Youth Hockey Greatness
Ice hockey is one of the most popular games in the USA today, enjoyed across all ages, from the junior leagues to the NHL’s dizzying heights. At whatever level, players want to be playing at their very best. The pressure can sometimes be particularly intense for youth players hoping to see their hockey grow into a professional pursuit, so what makes a good youth hockey player?
A good youth hockey player is defined by both the technicals, which comprises the skills, habits, and physical capabilities that allow players to perform at high levels and the intangibles, such as attitude, work ethic, teamwork, trainability, and game awareness.
All these have to be taken into consideration should a player want to be a truly elite player as a youth and in the future. It goes well beyond natural talent and calls for a great degree of dedication from the players, coaches, and even the parents involved.
Let’s take a closer look at what one needs to have in one’s personal arsenal to become an exceptional youth hockey player.
Here we’re talking about all the things you can physically practice and perfect to make yourself the best player you can be. Coaches and trainers play a considerable role in developing these qualities because they are trained to know the best way to accomplish these goals.
As a young player, be sure to hone these capabilities if you want to bring up your game. Also, if you’re the parent of a hockey player, be sure to read our article studying how to tell if your kid is good at hockey.
All this refers to is the basic rule that you should always be moving while a game of hockey is going on. The only players on your team who’re allowed to be completely standing still at any time are the goalie and whoever’s in the penalty box.
The reason behind this is a very simple one. When you consider a player who’s in motion and one who isn’t, the difference between them comes out very clearly – the player in motion actually has a target they’re moving towards, while the motionless player does not.
This doesn’t mean that you should always be moving towards the puck. What it means is that whatever you’re moving towards or away from, you’re doing something with the aim of helping your team achieve its targets of scoring, keeping the other team from scoring, and winning the game. Standing still does nothing for your team.
In short, a good hockey player will always have a target or objective in mind, whether they are making defensive or offensive plays. This ability will become more natural for a player with continued practice, as you can’t expect everyone to instinctively have the quick decision-making and high attention levels this calls for. It’s all about knowing just what your team needs from you at each moment of the game and knowing that at no point will it need for you to stand still.
Body positioning is used in hockey to refer to how you hold your own body or person (posture) and where you place yourself on the ice relative to where your opponents and teammates happen to be.
There are certain key habits and tendencies that every hockey player should practice to maintain optimal personal positioning during a game. They are as follow:
Keep your head raised. Good players need to refrain from continually trying to look at the puck on the ice as you move with it since you won’t be able to see whatever else is happening on the ice. Our digital stickhandling training tool, Stickhandling PRO, can help with this by allowing you to practice stickhandling at home by playing an interactive game while keeping your head up.
Maintain stick contact with the ice. The lower edge of your hockey stick should always be touching the ice below, even as you move with or without the puck. While you might raise it when passing, shooting, or challenging for the puck, this contract should be maintained in order to have your stick ready to intercept any puck that may come across your path.
Maintain a hip-width distance between your feet. When it comes to our stability and maneuverability on the ice, the distance we keep our legs apart matters greatly. Just as an object with a large or broad base will be more stable, it will help to keep this distance. However, do not go beyond this, as you will then start to lose your agility and ability to act and react quickly to changes in play.
Lower your center of gravity. A player’s center of gravity is determined by how they hold their body. When we hold ourselves tall, we raise our center of gravity, and when we bend our knees and make ourselves shorter, we lower it. A low center of gravity makes it a lot harder for us to topple or fall over, and this added stability is of real benefit in hockey.
The aim of optimizing our relative body positioning on the ice is that we are always in the best place possible to make an impact when we do receive the puck while also being able to influence what’s happening on the ice even without the puck. As you might imagine, it’s not an exact science, but there are ways you can improve your positioning instincts. Some of the things to keep in mind here are:
Obstruct enemy advances. When your opponent has the puck and is trying to get to your goal, one of the easiest ways to get in their way is quite literally to get in their way. Even if you might not have the fancy stick-work skills necessary to steal the puck from them, you can slow them down enough to disrupt their play, force a sloppy pass, or otherwise make their job a lot harder than they hoped it would be.
Be available for passes. In intense games, passes can come at you in the blink of an eye, and you need to make yourself available so that any teammate who needs to send the puck your way can have a chance to do so. Remember that passes are not always in search of scoring opportunities – a teammate under pressure might need to pass the puck to you in order to avoid turning it over to the opponents.
Obstruct opposition shooting and passing avenues. Your entire body, with the stick as a handy extension, can be put to good use when it comes to stopping your opponent’s moves. You can stop shots aimed at your goal and spare your goalie some work. You can also keep your opponents pinned down and hopefully see the puck taken from them by occupying the lane they would have to use to pass to their teammates.
In the world of business, where you work with others to achieve a shared objective, communication is a vital skill to learn and implement. The same goes for hockey. Effective communication with your teammates is something you will have to learn in order to be a good player, whether this comes naturally to you or not.
While watching professional NHL games, you’ll notice that everyone’s always talking, whether they’re on the bench or on the ice. Those on the bench will be analyzing the game and figuring out ways to overcome the opponent, which they will continuously be shouting out at the team. Coaches will usually get in on this action in a big way, too, sometimes to the point of being penalized when their comments get too spicy for thin-skinned referees.
On the ice, you will also be continually giving your teammates pointers whenever you spot an opportunity they can take advantage of or a mistake they might be making. They’ll be doing the same for you as well since there will always be things you miss that your teammates will spot before you do. A team that communicates well will always have the edge over one that doesn’t.
What we’re talking of here is a player’s ability to think through every one of their moves. Whether you want to challenge for the puck, move to another part of the rink, or rush towards your opponent’s goal with the puck at your feet, this is the mental process that will help you decide whether it’s a good idea or not.
In a game where changes occur as quickly as hockey, you might not have the time to correct the wrong move, making it imperative that you make the right choice the first time and every time. Most players and many coaches might consider this one of those things that you can’t really teach. Still, all it takes is a conscious effort to build up this capability.
Always assess the state of the game. Where do you think the puck is going to move to next? What’s your opponent likely to do next? Is the goalie paying attention to you? There are countless possible questions you might ask yourself in the course of a game. Game awareness involves making a habit of asking yourself as many of these questions as possible in the shortest period of time.
With practice, you will be able to achieve excellent game awareness, which will make you seem to magically appear just where your teammates need you to be, where the opponents least expect to find you, and where your opposing goalie will never see you coming. Whether you’re a youth player or an NHL professional, it will make you stand out on the ice as something special.
It might not really show under all the gear that the professionals wear, but the best hockey players take a great deal of care when it comes to their physical state. At the end of the day, no matter how skilled you are, it’s your body that’ll have to do what you need it to do so that you can be the player that you want to be. There are three fundamental aspects of body care that you need to consider, which are all very inter-related, and are as follows:
You can’t expect to be stuffing yourself with junk food, sodas, and all sorts of processed snacks and still expect to perform at the peak of your potential. You might be making the cut and beating your opponents on the ice, but you can be sure that you won’t be doing your best – which is what you need if you really want to get to the next level.
Proper nutrition entails making carbohydrates, lean protein, and vegetables (whole foods where possible) into your daily diet regime. You can treat yourself once in a while, sure, but you will need to keep an eye on what you put into your body to ensure that you’re fuelling it optimally. Take in plenty of water throughout the day as well for proper hydration.
Don’t expect that what you do in training or on the ice will be enough to get you into the best shape for outstanding hockey performance. You’ll need to put in something extra if you want to improve past the point you’re regular sessions have got you too. Youth hockey players can gain a lot in terms of strength, agility, coordination, and spatial awareness by participating in sports aside from hockey.
Swimming, soccer, running, dodgeball, and basketball are just a few examples of the types of activities that might play a role in building up a player’s stamina, teamwork, awareness, reaction-times, and more. At the youth level, sports of all types share a lot more in common than their differences, so it never hurts to engage in various physical activities.
We’ve also got an article covering youth hockey strength and conditioning programs, which is well worth a read.
Growing bodies require a fair amount of sleep each night for them to perform optimally. While we sleep, our bodies take the opportunity to repair all the damage we’ve incurred during the day and prepare us for the next day’s exertions. Should we neglect this, we won’t be able to reach our maximum potential the next day.
A minimum of seven hours of sleep each evening is the recommended amount. In addition to this, it is best to have your sleeping and waking-up times somewhat constant in order to get your system used to a regular routine.
Aside from what we’ve seen so far, certain qualities in a good player might not be so easily spotted, worked on, or implemented. These are the qualities that you can’t drill for the way you might with others, but which make as much of a difference to your game as anything else you might do on or off the ice.
However talented, skilled, or practiced you are, you won’t get too far without demonstrating the ability to work as part of a team. The scouts on the lookout for players will be more impressed by the player who’s able to lift up his or her whole team rather than the one who shines out individually but does nothing to help their team win games – as a team.
These are the intangible characteristics of a good hockey team player.
This probably isn’t even a real word, but it should be since it perfectly fits our meaning. We refer to a player’s ability to listen to instruction, accept criticism, and act on their coaches, trainers, and even teammates’ input. There’ll always be those who get into the training session thinking they know it all, but that’s okay; the trouble comes when they’re not willing to accept that there’s always more to learn.
Talented individuals will often have coachability issues and problems with authority, but this doesn’t disqualify them from eventually becoming the best players they can be. It will take plenty of patience on both sides, but it’s something that can definitely be worked on and overcome.
We’ve also written an article going through the worst hockey habits, which would be worth a read, especially in regards to learning how to be a very coachable player.
The core requirement for teamwork is the ability to listen and accept different opinions, ideas, and suggestions. There will always be something you can improve on in your own game that you may not be able to spot on your own. That’s why you have coaches, trainers, and teammates by your side. Listening to them will make you grow as a player much faster than you could on your own.
Part of the responsibility of being on a team is being capable of owning up to your mistakes and oversights. It goes hand-in-hand with the collaborative aspect of a team’s work. Rather than seek to redirect blame onto others when things go wrong – as they will inevitably do – learn to own up to your own part in whatever goes on and be the one to suggest solutions. You will earn your team’s respect and trust in this way.
Even as a youth player, it is crucial to demonstrate how much you want to see your team achieve its best. This entails showing up on time for practice, listening to your instructors, and all of the small things that go towards showing your willingness to sacrifice for your team’s benefit.
You will have good times and bad times as part of a team. The difference between a good team player and a bad one is how they react to these different circumstances. We all know that nobody likes a sore loser, but many forget that there is a graceful and not-so-graceful way of winning.
A positive attitude will help your team get back into a winning mode and perform better in the next game after a loss. That’s true, but a positive attitude after a victory will allow you to feel good about your achievement while still keeping you sharp for the next challenge. Productivity and morale are long-term achievements, and so a team player should always have the long game in mind.
Just like the different parts of a body, there are different parts to a team, each of them playing a different role from the others. In as much as you might consider one piece to be more important than another, the truth is that for you to operate at the best of your ability as a person, you need everything to be working optimally.
The same applies when talking about hockey teams. A good player will understand what the team needs from them and work to ensure that they deliver to the best of their abilities. While you might be able to offer advice or help out your teammates who have their own duties to fulfill and roles to play, understanding your place on the team will also involve knowing when to give other team members the space they need to do their thing.
Although we’ve said you should know your role on the team, you should understand that you will sometimes be called on to carry out duties that you might not consider part of your regular agenda. Your coach might need you to fill in for someone who’s under the weather or simply not up to the challenge at hand, and a team player should always be ready to give their best in whatever capacity the team needs them to fill.
This goes hand-in-hand with being respectful of your teammate’s roles and efforts. They are putting in an effort, whatever their capacity, to help the team achieve its objectives. So you should always be supportive and offer criticism in a constructive way where necessary.
There will be good and bad days out on the ice, that’s guaranteed, but what will matter in the long run is how a player chooses to react to disappointment and frustration. In a sport such as hockey, the player who is easily discouraged will probably not be around for the long haul, meaning they definitely will not make it to the big leagues.
This quality goes hand-in-hand with the ability to keep a level head under pressure and still perform at your best. You will have to keep any fouls committed against you, previous successes, past failures, and all other distractions while on the ice out of your mind to focus on what you need to do to get a win for your team.
No two games will ever be alike, so you need to be able to clear any baggage leftover from past games and be ready to play past any new aggravations and frustrations the game of the moment might bring with it.
It is vitally important for youth players that you put in just as much effort in the classroom as you do on the ice. Coaches know that players who are unwilling or unable to put in the effort to excel in the classroom will definitely crumble when the pressure to perform on the ice comes onto them.
The hockey season will last from somewhere in September to mid-March, so what happens the rest of the time? Schoolwork. All hockey players will have to put in extra effort to keep up with their classmates in order to make up for the time they spend on the ice and away from the books. Don’t allow yourself to be the player that can stick-handle, shoot, and skate like a god – but simply can’t pass.
Nothing worth having in life comes easy, so know that if you want to be a great hockey player, there will be plenty of sacrifices involved. You will not only have to put in the hard work of training and conditioning your body for optimal performance; you will also have to forgo many of the pleasures others indulge in.
There are plenty of things you can do perfectly well, even if you maintain a habit of gaming, partying, and staying up all hours of the night, but hockey definitely isn’t one of them. Self-discipline and self-denial will see you hone your skills and capabilities to the very highest levels possible.
Perhaps the most critical tool in the young hockey player’s arsenal will be their love for the game itself. Everything else can be taught, learned, or practiced, but you will have an infinitely more difficult time cultivating a passion for the game in someone who simply doesn’t have it. A player who truly enjoys the game of hockey will find it easy to adopt and cultivate the qualities we’ve covered up to this point.
The game of hockey is a fun activity that helps keep players, especially the younger ones, physically active and positively occupied away from potential trouble. It does more than this; however, it has the capacity to teach them valuable life lessons and skills that will help them navigate their way through life successfully.
Also, make sure to look at our article listing thirteen reasons why we think hockey is such a fun sport to play.
The qualities of a good youth hockey player can be said to be the qualities of a good young man or woman, as it is these same qualities that will help them achieve whatever goals they set for themselves in their lives. Coaches and parents should play an active role in cultivating these qualities, as young players will rely on their support and encouragement to achieve their highest potential.
- Hockey Skills Training. co: 5 habits of successful hockey players
- NCSA: what hockey coaches look for
- Built for Hockey: 5 mindset hacks that will make you a better player
- Minnesota Hockey: Is your kid talented?
- Minnesota Hockey: 7 traits of a team player