I had an interesting conversation with a former player of mine who has been an assistant coach with a high level midget girls team the past few seasons. She was telling me about her team last year and felt the one area where they were particularly lacking was in their competitiveness. She thought that when her players were going into the corners to battle for the puck they weren’t hungry and weren’t winning those battles often enough.
Her comments made me think of two things I have read in the past about female athletes with respect to this very issue. And both have come from different non-hockey sports.
First, Geno Auriemma, legendary coach of the UConn women’s basketball team, makes sure he does a lot of “contact” drills and plays a lot of “contact” games in practice. He recognizes that female athletes are often not very comfortable making contact with each other so he will often create games where players have to physically push each other and bump each other. He argues that this helps players be more comfortable with the contact that is necessary underneath the basket and in the key.
Second, Anson Dorrance, another legendary college coach who mentored many US national soccer team players at the University of North Carolina, makes sure his players compete in practice every day by keeping score. Dorrance observed that when he sent his players off to play some 2v2 or 3v3 he would go through the groups and always ask who won. He found that female athletes tended not to want to keep score or report it back because they didn’t want to make their teammates feel bad. He also has the opinion that male athletes tend to be much for competitive and would “always know the score and who won”.
Both these scenarios play out in hockey as well. And with younger male players playing “non-contact”, I think the same ideas can apply on the boy’s side as well.
Simply put, make sure your players are competing in part of every practice. Always have a game or competition where players are keeping score - maybe even have some extra skating or push-ups for the group that doesn’t win as incentive.
One of the best ways to create competitive situations is to play Small Area Games (SAG). In these, players compete against each other in designated areas such as inside the blue line, in one faceoff circle, below the hash marks, or even below the goal line. Players should be instructed to battle hard and to keep score in these games in order to create a more competitive culture within the group. I will even go so far as to keep score on a 1v1 rush drill. Forwards get a point for a shot and two points for a goal, defencemen get a point for no shot on net.
At the end of the day, find ways to get your players to battle with physical contact and compete with each other. Without question it will translate to success in games.
You can find some good SAG and competitive drills in my eBook Essential Hockey Training by clicking here (special sale price at $4.99 this week) or, click here to download a PDF of 24 Small Area Games written by Paul Willett.