parents start coaching hockey when their first child begins to play. After
attending an early season weekend coaching certification course they begin
their journey. For many rookie coaches they will follow their son or daughter
through the minor hockey system from Timbits, to Novice, to Atom etc.
teaching the 6 to 7 year old age group back in 1997 during my early powerskating days in the Czech
Republic. Based on my
experiences, I wish to share a few pointers on what I have learned and
incorporated into my teaching over the past 18 years on the ice.
starters, one of my favorite age groups is the 6 to 7 year old Timbits / Novice
level. It’s so rewarding to witness first hand the improvement in player’s skills,
their love of hockey grow on a session to session basis and witness the smiles
on their faces! However, on many occasions it can be a very challenging task
teaching this age and skill level! Why? Like Forrest Grump’s quote – “You never
know what you are going to get!” Some days the kids are awesome – they are
eating out of the palm of your instructional hand - paying attention i.e. watching
and listening. But there are other days when they are indeed a handful –
lacking attention, focus and commitment to skill development. They are kids! I
have learned over the years as an instructor - always go on the ice being focused
and well prepared; otherwise it will be a valuable lesson in the art of
teaching. You will have your hands full indeed and the coaching experience and
/ or results will not be so rewarding.
foremost, what I have learned is that on ice instruction for this age group
requires a great deal of patience and the ability to be repetitive. If I had a
dollar for every time I have said “Keep your head up”, “Bend your knees” or “Keep
your stick on the ice” I would be a very wealthy man. However, it’s important
to remember that they are only 6 or 7 years old in their physical, mental and
emotional development. Often on ice instructors, coaches and parents need to
lower their expectations of what the kids can handle for hockey advancement on
a daily basis.
often many factors beyond your control in this vocation. Over the years, the
Tucker Hockey staff has discovered that many players show up at the rink and can
be challenged by any of following:
- Equipment that does not fit properly especially skates, sticks too
long, improper skate sharpenings etc. which endures performance.
- Lack of a good meal. Players of all ages need proper nutrition and good
calories to spend energy.
- Lack of a good night’s sleep. Player’s need proper rest to enjoy and
perform well on the ice.
- Home and / or school issues can distract players and their enjoyment of
- Hyper personality from too much video games being played in their spare
- Sometimes it’s the parent’s wish not the child’s desire to be on the
ice. It’s important for parents to listen to their child and understand what activities
their child wants to do and enjoy. Do they desire more or less hockey?
- Also many 6 to 7 year-olds are physically ready, but some kids are not
ready because they lack the emotional maturity, to participate in a group hockey
season I conducted a power skating team session with a Novice minor team. The
kids lacked focus, and where quite hyper on the ice. One of the novice team
coaches said jokingly “Maybe they are off their meds!” Never thought of it in
this way… but there may be a little truth to this statement for some players
especially after school during the late afternoon 4 pm team practice ice
and preserve what we love
what we understand
understand because we have been taught
The Tucker Hockey Way!
The Tucker Hockey Way
has been to provide a positive and fun learning environment for the kids. The
role of the instructors is to teach skating, hockey skills, life skills, and to
have fun in the process so as to instill and grow the love of the game. There’s
an art and science to connecting with the kids and helping them improve on
their skating and hockey skills. It’s a balancing act to teach skating skills,
not get too serious and make it an enjoyable experience.
will start teaching a skill and see how long we can work on the skill before we
have to change things up! 2 repetitions or 3 repetitions, 1 length of the ice
or 2 lengths of the ice of skating, 5 minutes or 10 minutes of skill
development. It’s like squeezing juice from an orange. We will see how much we
can get out of the group today! Work on
5 to 10 minutes of skill development and than switch to a fun skating game such
as hockey soccer, British bull dog, gorilla drill, battle ship, relay races, tennis
ball scrimmage etc. We are always trying to adapt and to be flexible because
the group dynamics change from one on ice session to another.
Here are a few coaching tips that we have
employed in our programs to be successful.
- Name tags
on the helmets – it helps to mention player’s names when instructing them
- Brief intro:
of instructors and chat prior to the start of each session
communication requires short chats with simple direct language
down on both knees at eye level when talking to the kids, shoulder to shoulder
have their stick up - butt end on the
ice / players on one knee
Approach, captivate their interest, instill good values – discipline, respect,
work hard and do their best. Instilling good values at an early age is very
- Ask them the
odd question to keep them engaged.
- Keep them
active – very little standing around. Explain the drill, demo the drill and get
them practicing the drill, correct as they go.
break every 10 minutes
- Provide a
variety of drills but give them time to play throughout the session.
- Good hockey
stance, strong edge control and balance - the core fundamentals - at this age.
for technical skills – it starts with skating fundamentals, progresses to puck
control, to passing and then to shooting.
- Try to improve
their skills to do well at the next level – Atom etc.
avoid being too serious or too intense – don’t scare the kids.
negative feedback, lots of praise and positive reinforcement helps learning.
your voice to get their attention but a constant diet of yelling gets stale
instructor to player ratio of 1 to 5.
energy – players feed off your energy and mood
sliding on the ice – safety first
kids who do a drill correctly and let them demo to the group. Kids want to be
noticed and recognized – it helps them pay attention. Their parents like it
weaker skating skills include stopping, outside edge control and backward
skating. Parents especially love to see their child improve in these areas for
pace - baby steps with more progressions, teaching falling and getting up
- We often
randomly give out most improved helmet stickers to players after each session.
They like the recognition and they pay attention and work harder as a result.
- High 5
the players after each session before going off the ice
the kids for a good job well done! Wish them well! Show them you care!
1999, Tucker Hockey has a formula that works, with proven results. Kids need to feel comfortable on the ice, to
be themselves, to be relaxed so that they can listen, watch, and learn. Players
will often fall down during the skating drills again and again. We often say
you can fall down…we want to see more players falling…it shows that you are
trying hard to learn and to improve. But if you fall down you must get up
faster than you fall down! Kids need to be instilled with a thirst to learn, to
want to come to the rink and to be upset if they can’t. It’s important to have
a gentle approach...not to be too intense and end up turning the kids off. It’s
so important for player’s to pay attention – to watch and listen in order to
maximize their opportunity for advancement. However, not all kids learn the
same way, some learn by listening, some by watching, and all by doing. We often
use the expression “It’s like throwing a pizza against the wall… more sticks
for some kids than others!” It is what it is… have to keep our expectations
parents will ask me what their son or daughter need to work on? My reply “Everything!”
at this age level. A player may be a top skater at the Novice level compared to
his peers but will he or she be a top skater at the Atom, Peewee, Bantam,
Midget or Junior A levels compared to his peers? It’s important to keep working
on the skills if a player wishes to progress and excel in the years to follow. A
player needs to grow the desire to work hard, to learn to get better. We want to ensure that we have a positive
influence on their skating skill development and love for the game. A better
skater becomes a better hockey player. When you become a more accomplished
hockey player, you become more successful, and therefore have more fun playing
line for Tucker Hockey, it’s not about getting players to the NHL, rather it’s
about instilling a love for the game, to enhance skating and hockey skills, and
to make a “difference” in the life of a child.