If you’re the parent of a midget hockey player, you probably attend a lot of games. It’s part of what I love about these organizations. The schedule is packed with regular play where teams experience action on the ice. Games are great for young players and their families who love to come and watch.
As great as games are, if we want our kids to succeed, we should not overlook the importance of practice. This is where junior hockey players develop and become stronger. Even top players at the college level touch the puck for a total of no more than one minute and a few seconds over the course of an entire game, according to a USA Hockey report. An efficiently-run practice can give kids the equivalent of 11 games worth of playing time.
More practice leads to better players, but it also increases the level of fun. It lets kids try their hand at skills they may actually get to use on the ice. Even if they never score a goal, they’ll experience the excitement of using the stick.
Howie Meeker, an NHL legend and pioneer in minor hockey coaching, advocates for greater focus on skill development for young players. Meeker wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that “most of the enjoyment of playing comes from the stick,” and lamented that minor hockey coaching doesn’t focus enough on stick skills.
Meeker should know. He’s spent years nurturing the talents of young players. As this video of Meeker in action shows, young players get better with targeted practice that focuses on the details. It isn’t enough to skate fast and shoot with power; you have to make and receive passes in just the right way in order to set up your teammates to score.
Midget hockey skills camps teach the fundamentals of skating, passing, shooting and stick handling. But to elevate the skill level of individual players and the game as a whole, it’s essential to go beyond just camp and put in regular practice.
USA Hockey recommends a practice-to-game ratio of 3:1. That may mean some slow time in the stands for parents who’d rather see a competition than drills, but it helps the players get better.
The video of Howie Meeker stands out for me because of the legend’s encouraging coaching style. He asks all the players to describe why they are holding the stick a certain way. When they put in the time, Meeker rewards them with a kind word. It’s a model that we should see more in junior league hockey.