When teaching proper shooting technique, it’s important for coaches to implement drills and use communication that gives players a clear understanding of the desired result.
USA Hockey Southeastern District Coach-in-Chief Ty Newberry believes that it’s not only coaches’ responsibility to teach the fundamentals, but they also need to practice plan for players to get the most out of their repetitions and encourage turning those shot attempts into goals.
In good hands
Hockey sticks have come a long way since the days of the wooden twig. Nowadays, stick technology makes it much easier to shoot because of the amount of flexion in composite shafts and blades. Unfortunately, it’s had a counter effect on learning proper technique.
It’s important for coaches to teach good hand positioning at younger ages. First, the bottom hand shouldn’t be glued in one position when lining up a shot.
“At the 8U and 10U level, a lot of kids have a death grip on the stick, so the bottom hand doesn’t move at all when they’re shooting or preparing to shoot,” Newberry said.
As for the top hand, it’s crucial for youngsters to move it out away and free from the body.
“A lot of times they almost look like they have a kickstand,” Newberry said. “They have to get that top hand free in order to pop it, a lot of times, even with a wrist shot, it has to come across the body. It can’t when it’s stuck on the hip.”
However, Newberry warns, players should not be shooting strictly with their arms. Players need to have good knee bend and rotate their hips when firing the puck. Coaches need to remind and reinforce proper technique.
“Stick manufactures have done such a good job of making sticks flex so that kids can be lazy when shooting and it becomes all arms,” Newberry said. “They need to use their hips and break the habits of using all arms.”
Just as coaches spend time articulating the entire drill, Newberry thinks coaches need to be specific when detailing the type of shot they want players to execute.
“A lot of it is terminology,” Newberry said. “We’ll finish drawing the drill and say the drill ends with a shot, instead of saying the drill ends with a goal.”
Depending on the drill, coaches should ask players for specific types of shots, whether it’s shooting a wrist shot to score or putting a puck off the goalie’s pads for a rebound. The communication should not end at the shot; encourage players to go to the front of the net for a rebound.
“If you want them to focus on a backhand shot or to shoot at certain areas of the net, we do a good job of detailing the drill, but we never finish the drill for them on how to shoot, where to shoot and then where to position themselves after the shot for rebounds,” Newberry said.
Optimizing practice time to ensure skill development is one of the biggest challenges facing youth coaches. One of the best ways to add specific shots in practice is by backloading or post-loading drills – adding an element, typically a skill, a player performs in addition to the primary drill. This can be done by adding another net or target, like a tire, for a shot out of the way of the primary drill.
Newberry gives the example of setting up on a second net for a one-timer.
“After the initial shot, they go around a tire for a second net to shoot on,” Newberry said. “A coach passes a puck to them on their opposite hand so they have to open up for a one-timer.”
With good practice management, players can double their shot attempts over the course of the season.
“If your kid is averaging 30 shots a practice, which is pretty good, post-load a drill then all of a sudden that’s 60 shots,” Newberry said. “Over the course of the year, rather than 1,500 shots the kids are getting 3,000. Some of these things can be done without the goaltender.”
Surround the puck
As players begin to advance, body positioning, even before they receive a pass in a scoring area, becomes a skill. This is called surrounding the puck.
“It’s opening up your hips and addressing the puck before it gets to you,” Newberry said. “So instead of catching the puck on your backhand, you open up and face the puck as it is moving to you.”
Backloading a drill to surround the puck on a second shot is a great way to feature this skill.
Head up, feet moving
Elite NHL scorers can pick a corner and rifle a puck while skating at full speed. However, when players are still learning the game, getting their head up and shooting in stride can be a challenging task.
“It’s tough at a younger age because their brain is just focused on keeping that puck on their stick, so when they’re going to shoot, their feet stop,” Newberry said. “All their focus is keeping that puck on their stick, so they look at it, and getting that head up is very, very tough. The difficult thing is looking where you’re going to shoot.”
So, how do coaches instill these good goal-scoring habits into players? Again it gets back to setting an expectation. Design a drill and let players know the objective. Try setting up an object to remind players to get their head up or keep their feet moving.
“If we’re going to work on shooting and scoring with the head up and continuous moving of the feet, well, maybe at the end of the drill we place a cone or tire out there, so by the time they get to it, they’re going to have their head up and we’ll have a coach there to make sure the eyes get up before they shoot the puck,” Newberry said. “Or you have to shoot and have to drive around the tire to keep the feet moving, so there’s a marker there to create the habit.”
Teaching selfishness in the scoring areas
By nature, hockey is an unselfish game. However, in the slot, or Grade A area, it’s not time to become a puck philanthropist. For this, Newberry has a team tenet.
“Simple rule that we have, once the puck carrier takes the puck into the slot, it’s a 100-percent shot,” Newberry said. “If we’re coming down the ice on a 2-on-1, we need to make a pass before we get to the slot to change the point of the attack, but once the puck carrier enters the slot, that guy is going to shoot.”
This rule serves a dual purpose and his coaching staff endorses this behavior when the players get back to the bench.
“[The shooter doesn’t] have to worry about being selfish or getting back to the bench and hearing, ‘Oh, man, I was open’ or ‘Didn’t you see me?’” Newberry said. [The player without the puck] knows that I’m going to the net and I’m the rebound or tip and redirect guy. If I’m that guy, I’m driving to look for the puck off pad.”
Don’t punish the shooter
When setting up shooting drills in practice, Newberry feels there’s an old-school mindset that is undermining scoring.
“We have got to get out of the habit of punishing kids for missing the net,” Newberry said. “There are still a lot of coaches out there that make players do 10 pushups if they miss the net. Those are the same coaches who complain that they make the opposing team’s goalie look like an NHLer because everything goes into their belly. Well, at a young age we’re training them to think that the safest place to shoot in practice is the middle of the net and they think if they shoot in the middle of the net, then I don’t have to do pushups.
“No, we want them to try and pick the corners. That’s what we’re looking for. Sometimes they’re going to miss the net, we can’t punish them for missing the net.”
Don’t forget about the goalie
Finally, when teaching shooting and scoring, don’t forget about the goaltender. Set up drills in which the netminder isn’t going to get completely peppered with shots. Give them enough time between shooters to reset.
“It’s hard to focus on goal-scoring without crushing your goaltenders,” Newberry said.
This is where backloading a second shot can give the goaltender relief from a constant barrage of shots.
“You don’t want to leave out your goaltenders when thinking about practices for shooting and scoring.”