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How to help a talented player focus in games?

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My apologies for the length of this content in advance.

I recently started assisting a friend who is a head coach of team since one of the assistant coaches has become unavailable. He has a specific player who is very talented, reasonably more talented than the other players on the team, but struggles in games. 

In practice, including team scrimmages, is a fantastic skater, great shooting skill; power and accuracy, excellent on-ice awareness, very agile, and has amazing hands.

In games, he frequently looks confused about where he should be, seems unsure of himself, and appears timid. He doesn't like to handle the puck, preferring to instead to pass, but makes rushed/scared passes that are bad and result in disastrous turnovers. He could easily skate through many players on the opposing team but he instead tends to try and get rid of the puck soon as he is pressured by the other teams players. 

When I was young I also had some of these same issues. I always performed better in practice as opposed to games, and a lot of it for me was the fact I was more confident when skating with my teammates and players I knew, and in game situations, I lacked confidence. This was a major problem for me and I struggled with this my entire career and likely contributed to my career-ending injury at such a young age. Because I personally never resolved these issues when I was younger I have no clue how to help this player. The head coach seems at a loss as well. 

We have tried putting him in high-pressure situations in practice thinking that if he experiences the same conditions he would experience in games, this might help settle him down, but it doesn't seem to change the end result. I tried talking with him about how he feels in games, if he is scared, rushed, or nervous. We have watched video replay of situations and asked him how he thinks he could have made better decisions or if he could help us understand what he was thinking or feeling at certain times but he says he cant really explain how he feels and retreats into himself.

At times I feel like I am talking to a younger version of myself. I don't want to pressure him and don't want to keep pushing him. I told him if he wants to talk to me or the head coach we are always happy to grab a burger, sit down, and chat. I also know a very good sports therapist who offered to meet with him but I don't want to make that offer to him yet because I don't want him to lose even more confidence. I totally understand how it could be a downward spiral. It's easier to keep falling when you already feel low. 

So what do we do? Leave it alone until he wants to talk more about it? 

The head coach wants to drop him from the first line to the third line because his output is poor and he frequently makes mistakes that result in goals against. In fact, his +/- is the lowest on the team. I am afraid that if the head coach does this it will make matters even worse but I also understand you can't keep playing someone, no matter how talented, that is resulting in you losing games. We have even had a few parents come to us addressing the situation and asking why their kids, who in games perform better than him, haven't been moved to higher lines. 

Help? 

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Howdy,

Sports psychologist sounds like a good choice.

Your description makes it sound like he isn't sure what he should be doing in full game context.  I see these "game awareness" type training things... Maybe that would help?

Might also be pressure to perform... Any player knows there's a difference between the game and practice.  If that's the case, and if he sees himself as having to perform for his team, I wonder if dropping him to a "less important" role would help him gain more confidence?  Take some of the weight off his shoulders.

But really... Sports psychologist sounds like the best idea to determine what's happening.  As to how to introduce that to him... Depending on age and what the parents are like, I might go through them.  Wouldn't hurt to have an example of someone he looks up to that's used a sports psychologist successfully as well.

Mark

(Way not an expert.  And I haven't stayed in a holiday inn in forever.)

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Coaching youth hockey is quite the (worth while) challenge. Miss not coaching this year for "problems" like this and looking for the solution(s). Any who, with a player like that, I'd first look to put him around a shooter. Shooters love playmakers who look to pass first. That way he doesn't feel like he has to be "the Guy." Another thing to do is point out the times he does the "right" thing. I'm sure he's had coaches in the past to tell him to hold onto the puck more. That doesn't work with kids like him. They just end up ignoring you. Keep at him with praise when he does things he isn't comfortable with.

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On 12/5/2020 at 4:16 PM, SkateWorksPNW said:

My apologies for the length of this content in advance.

I recently started assisting a friend who is a head coach of team since one of the assistant coaches has become unavailable. He has a specific player who is very talented, reasonably more talented than the other players on the team, but struggles in games. 

In practice, including team scrimmages, is a fantastic skater, great shooting skill; power and accuracy, excellent on-ice awareness, very agile, and has amazing hands.

In games, he frequently looks confused about where he should be, seems unsure of himself, and appears timid. He doesn't like to handle the puck, preferring to instead to pass, but makes rushed/scared passes that are bad and result in disastrous turnovers. He could easily skate through many players on the opposing team but he instead tends to try and get rid of the puck soon as he is pressured by the other teams players. 

When I was young I also had some of these same issues. I always performed better in practice as opposed to games, and a lot of it for me was the fact I was more confident when skating with my teammates and players I knew, and in game situations, I lacked confidence. This was a major problem for me and I struggled with this my entire career and likely contributed to my career-ending injury at such a young age. Because I personally never resolved these issues when I was younger I have no clue how to help this player. The head coach seems at a loss as well. 

We have tried putting him in high-pressure situations in practice thinking that if he experiences the same conditions he would experience in games, this might help settle him down, but it doesn't seem to change the end result. I tried talking with him about how he feels in games, if he is scared, rushed, or nervous. We have watched video replay of situations and asked him how he thinks he could have made better decisions or if he could help us understand what he was thinking or feeling at certain times but he says he cant really explain how he feels and retreats into himself.

At times I feel like I am talking to a younger version of myself. I don't want to pressure him and don't want to keep pushing him. I told him if he wants to talk to me or the head coach we are always happy to grab a burger, sit down, and chat. I also know a very good sports therapist who offered to meet with him but I don't want to make that offer to him yet because I don't want him to lose even more confidence. I totally understand how it could be a downward spiral. It's easier to keep falling when you already feel low. 

So what do we do? Leave it alone until he wants to talk more about it? 

The head coach wants to drop him from the first line to the third line because his output is poor and he frequently makes mistakes that result in goals against. In fact, his +/- is the lowest on the team. I am afraid that if the head coach does this it will make matters even worse but I also understand you can't keep playing someone, no matter how talented, that is resulting in you losing games. We have even had a few parents come to us addressing the situation and asking why their kids, who in games perform better than him, haven't been moved to higher lines. 

Help? 

If he's not playing well in games, its not a big deal to put him on the third string. Maybe if he plays against other team's third line, it will boost his confidence. Not 100% about that. Maybe he's being pushed to play a level too high, but was good enough during try outs.

What's his position? If he's confused about where he should be, maybe he doesn't know or he has gotten conflicting information from different coaches, parent, or whatever. If he's a forward, have you thought of putting him in a defenseman position? Or vise-versa, if he's a defenseman, put him in a winger position. 

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Big or small in physical size? Whats his drive for playing (coming from him or other outside influences)? Could be he is feeling burnt out but can't say it, enjoys playing with his friends but hates the game side (I have seen this a number of times). Any history of receiving a big hit/s and it's now playing with his mind (or even lingering concussion issues that he doesn't want to talk about because he thinks there is an associated stigma with it)? Or a fear of getting hit and the potential damage that could result (fear of concussion is a big thing for some kids)? Whatever it is it is mental so getting him in front of a psychologist may be the best option to understand the cause but that comes with a lot of inherent blocks (parents, peer pressure, self impressions etc).

Also whatever his training is / has been, it isn't working, at least for the mental side of his game. As caveman27 suggested, maybe change it up for him but I would also be trying to really simplify his game. Eg if he is a great skater, turn him into a shut down player, easy to sell when it requires the best skater in your team to look after the best skater in the opposition team. Make his role really simple and defined and work with this in practice and drills, if he does well at it then hopefully his confidence would grow and he can then continue to develop. Or a stay at home D. There are a number of roles he can perform that uses the skills he has without placing the pressure on him to be the best 200 yard, puck handling shot screaming beast you think he should be.

The other thing I'd take another look at is the tapes. Is he getting puck locked? I've seen this before, players in practice with all the time in the world but in games their focus narrows to the puck, they don't get their head up in time, time and space now narrows for them and they make poor, panicky plays as a result. Fixing this can be done but it requires specific training and him understanding what is going on.

Whatever it is I wish you all the best, getting inside the head of a 13 year old isn't an easy task.....

Edited by Vet88

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What everybody else said but to add, this is AAA hockey and everyone including his teammates are seeing a kid who doesn’t perform play on the first line.  Hard to argue it is making the team better and it is sending a message to other players who are probably putting in just as much effort as him.  Does he have a history of playing well in games?  Do you know his past coaches?  It’s one thing to keep a player in a spot to work through a slump because he has performed before, a different thing if he hasn’t.

Sports psych, depends on the kid.  Just like anything, the kid has to recognize the issues and want to work through them via that avenue.

 

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Any idea what the family/home life is like?  How involved are his parents?  We have a similar player and playing D has helped boost his confidence that he is contributing to his team winning games.  We are also very involved as parents in his development, regularly discussing his performance and encouraging both good plays and instances where he pushed himself to try something different.  Those plays outside his comfort zone aren't always successful, but we use them as learning opportunities to consider what to do differently next time he is faced with a similar situation.  If you think the parents would be open to it, you might discuss their involvement.  I feel like a player like that needs a lot of encouragement and that usually needs to be happening beyond the rink to have an impact.

Another thing to suggest is maybe a club or spring team at a lower level in addition to the AAA team.  Less pressure and easier competition can boost confidence significantly.  He may not see himself as talented compared to his AAA peers.  Put him up against A or AA players and he may realize he can be the alpha/dominant force you see him being in practice. 

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12 hours ago, caveman27 said:

If he's not playing well in games, its not a big deal to put him on the third string. Maybe if he plays against other team's third line, it will boost his confidence. Not 100% about that. Maybe he's being pushed to play a level too high, but was good enough during try outs.

What's his position? If he's confused about where he should be, maybe he doesn't know or he has gotten conflicting information from different coaches, parent, or whatever. If he's a forward, have you thought of putting him in a defenseman position? Or vise-versa, if he's a defenseman, put him in a winger position. 

He plays center. We tried wing and that was no better or worse for him. Haven't considered a defense role, he is a bigger kid and a good skater so maybe that is an option. He could be a solid two-way defenseman. I might suggest to the head coach moving him to D in practice just to see how that goes.

4 hours ago, BenBreeg said:

What everybody else said but to add, this is AAA hockey and everyone including his teammates are seeing a kid who doesn’t perform play on the first line.  Hard to argue it is making the team better and it is sending a message to other players who are probably putting in just as much effort as him.  Does he have a history of playing well in games?  Do you know his past coaches?  It’s one thing to keep a player in a spot to work through a slump because he has performed before, a different thing if he hasn’t.

Sports psych, depends on the kid.  Just like anything, the kid has to recognize the issues and want to work through them via that avenue.

 

He moved to AZ from MN and I don't know any of his previous coaches though I am sure I can find that out easily. His stats previously are very good, but he was playing with same-age kids and no he is playing up a level with kids that are older than him. I understand a slump but have been told it's been this way since the start of the season.

48 minutes ago, krisdrum said:

Any idea what the family/home life is like?  How involved are his parents?  We have a similar player and playing D has helped boost his confidence that he is contributing to his team winning games.  We are also very involved as parents in his development, regularly discussing his performance and encouraging both good plays and instances where he pushed himself to try something different.  Those plays outside his comfort zone aren't always successful, but we use them as learning opportunities to consider what to do differently next time he is faced with a similar situation.  If you think the parents would be open to it, you might discuss their involvement.  I feel like a player like that needs a lot of encouragement and that usually needs to be happening beyond the rink to have an impact.

Another thing to suggest is maybe a club or spring team at a lower level in addition to the AAA team.  Less pressure and easier competition can boost confidence significantly.  He may not see himself as talented compared to his AAA peers.  Put him up against A or AA players and he may realize he can be the alpha/dominant force you see him being in practice. 

His mom and dad are at every practice and game. They seem like great parents and are very involved. In fact, they are just as concerned as we have been. 

We have scrimmaged the lower AA team and he absolutely dominated them in the game... and I truly mean dominated, something like 3 goals and 4 assists. He had no problem skating with the puck and seemed very confident. He knows many of the players on those teams though which is why I think he seemed more confident and comfortable and was happy to skate the puck instead of making panic decisions.

10 hours ago, Vet88 said:

Big or small in physical size? Whats his drive for playing (coming from him or other outside influences)? Could be he is feeling burnt out but can't say it, enjoys playing with his friends but hates the game side (I have seen this a number of times). Any history of receiving a big hit/s and it's now playing with his mind (or even lingering concussion issues that he doesn't want to talk about because he thinks there is an associated stigma with it)? Or a fear of getting hit and the potential damage that could result (fear of concussion is a big thing for some kids)? Whatever it is it is mental so getting him in front of a psychologist may be the best option to understand the cause but that comes with a lot of inherent blocks (parents, peer pressure, self impressions etc).

Also whatever his training is / has been, it isn't working, at least for the mental side of his game. As caveman27 suggested, maybe change it up for him but I would also be trying to really simplify his game. Eg if he is a great skater, turn him into a shut down player, easy to sell when it requires the best skater in your team to look after the best skater in the opposition team. Make his role really simple and defined and work with this in practice and drills, if he does well at it then hopefully his confidence would grow and he can then continue to develop. Or a stay at home D. There are a number of roles he can perform that uses the skills he has without placing the pressure on him to be the best 200 yard, puck handling shot screaming beast you think he should be.

The other thing I'd take another look at is the tapes. Is he getting puck locked? I've seen this before, players in practice with all the time in the world but in games their focus narrows to the puck, they don't get their head up in time, time and space now narrows for them and they make poor, panicky plays as a result. Fixing this can be done but it requires specific training and him understanding what is going on.

Whatever it is I wish you all the best, getting inside the head of a 13 year old isn't an easy task.....

Big in physical size., especially for his age. I asked him his motivations and he said "everything about hockey" but didn't say much more than that, he is a bit of an introvert. 

He does seem afraid of getting hit. In practice, we have a strict light contact policy so it would make sense if he isn't afraid in a practice situation but then in a game, he is terrified of getting blown up. 

As for puck locked, I think he is very good with creating time and space for himself. Just something he gets into a panic and throws the puck away as fast as he can without looking or waiting even though he has a good 8 ft of space between him and another player. He just seems rushed and panics. 

 

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2 hours ago, BenBreeg said:

Introvert playing with older kids and not having success has to be tough.  Maybe playing with his own age group is an option.

He is playing up? @SkateWorksPNW can you confirm?

Nevermind, see it now!

 

So he is 12 playing AAA Tier 1 with a bunch of 13 year olds?  Based on what that would look like here, the kid must be incredible.  Granted, it looks like AZ has 3 AAA Tier 1 '07 teams.  Jersey has 10, so I have to assume we are talking about a much smaller pool of players in AZ.  Still, to be a year younger and playing up, especially at a key transition age like Bantam, is a big deal.  I have heard often that bantam can be a real make or break due to the introduction of checking.  Some kids, despite an advanced skill level, just don't want to get hit.  But I would think his size (sounds like he is as big or bigger than most of the other kids) would be a non-issue or even an advantage.  Maybe he could have been better served by playing with his birthyear 1 more year.  That is a tough call.   

Edited by krisdrum

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6 hours ago, SkateWorksPNW said:

He does seem afraid of getting hit. In practice, we have a strict light contact policy so it would make sense if he isn't afraid in a practice situation but then in a game, he is terrified of getting blown up. 

Shifting him to D for a while could be a big help, getting him to continually practice playing the body and give hits may help his confidence and awareness to manage them when he is in a position to be on the receving end. 

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Why is he playing up an age level? Even if he could arguably fit in if he found his confidence, he's 110% better off dominating/excelling at his own age level than just trying to fit in at the next level up.

Also I think you need to somehow determine if his lack of confidence is fear of getting hit/hurt vs. fear of making a mistake / bad play. Both situations lead to loss of confidence but I think each needs a different strategy to overcome. So you somehow need to figure that out first.

Parents might seem great in the rink but if the drive home in the car is a 20 minute review of all the mistakes he made that's a death spiral you can't pull them out of. They might think that's good feedback to help him work though it but it just has the opposite effect.

But if I'm the kid's parents - I do whatever it takes to put him back with his age level. 

Edited by colins
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14 hours ago, colins said:

 

Why is he playing up an age level? Even if he could arguably fit in if he found his confidence, he's 110% better off dominating/excelling at his own age level than just trying to fit in at the next level up.

Also I think you need to somehow determine if his lack of confidence is fear of getting hit/hurt vs. fear of making a mistake / bad play. Both situations lead to loss of confidence but I think each needs a different strategy to overcome. So you somehow need to figure that out first.

Parents might seem great in the rink but if the drive home in the car is a 20 minute review of all the mistakes he made that's a death spiral you can't pull them out of. They might think that's good feedback to help him work though it but it just has the opposite effect.

But if I'm the kid's parents - I do whatever it takes to put him back with his age level. 

The more I have been thinking about this, the more I agree.  There is a lot to unpack here.  Having been that parent in the car after the game, I've seen first hand what that can do to their confidence level.  Luckily we saw the error of our ways and have adjusted. 

Sounds like another year of development/confidence building would have been really beneficial.  But that seems like water under the bridge at this point, so let's move on, but I would mention to parents to weigh their options next year.  Does he re-join his birth-year team with some experience at the bantam level that can give him an edge to be more assertive?

If D is something to seriously consider in the short-term, I'd point to the new breed of "skill" D men that have been blowing up the NHL the last season or two.  Makar, Q. Hughes, and obviously Hedman.  Those guys are point machines that are just as effective with the puck as they are without.  That style and mindset could be what helps flip the switch for this young man. 

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14 minutes ago, krisdrum said:

The more I have been thinking about this, the more I agree.  There is a lot to unpack here.  Having been that parent in the car after the game, I've seen first hand what that can do to their confidence level.  Luckily we saw the error of our ways and have adjusted. 

Sounds like another year of development/confidence building would have been really beneficial.  But that seems like water under the bridge at this point, so let's move on, but I would mention to parents to weigh their options next year.  Does he re-join his birth-year team with some experience at the bantam level that can give him an edge to be more assertive?

If D is something to seriously consider in the short-term, I'd point to the new breed of "skill" D men that have been blowing up the NHL the last season or two.  Makar, Q. Hughes, and obviously Hedman.  Those guys are point machines that are just as effective with the puck as they are without.  That style and mindset could be what helps flip the switch for this young man. 

 

I don't want to squash the D idea but I would caution again in how it's brought up. Ask the kid what he thinks of the position before ever suggesting he try it. Read his reaction. Does he think it's a fun thing? Does he seem curious about what it would be like to play it?

If instead you approach him like "I think you'd be better on D" he's going to feel some pressure to please his coaches and might not reveal his true feeling on it. It could be a situation like "Coach wants me to play D and I should do what's best for the team", but if he's not really bought into it himself a move like that could really snuff out his love for the game during a time when he's already seeming a bit lost in terms of confidence.

If he's like "I'd LOVE to play D" then obviously it would be worth experimenting with. But if they kid loves being a forward and just needs some help finding his confidence it could be a death blow w.r.t his love for the game. So tread carefully!

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@colins

Agree, this is a delicate situation.  And a lot depends on the kid.  I know it was a blow to my son when he was asked to play D.  Granted much younger than this young man, at an age where if you aren't scoring goals, are you really a hockey player?  I exaggerate, but at the younger ages, most kids aren't thinking "how do I contribute to the team?", they are thinking "I want to score all the goals".  But at least in my personal experience, he has taken to it pretty well and he has come to realize how to use his skill set within the context of the position.  It is definitely a mindset shift though.  Much less about the goals (as they don't come as often), and much more about the "play making" with and without the puck, winning the 1:1 battles and moving the puck to your guys.   

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At the Tier I AAA level, it's not like putting someone on D will hide things.  There is a ton to actually learn about playing D.  It may not be the solution, especially if he's panicing with the puck.  That isn't a recipe for success as a defenseman either.

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33 minutes ago, BenBreeg said:

At the Tier I AAA level, it's not like putting someone on D will hide things.  There is a ton to actually learn about playing D.  It may not be the solution, especially if he's panicing with the puck.  That isn't a recipe for success as a defenseman either.

 

1 hour ago, krisdrum said:

@colins

Agree, this is a delicate situation.  And a lot depends on the kid.  I know it was a blow to my son when he was asked to play D.  Granted much younger than this young man, at an age where if you aren't scoring goals, are you really a hockey player?  I exaggerate, but at the younger ages, most kids aren't thinking "how do I contribute to the team?", they are thinking "I want to score all the goals".  But at least in my personal experience, he has taken to it pretty well and he has come to realize how to use his skill set within the context of the position.  It is definitely a mindset shift though.  Much less about the goals (as they don't come as often), and much more about the "play making" with and without the puck, winning the 1:1 battles and moving the puck to your guys.   

 

1 hour ago, krisdrum said:

 

If D is something to seriously consider in the short-term, I'd point to the new breed of "skill" D men that have been blowing up the NHL the last season or two.  Makar, Q. Hughes, and obviously Hedman.  Those guys are point machines that are just as effective with the puck as they are without.  That style and mindset could be what helps flip the switch for this young man. 

We actually had one of our top defensemen get sick with the flu, not C19, so we were a defenseman short yesterday for practice and I asked him if he wouldn't mind helping out on defense drills. We were doing a lot of corner/half-wall 2 vs 1 drills and also continuous shooting drills for defense from the point and forwards from the top of the circles. He played very well, but as mentioned, he always does well in practice. 

After practice finished I asked him how he felt playing defense and he said it was ok. He didn't seem overly enthusiastic. I am going to meet with his power skating coach late this afternoon, he does 1:1 sessions with him twice a week. Maybe he has some suggestions or the player has shared more with him than us. 

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5 hours ago, SkateWorksPNW said:

 

 

We actually had one of our top defensemen get sick with the flu, not C19, so we were a defenseman short yesterday for practice and I asked him if he wouldn't mind helping out on defense drills. We were doing a lot of corner/half-wall 2 vs 1 drills and also continuous shooting drills for defense from the point and forwards from the top of the circles. He played very well, but as mentioned, he always does well in practice. 

After practice finished I asked him how he felt playing defense and he said it was ok. He didn't seem overly enthusiastic. I am going to meet with his power skating coach late this afternoon, he does 1:1 sessions with him twice a week. Maybe he has some suggestions or the player has shared more with him than us. 

 

That was a great way to feel it out. I think you got the answer you were looking for.

1:1 power skating sessions at age 13 - is that common in your area? It sounds expensive, but more so - it sounds like work more than fun.

Not a lot of kids that age want to spend an hour with an instructor one on one working on fundamentals like that. It's usually the parents setting it up and convincing the kid it's what's necessary to "get better and get ahead". The kids want to be with their buddies goofing around and having fun, in addition to hopefully working their butts off and maybe learning a thing or two in the process during a practice or group power skating session.

As soon as it feels like work or a chore instead of fun - the enthusiasm is lost and the flame starts to fan out.

All you really want to do up to age 16/17 is make it as much fun as possible and safe. Teach them that the the outcome of how much they can improve is a direct result of how much time they decide to put in, and then leave it to them to determine how much time that's going to be. The kids that crave getting better will put the time in, the kids that just want to have fun will end up developing other interests/priorities by age 18 and will tail off. Both are fine outcomes - either way their love of the game doesn't get snuffed out in the process. That's the worst possible outcome. It happens far too often when kids are pushed too hard at too early an age and no longer enjoy going to the rink. They carry that guilt around a while before it eventually becomes too heavy to bare and then they drop out altogether, with a fear of disappointing their parents. Hockey's no fun after that.

I've seen kids who were star players at 13 drop out by highschool and not even play at the rec level in their mid teens, while the kids they came up with are playing highschool hockey together and having the time of their life with all their classmates in the stands cheering them on.

Not saying that's the case with this young man, but it's something that's happened in rinks everywhere countless times before and for anyone who hasn't seen it first hand it's important to be aware of.

Next time you watch him play or practice - even if he's more of an introvert - is there a smile on his face? Is he having fun? If not - try working on taking everything serious about hockey off his plate and work on sharing some smiles and laughs regardless of the mistakes he's making. See what that does for his game. 

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2 hours ago, colins said:

 

That was a great way to feel it out. I think you got the answer you were looking for.

1:1 power skating sessions at age 13 - is that common in your area? It sounds expensive, but more so - it sounds like work more than fun.

Not a lot of kids that age want to spend an hour with an instructor one on one working on fundamentals like that. It's usually the parents setting it up and convincing the kid it's what's necessary to "get better and get ahead". The kids want to be with their buddies goofing around and having fun, in addition to hopefully working their butts off and maybe learning a thing or two in the process during a practice or group power skating session.

As soon as it feels like work or a chore instead of fun - the enthusiasm is lost and the flame starts to fan out.

All you really want to do up to age 16/17 is make it as much fun as possible and safe. Teach them that the the outcome of how much they can improve is a direct result of how much time they decide to put in, and then leave it to them to determine how much time that's going to be. The kids that crave getting better will put the time in, the kids that just want to have fun will end up developing other interests/priorities by age 18 and will tail off. Both are fine outcomes - either way their love of the game doesn't get snuffed out in the process. That's the worst possible outcome. It happens far too often when kids are pushed too hard at too early an age and no longer enjoy going to the rink. They carry that guilt around a while before it eventually becomes too heavy to bare and then they drop out altogether, with a fear of disappointing their parents. Hockey's no fun after that.

I've seen kids who were star players at 13 drop out by highschool and not even play at the rec level in their mid teens, while the kids they came up with are playing highschool hockey together and having the time of their life with all their classmates in the stands cheering them on.

Not saying that's the case with this young man, but it's something that's happened in rinks everywhere countless times before and for anyone who hasn't seen it first hand it's important to be aware of.

Next time you watch him play or practice - even if he's more of an introvert - is there a smile on his face? Is he having fun? If not - try working on taking everything serious about hockey off his plate and work on sharing some smiles and laughs regardless of the mistakes he's making. See what that does for his game. 

He is always smiling at practice, during skate sessions, and when doing open ice/stick time, etc. The kid is truly a rink rat and spends all of his free time at the rink. 

With the 1:1 sessions he has been taking them for a while now, not sure how long, but long before I was in AZ. He seems to enjoy them and the instructor does make things fun for him. The teaching method is very unorthodox and unique, similar to how Katy Jo and Maksim Ivanov really change things up. 

The only time he isn't smiling ear to ear is when it's game time. When it's game time he looks very serious. 

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1 hour ago, SkateWorksPNW said:

He is always smiling at practice, during skate sessions, and when doing open ice/stick time, etc. The kid is truly a rink rat and spends all of his free time at the rink. 

With the 1:1 sessions he has been taking them for a while now, not sure how long, but long before I was in AZ. He seems to enjoy them and the instructor does make things fun for him. The teaching method is very unorthodox and unique, similar to how Katy Jo and Maksim Ivanov really change things up. 

The only time he isn't smiling ear to ear is when it's game time. When it's game time he looks very serious. 

 

That's an interesting case then for sure. It's great to hear he's enjoying the process. 

I would say he's either:

1) Putting too much pressure on himself not to make a mistake. If so, tell him it's ok to make mistakes and use some positive re-enforcement so his mindset becomes one that says mistakes are just learning opportunities and not a bad thing. Second try to structure practice around drills that really emulate actual game situations he struggles with. You say he's given the puck away / panicking, so recreate those same scenarios in practice and have him put himself in those situations over and over and not throw the puck away early until it becomes routine and something he can easily bring from practice to game time.

2) Someone else is putting pressure on him. The car ride home talk scenario. Hard to know sometimes in those situations. Usually the parents are great and mean well they just don't understand the psychological impact trying to help fix the "mistakes" in the car ride home instead of just saying "Did you have fun? I liked that shot on goal you had in the second period. You were working real hard".

3) Back to earlier comments - he could be playing afraid (physical fear of getting hurt). For this one maybe find him a matchup where he's out against smaller / less physical players and see if that changes anything.

Hockey is really just a metaphor for life, I think that's why it's so great - if you show up as a leader and show him you care and have an open ear, you can help make a positive impact on that young man regardless of what he's going through.

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Lot of really good points made in this thread. To me, this sounds like a lot of nerves and internal stuff. Probably a lot of pressure to perform, which creates anxiety, which makes you overthink stuff and essentially the whole game speeds up (mentally) around you and you lose your bearings and have to figure out how to react, rather than just relying on good instincts that are cultivated through practice. The exact details of what is setting off this particular kid, I can't even pretend to know. But the bottom line is that it sounds like at practice when he isn't nervous, he is able to slow the game down and react properly, without feeling out of control. But when it comes to a game, the nerves get to him and he can't find a way to slow down the game in his head, so he is just afraid to touch the puck and to make a mistake etc. Sounds like you just need to figure out how to get the pressure off of him (or better, how to help him realize that everything's alright and he has nothing to worry about) and help him slow the game down, which will help him fall back on his skills and familiarity with game situations from practice. One way to do this is practicing 3-on-3s, where it's really out of control and he will have to learn to focus his mind and get the game under control mentally in order to manage that type of play. Another is to teach him how to breath and calm himself down

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Having the ability to slow the game down in person's mind is an amazing skill that I think many people tend to overlook. The best players in hockey have had the ability to do this, break down the play, slow things down in their minds, and even generate time and space to create new opportunities. I think in Europe they are better at teaching these skills than in the USA.

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4 hours ago, SkateWorksPNW said:

Having the ability to slow the game down in person's mind is an amazing skill that I think many people tend to overlook. The best players in hockey have had the ability to do this, break down the play, slow things down in their minds, and even generate time and space to create new opportunities. I think in Europe they are better at teaching these skills than in the USA.

I would definitely agree. Having a coach who explained this to my father and they helped me with this, changed everything in sports for me, but nothing more than hockey. Changed my baseball swing, basketball and football, even swimming, but since hockey tends to be much faster paced and less time stoppage, it's so much more important in hockey.

One if the main ways I was helped with this in hockey was through 3 on 3 drills. They were so hectic and confusing at first, nobody knew where to be, but it really trained us to look for opportunities and use our creativity, create space, keep track of everything and learn how to make plays. We just practiced these and other drills so much that it became automatic, and it really helped slow things down for me in actually game situations. My .02

Edited by Miller55

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