PostHeaderIcon Shouldn’t Spring Hockey be more about Having Fun?

By Paul O’Donnell

With the regular hockey season over and spring hockey about to begin, many hockey parents are under the misconception that their child’s future hockey development hinges on their participation. I’m here to tell you right now – it does not! In fact, I believe in some respects playing spring hockey, the way it’s currently structured, brings little or nothing to the table for your hockey player’s development.

In the past, as a coach, whenever hockey parents have inquired about spring hockey, I would always be very honest with them. I would say to them that I think it’s great that their son still wants to play and that I would be happy to put together a spring team if there’s enough interest; but in the next breath, I have always told these usually anxious parents that I would rather have their sons play a different Spring sport or even, just go hang out with their buddies for a couple of months, to recharge their batteries.

It’s at this point, where I would always get the look. You know, that look that people give to other people when they realize that they’re talking to somebody, who isn’t all-there. Before moving on, I’d like to give you my impression of what these parents are probably thinking, from the looks on their faces, just after I’ve suggested that their child should skip spring hockey:

“What do you mean my son shouldn’t play spring hockey?  Are you nuts? How is my son going to get his D-1 scholarship, before getting drafted by the NHL, if he doesn’t play spring hockey? Are you under psychiatric care? Have you ever been held for a 72 hour involuntary psychiatric evaluation before? Do you take antipsychotic medication?”

If you’re laughing while reading this, you’ve probably met the parents I’m speaking of.

By USA hockey statistics, over 43% of all hockey players quit the game by the time the 9 years old and over 70% by the time players reach their teen years. Nobody can tell me that the way it’s currently structured, in many parts of the country, that spring hockey isn’t an important factor in these alarming statistics.

While many hockey coaches, directors and parents want to believe that playing a heavily weighted ‘game to practice’ spring league hockey schedule is fun for players; but really, aren’t they only kidding themselves?  I would like to know, what’s so fun about a player having to go through the anxiety of another tryout or having a coach screaming down the back of their young necks while playing a meaningless game that does nothing for the player’s development? Furthermore, for you parents, what’s so fun about schlepping your hockey player, 30 miles one way, on a Friday night, during rush hour, for a useless away game on a beautiful spring evening? My point is that there is a better way.

Decades ago European hockey authorities introduced small games hockey theory into their training practices and procedures. This philosophy embedded so early during young European hockey players’ development has produced many of the great European players that we see in the NHL today. Whether they’re moving to open ice without the puck or stickhandling in small spaces and traffic, the influence of small games training is clearly noticeable during every NHL game if you know what to look for.

More and more, our governing bodies have been trying to put more emphasis on integrating small games training into our coaches training regiments. And while some coaches have answered the call, many others in the hockey community have not. The reluctance of some coaches to implement small games theory into their regular hockey season is somewhat understandable. Almost every coach has too little ice time and too much to teach before the playoffs roll around, during the regular season, to have the ability to implement any meaningful small games regimen into their practice schedule.

This is why springtime is the perfect opportunity to introduce, in-house, 3 on 3 and small games theory for hockey players at all age levels and skill brackets. For those who wish to participate, spring hockey should be a time for young players to get some relief from the pressure of the regular season and have the chance to play a less formal style of hockey with their neighborhood hockey buddies – in an environment that’s fun!

What I love about 3 on 3 and small games is that there are no coaches telling players that they’re doing something wrong or screaming at them because they weren’t in the right place or doing exactly what the coach wants.

The beauty of small games, when introduced correctly, is that players actually learn so much more, in what appears to be an informal pond hockey style setting, than they ever could hope to learn in any 3 seasons of regular spring hockey, the way it is currently structured in many states today. This is because each and every player who participates will touch, carry and shoot the puck, 5, 10 or maybe even 20 times more during one session than they ever could in a regularly structured spring league game.

I believe, if introduced correctly, this informal pond hockey style of competition, can significantly improve an individual player’s physical skills and quickness as well as their on-ice awareness of the game. These uncomfortable small areas, in which players are forced to compete, will force each and every player to establish new and higher comfort levels for themselves. This very effective time tested European training is, in actuality, a very effective method of self teaching, which will pay huge dividends, not only for the coming fall season, but for years to come as well.

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