Want to create smart, skilled players in all aspects of the game? Encourage your kids to play multiple positions, said Harvard University women’s hockey assistant coach Lee-J Mirasolo.
A former Boston College standout player and Wakefield, Mass., native, Mirasolo was an assistant coach at Princeton University for four years prior to joining Harvard. She has coached defensemen, forwards and the penalty kill in her career, along with handling recruiting responsibilities. Finding players who can make an impact all over the ice has become one of her priorities.
USA Hockey caught up with Mirasolo to talk about building versatile players and why development is more valuable than victories in youth hockey.
USA Hockey: When should coaches start implementing versatility training with players?
Lee-J Mirasolo: From the get-go. With something as simple as teaching players how to skate, it’s really beneficial to teach both forward skating and backward skating. They’re two similar skill sets, but different, that are really important in order to be able to play both forward and defense.
USA Hockey: How should coaches balance players who excel at one position with teaching them how to play different positions?
Mirasolo: At practice, especially with the USA Hockey’s American Development Model, it allows them work on the different skills and that’s really important. Even though they are excelling in one position, working on the skills of the other positions – because there are definite differences in forward skills and defense skills – is a really good way for those players to develop in both ways. I think this lends itself later to being able to know the game at a different level, and understanding what defensemen are going to see when you’re playing forward and vice versa.
USA Hockey: Should coaches be rotating players through different positions in games?
Mirasolo: I think it’s good to rotate through. It’s beneficial for individual players, and the advantage for players later down the road, as they continue to play and progress, is huge. The upside is huge.
Certainly there are coaches who are doing an unbelievable job at developing their players on an individual level and as teammates, but I do think there is way too much emphasis on winning and losing at the youth level. And I think it’s at the cost of development for these individual players. Of course competition is something that should be taught, but that’s only secondary to teaching these young players different skill sets and being good teammates.
USA Hockey: How can coaches explain to their youth players that they should focus on developing their skills more than winning games?
Mirasolo: I’m really process-driven, and I think that’s the way to go. If we’re all results-driven, you have to ask, ‘at what cost?’ Teaching those lessons – and I realize that at our (college) level there are certainly no moral victories – but if you look at it as process-driven, I think that is a great way to teach young players, and older players, that ‘hey, we may have not won the game today, but look at all these really great things we did in this area of the game.’ You can build on that.
USA Hockey: What are the best ways for coaches to implement versatility training at practice?
Mirasolo: I think instead of saying ‘Ds over here, forwards over here,’ I think saying ‘everybody is playing everything,’ is a really easy way to implement and promote versatility with individual players. That’s a really simple way to do it. (Editor’s note: small-area games are great for this.)
USA Hockey: Is there one skill coaches at higher levels are looking for?
Mirasolo: Myself specifically, I look for skating. It’s the first thing I notice. When you find a player who can play both forward and defense, there is definitely more of an appeal factor to that player as you go through recruiting. At our level, we are riddled with injuries, and I think that’s true for a lot of different programs and teams. You never really know who is going to go down and where, so if you have a player on your team who can play both forward and defense, and has experience with both, I think they see the game in a different way and understand the game in a different way, and that makes them more appealing as a player and potential recruit.