USA Hockey continues to look for ways to improve its curriculum for coaches and associations in order to produce the best outcomes for our young players. In a recent USA Hockey Podcast, Coaching Education program coordinator Zack Nowak discusses how they are refined their curriculum to focus on the player’s needs.
“Traditionally, we’ve seen skating taught in lines and it doesn’t necessarily always allow for as much feedback for the kids. And sometimes not be as engaging,” said Nowak. “So, we really wanted to answer the question, how can we make skating more engaging for kids and at the same time create more dynamic skaters in the process?”
Nowak, along with ADM Managers of Player Development Dan Jablonic and Guy Gosselin, discussed the new approach.
Go to any rink and at any level, you’ll notice that while the fundamentals are the same, each skater has their own unique style.
“Every skater solves problems differently and it’s based off of a lot of different things,” said Nowak. “What we really tried to nail down, if they all skate differently, what do all good skaters do well? That’s where we came up with the idea of dynamic skating.”
That’s where the basis of the ABCs comes into play. Every player needs to develop agility, balance and coordination to become successful skaters. With each player learning differently and skating differently, with a wide range of strengths and deficiencies, how do coaches and associations deliver practice plans that benefit all their players?
Rather than having players line up on the goal line and perform a single task the length of the ice, USA Hockey is encouraging incorporating skill-based games and play into practices to teach the ABCs.
“Kids are having fun when they’re playing the game,” Gosselin said. “We can put any type of twist on any small-area game – throw in a task and have them thinking while they’re doing that game.”
Adding to the excitement is a storytelling piece that Nowak said can really get the kids going. In the podcast, Nowak references the ‘save the earth game’ where all the kids are intergalactic heroes trying to save the earth.
“Framing games that are exciting and engaging and our kids want to play in them,” said Nowak. “Through this storytelling the kids are engaged and excited, but you’ve given them a task that is focused around skating.”
Another narrative they discuss is rocket ship, where players skate and leap onto a pad to try and ‘launch’ it as far as they can. This emphasizes acceleration (quick start to gain speed), athletic position and explosiveness (bending at the knees to get a good jump), in a fun and interactive manner.
“Allowing ourselves as coaches to just ask the kids – what’s in their environment? What are the kids learning in school, if it’s galaxies or whatever it may be, taking what they are learning and putting it into a story that they get motivated and engaged,” said Jablonic. “Then ultimately those kids are doing all those techniques you want to see and they are having so much fun.”
Incorporating game play to build ABCs also adds an element that players don’t get when line skating: ice awareness. By incorporating skating skills into games, like tag where players are on opposite sides of a pad and have to chase their teammate using only their inside edges, they are competing and having to continually check their surroundings.
“Having awareness out on the ice equals performance,” Gosselin said. “If we can reach that objective, whether it’s players skating with their head up, they are going to have better awareness, make better decisions out on the ice. Safety comes into play as well.”
As a parent of two, Jablonic says that is a big piece of the puzzle.
“We know that if we’re giving these kids the ultimate foundation of balance and stability and learning locomotion skills, and giving them that safety component first, as a parent, that’s huge for us,” said Jablonic. “It equals confidence for these kids. Because before we get to any of the good stuff in player development, you have to have safety at the forefront.”
In building up a toolbox of drills, coaches and associations can take from a number of different resources.
“There’s been so much research done within physical education and PE teachers around the country are doing some incredible things that we can often steal from their activities and adapt them to our on-ice sessions,” said Nowak. “PE teachers are teaching skipping, running, jumping, sprinting, forward and backward locomotion, all sorts of different types of movement.”
Learning different games that can be applied to the ice is just an internet search away. But don’t forget about your target audience as a resource.
“I’m a former educator, kids were playing infection on the playground every single day,” Nowak said. “That was an activity we talked about in the podcast and also in the skating course, where one person is it and when you tag the next person, they’re it with you. Kids are playing it on the playground, so ask kids, ‘What’s your favorite game?’ and find a way to adapt it onto the ice and really be learner centered.”
Building physical literacy through fun and games is the most engaging way to turn players from novice youngsters to lifelong active adults.
“Physical literacy is a kid’s ability to move on the ice, their ability to swim, to run on land. All of those things,” Nowak said. “We know that the kids that are more physically literate are more likely to be active for life. Being physically competent leads to confidence and that motivation to continue moving. It’s a constant cycle to keep moving. That can go really far in the lives of many people around the country, not just in hockey.”