The Importance of Playing Heads-Up Hockey
“Keep your head up” is an important, yet over-used expression heard in every rink, literally everywhere. But what does it really mean and why do players continue to hear it over and over, practice after practice, season after season? There are many reasons, and we’ll cover a couple of the top lessons in this article, which will give you the know-how to become a better hockey player, with better on-ice vision and awareness, by keeping your head up.
It’s a pretty simple concept to understand that players who keep their head up are going to have a big competitive advantage including:
- Better passers because they will be able to see their teammates.
- Better playmakers because they are able to see the ice and create time and space.
- Better goal scorers because they won’t be shooting the puck into the logo on the goalie’s jersey.
While we can all agree that players need to keep their head up, why is it that so many players, especially at the younger ages, continue to play the game like they have a weight attached to their facemask?
The big reason we see so many players with their head down is quite simply because it’s difficult to master all of the fundamental hockey skills simultaneously. To skate and stickhandle while looking up ice requires an advanced level of stickhandling. This of course requires hours upon hours of practice. The same can be said about skating full speed towards an opposing goalie and, while keeping your feet moving and controlling the puck, keeping your head up and looking at the goalie to see the opening and where you are going to snipe the goalie.
Coaches can remind players over and over, practice after practice to keep their head up, but it is up to the players to practice the individual skills. A good practice exercise in your garage or basement is to find a stationary object on a wall, the goalie’s facemask on our shooting tarps is perfect, and as you are stickhandling, don’t take your eye off of whatever it is you are staring at. This will help you become comfortable with looking up while stickhandling rather than down at the puck.
When players achieve the comfort level with the skills that allow them to ‘pick up their head’ it’s a game changing experience. This is when the magic can occur, when you know that while stickhandling and controlling the puck around opponents, you are able to find a player to pass to, or better yet, catch a goalie out of position and use your great shot to score a goal. The following video offers a great training exercise.
Next time you hear a coach yelling to keep your head up think about the skills that are needed to do so. Spend the time it takes mastering the skills and take your game – as well as goals and assists - to the next level!
Remember, always work hard and dream bigger than everyone else!