Since we have already discussed the importance of skating and shooting technique, we could go on to talk about other skills. Passing, handling, puck control, shot blocking, etc. Undoubtedly, all playmaking actions are important during the game. We have chosen two that we talked about in previous articles because they play a key role in what spectators like the most in hockey. These are dynamism, intensity, speed and goals. But let's now speculate about something that is outside the realm of standard activities. About something that combines almost all of the individual skills into a complex individual player performance and brings the players together into one compact whole. About game thinking. We're not going to rewrite lessons from textbooks, but we want to think about what a player (as well as a coach) should be doing to combine skill improvement with game thinking.
Improvement of skill technique is mainly realized by so-called "formation" exercises, when a player repeats a complex movement or only a certain part of the movement many times in a row and develops a habit. This method is easy to implement, and progress in the form of more efficient execution of a motor task is usually well noticeable. We use the same procedure at our centers and see nothing wrong with it, as long as it is applied intelligently, given the age and involvement of the player.
However, the process cannot end with improving the implementation of a given skill in a training environment. The subsequent task of the player and coach is to transfer the skill improvement achieved to the ice, to the playing conditions. This is a more difficult task because the rapidly and constantly changing conditions require the player to be able to consistently update this skill during a match and to adapt it. Sometimes he has to improvise and implement the skill differently than he practiced it in practice. In a match, the player reacts (thinks) to changing conditions and tries to transform his thoughts into a concrete result using the skill (takes the puck away from a specific player in a specific space, passes the puck to a specific teammate to create a new space, opens into the free zone to become a new option for partners to play). This is a diametrically different task than during practice ("formation training"). Therefore, we believe that it is necessary to combine the process of perception, decision-making, and implementation of one or more sequential actions into a single whole as quickly as possible.
Our process is that we first try to help the player create the correct perception to perform an action through a training exercise of appropriate intensity and difficulty (e.g., throws while skating forward). Subsequently, we insert this skill into the "perceive-choose-solve-implement" chain. To activate perception, we use the tool Peripheral Navigation to work with the player's peripheral vision, through which we generate stimuli in the space around the player, which the player must fix and evaluate. At the same time, we develop the habit of keeping the head straight during the game. Just as we can develop movement prerequisites and technical skills, we can also improve the eye's ability to pick up a stimulus or stimuli. If we allow the player to receive more stimuli, we also allow him to make better decisions. It is useless to ask a player to make good decisions if he has nothing to base it on. Improving vision through intentional training will have an effect throughout the chain of skill improvement.
We continually check the success of the skill through objective diagnostics (e.g., evaluating the accuracy and strength of the shot). If the player performs a given motor task with great success, we try to assess the difficulty of the task by speeding up the stimuli that the player must perceive and process, and by increasing the resistance. The final step is to put the player in situations similar to match conditions during practice on the ice, where the motor task is performed in game conditions with real opposition from the opponent. A large number of repetitions of a game skill realized in the first and second phases should provide its consolidation and technically correct execution of key elements, regardless of the difficulty of resistance. The goal is that during the game, the player should not think of a method of implementation that could slow him down in his decision making, but concentrate on reacting most appropriately to what is happening in the match. In this way, the player has the ability to think quickly and at the same time successfully implement (e.g., shoot accurately and forcefully) his ideas.
Well-implemented skills stored in long-term memory allow players to focus mainly on the perception and decision-making process. If they don't have to focus on how to execute a skill, the game becomes faster. More received stimuli from the environment and processing them quickly can make players more creative. That said, it is important that players themselves have control over the rate at which stimuli are remembered in long-term memory. Each person has a different learning rate, and learning too fast can have, paradoxically, just the opposite effect.
A long-term player development plan is not only an important document, but above all, it is the coach's style of approach to the player. Full development of skills with their effective integration into the game story takes several years. It is a process that requires meaningful planning, a gradual increase in difficulty, and player involvement. It is also necessary to keep in mind that players, especially at a young age, should not be exposed to excessive amounts of hockey training. Comprehensive training or participation in other sports will help compensate for one-sided stress, reinforce motor stereotypes, and develop game creativity. Neither coaches nor parents should forget these facts.
We evaluate player involvement, regardless of age, as absolutely key. The coach is the player's guide in the process of improvement and development, but the player is the engine. That's why it's critical to choose forms and methods of coaching that allow players of all ages to be passionate and eager to train. We'll talk about how to accomplish this in specific age categories next time.