Fundamental Skills of Hockey
The most important hockey skills to master are most certainly the fundamentals. Like in any sport, you'll find that the best hockey players are those that have a profound mastery of the fundamentals. So, what are the fundamentals in hockey? I don't know about you, but for me, skating, passing, and shooting immediately come to mind. Now, just because they're fundamentals, it doesn't mean they're necessarily easy to learn. Let's take a look at these three hockey skills one by one.
Skating is probably the fundamental hockey skill. If you want to play the sport at a high level, you have to be able to skate, and skate well. And, let's face it; skating isn't exactly the easiest skill at which to become proficient. In fact, for many, it's quite difficult. As ice is a commodity for most, half of the battle is getting time to practice. Unlike a football field or a baseball diamond, a hockey rink isn't necessarily something that you can find around the next corner. And, if you do, you're going to pay for your time on the rink. This being said, it's important that you make the most of the time that you do get on the ice. Practice, practice, practice. Once you master one skating skill, move onto the next. It's important that you don't get caught up on what you're good at, because that can mean stagnation in your overall development. Instead, once you've attained the ability to do one skating move, move onto one at which you struggle more. For example, if you've become proficient at stopping with your right foot first, to the point at which you can utilize it without thinking or hesitation in a game, move onto stopping with your left foot. When you have time to practice, make most of your stops with your left foot first; and so on, and so on. Eventually, and I'm talking years later, when you think you've gotten a pretty good grasp of skating in general, you can cycle back through the individual skating skills or work on other parts of your game.Here's a quick list of some of the skating skills that you'll use often in games, that should be worked on incessantly until perfected.
- Appropriate forward stride
- Hockey stops
- Tight turns
- Crossovers (forwards and backwards)
- Backwards skating (C-cuts)
- Edge control (inside and outside)
Unlike skating, passing comes a little bit more naturally. I won't go into too much detail here, other than to say that the same concept that I described in skating applies to passing as well. Perfect practice makes perfect, or close to it; so don't think you're wasting time with passing drills. Passing is one of the essential hockey skills, in that without it, you'll be hearing a lot of chirping from your teammates. One suggestion that I do have, similar to that of Coach Bombay in the Disney film "The Mighty Ducks", is to focus on sailing the puck, instead of whacking at it. So many times I watch players in effect "shoot" the puck at teammates, when what they really needed was a smooth and crisp pass. Pay special attention to keeping the puck on the ice when you're delivering a normal pass, as opposed to watching it bouncing to your teammate. Think about receiving a pass - do you want it to come bouncing on edge? I don't think so. I'd much rather take a pass that is firm and flat on the ice. Again, some passing skills to work on:
- Forehand passing
- Backhand passing
- Saucer passing
- Accepting hard passes
All the same goes for shooting, obviously. A good shot can change a player, and more importantly maybe, change a game. The best coaches often have the same philosophy when it comes to offense - get the puck to the net. Shooting, in effect, is getting the puck to the net, sometimes with more velocity than other times. Hitting the net, of course, is a very important part of shooting. That being said, I don't encourage coaches to penalize players for missing the net every once in a while. Now, don't get me wrong, if a player continually misses the net, being irresponsible with his or her shots, they shouldn't be encouraged to continue. However, I'll reference something that I once heard that I liked a lot at the time, which applies here perfectly. Goal scorers aren't made "trying" to hit the net. Goal scorers are made trying to pick the corners, sometimes failing, but nevertheless trying to hit the spots where the goalie is not. Let's be honest, if there's a concerted effort, mostly anyone can hit the net. I can hit the net every time, in fact. But, there's a problem. In a game, the part of the net that I'm accustomed to hitting is guarded by a large moving barrier - the goalie. So, hit the net, but hit the right spots - the spots where the goalie is not. Oh, and don't get discouraged if you miss now a then. Try, try again. Now, some shooting skills to work on:
- Wrist shot
- Snap shot
- Slap shot
- Quick release
- Backhand shot
- Shooting hard
- Shooting for corners
These are just some suggestions to get you started. This is by no means the collection of all hockey skills that you should work on, just some of the fundamentals. It's always fun to try hockey tricks, hockey moves, and fancy dangles, but I urge you to first come to terms with the fundamentals of the game. Like I previously mentioned, look at the best players, the guys in professional leagues like the NHL; they are the best because they do the "simple" things the best. They have mastered the abilities that are mundane to the game of hockey, giving them time to throw in the fancy stuff. As I'm just as guilty of trying tricks and dangles as you are, I'll take heed of my own advice and start to focus more on making the fundamentals second nature. Hard work, that's what it takes. Good old hard work. Have fun out there.
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