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Skill Sessions Working Wonders in Massachusetts

By Mike Scandura, 10/24/17, 10:15AM MDT


Developed with USA Hockey, sessions are designed to boost individual development

When Massachusetts Hockey decided to hold special skill development sessions for boys and girls, they did so with specific goals in mind.        

“There aren't always enough skill development-specific training opportunities during the season to make an impact,” said Massachusetts Hockey Girls Player Development Coordinator Ed Bourget. “By adding these sessions, we’re giving players a tool box and showing them what a high-level practice looks like, so they can have the tools to prepare themselves and get better.

“I proposed this pilot program with the 2004s,” said Bourget. “It was well received and we wanted to extend the Massachusetts development with the 2004s and add in the 2005s, so now it’s a two-year program.        

“It was so well received that we said, ‘Why not do it for a second year?’ This year Boston University is hosting all four of the 2004 skill sessions.”      

The skills sessions for 2005s will be held at various prep schools.        

“I thought it was great that colleges and prep schools were willing to host, because it makes it even more interesting for the participants,” said Bourget.  

UMass-Boston women’s coach Lindsay Berman also is deeply involved in these skill sessions, as are numerous other high-level female coaches.     

“To be coached by college and prep school coaches is invaluable,” said Berman. “We try to get a lot done in the two hours we have them once a month. Hopefully they can take a lot of what they learn back to their own program. And at the state level, we can implement these things sooner rather than later. Then, by the time they get to USA Hockey's National Girls Player Development Camps, they've already practiced some of these skills."

Individual skill work and concept work are at the top of the list as far as Berman is concerned.        

“We want to teach them from the top down and establish a foundation so they can build on these skills as they get older,” said Berman. “With the girls, we teach them that it’s okay to have some physical play. We encourage them to initiate some body contact and get them used to that at this age.        

“We’re going to spend a lot of time on individual skill work that they might not get in their team practices. The girls can use as much shooting work as they can get. We’re also working on power skating, which is helpful at any age.”      

The sessions also include something more subjective.        

“We’re trying to work with their brains and trying to get them to think quicker,” said Berman. 

As Bourget noted, the sessions use recommendations for age-appropriate training and ice utilization from USA Hockey's American Development Model.    

“The kids spend 55 minutes on the ice,” he said. “We have between 65 and 85 kids on the ice. We break them up into five different zones and have station-based practices at a high tempo. It goes quickly because they’re getting several puck touches."

Berman is enthusiastic about how the kids involved in the sessions receive instruction from people they don’t know as opposed to their team coaches.     

“First of all, I think the coaching staff they work with can’t be beat,” she said. “It helps to hear a different voice than what they hear twice a week. There is also a benefit in learning something new from a different voice at this age. If we can teach them one or two things at these sessions, I think we’re going a good job.        

“I think it’s also beneficial for the player and family to get involved with USA Hockey so we can track the player and help them develop as they move through the ranks.”        

USA Hockey American Development Model regional manager Roger Grillo is also involved with the sessions.          

“This is an opportunity for USA Hockey to partner with Massachusetts Hockey to come up with some events that will benefit the kids,” said Grillo. “The whole key to the American Development Model is age-appropriate training.       

“We want people to understand that the ADM isn’t solely focused on little-kid hockey, but instead it’s age-appropriate, age-specific development tailored for each age classification, based on the science and study of what’s best for high-performance training in each particular age group. As part of that, station-based practices are important.”        

Grillo also emphasized the importance of individual skill development, which, as noted, is a major component of these sessions.        

“In some clubs, the focus can tend to shift from the individual athlete’s development to team outcomes on the scoreboard,” he said. “We’re trying to get coaches and athletes to understand that you have to continue to develop individual skill, especially in these stages. This isn’t the NHL. We want them to take their eye off the scoreboard and put it back on their individual skill development needs.        

“We also want to get information in the hands of the parents so they can make good choices in the child’s development process down the road. We’re arming them with specific information so they can make quality decisions in the coming years.”        

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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