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Eaves celebrates the "Unsung Skills" during a Symposium presentation

06/24/2005, 12:30pm MDT
By John Raffel

While some hockey skills are overrated, some are terribly underestimated. And it is those unsung skills that could make the difference between success and lack of it.

That was among the valuable bits of advice provided to more than 500 coaches from across the country during Thursday's discussions at USA Hockey's 2005 National Hockey Coaches Symposium.

Mike Eaves, current coach at the University of Wisconsin and a leader of two Teams USA to win IIHF gold medals (2002 with the U.S. National Under-18 Team and again in 2004 with the U.S. National Junior Team at the World Junior Championship in Finland), was among the NCAA and NHL coaches providing presentations at the Symposium, which runs June 22-26.

The title of Eaves' presentation was, simply, "Unsung Skills." The turnout for his presentation Thursday was impressive.

Its an incredible statement about the present state of hockey in the United States to have this type of turnout, Eaves told his fellow coaches. I was very blessed to play eight years in the National Hockey League. Coaching 20 years, I made sure my staff got a chance to either present at a clinic or take one in. Its important to look at what you do as coaches. We impact players, regardless of the level.

Eaves, whose sons Ben and Patrick, each have Team USA experience, including Patrick's gold on the teams his father coached in '02 and '04, says coaching often comes down to relationships.

"Its about the coach and players working together to make things go.

Eaves told the coaches the unsung skills were common skills of the game that are taken for granted as the cornerstones of the game.

Dont take them for granted, he said. Work on them. The level of the skill will determine the final product of any system we teach.

The challenge for coaches, Eaves said, is to go to other areas of the game and reinforce their common skills that we take for granted. Our guys are very important in teaching these skills to your players.

Eaves focused his presentation on five skills in particular:

PASSING AND RECEIVING
Puck movement is critical and knowing what to do with the puck once you get it. Be a good chess player and be one step ahead all of the time.

50-50 PUCKS
Being able to get to the puck is a big unsung skill. This is one where if you dont do it in practice, you wont in games.

BREAKOUTS
Look up at the ice before you get the puck so when you get it, you have an idea of what youre going to do with it. Work to get open for your teammates. They need to have patience with the puck.

LINE RUSHES FOR AND AGAINST
Read the gap -- the space between the puck and defense. Read the stick position of the defensemen. Read where the open ice is and read the support of your teammates. Play to your strengths as a player.

On defensive keys read the hands of the opposing forwards, read the speed of the forwards and know the 2-2, 3-2 situations. You need to have good stick position and have awareness of your position on the ice. You have to take what the game gives you.

FACEOFFS
Eaves stressed the need for players to anticipate whats going to happen.

Eaves said successful teams follow the advice of their coaches. As we talk about skills and tactics," he said, "the key thing still is the relationship you have with your kids."

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Sept. 1, 2015 | More than 40,000 spectators, plus a national television audience, watched the Little League World Series this past Sunday on a glorious afternoon in Pennsylvania. There were smiles, cheers, entertainment and the noticeable absence of demand for those 12- and 13-year-olds to pitch from 60 feet, six inches or run 90 feet between the bases like their professional baseball heroes.

Right-sized baseball and softball fields, along with age-appropriate rule modifications, have been accepted wisdom in youth baseball for more than 50 years.

Coincidentally, while Little League was paring to its finalists, U.S. Soccer announced a nationwide initiative to improve youth skill development. The centerpiece was a shift to small-sided game formats and field sizes to be phased in across the country by August 2017. As part of the new plan, American soccer at U6, U7 and U8 will be played 4v4 on a pitch approximately one-eighth the size of an adult soccer field. Nine- and 10-year-olds will play 7v7 on a one-quarter-scale pitch. Not until age 13 will players begin competing 11v11 on a regulation adult-sized pitch.

“Our number one goal is to improve our players down the road, and these initiatives will help us do that,” said Tab Ramos, U.S. Soccer’s youth technical director. “In general, we would like for players to be able to process information faster, and when they are in this (new) environment, they are going to learn to do that. Fast forward 10 years, and there are thousands of game situations added to a player’s development.”

With this change, American soccer will join sports like baseball, basketball, hockey and tennis, all of which have embraced the skill-development benefits of age-appropriate playing dimensions and competition formats (see chart below).

Those benefits are at the core of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, which was recently praised by the Sports Business Journal as a “trailblazing program.”

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