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Deflections - Cross Ice - Part 3: Then there’s the coaching


Cross-ice is on the horizon for every five- to eight-year-old in the country. Initiation Program (IP) next year; novice the year after.

Once the not-so-simple logistics are addressed (see last week’s blog, Cross Ice - Part 2: It’s not just the rink), we need to train our coaches on how to adapt their teaching techniques and styles. For the longest time, those of us who prepared adults in IP clinics had to work mighty hard to convince attendees that even the terminology needed to change. For five- and six-year-olds, you weren’t coaching a team; you were leading a group of children as an instructor. This was a tough sell because of the prevailing belief that without a team or coach, you couldn’t have hockey per se. Yet if you plunk your five-year-old into swimming lessons, the swimming instructor is just that, an instructor. And they’re not in training for a meet. They’re learning how to float without swallowing the pool.

With cross-ice, it’s again time to insist on the right terminology for IP kids. There are no teams in IP anyway. That’s just a registration construct designed only to divide groups of children and assign jerseys.

Novice will be a bit different because teams actually exist. Now they’ll be smaller and most likely practising in more limited space, like inside a blueline. They should have been doing it anyway. However, because games were full ice, there was an overwhelming sense they had to practice in the same space. It’s been common for novice teams to have full ice practices, about as poor an ice utilization model as one could have. No full soccer pitch ever has just one team of little kids on it.

Since the space will be smaller, the over-used default of flow-type drills and standing at the boards blowing a whistle will change. The positive ripple effect on coaching should be automatic. It will be next to impossible now for a coach working with, say, 12 children inside a zone to avoid communicating with them and just running flow drills. Team play stuff will be gone. Team play principles will be the same. For instance, teaching angling or how two kids can beat one by finding space and passing will become paramount because that’s what the space will require they learn to do. Coaches will have to learn the game’s more ignored nuances and shrink their teaching accordingly.

It means coaches will need to be less tuned in to finding the right drill for a half or full rink and more focused on learning how to break down concepts into smaller, manageable bits, and attaching them to key skills. But where are they going to learn those coaching skills and teaching techniques?

This is where branches or associations will need to re-examine what has been an assumption, that coaching novice is merely a scaled down version of coaching bantam or midget. Coaches mistakenly took that approach at the expense of proper development. If we train them, we’ll be back on track.

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