looking out for the fans in this mess.  Why do you ask?  Well, when the league says that is wants a level playing field among all the team so small market teams can compete with the larger markets, why does it allow some teams the run their operations that would make Ebenezer Scrooge look like a free spending fool?  I'm not at liberty to say which teams they are, but I'm sure their fans would tell you the owner simply doesn't spend enough money to put a competitive team on the ice season in season out.  Why does the league allow organizations to run so cheaply that no decent player in their right mind would want to play for an organization that will not help them develop?  I'm not sure the WHL has a certain minimum level that teams must spend on players, but it perhaps would be a good idea to have one so some owners can't rely on the old tired excuse that they play in a small market.

     Now lets look at the case of Seth Jones.  If you were a highly touted prospect, where would you want to play?  Here are your choices, a team in larger market with a highly respected coach/GM known for developing prospects with a proven team track record of sending players to the next level.  Or, a team where the GM is a son in-law with eyes only on the bottom line trying to run a five star program on a half-star budget with a proven history of mediocrity?  Hmmmm, and this is merely an example of a player who has a little say in where they want to go.  How would you like to be drafted to one of these small markets with a cheapskate owner?  I know I wouldn't.

     Portland broke the rules and they deserve to be punished.  That much is clear.  How about changing the rules so that each franchise has to put forth a minimum amount of effort in trying to be successful?  If it really is about protecting the fans and ultimately the league, then it has to happen.

Keep smiling and keep your stick on the ice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Google Search Reveals that I am a published author!

Ever do a google search on yourself?  Yes I was bored and I really wanted to see what info was out there that existed about me.  I found out all sorts of interesting things about myself and in the midst of it all, I signed up for 17 genealogy websites, signed up for 3 coaching magazines, and somehow managed to buy a caseload of Sham-wows.  Yes, it was an interesting 10 minute coffee break.

In the midst of all the craziness, I managed to find that an old term paper I submitted was published in 2009.  It was for a sociology in sport class and I remember the professor asking me to edit my paper and shorten it from 35 pages, down to 10.  I did and I guess it was accepted.  Click here if you want to read it and let me know what you think.

Thank you to Dr. Kelly Flanagan for asking me to submit.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Working With Hockey Parents-Creating a safe environment for the officials

     A few years back, Hockey Canada released some of the best PSA's ever.  Here is one that I particularly enjoy and fits today's topic.

     What would you do if you were this kids parent?  I can only imagine that you would want to put your foot somewhere in his posterior region, find a creative use for duct tape, or wish you could crawl into a hole somewhere and not come out until you felt it was safe.  Unfortunately for many kids at the rink this is a reality in their hockey experiences, and for any adult who has to deal with someone like this, it can be downright embarrassing and difficult to address.  Have you ever tried to deal with someone like this as a coach?  It is darn near impossible to deal with an opposing coach like this or a fan from the other team, without it looking self-serving or whiny.  However, if you are proactive in your approach to coaching and dealing with parents on your team, you can nip this problem in the bud even before it begins.

     Let's face it, on-ice officials have the hardest job in the game.  They are held to an incredibly high, sometimes impossible standard and god forbid if they make a mistake.  They are called upon to ensure that all the players are safe and that the game is carried out in a fair manner.  It baffles the mind why anyone would want to be an official when it gives about as much satisfaction as Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill.  In minor hockey, most of the officials you see will probably only be a few years older than the kids playing the game and often they do it because they love hockey, they want to become a good official, and it gives them a little bit of spending money that comes from doing something they love rather than flipping burgers.  Those are but a few reasons why kids officiate, but I can guarantee you that they don't officiate because they hate you or your kid, or that they want the glory for themselves.  Keep that in mind next time you decide as an adult to berate a 14 year old referee for a bad call or intimidate them into making sure your team gets all the calls.  It is also a good reminder to treat the officials the same way you should treat your players: with respect.

     Here's a great exercise to use for your first parent meeting of the year.  You will need a boombox (forgive me, an Ipod docking station), a stopwatch, and some assistant coaches willing to act like lunatics.  Tell your parents that you are going to give them a rules quiz and that if they don't pass, their kid will be cut and released to a lower level team.  They have one minute to complete the quiz, and there are only five questions ( a good question is; in the course of play a puck splits in two and one half goes in the net.  Is it a goal?) .  Tell them they can can turn their papers over and start on the word, "go". Once you have said go, turn on some loud annoying music that you would hear in a rink, and as the parents try to fill out the quiz, have your assistants help you in walking around the room and yelling at the parents to "hurry up", "this is easy", Why are you looking at me, the quiz is down there", etc  Bang on the table in front of those who ignore you, and just generally try to be a distraction.  Once they are done, read the play then the explanation of the rule.  You will find as I have, that no one will pass your quiz.  For some parents, this will come as a shock to them, because we all know knowledge of the rules comes merely by osmosis or a genetic coding that is activated the first time your child steps on the ice.  

     What this so brilliantly illustrates to most parents is that officiating is a hard job and that most officials will make mistakes, much like each player and every coach out there.  Officials are called on to make decisions in the blink of an eye and those decisions come rapidly at a rate of more than five decisions in one minute.  There is also the element of having to make a decision when physical and mental fatigue has set in (officials don't take shifts and they can't change on the fly), unlike your parents taking the quiz sitting at a table.  

The main point of this exercise, is to place the parents in a game situation and see if they can perform the tasks asked of officials.  If they couldn't do it successfully, why do they expect perfection out of the kids officiating on the ice?

Questions, comments?

Keep smiling and keep your stick on the ice.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Working with Hockey Parents-Understanding Anxiety

       In the days of Soviet hockey, one of the biggest criticisms (spoken in secret of course) was that going to a Soviet league game was just like going to the ballet.  No cheering, clapping, or loudness was permitted.  For those of you old enough to remember the 72'  Summit Series, you might recall that 3,000 Canadian fans totally out cheered the 16,000 Soviet fans in attendance.  No small secret, but you were simply not allowed to cheer wildly for your team in Soviet hockey.  Add to this fact that one team, Central Red Army, totally dominated the league through shrewd underhanded dealings that would Sam Pollock look like a straight-laced accountant, and you get a product that may not have been worth cheering for or even watching.  There is a reason for the quietness at the ballet though; the moves made by the dancers requires absolute mental concentration, even after years of training and practice.

      Lets move forward a few years and a few thousand kilometers to the west.  Something magical happens when you enter any rink where kids play hockey.  The volume increases tenfold and for many, the louder the better.  Most people have voices that are tolerable, but to the idiots who bring in air horns and blow them repeatedly, know this; you are annoying beyond belief.  Maybe no one has told you that lately or ever, but secretly we all want to take that air horn and run it over with the Zamboni.  Ok, enough of my rant.  Save those air horns for the yacht.  It is quite acceptable to cheer for your child, but always keep it positive and let the coaches coach.  Nothing damages a child or a team quicker than a parent who coaches from the stands.  It creates conflict in a child who is trying to please two people who may mean the world to them, and believe me the other kids will make your child a social pariah if you do such a thing.  There is also the issue of creating too much anxiety in your child, and you sometimes may do it without even knowing it.  Keep the kids at the centre of the program and you will never go wrong.  Some times the best thing we can do is simply sit back and let the kids have fun and perform at their best.  Keep your cheering positive and let the kids play for the reasons they want to play, none of which is to entertain you.

      If you want a great exercise to explain this idea to parents, you can use this in your next parent meeting.  I learned this from one of the best coaching mentors a coach can have, Chris Johnston, who taught me my first coaching course over 25 years ago.  Chris has taught over 5,000 coaches in his lifetime and he speaks from years of experience.  Get yourself a 2X6 plank about 4 feet long.  Lay it on the floor.  Ask for parent volunteer and then just simply demonstrate that you want them to walk the plank from one end to the next.  Increase the skill level by having them do it blindfolded, then place the plank across a couple of cinder blocks which adds difficulty to the skill.  Most people can do this skill even when the plank is placed on the cinder blocks.  Now, ask your volunteer and the rest of the parents if they could do the same skill (walking the plank) if you placed it 20 feet above the ground.  Most will say that they couldn't, to which you should reply, "Why not?  It's the same plank that you walked across on the floor"  What is the difference?

     Well the difference of course, is that when you place the plank at a higher height, you are creating an environment that can create anxiety and nervousness in anyone.  With practice and the right environment, you could do the skill very easily.  As a coach, you will need to work on your players mental skills to help them perform in situations that are anxious and nerve-wracking.  You must also teach your parents to help in creating the right environment for the kids to learn and perform.  We all have those kids on our team, who can execute the skills perfectly in practice but cannot do it in a game. You owe it to your players to teach them mental skills and to work with your parents on creating the right environment for them to learn in.

Any comments, questions?

Have fun and keep your stick on the ice.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Working with Hockey Parents-Motivation

Sad but true for many coaches.
     Sarah Palin once remarked that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was lipstick. For some I would say that is very true, but you could also add, a sense of logic and optimism on the pit bull's behalf.  Let's face facts folks, the very small but vocal minority of hockey parents get 99% of the attention in the rinks, and that is really sad.  These folks self-centered attitude gets in the way of the many countless unpaid hours that great hockey parents do, whose only reward they ever seek is to watch all the kids (and not just their own) have fun playing this great game.  Fortunately in Canada, we have the Fair Play code, which came to attention through the fine folks at Dartmouth Minor Hockey, who forever changed the way parents act in hockey rinks, and it was all for the better.  But I digress.  I'm here to give you a few hints and methods for working with hockey parents.  Try these out some time.  I have tried them for years and they work for me.

What Motivates Your Kid?
         Kids play hockey for a variety of reasons; they like the sport, they do it cause their friends do, they like the feeling associated with playing, they want to be a great hockey player, and the list goes on and on.  Every kid plays hockey for their own intrinsic needs and wants.  Of course, if you don't know these or you place such great emphasis on extrinsic rewards such as trophies and the win column, conflict will arise on your team.  That I can guarantee you.  Worse yet, if your players and their parents are involved in hockey for differing, conflicting reasons, tensions will rise, and some times that tension will find its way into your program through uninspired play, lack of motivation, and parental conflict.  So how do you find your way through this maze?  Well the total process takes time and by the end of the year, you will know your players well enough, you will know what motivates them and what doesn't.  Here is a simple exercise to help you on your way.

     At the beginning of the season, preferably after a practice, hand each of your players an index card and a pen.  Tell them they have one minute to give you three reasons why they play hockey, even if its in point form.  This cuts down on any long-winded responses and generally you'll find the most honest answers are the ones that come immediately to mind.  Once they're done that, tell them to put their name on the card and hand it in to you.  Now you have the chance to see why your players play.  Their answers will surprise you. I have seen answers that range from the typical (want to play in the NHL) to the strange (I hate soccer), to the interesting (I want to be more Canadian).  Write these down and study them.  They will help you.

    Here is where it gets fun.  At your first parent meeting, give each parent a blank index card and ask them to write down three reasons why their kid plays hockey, and place the card face down in front of them.  Assure them you will not take their card and you don't need them to tell you unless they feel free to do so.  Once again, this exercise only takes one minute.  I suggest doing this before the meeting has begun or even before you've introduced yourself.  Now at the end of the meeting, remind them of that card and ask them to look at it again.  Once they have the card in front of them, walk over and give them their child's card.  The joy for you is watching their reaction.  Some times you will see surprise.  Often times you will need not say a thing, but ask the parents to keep those cards with them throughout the season as a gentle reminder of why we are all involved in the first place.

Comments?  Anything is greatly appreciated.

Have fun and keep your stick on the ice.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Glass Ceiling

Looks like a skaters foot to me.
I have recently had the privilege of becoming a father for the very first time.  Almost 3 months in and it has been an exciting ride that I never could have imagined in a million years.  I have finally begun to understand many of my coaching contemporaries who said they missed their kids while they were on the road.  

A lot of people have commented that I wished I had a boy, so that I could teach them to play hockey.  While having a boy would be easier to understand in terms of the male mind, truth is, I figured no matter what the gender of my child, I would teach them to play hockey and hopefully they would love it just enough to play it for a lifetime like I intend to do.  Or at the very least, I would have someone around to play Stiga Table Hockey with.  I'm still waiting for someone in my area to play Stiga against, but that's another story.

As I look at my daughter, I see the potential and I imagine every parent sees the potential in their children at birth.  I see a world for her filled with skates, sticks, 6AM practices, goals, blocked shots, smiles, tears, and a world that is supposed to healthy and fun.  I would be lying to you if I said I didn't see a scholarship in her future and maybe more, but the realist in me knows better.  I also have seen the downside of too many parents who push their kids into sports for all the wrong reasons.  I vow, just as I vowed as a coach, that I would participate in sports for all the right reasons, and not be the imbecile hanging off the glass ready to have a heart attack while chastising a 14 year old ref.  If you ever see me acting that way, you have my full permission to stop me and point out what a moron I am.  Trust me, we need more people to step up in that regard.

Anyway, back to the potential.  As I thought more of that potential, I sadly came to the realization that my daughter's dreams in certain sports, will be limited.  The female athlete of today is limited in what they can earn in a career.  Yes, there are certain sports where women can earn money, but as in life, the earnings are not at par with what men can earn, nor is there as much opportunity.  Forty years after the introduction of Title IX in the US,  can we honestly say that women have more opportunities today than 40 years ago?  Statistically yes, but the reality is that we have a long ways to go.  Hayley Wickenheiser today is a student at the University of Calgary and plays for the Dinos hockey team.  I don't know what Hayley has made playing hockey, but I guarantee you, it is not even remotely close to what players like Sidney Crosby or Rick Nash are making.  Yet, Hayley Wickenheiser is generally regarded as the best women's hockey player of all time.  She has inspired many girls to play hockey and has inspired many men to realize that girls have a place in this wonderful game of ours.  I honestly am of the opinion that Wickenheiser should be able to retire once her playing career is over and that working will be a hobby, not a necessity.  

Anyway, back to my daughter.  My dear, I truly hope you enjoy this game.  It can be the best thing in the world to you, and the worst.  There are heart breaks, sore feet, blisters, bruises, boring drills, long bus rides, cold winters, tough seasons, and lousy coaches.  However, the flip side is that there are more thrills and excitement than you can ever imagine.  And if you don't want to play at all and want to play guitar, well I will help you out there as well.

Have fun and keep your stick on the ice!

With Love

Tracking Martin Marincin!

This is the original post I wrote for the Cult of Hockey.

It was my cherry post and hopefully it will not be like a cherry high and I find myself looking to match it.  Instead, I hope it is like the first slapshot I ever took.  You know, the one where the puck flutters and wobbles and even bounces a couple times on the way to the net (if it even hits the net).

I hope you enjoy it.

Tracking Oilers’ prospects – Guest expert Ben “Crazy Coach” Berland scouts Martin Marincin

Guest Spot-Edmonton Journal, "Cult of Hockey"

I was asked last summer about my opinion on an Oilers draft pick.  This comes from the Edmonton Journal's online blog entitled, "The Cult of Hockey"  Not sure why the funky name.  It could be our blind devotion to the Oilers, our narrow view of the hockey world, or maybe, just maybe, we're drinking Daryl Katz's Kool-Aid (OH YEAH).

Anyway, check it out some time!

Thanks to Bruce McCurdy for printing this.

Who is Jujhar Khaira? Guest expert Ben “Crazy Coach” Berland gives a sneak preview