Every morning my son and I go to the park to play baseball. We bring some balls, the bat, cleats, and gloves to practice our skills. Some days however, we play in the mud. You see my son is only three so I see no need to have him practice skills if he’d rather walk through the mud puddle or run through the sprinklers.
The problem with hockey (and really all sports) as players go from the little leagues to bantam, midget, junior, etc. is that for many players the fun simply isn’t there anymore. Many coaches get a little nutty with the yelling and screaming all in pursuit of winning. They lose the key purpose of playing sports in the first place…mentoring young people into adulthood through a game. Our purpose as a coach is to do exactly that. Teaching skills, tactics, etc. is all important, but the lessons kids learn such as fair play, honesty, team-building, socialization, etc. are the most valuable of all.
In my book DRYLAND, I talk about Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) in great detail, and what types of training are appropriate at certain ages for both boys and girls. A great example of LTAD is from Canadian Sport for Life. One of the key messages throughout the LTAD chapter of the book and in my coaching philosophy in general is that players (of all ages) must enjoy playing the sport and love what they do to get the most out of the experience.
I learned a long time ago from a wise coach (Olympic Lifting guru Mike Burgener) that “you do the cookin’ when the frying pan’s hot”. What this means for my program is regardless of the plan you had for a practice or training session, if the kids are not having fun and are engaged with what you are doing, perhaps it’s time to change your strategy and/or bring some fun back into the game. A quick but fun warm-up for practice might include a game of soccer hockey or reverse stick hockey. If you have access, nothing beats an outdoor game of shinny to make hockey fun again. In more drastic situations, it might be time to find some mud and let kids be kids.