How to effectively teach a new hockey skill

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Coaching hockey can be a complicated endeavor. The required skill-set to be a good coach is much different than the skill-set to be a good player. Because of this difference, many people find it difficult to make the transition from player to coach. I often hear new coaches say “I know what my players should be doing, but I don’t know how to get them to do it…” or “I don’t know how to explain proper skating technique, I just know how to show it…”

In these situations, I usually recommend that the coach try to break each skill down into three key points that he or she can verbalize. For example, if I were explaining proper forward skating technique, I would say that each player needs to (1) maintain a good knee bend, (2) push each stride to the side at about a 45° angle (not straight back), and (3) avoid head-bobbing. These three steps are easy for players to remember, and will become a reference point for you to come back to if skating technique becomes sloppy in subsequent hockey drills.

Once you have one or two players who are able to execute the given skill correctly, ask them to demonstrate the skill, and tell the other players to “watch the demonstration, visualize themselves executing with the same precision, and imitate the final result.” Reminding the players to watch, visualize, and imitate helps to encourage and motivate the precise execution of the given skill.

This coaching strategy can be applied to most situations, and can include everything from individual skills to team systems and positioning. Breaking skills and concepts down into three simple steps can help you, as a coach, to verbalize what you want the players to do. It will also help the players to comprehend and implement the instructions you are giving them. Once the players are executing the given skill correctly, you will them be able to make small tweaks that will further enhance their playing abilities.

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