Learning the Game by Watching
A few coaches were chatting about the playoffs the other day and the conversation turned to how, when we were younger, Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night was a staple in our television viewing week. Occasionally there was a Wednesday evening game televised but Saturday night at 8:00pm an anchor in the week. Living in Toronto we almost always saw the Leafs play - which was OK. For me, a big Ken Dryden fan, it was awesome when they showed the Montreal Canadiens game and we could see Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and Yvan Cournoyer.
The conversation turned to how young players these days don't watch a lot of hockey on television. There seems to be too many distractions to put watching hockey at the top of the list. And in turn, players are learning less about the game away from rink. When we were younger, a big part of our hockey development was playing ball hockey on the street with the guys in the neighbourhood. There seemed to be a perpetual game going on my grandmother's dead end street. Ball handling skills, and learning to use time and space were just two of the things we developed on the road with a tennis ball and some old nets.
Back to hockey on television, coaches should be encouraging their players to watch more hockey on TV. There is so much opportunity to do so. Give players a hockey assignment during the week that they have to watch at least a period of hockey on a given night when you have no practice or game (let's face it, there is hockey on TV every night of the week). Give them something to look for in a certain game - something that you have worked on in practice that week that you know will be easy to spot. Some examples:
- Defencemen making good, hard first passed in the defensive zone.
- Carrying the puck wide across the offensive blue line.
- Screening the goalie.
- Going hard to the net.
- Angling on the forecheck.
- Good stick movement on the penalty kill in the defensive zone.
- For goalies, seeing around a screen on a shot from the point.
Choose one or two things for your players to watch for. It will make the game more enjoyable in many ways for your players and also it will be a good teaching tool for you as a coach.