A number of coaches recently have been reading my book about the Torpedo System and as such, I have had a number of chats about what the system can bring to a hockey team. One of my conversations was with a coach of a junior aged spring team (let’s call him Coach D) who implemented it last weekend in an exhibition game. We had a great back and forth but the gist of the conversation was that junior aged players “had a tough time wrapping their head’s around it.” Coach D said, “I liked how we put it together, but (we are) not a smart enough group to execute without much practice.” The kicker, “My eleven year olds would have been better to try it with.”
Coach D is a lifelong coach who has worked at the university level. Here is how he summed up the conversation:
“Just seems like players now have to be told what to do - can’t figure stuff out for themselves. (I) had one (player) ask me what the center is supposed to do - (I) told him we don’t have one in this system and he couldn’t comprehend it.”
After our conversation, I immediately sent him a great Wayne Gretzky quote I saw online just this past week:
“When I was 10 years old, they’d throw a puck on the ice and say ‘Go score!’ Now at 10 years old, the kids are taught to play in their lanes. Defencemen stay back. Everybody blocks shots. I mean, my goodness, I don’t think I ever blocked a shot, and I killed penalties every single game. I thought goaltenders were paid to block shots, not forwards. It’s changed completely. I think the biggest thing we’ve lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general.”
This got me thinking about what a great opportunity spring hockey is to develop skills, individual tactics and creativity. In particular, developing an “offense first” mentality when the games truly don’t mean anything, and fun and some extra ice time is the goal of most players. (And just to note: my personal belief is that players should be finding other sports to play through the spring and summer but, I am not going to win that battle so let’s try to make spring hockey more meaningful.)
Coming back to Coach D’s comments, I had a player who was playing a Torpedo position for me at the Bantam level. He was a skilled player and a good goal scorer. I thought the system suited him perfectly, as his only responsibility was to score goals (well, and cover his defenceman in the defensive zone). He would regularly ask me what he should be doing in certain situations on the ice. I just kept telling him “Just go score!” He would always give me “the look”. He wanted me to “X and O” him and he couldn’t believe that I was really telling him to “just go score goals.” Now, there are a lot of things that go into scoring goals and we would work on things in practice that would help in developing the creativity that goes into that (e.g. reading a defenceman’s body position on a forecheck for better puck recovery). But this comes back to Wayne Gretzky’s point that we are simply over-coaching our younger players so that they are always thinking “Where does coach want me to go now?” and “If I go the wrong way, Am I going to get benched?”
This all reminded me of a book written in 2003 called Who’s Puck Is It, Anyway? Here is the description from Amazon.ca:
“Every winter, in hockey arenas across North America, as soon as the kids step onto the ice, the abuse begins. Coaches yell at the players, parents yell at the coaches, and everyone yells at the referees. After nearly a decade of coaching youngsters, Ed Arnold decided he wanted kids to learn the fundamentals of hockey but he also wanted them to have fun. He got support in this enterprise from two former NHL players, goalie Greg Millen and forward Steve Larmer. Concerned that the children’s game was being taken far too seriously by both parents and coaches, they also believed that the kids were losing the opportunity to reinvent the game for themselves. “So it came about that in the winter of 2000, when the parents of the would-be Minor Novice Peterborough Petes showed up with their kids for tryouts, they were handed a letter outlining the coaches’ new philosophy. There would be no yelling at players, coaches, or referees. Players would play all positions. They would not be forced to follow a “systems” approach to hockey, but would be left to figure out what to do in a given situation for themselves. And all members of the team would be given equal ice time.”
The coaching staff took a novel approach to the game by just letting players “figure it out” and “just go play”. Now, it helped that two of the coaches were former NHL players, because as we all know, parents can be a fickle group when it comes to doing anything new or different. For example, I remember running an hour long practice where we warmed up and did skills for 15 minutes then played half ice 3 on 3 for the last 35 minutes. All of a sudden I was getting complaints from parents that I was wasting good ice time and not “teaching” anything. Now I know we accomplished an awful lot in that 35 minutes: disguised conditioning, no X’s and O’s, lots of shots and offence, small area games type playmaking, goalies were active the whole time and…it was fun! How was that a waste of ice time for any team of any age or any level?
As coaches, we need to find ways to de-“X and O” the game and at the same time find ways to help players be creative, imaginative and develop an “offence first” mentality. Spring hockey, coached in the right way, can go a long way to accomplishing that goal.
A few relevant links:
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