How to Decide What Systems to Use
I launched a reader’s survey two weeks ago. It is the second time I have done this and it always proves to very enlightening (if you haven’t filled it out please take two minutes to do so here). On a selfish note, it also gives me some ideas of what to write about each week.
One of the questions on the survey is “Finish the sentence, I would like Coach Traugott to write more about...” I have received many great answers so far: how to handle difficult parents, coaching younger players, knowing what skills to work on, in-game strategy. But without question, the number one answer is “systems”.
I find this interesting because I too love to see systems diagramed and explained to me. I recently purchased a video on the 1-3-1 power play for example. Obviously attending a hockey conference allows for a lot of learning when it comes to seeing different systems. It can be fascinating and I always get pretty enthused about being able to implement these new systems next season with my team.
But once I take a step back, I know that it’s not always the best for a team to run new things. I have five tenets that I try to live by when I put together the systems for my team. My systems have to:
1) Encourage full speed play 2) Facilitate skill development 3) Put offence first 4) Develop hockey sense 5) Be simple
Let’s start with the last point. I know NHL coaches bemoan the fact that their players are not understanding and playing the systems they want them to. If NHL coaches have difficulty getting NHL players to play systems properly, how the heck will we ever get younger or less experienced players to play difficult systems? I believe in playing simple systems but playing them extremely well. You will have more success playing a simple system well than a complex system kind of well.
I don’t really like systems that demand playing anything but full speed. For example, a forechecking system that has players stop and wait for the breakout works against team speed. At the same time, keeping the forecheck as the example, having the first forechecker in hard on the puck carrier develops forechecking skills like angling, maintaining the defensive side, stick on puck, etc. Standing still at the blue line waiting for the breakout to come to you simply doesn’t develop the same skills.
For longtime readers you will know I like developing offence first. I try to put an offensive spin on all my systems, even at the risk of giving up some defense. I know this is counter to what most coaches will do but I truly believe that it is our responsibility as coaches to foster as much offensive ability in our players and help them to find ways to score more goals.
Systems also have to develop hockey sense. I know as coaches we feel sometimes our team would be much better if we could tell every player where to be on the ice at any given moment and in every situation. First, that won’t work. Second, it doesn’t allow for any development of hockey sense in our players. We need to put systems into play that force players to make decisions on the fly.
Here is a continuation of the forecheck system analogy I have alluded to. I play what I call the 1-2-3 forecheck. The numbers refer to players crossing the blue line - first player, second player, third player. The first player pressures the puck carrier and “takes the man”. The third player stays high in the slot, ready to back out on the breakout but in a great spot for a centering pass and a scoring chance. The second player over the blue line is the “mongoose”. He is the man that is going to get the puck. This is the toughest position as it takes reading and reacting, speed, angling, guessing and often a little bit of luck.
This system accomplishes all five tenets listed above: it encourages full speed, it facilitates skill development, puts offence first, develops hockey sense and it is a simple system. And, if the team executes well and improves all season it will be tough to play against.
A famous quote about football says “it’s a simple game for simple men”. I try to take that concept to hockey as well. You will never go wrong with simple.
(A short side note: Often young female players have a need to be told where they are supposed to be on the ice at all times. This can seem like a dream come true for many coaches but, as a responsible coach, it is crucial that you force your players to develop hockey sense and not always ask what they should do, and when, all of the time.)