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Coaching Minor Hockey Parents Youth Hockey

How I Applied Lessons from Belfry Hockey

Darryl Belfry Hockey Book

I loved Darryl Belfry’s book Belfry 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:

  1. An understanding of which skills are important for my kids to develop (i.e. “Skills That Separate”)
  2. See which skills aren’t getting developed with their current coaches
  3. 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:

  1. Slap shots off the rush
  2. Using straight-line speed to rush by defensemen along the boards
  3. 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:

  1. Track event frequency and success rates
  2. 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:

  1. 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.

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Parents Youth Hockey

How to Develop a Great Hockey Player: Natural Gifts, Talent and Luck

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.

Natural Gifts

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. 

Talent

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.

Luck

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.

This post is the fifth in a series on How to Develop a Great Hockey Player (Intro).

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Skating Youth Hockey

How to Develop a Great Hockey Player: Ice Time

Why is ice time important? 

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)
  • Hockey camps
  • Team Practices
  • 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.

This post is the third in a series on How to Develop a Great Hockey Player (Intro).

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hockey Parents Podcast Strength and Conditioning

#10 – Hockey Training: Become a Better Hockey Player Podcast

Top 10 Podcasts for Girl Hockey Players and their Parents

The Hockey Training podcast is one of the audio programs I have been listening to the longest. This podcast (plus their website, YouTube videos and training programs) provides hockey-specific training knowledge and exercises to help you “dominate on the ice”. While most of the content is not gender-specific, at the appropriate times Coach Dan Garner will make sure to point out differences based on a scientific and anatomical basis. In addition he will provide female-specific training guidance for relevant exercises. I know that one of the local NorCalAAA girls teams has used their program for off-ice training and they have been quite pleased with the results. Overall, Coach Garner consistently pumps out quality episodes. I would recommend searching past episodes for specific areas to work on (e.g. speed, strength and endurance).

This post is part of a series of blogs on the Top 10 Podcasts for Girl Hockey Players (and their Parents). You can read the background on this list from the start of this series.