What makes one hockey player develop more than another?
How does one player get better over time while everyone else around him seems to stay the same or gets worse?
The answer is simple—effective hockey player development.
On the other hand, the “How” of hockey player development—the actual process that’s most effective at developing a player’s skills over time—is a little more complicated.
Don’t worry—I’m going to show you how in this blog post.
But first, I have to dispel a popular myth that does nothing but hinder the growth of a player…
And that myth is what I like to call the ‘lack of talent‘ myth.
The easy way out is to blame slow or non-existent player development on a lack of natural talent.
That’s a big mistake.
Kids aren’t born great hockey players, and scientists agree that “targeted” natural gifts don’t exist at all.
- Early aptitude is not a predictor for greatness in a given field without consistent practice over a long period of time.
- The most accomplished people need roughly 10 years of hard work before they become “world class” (also known as the 10 year rule).
In other words, myth busted!
Hockey player development doesn’t rely on natural talent alone.
It also relies on hard work and practice.
But not just any practice.
The key is purposeful practice, and the earlier hockey coaches, parents and players can adopt this concept, the easier hockey player development will be.
With similar ice-time, opportunity, and hockey equipment as many others my age, I separated myself from the pack and made it to the competitive level.
I was lucky enough to have coaches & mentors who understood purposeful practice and taught me how to use the concept each time I stepped out onto the ice.
As a coach or parent, you play a crucial role in player development, and instilling this 3-step process early on in your child’s career will have a positive ripple effect for years to come.
Here’s the 3-step process and how you can use it to switch from a ‘just practice‘ mentality to a ‘purposeful practice‘ mentality.
Step 1 – Early hockey player development (parents & players)
At first, you’re going to want to focus on quantity over quality.
Sounds contradicting, I know.
But in the early stages of a player’s hockey career, it’s more important to just play and experience every possible scenario in the game of hockey than it is to try and perfect certain skills.
Trying to perfect a certain skill is time wasted that could be spent on playing the entire game as a whole—the latter is much more effective for player development early on.
The faster and more often a player can practice, the faster he will learn. Plain and simple.
Think experience over perfection in the early years. The more time spent out on the ice, the more development occurs.
Encouraged by his father, Tiger Woods started practicing at 18 months old. He focused on quantity over quality of practice in the early stages, and practiced nearly everyday for 15 years before winning the U.S. Amateur Championship at age 18.
If you’re a parent and your kid just can’t get enough of hockey, give him as many opportunities to play as possible .
But don’t force it—it has to come from your child.
If you’re a player and truly want to be the best you can be, play as much as you can without worrying about ‘being perfect’.
Perfect comes later.
Once you’ve logged enough hours on the ice, then you can worry about being perfect.
Then comes the time where you have to make a conscious decision—do you really want to become a great player?
It’s no longer about your parents, but about you.
You have to decide if hockey is just a game for you or if it’s your passion.
To develop further is going to take blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly—purposeful practice.
Step 2 – Adopting a growth mindset (players)
- a fixed mindset
- a growth mindset
A fixed mindset is when someone believes that their basic qualities are set in stone—that is, they believe
talent plays a big part in one’s success and that there’s not much they can do to improve. They accept this as fact and just go through the motions.
On the other hand, a growth mindset is when someone believes that their basic abilities can be developed—that is, they believe talent is just the starting point. This mindset creates a love for learning, improving, and a sense of resilience that is essential for significant development.
All great athletes embrace a growth mindset. In order to go from good to great, you have to develop a growth mindset and believe that small daily progress leads to significant improvement over time.
As a coach, your job is to foster this growth mentality and praise effort and work ethic over talent.
Only once players learn to adopt a growth mindset can they make the leap to purposeful practice.
Step 3 – Purposeful practice (players & coaches)
Now that you’ve emphasized quantity over quality for some time and have adopted a growth mindset, you’re ready to start focusing on purposeful practice in order to perfect your skills.
Here’s how to practice with a purpose in order to maximize player development:
Choose a skill that you struggle with and set a goal to improve it. Your goal should be reasonable, and not unattainable so as to discourage you. Your goal should be just outside your comfort zone but within reach. The objective is to set goals that lead to continuous improvement over time.
For example, let’s say you’re currently able to place your shot where you want on net 5 out of 10 times (on average) .
Set a goal to improve to 7 out of 10 times on a regular basis (not just once). This would be an overall improvement, and isn’t too far out of reach from what you’re currently capable of.
In this example, being able to place your shot 7 out of 10 times repeatedly after purposeful practice would mean a noticeable improvement of your shooting accuracy.
In order to achieve this result, you’re going to need to evaluate yourself.
As you’re carrying out the skill during practice, focus on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it the way you are.
If we use the same example as above, notice what you’re doing right when you hit your target, and what you’re doing differently when you miss. Adapt, modify and try different things as you go to see if there’s a better or more effective way of doing things.
In this case, maybe you would try something like different hand placement, different puck-on-blade positioning, or even a different shot-release point.
You get the idea.
Now that you’ve evaluated your own performance, it’s time to get an outsider’s perspective.
Ask for feedback
This is where it helps to have a coach, parent, or someone knowledgeable give you feedback on what you did well and what you did poorly.
You’ve already self-evaluated your performance during practice, but it helps to get another opinion. What’s more, having someone more knowledgeable than you provide feedback is a sure way to improve. They may notice things that you yourself didn’t notice.
As a player, it’s important to ask for this feedback whenever necessary, and as a coach it’s important to provide this feedback whenever possible.
Without feedback, players can continue down the wrong path and never see any significant development.
Players shouldn’t be emotional about feedback—constructive criticism is all part of the learning process, and a growth mindset welcomes all forms of feedback.
Coaches should share the good, the bad and the ugly—what coaches refrain from saying in order to remain positive or ‘polite‘ can actually be counter-productive.
Tiger Woods said it best: “I can’t watch myself swing“.
Feedback is a crucial part of hockey player development…be sure there’s plenty of it to go around.
And remember, praise the effort—not the talent.
The perfect ‘purposeful practice’ example
The perfect example of practicing with a purpose comes from an article on fortune.com. It’s about golf, but it’s the same for any sport, including hockey:
“Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not purposeful practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day — that’s purposeful practice.“
Apply this concept to your game and development will be inevitable.
So there you have it—the 3-step process coaches, parents & players must understand for effective development.
First, you have to focus on quantity of ice-time over quality.
Then, assuming you adopt a growth mindset, you can start focusing on quality and perfecting your on-ice skills with purposeful practice following the plan laid out above.
As a parent, the greatest impact you can have in your child’s hockey career is to provide them with the ice-time they need to explore the sport and to provide support along the way.
If you don’t have a decent understanding of the game, you probably shouldn’t provide feedback—leave that to the coaches or find a mentor that knows the game.
As a coach, the greatest impact you can have on young hockey players is to teach all you know and provide feedback—the good, the bad and the ugly. If a player isn’t ready to deal with negative feedback, he won’t last very long. It’s part of the game and is what leads to growth as a player.
Of course, at a young age, you’ll want to do it tastefully. Past the Bantam/Midget level, you don’t have to sugarcoat it 😉
And as a player, your job is to first make a conscious decision that you want to improve and then adopt a growth mindset.
From there, you can practice purposefully and improve your skills over time, making continuous improvements by setting goals, evaluating your performance and getting feedback from others along the way.
And always remember:
The same ice-time.
The same hockey equipment.
The same opportunity.
The concept of ‘purposeful practice‘ is what separates you from the pack.