Novice Hockey

FTLComm - Tisdale - Saturday, February 22, 2003
This is hockey for short guys. The first two years of organised hockey is the Novice level and the players you see in these pictures are in grades one and two. During their first season of hockey they will play fifty games and Tisdale minor hockey wants their players to each get lots of ice time so that each team has only about nine players.

Saturday afternoon these two Tisdale teams were in a tight game with one another in the last few minutes of play when I came along with a score of five to four with the White guys in the lead and pressing the fellows in black.

There is no question that this programme is really working the players had their positions down cold and in the few minutes I watched them I saw passing, excellent defensive play at the blue line and well executed attack and defensive positions.

Most impressive of all was the level of skills. These players are all skaters who have been taught the skills correctly so that they keep their heads up and can use their feet as well as their sticks to control the puck.

In most cases Novice hockey involves a lot of falling down and a considerable level of direction from the bench to assist the players in achieving even the most remote level of game skills. But with these two teams the coaches had done their work and stood silently in the benches switching the few players often one at a time. You could almost see them working out the plan for the next practice because what was happening on the ice was outstanding for people so young.

Child development psychologists have always been puzzled by a complex game like hockey because the actual game is the coordinated movement of five skaters and requires a level of cognitive skills that exceeds the intellectual capabilities of a seven year old. Because of this many hockey advocates including Howie Meeker maintain that until a child reaches age ten, when Piaget's "formal thinking" skills kick in, there is no point in teaching children the game but instead coaches should concentrate only on the skills. Coaches with long experience in starting young hockey players strongly disagree with this approach since the nature of hockey and the extreme competitive nature of the sport indicates that most players who will go on to reach the professional level had been selected for that route and were demonstrating the capabilities far above their peers at age ten.
Many who have examined the learning process for the game have suggested that the repetitive process used with the drills and the training create a patterned behaviour that allows the player to cope with the game without requiring the cognitive formal abstract thinking capabilities associated with what the hockey player is actually accomplishing.

Having had three sons and coached many hockey teams over several decades I believe quite strongly that both Meeker's approach and that of experienced coaches is completely compatible with one another because hockey might be substantially different than what we at first suppose it to be.. Certainly a player needs to be able to skate, certainly he needs to be able to develop special awareness but when we look carefully at the very best hockey players we discover that their skills are usually excellent but they all have one skill that far exceeds all others. Visual skills.

What you do when you train a skater to accomplish that remarkable skill is to teach him or her to keep their head as still as possible and control their movement with their knees and hip rotation. Vision is a tricky thing, you are blind when your eyes move and your brain does a cool trick of holding the image prior to the movement and matches it with the image after the movement so that you believe you can see but when eyes are in motion the only thing you see is what your brain has in memory. So the hockey player with good skating skills and a steady head can gaze out across the ice and will see far more than one who has his head wobbling around and eyes rolling as he is actually blind most of the time.

You will recall people describing really great hockey players as being able to anticipate the actions of their own and opposing players. Actual anticipation is not difficult if your head is near stationary and your eyes steady.

So, the consequences of good coaching and skating training will pay off with players who appear to understand the game but in fact can see the game and thus respond to the needs that they can see in their visual field.

Hockey is not a solo activity, it requires team play for it even to be fun and what is even more amazing it is even more fun when your opponents are as close in skill levels as you and your team. That is why I saw outstanding hockey this afternoon and these players can look forward to years of success and the feeling of accomplishment as they continue to master this high speed game based on the great foundation they already have.

Timothy W. Shire



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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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