Every time I watch an NHL game I am truly amazed by the speed of the play. It almost gets to the point that it is tough to follow the puck and actually digest all that is going on while watching on TV. And to top it off, the further we get towards the Stanley Cup the faster the play seems to get. I don’t think there is any question that the Predators and the Penguins are playing at a faster pace now than they would have in mid-November. There is simply more “urgency” to the play in the championship series.
This begs the question: is there such thing as a speed mentality? And if there is, how do we as coaches foster and develop that mentality? How do we instill a sense of urgency in the play of our team?
Let me first start with a few more observations with regards to speed. During the 2002-2003 season, a friend of mine took me to see a Tuesday night game between the OHL Oshawa Generals and the Petes up in the Peterborough Memorial Centre. Notable players in the game were Nathan Horton for Oshawa and Eric Staal for the Petes. It was good game - a mid-season tilt between bitter rivals. That weekend, I took my high school team to Connecticut for a tournament and we managed to get tickets for the entire team to see Boston College play at Providence College. I was blown away by the speed of the NCAA game in contrast to the OHL game earlier in the week. Now, a few things to note: first, the college players were on average 3 years older than the OHL players. Second, other than Patrick Eaves there really weren’t any other notable future NHL players on the ice in the college game and third, there is a difference between a mid-season OHL game in the middle of a 68 game schedule and a key match-up in the middle of a 36 game NCAA schedule. In hindsight, the difference was the urgency with which the teams played. BC and Providence simply played with much more urgency than the Generals and the Petes.
I attended a showcase tournament lately for female high school aged players. It was one of those tournaments that has close to 700 players and for someone who is scouting and recruiting, it is difficult to simply watch a game and pick out the top players without some pre-scout help. I will also say, in my experience, watching the same team at this age and level twice, a month apart, can generate totally different scouting reports. What makes players stand out in this type of environment? It’s the urgency with which they play the game. There was one player in particular who didn’t stand out for her skill level but simply because, as one scout put it, “she was all over the ice. You couldn’t take your eyes off her.” There was nothing particularly remarkable about her play other than the fact that she never stopped skating and she played with absolutely more urgency than anyone else on the ice.
Finally, here is a quick observation on my own playing career. I can’t remember when it happened or what triggered it, but sometime in grade 11 or 12 something suddenly clicked and I realized how much more success I could have offensively if I played with more urgency. To my mind, that urgency was simply playing faster - skating faster, passing faster, shooting faster, pressuring faster, changing faster, thinking faster, literally everything I did on the ice I committed to doing faster. Suddenly, I went from a player who got cut from the grade 10 high school team to scoring 64 goals and 88 assists in 107 games with the Varsity hockey team. The success was all about playing with urgency, and finding this new “gear” was the only reason I managed to play four seasons at the college level with the UofT Varsity Blues.
For most players, playing with “urgency” is the only way to make it to the next level. As we see the top of the pyramid getting smaller, the players that get to the top typically are the ones that either a) have huge amounts of talent, b) have an abundance of “gifted” speed and c) noticeable play with speed and urgency. Imagine coaching an entire team who ALL played with speed and urgency! What a terrific team that would be.
So, how do we get our players to play with more urgency?
1) Talk about it. Find ways to make your players understand what urgency means. Use the words “speed” and “pressure” which go hand in hand with urgency.
2) Practice with urgency. Create drills that foster urgency and insist that they are done at full speed and with quick pressure.
3) Show video or what urgency looks like (NHL games, NCAA games) and show video of what it doesn’t look like (gliding and not skating, halfhearted pressure).
4) Highlight team success when playing with urgency. Make sure urgency is noticed and rewarded.
Developing urgency is more important than any system you will work on. Urgency is not only a physical skill to develop but a mental one as well. Playing with urgency will undoubtedly make your team exponentially better, develop your players more and get your team closer to a championship season.
(As you prepare for the upcoming season, consider purchasing one of the following eBooks to help in the planning process. You can learn more by clicking on the eBooks section.)