Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Perfecting that Practice

I don't think anyone would question how important practices can be, but maybe you're questioning whether your kids are getting the most out of their practices. Here's some inspiring advice, that just may help get your youth hockey player jacked up for stops, passes, drills and naturally a few spills. The advice comes from Kim McCullough, a former Division I captain at Dartmouth. Kim played in the National Women’s Hockey League for six years and is considered a top expert in the development of aspiring female hockey players. She's the founder/Director of Total Female Hockey and the Girls Hockey Director at the PEAC School for Elite Athletes in Toronto.

Kim's Keys to a Successful Practice

By Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS

We’ve all been at those practices where no one can make a pass, the goalies can’t stop a beach ball, no one looks like they’re trying and the coach is ready to pull all their hair out. While every team knows that every practice is an opportunity to take your game to the next level, all too often players are guilty of just showing up and going through the motions. There is nothing more frustrating to a coach, parent or player when no one can seem to do a single thing right out on the practice ice.
That’s why I created a 5 Point Practice Performance Plan that will help to keep players focused, coaches sane and teams on track as we start into the busiest part of the season.

1. Finish Every Drill To The End: This is a huge pet peeve of most coaches. There is nothing more frustrating than watching you work hard for 95 percent of the drill and then slowing down or giving up right at the end. Why? Because it’s that last 5 percent that you don’t think matters that really counts. Most players will let up right before the end – and that’s the most important part. Be different. If your coach tells you that the drill finishes at the goal line or on the whistle, go hard until the end. This tells your coaches and your teammates that you are willing to go the extra mile.

2. Play Every 1-on-1 Battle Like It’s Your Last: In games, you will do anything to win a race to the puck or win a battle along the boards. Why don’t you do the same in practice? Coaches like to say that you have to “practice like you play.” Think of it this way – if you don’t go hard on every 1v1 battle in practice, how are you making your teammates better? When they have to face a “real” 1v1 battle in a game, they won’t be prepared because you took it easy on them in practice. You have to want to win every battle – whether it’s a game, tryout or practice. This tells your entire team that you are determined to make yourself and your teammates better.

3. Talk: This is by far the simplest thing you can do in practice to make yourself and your teammates better. It drives me crazy to watch practices and games where players aren’t calling for the puck. I have a rule with my team that if you don’t call for the puck, I won’t pass it to you. It might make players look foolish when they skate past me without a return pass, but they get the message very quickly. When I watch games as a scout and coach, I guarantee you that I will always notice the players that are talking out on the ice. If your goal is to get noticed, this is a no-brainer. This says that you are confident in your positioning and abilities.

4. Follow Your Shots: This might seem like a really small detail – but it’s a huge deal, especially in girls’ hockey. Far too many players take their shots and then practically skate themselves into the corner on the follow through. GO TO THE NET! I am not telling you to run the goalie over, but you would be shocked at how many more opportunities and goals you will get by following your shots. Start programming yourself to do this automatically by stopping in front of the net after every shot you take in practice. Once you get into the habit, you’ll see a huge increase in your opportunities to score.

5. Stay Positive & Help Your Teammates Do The Same:
We all have days out on the ice when we feel like we can’t do anything right. The easy choice is to put yourself down, slam your stick against the boards when you make a mistake and apologize to your teammates for being “so bad.” Don’t make the easy choice – make the hard one. Choose to stay positive even when things aren’t going your way. Don’t apologize for making a bad pass - decide to make the next one better.

These 5 points may seem small but they will make a big difference in how you practice and play.

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