April 30, 2011

Five myths of summer hockey programs

By Lyle Phair

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.Evaluating where to send your young player in the offseason is no easy task. (photo: Bridgton Sports Camps)

Selecting a power skating or hockey instructional program for their children is never an easy task for hockey parents.

Quite honestly, how does a parent accurately evaluate a program? The average hockey parent just doesn’t have enough knowledge of the technical skills of the game to really assess whether a program is providing what their player needs. Does it all come down to the player’s enjoyment of the program? If they like it, it must be worth it? Should the decision be based solely on recommendations of other hockey parents or players? What might be good for one, might not be good for another. So how do you know? Where should hockey parents look for guidance?

The answers to these questions are not easy. There will always be a little guesswork involved along with the homework that needs to be done. Obviously, the player has to enjoy it first and foremost. But there also has to be an instructional benefit and improvement on the part of the player for real value to be achieved. To aid you in your quest, here are some truths about the greatest rinkside myths about hockey instructional programs.

1. A tired player makes a better player

Some people believe that the harder someone works, the better. Not necessarily so. The harder a player works at doing something correctly, the faster that player will improve. Simply skating a class of players so they have red faces and sweaty heads gets you exactly that, red faces and sweaty heads. For players to improve their technical skills, the skills need to be broken down and taught, giving the players a chance to make the necessary changes to do things correctly. That takes time and patience and plenty of reinforcement and feedback. Programs that have the players constantly going and eventually tired out can’t be teaching players the correct way of doing things. The players might be tired at the end of the class, which for some parents equates to a good program, but that is not always the case.

2. My child has the fundamental skills down and needs more advanced training

Nobody ever has the fundamental skills mastered. Every player is a work in progress, in varying stages of development. Fundamental skating, stickhandling, passing and shooting skills are the basis of the game. The players with the best fundamental skills are the ones that have the opportunity to become the best players. Players that don’t have the proper skating and puckhandling skills always get exposed at some point. Working on fundamentals can sometimes seem to be tedious and boring, but good programs find a way to make it fun while also delivering the technical training that players need. No matter how good a player might be at something, they can always get faster and smoother.

3. My child needs to be in a group with better players to improve

Instructional programs are not competitions. They are instructional programs. There is always going to be an element of competition involved, which isn’t a bad thing, but it should be a very small part of the program. If a player is constantly trying to compete, trying to keep up with someone else, they can’t possibly be focusing on learning and improving and making themselves better. They are too busy worrying about whether they are going to win or lose or keep up with the better players. While a player can improve in that manner, they don’t need an instructional program or instructors to do so. And they definitely will take a longer time to improve because it will be more from the “School of Hard Knocks” than it will be from any technical training that they receive.

4. A current or ex-pro player must be an excellent instructor

A current or former professional player is probably a very capable hockey player with excellent skating and puck skills, but that has nothing to do with whether they can actually teach children how to do what they can do. In fact, they might have no idea how or why they do what they do, they just do it. Understanding what goes into a skill, how to break it down and communicate it to young players is a skill set that is more important than being able to demonstrate those skills.  Former or current professional players will have the benefit of “getting the attention” of the players they are teaching and right off the bat they have the credibility that will give them a head start on the teaching process. But they need to understand what to teach and how to teach it and be able to get inside the minds of the students to understand how they perceive and learn.

5. Female figure skating instructors  are the best power skating trainers

They could be. But they just as easily could not be. There are definitely a lot of parallels in technique between figure skating and hockey skating. But they are also very much different. Skating for hockey is a lot different than figure skating. Obviously balance, leverage, power and speed are important elements of both. But hockey is hockey. To be able to effectively teach power skating for hockey, an instructor really needs to understand the game and how the skating technique applies to certain situations that arise in a game.

There are plenty of excellent power skating and hockey instructional programs to choose from. There are also plenty of duds out there. There is no substitute for experience. Generally speaking, the programs that have been around the longest have withstood the test of time. The ones that spring up for a year or two and then are gone are the ones to be cautious about. To get it right, take the time to do the homework.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions. But most of all make sure that you are making your choice with realistic expectations.

Lyle Phair can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com