I was doing some research over the holidays to understand the state of women’s hockey in North America and found a few interesting insights between the U.S. and Canadian female hockey participation and coaching at the university level. Here they are:
Overall Female Participation
1. Total hockey participation is about 8% more in Canada over the U.S., but female participation in Canada is 21% more than in the U.S.
Male to Female Participation
2. The ratio of Male to Female hockey players in the U.S. is ~6:1. In other words, female hockey players only make up 15% of all players in the U.S. While in Canada the ratio is ~5:1 while female players represent 17% of all players in Canada.
Under 18 Girls in Canada vs U.S.A.
3. While female hockey players in both the U.S. and Canada grew by a little more than 2% in 2019-20 (compared to male player which had declines in both countries), there are still about 25% more female players under 18 in Canada compared to the U.S.
Female U.S. Division I Women’s Hockey Coaches
4. Only 33% of U.S. Division I women’s hockey coaches are female, while 67% of their assistant/associate coaches are female
Female Canadian U Sports Women’s Hockey Coaches
5. 46% of U Sports Head Coaches in Canada are women while 54% of their Assistant/Associates Coaches are female.
Here is my interpretation of the data:
The U.S. still has some work to do to catch up to Canada on female participation in the sport. “Girls Give Hockey a Try” is a phenomenal start, but I think there is even more that can be done.
I suspect it will take a major change in one of the countries development programs before one will be the dominant hockey power. Due to density issues in the States with less players distributed in more metropolitan areas than Canada, it would take a significant commitment/investment to build a sizeable lead over Canada.
I was expecting to see more female head coaches in both Canada and the U.S.. However, given the male to female ratio of participation in both countries, the male coaching advantage in women’s college hockey is not a complete surprise. I would suspect that these numbers will flip to favor female head coaches over the coming years as they are given more opportunity and the recent generation of women players move into and up the coaching ranks.
I loved Darryl Belfry’s bookBelfry Hockey, but I don’t believe I was Darryl Belfry’s target audience, because I am neither a hockey coach nor a skills instructor. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m just a hockey dad. I do not profess to be a hockey expert, but I do have a deep passion for helping my two kids who currently play 14U AA youth hockey. Thus, as a parent, what did I hope to learn from Darryl Belfry’s book Belfry Hockey? And how could I help apply these lessons?
My goals when reading Belfry Hockey:
An understanding of which skills are important for my kids to develop (i.e. “Skills That Separate”)
See which skills aren’t getting developed with their current coaches
Figure out my options on how they can fill in the skills gap
One of Darryl’s key training objectives is to help a player learn a skill they can use “tomorrow”. Therefore, given Covid’s impact on our season, I took on the challenge of applying these insights immediately with my kids. Here are the takeaways from Belfry Hockey that I have recently tried to implement with my kids.
Teaching my son the concept of Platform Skills vs. Placeholder Skills
Is the skill you’re using a placeholder skill or a platform skill? There’s a big difference between the two.
Page 122 – Chapter 11: Skill Continuum
My son is both a late birthday and not an early-developer like several of his teammates. Therefore, there are times when he has seen less ice time due to his physical development. At the same time, Belfry perfectly describes some of the placeholder skills that my kids have seen from teammates in peewee and bantam hockey who would be considered the top players on their teams getting those additional minutes.
Examples of placeholder skills:
Slap shots off the rush
Using straight-line speed to rush by defensemen along the boards
Banging in rebounds in front of the net
Explaining to a 13-year old that he is building better skills so that two or three years from now he will have more translatable skills to the next level is not simple to understand. But having a framework of “platform vs. placeholder skills” is a simple concept to continually reference until his physical development catches up to his peers.
Tracking High-Frequency Events and Success Rates Using Video
When you’re working with video, you have to be very careful that every player in a game is a like a fingerprint. What we want to see is the detail inside of each fingerprint
Page 162 – Chapter 13 – Video-to-Game Transfer
I record almost every game that my kids play. I use two GoPros to video the game from behind the nets and some rinks also have LiveBarn to provide a third angle. As a result, I have a pretty good asset to begin my analysis with. I used to just look at the quality of each shift individually, but thanks to Darryl Belfry I track the game in a whole new way.
Since reading the book, I have created a spreadsheet to do the following:
Track event frequency and success rates
Edit clips together from 3-4 games by event/game situation so my player can see all the same event-types in a single video (typically 60 – 90 seconds of clips).
Here is a partial summary of an “instance list” from a recent weekend of games for my daughter (who plays defense):
Transfer Tracking: Problem Solving Frequency and Success Rates
Our standard is we want to try and get as many high-frequency elements as possible to be an 8 out of 10 success rate
Page 155 – Chapter 10: Triple Helix: Awareness
Using the metrics from the games, my daughter and I were able to watch each clip and the specific situational context for success & failure. As a result, we were able to see certain patterns emerge that could immediately be worked on, here are a couple of examples:
Trouble when playing the off wing
One pattern we identified right away was that she wasn’t recognizing the handedness of the puck carrier which caused her to attack from a poor angle. This insight was helped by remembering an article about the 88 Summit with Patrick Kane from a couple of years ago.
2. Linear entry vs. change in angle when carrying the puck in across the blue line.
We are now working on way to cross the blue line to get into the “hot zone” with time and space.
Creating Multiple Options for Specific Situations
We want to make sure as part of the Category 1 skills that once the player has established body position and encounters contact, he’s able to use the contact as an asset – an accelerant or an ability to create separation
Page 145 – Chapter 11: Skill Continuum
With my son, one area we have spent a lot of time working on is in the corner or along the wall in the offensive zone. We have been focused on adding multiple options for him to have in his toolkit for these situations, specifically:
a. The Kane Push:
b. Reverse Hits
c. Skating through the hands:
d. Using the trap door:
e. The Chuck:
We shall see if he is able to apply any of these new skills into a game situation, but at least I know he has them as potential tools in his toolkit.
As I used to write in my Grade 5 book reviews, I really liked Belfry Hockey and I recommend it to all my hockey friends and coaches. I plan to write one more post about Belfry Hockey so that a few more concepts are brought to life via visuals and video that are a little hard to digest from just reading the book.
In this final post about how to develop a great hockey player, we discuss grit. Grit is the ability for a player to demonstrate focus and determination to overcome the inevitable challenges that come with high-level hockey.
In hockey, many “early bloomers” don’t face adversity at a young age. If your player is lucky enough to be the best player on their team when they are 12, 13, 14 or even 15, their world will likely change when they start playing against the best players in their age group. This can come from peers starting to catch up via size and speed. Or it can come from playing against better players by moving from being a “big fish in a small pond” to being a “small fish in a big pond”.
I have seen firsthand how learning from failure early on in my kids’ hockey development has helped them become more resilient, focused and competitive. One of the biggest drivers of my their developing some grit was them not making the team they wanted to when one was 10 and the other was 11 years old.
While grit is about handling adversity, players also need to be able to handle feedback and being coachable. Every coach is different so being able to adapt to situations where the player-coach relationship is not ideal is another challenge that will likely need to be overcome. How is your player’s body language when hearing constructive feedback? A player’s ability to “learn how to learn” is a secret weapon that can be one the primary factors in their success. It is what Sidney Crosby considers one of his greatest assets.
Learning to Compete
For some players being competitive is in their DNA, for others it is a learned skill. How driven are you to “be the best you can be” while still being a good teammate? Specifically, how do you handle yourself both on and off the ice. Keeping in mind the ups and down of a game and a season. As mentioned in my first post in this series, hockey development is a marathon not a sprint.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
If your player is old enough (>12 years old) then I would strongly recommend having them read Angela Duckworth’s Grit. The book details why naturally talented people many times fail to succeed, but others with less obvious skill have the tenacity to persevere and overcome challenges to develop into leaders in their fields. Finding a way for your player to have a passionate persistence to get better every day is the last ingredient needed to develop a great hockey player.
In this fifth post about how to develop a great hockey player, we discus how talent, natural gifts and luck play a key role in hockey development. While it is possible to consider these attributes out of a player’s or parent’s control, they can certainly be influenced.
Let’s be candid, being blessed with size and/or speed gives a young player an advantage. Combine that with the luck of being born in the first 3 months of the year and basically they are born on first or second base (to mix our sports metaphors). They are given a lead over their peers that combined with the other factors that contribute to being a great player can be hard to catch-up to. In addition, natural talent also helps. If you just don’t have the coordination or adeptness for the game it can be hard to come. I was at a game recently, where the natural build of one of players was just not a “hockey body”, short legs big trunk, so not matter how hard this player tried, they just couldn’t keep up with the top players on the ice and likely would never will. However, having natural gifts, while necessary are not sufficient for greatness.
The one attribute which you may not be born with but can develop is talent. Hard work is essential. Getting better every day. Because even if you were born with talent you have to continue to improve, otherwise others will pass you over time. There is a long list of talented players whose NHL careers didn’t appear to achieve their full potential (names who come to mind are Rob Schremp, Josh Ho Hsiang and Nail Yakapov) despite being having tremendous natural talent. These types of players struggled to sustain lengthy careers because they were not able to fill in gaps in their game. As you make it to each new level, players can’t just continue to rely on just their natural gifts they need a work ethic and a continuous improvement mindset.
Yes, luck plays a role in hockey. And not just puck luck. For example, I know of a youth player who didn’t make a team they tried out for and then ended up playing for a fantastic coach that changed the trajectory of the player’s hockey development. In another instance, a player was able to get more power-play and penalty-kill time because a teammate broke their leg (well, not so lucky for the teammate). Even at the pros, whether it is a scout who just happens to be in the stands for a game, finding the right coach or team situation, luck can certainly play a role in which path a player follows and can accelerate their road to greatness.
In this fourth post about how to develop a great hockey player, the focus is on quality coaching. Let me be clear that I am not talking about what makes a great coach. What I am talking about is a coach who makes a great player. These are not necessarily the same thing. For example, a coach who only plays his best players at 12 years old in order to win games and championships at the expense of all the development of half the team is not necessarily a great coach, but if your kids is the one getting lots of ice time and feedback, then that coach could indeed be accelerating the development of that individual player. I hope to write another post about what makes a great coach at a later date.
Time & Effort:
First and foremost a coach who cares by putting the work to help at both the team and individual level is the table stakes for developing into great player.
Striking the balance between leaning how to play team hockey and individual skills development. Specifically, the basics like skating, shooting, puckhandling but also position-specific tools to be great at their position (both on offense and defense – unless you are a goalie). Examples would be on-ice positioning, decision making, finding time and space, creativity and using deception.
A quality coach gives feedback that is actionable to the player. They personalize the communication so the individual can understand how to change their behavior in a way that is specific to them. Darryl Belfry wrote an excellent chapter on how to give feedback in his new book Belfry Hockey.
While the old-school hockey way has been motivation by intimidation, times have changed. And each individual player is different. But finding a coach who can get the most out of a player by figuring which buttons to push to help make them a great player is obviously a critical attribute.
I will talk about this more in my next post, but teaching a player how to be resilient during the ups and down of a season. Helping teach a player the tools to handle failure and overcome obstacles is one of the key life lessons that hockey is supposed to teach youth athletes.
Encourages two-way communication:
Every hockey coach is different and each has their own philosophies on how they want their players to play the game. As your player moves from coach to coach they will bring their past experience and habits/methods from their past coaches with them. The ability for a great player to discuss and debate with a coach the “why” and the “how” a certain situation should be played is a critical problem solving skill great players should possess.
My favorite book on a great coach who developed great players is “Thank You Coach” by former CFL player Angus Reid who had a long football career despite being highly undersized to play the center position. The book is dedicated to a coach who taught him what he needed to be a successful player despite “having no business playing professional football for 13 years”.
I think every parent and player intuitively believes the more time you spend training on ice the better a player you will be. If you are figuring how to develop a great hockey player, then ice time is at the top of the list. We have all heard the stories of dozens of NHLers who grew up on in small towns in Canada or Minnesota and played on the outdoor rinks or at their local barn for hours and hours until they had to go home for dinner or bed. In addition, if you subscribe to the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours theory on domain mastery then being on the ice must be directly correlated to enabling greatness. So that leads to the question, how much time on ice per week should a player need? (Note: this refers to training and development time, not how many minutes of ice time a player has during a game.).
It Starts With Skating
To me the biggest factor to be on the ice and develop into a great player is to become a better skater. Skating is the most important skill to play hockey. If you can’t skate, you can’t play. So, do you need to be the best or fastest skater on the team? No. But you to be a great player you should be in the top 25% of your peer group. Otherwise how can you keep up with the other players who are also striving to be great? Skating is a technical skill that can primarily only be improved with proper coaching and ice time to practice what a player needs to work on.
How Much Time on Ice?
While it would be great if ice time were free everywhere in North America and kids could get their playtime by just walking down the street or out into the backyard to get some independent ice time, the reality is that for most kids this isn’t possible. For many, ice time can be pretty expensive and difficult to access. Given all the innovations and scientific insights about hockey that have arisen over the last 20 years, there must be some optimized balance for players today to get a good bang-for-the-buck for limited ice time that is available to them.
In my humble opinion, you clearly need at least 7 hours per week (averaging one hour per day) at a minimum. Show me someone who is on the ice less than 7 hours per week when they are 11 or older, and I’ll show you someone who is not on pace to be a “great player”. Personally, I believe the sweet spot is more likely in the 10-15 hours per week. Of course you need to balance those hours between focused development and playing/fun (where development is just a positive by-product). Based on all the USA Hockey and experts guidelines, my guess it should be in the 3:1 development to fun ratio.
Expensive vs. Cheap Ice Time
Indoor ice costs money almost everywhere (unless you live in Warroad, Minnesota). Here are some ideas we’ve used to try and dollar average the cost of ice time from most expensive to free to getting paid:
Private and semi-private skills and power skating lessons (most expensive ice time)
Rink-run pick-up games
Skate and Shoot sessions (aka Stick time, Gretzky hour etc.) – only good if scrimmage or have someone pushing them to work on something skill-related. (Too many times I just see kids aged 10-14 just line up at the blue line taking breakaway shots on a goalie. That is working on a skill you may only use once in a blue moon.)
If you live in a cold winter climate, obviously well-maintained outdoor rinks are superb
Public skating (Note: our kids get free admission to their rink for public skates as part of their full-season hockey fees)
Find a goalie coach and offer to shoot on their students during their lesson
Volunteer as an assistant coach for younger age groups than your own
Referee (get paid to skate and watch hockey)
Be Coach-Friendly to Find Extra Ice Time
No one is saying you need to be like Auston Matthews’ mom and get a job at a rink so your child can get unlimited access to the rink and play as much hockey as possible. However, if you are creative you can find extra ice time. One of best ways we have dollar-averaged our cost of hockey was to ensure we had good relationships with most of the coaches at our rink, so my kids would often get invited to other team’s practices when they needed players or my kids showed up early (or were asked to stay late).
What about off-ice?
I am firm believer in the Long Term Athlete Development model. Kids should be doing hockey-related strength and conditioning, plus hockey-specific dryland training like stickhandling and shooting. But playing other sports, especially complementary ones like lacrosse, tennis and basketball has multiple benefits back to hockey. For my kids, now that they are teenagers they have slowly narrowed the number of sports and reduced their time spent on other sports, but my kids still play at least one additional sport to hockey every season (e.g. soccer, baseball, pickle ball, lacrosse etc.).
Skating On Lots of Ice
Bottom line, if you aren’t playing working enough on the inputs, the outputs can’t be great. On-ice training somewhere between 7 and 15 hours per week should be sufficient to become a top skater.
As a hockey parent I have always tried to figure out what the formula is on how to develop a great hockey player. By “great” I don’t mean an NHL or college player, I am just referring to playing at a very high level of hockey at the youth level. And if there is one thing I have figured out, it is that to be great at hockey, just like anything else, you to love what you are doing. and have a natural love of the game. Jerry Seinfeld best describes it here in an interview with Howard Stern.
The conversation I have had several times with my kids is after I ask them: “Do you want to be a hockey player or someone who plays hockey?”. Just like any other interest or hobby, as kids move through each age group it becomes more and more apparent which kids just like to play hockey (which is just fine) and who really wants to become a hockey player.
How Much Love?
I have put together my own non-scientific method to dimensionalize a hockey player’s passion for the game. It is a five level scale from lowest to highest. Which level best describes your player? Every kid is different and your mileage may vary:
Level 1 – Low Passion:
Lack of dedicated commitment on or off the ice
Consistently shows up late to practice and is last on the ice
During practice lines up at the back of the line for drills
Does not appear to have fun during games or scrimmages
Is not having fun
Behaviors show that the player probably doesn’t want to be at the rink
Picks and chooses optional practices/skills sessions
Spending time with friends is as important as hockey
Once in a while trains on own
Level 4 –Passionate Player:
Plays hockey at almost every opportunity
Happily trains with coaches or friends
Wants to keep playing even when tired
Opts-in to extra training sessions
Will wake up extra early /stay late to go to optional practice
Occasionally works on skill development on their own in the garage or backyard
Listens to feedback
Will train on own if given structured guidance
Level 5 – Off the Charts:
Eat sleep drink hockey (e.g. sleeps with their stick)
Ultra-competitive at everything
Goes out in the driveway, backyard, garage and plays hockey consistently on their own
First on/last off the ice
Plays with intensity on every shift
Always looking to get better
Fire in the belly
Hates to lose
For Most Kids Their Passion Tends to Grow Over Time
Most kids I knew or coached at U8 (Mites) or U10 (Squirts/Atom) who continued on to play at a high level of hockey (AA or AAA) were Level 3 or 4 at that young age. Only a handful of kids started at Level 4. Level 5 is pretty rare, and those are the Sidney Crosby or Ryan O’Reilly’s of the world who were just genetically programmed to want to be a hockey player from Day 1. You know these players, the ones where there are multiple childhood videos of them in diapers holding a hockey stick, skating on the ice before they can ride a bike and blowing out candles on their hockey birthday cakes each year.
In my opinion, a great player should be moving up these levels as your child ages. They do not need to start at level 1. Hopefully their love of the game will increase as they move from U8 to U10 to U12 etc.
Being a Fanatic Hockey Player is Rare
I can tell you this, those Level 5 behaviors to this day still do not resemble my kids, even at the U14 (Bantam level). My kids now love hockey, but they certainly don’t have OCD about playing it. They also didn’t start out that way. My daughter started playing hockey when she was 8 years old when she didn’t like sitting in the rink lobby while her younger brother was on the ice. My son has always liked hockey, but he has and continues to play several other sports, but prefers hockey to all the others. It is only now that they reached their teenage years, that they are starting to narrow their focus on hockey and reducing the other sports they are playing. So, over time they have been moving up the levels to Level 4 these days.
Next Up: Ice Time
While a love of hockey is necessary to become a great hockey player. It isn’t sufficient. Next, I will discuss my perspective another critical ingredient to achieve hockey greatness: TOI (Time on Ice).
What does it take as a hockey parent to help your player become truly elite? So, the reality is I don’t really know from first-hand experience just yet how to develop a great hockey player. In addition, it also really depends on what your definition of “great” is. But I do feel that I have figured out a few things so far as a hockey parent who was watched not only his kids go make it halfway through U14 (aka Bantam) hockey. This series of posts will discuss five different factors that in my opinion contribute to becoming an above average hockey player. While I haven’t gone through it just yet with my kids, from everything I can tell is that the major separation of the top 10% of players really comes at the midget age level and above.
Hockey is a Late Development Sport
While I haven’t gone through it just yet with my kids, from everything I can tell is that the major separation of the top 10% of players really comes at the midget age level and above. There are lots of books and podcasts which discuss hockey being a late development sport (unlike early development sports like gymnastics and figure skating).
The best current example I have seen so far is Brendan Brisson, an incoming freshman at University of Michigan, who was recently a first round draft pick by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2020 NHL Draft. While it is clear he was always an elite player, playing AAA youth hockey with the Los Angeles Jr Kings, when you look at his stats from when he was 13, 14, and 15 years old, he was not even in the top 3 or 4 on most of his teams in scoring, let alone the division he played in. He averaged less than 0.5 points per game in each of those years. It was only in his second year of Shattuck St. Mary’s and then continuing on when playing for the Chicago Steel in juniors did his point totals go exponential. This shows you how much a player can develop AFTER they turn 15.
Many Kids Peak Too Early
Recently former NHLer turned parent coach, Patrick O’Sullivan wrote a couple of tweets how size and speed early in a player’s youth hockey career can actually work against them, as it is too easy for them to score goals at 10U (Squirts/Atom) and 12U (Peewee) by just leveraging these assets.
However, as other kids catch up to them in both size and speed, these early bloomers didn’t develop the other attributes needed to maintain that dominance. I have seen this myself on both my kids teams and players on other teams they play. There is almost always a very high correlation to the leading scorers and how much bigger they are than the other team. This is especially noticeable when watching the finals of the AAA Quebec Peewee tournament. Even from just watching video, it is pretty easy to see that the best teams have the most kids that have already gone through their growth spurts. Of course these kids also have skill, but what helps separate them is their size and/or speed at 12 years old.
The Long Road of Development
To use a cliché (well, this is a hockey-related post, so I’ll allow it), hockey development is “a marathon not a sprint.” Recognizing that most important development happens at 15 and older, you still need a solid base to build from just to get the opportunity to accelerate when you get there.
For the Love of the Game
In the next post I will discuss what the first factor, which I also believe is the ante, for becoming a great hockey player: a love for the game. I will also try to dimensionlize what that love looks like.
Top 10 Podcasts for Girl Hockey Players (and their Parents)
When the The Minor Hockey podcast was cancelled by TSN Radio a couple of years ago I was very disappointed and was searching high and low for another youth hockey podcast. Almost immediately I stumbled upon The Hockey Think Tank’s fifth episode with Kendall Coyne Schofield (before she appeared in the 2019 All Star Game). Since then I have been one of their biggest fans and making sure my kids listen to their podcast in the car when we are driving to the rink. Topher Scott and Jeff Lovechio are former players who both now coach youth hockey. They are both positive, likeable, sincere & knowledgeable and their guests are spectacular.
Girls Hockey Talk
When they do have a female hockey player on the show there is always a nugget or two I get from the episode specific to the girl’s game. Alyssa Gagliardi was a guest who provided good insight on her hockey journey starting with boys hockey all the way to the U.S. Olympic team. This past summer, in collaboration with the PWHPA HTT had a series of shows and online programming specific go the women’s game. Interviews included Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford and University of Minnesota-Duluth women’s head coach Maura Crowell.
Must-Listen for Parents
One of the best parts of the Hockey Think Tank are the discussions about what a successful hockey journey looks like for most kids from youth all the way to the pros. It usually isn’t a straight line. So many of the guests discuss the struggles they faced and the grit they had to have to make it. Most parents can relate to not having an ‘early-bloomer’ player and how to navigate the bumpy road by focusing on player development versus wins. Guests like Patrick O’Sullivan and Martin St Louis discuss being youth hockey coaches and what really matters in player development from 8-18 years of age – which is different from what most coaches practice and preach.
Recently, The Hockey Think Tank published their Parent Survival Guide. It is an excellent resource for hockey parents who want the straight goods about navigating the complex world to from youth to junior to college hockey. While it primarily focuses on the path that boys take, many of the principles apply to women’s hockey (without the extra step of junior hockey between high school and college).
If you are going to listen to only one podcast as a youth hockey player or parent, The Hockey Think Tank is the one we would recommend.