Is Practice a Good Time to Work on Your Shot?
In your mind’s eye, bring yourself back to a time in your life where you felt peoples’ eyes on you as you performed some sports movement. For me, and I suspect for many readers, the first tee of some golf event provides a good example. Possibly it was a busy course and other foursomes were lined up to head off for their rounds just after yours. Or maybe the tee box was close to the clubhouse or driving range and many people, should they be interested, could have watched your tee shot.
For me, as an adult, I have long since accepted my golfing mediocrity, so this would not affect me at this point. If I was to shank the shot or hit a scalding wormburner across the turf right in front of me, I could easily laugh it off and move on with life. But, as a teen, this was not so. The first tee was often filled with anxiety as I desperately hoped to put a shot that at least traveled a respectable distance in the air even if that shot wound up in the rough or the next fairway over.
If the anxiety of that scenario isn’t familiar to you, let’s try another. Imagine you are in some form of golf competition and things are going well (say you have a three shot lead). You get to a hole with water all along one side or the other. Certainly, for some, this would be a more anxiety inducing situation than having lots of people watching. Go with that image if you are one of those.
Are either of these situations that are appropriate for working on one’s golf swing technique? Will placing your attention on the details of the motion you are producing, and, in fact, trying to tweak that motion toward one that would be more effective for achieving the desired outcome of a golf swing going to lead to a good result?
There is a world of sports psychology which addresses the right approach for scenarios like this. However when folks from that field dig into the questions above, the typical aim in those analyses is to explain how focusing on technique is bad for the quality of your outcome now. That isn’t what I am interested in here. I am interested in the following question: Is that high-stakes, high-pressure situation a good one for learning how to produce a better technique that can then be used at some point in the future?
Before answering this, let’s bring this home a bit. There is a way in which this golf-oriented scenario sheds light on hockey. Consider a hockey drill that ends with a shot. Often those drills wind up with the kids forming a line in one of the corners adjacent to the net that they just shot on. That is not always the case, but it is definitely common.
What are the kids in that line paying attention to? Those kids often find the other skaters taking their shots at the net to be the most interesting thing to watch while they wait. And the shooters know this.
Those shooters also tend to really care what the kids in the line think. Having a good shot is part of the social texture of a youth hockey team (for better or worse). Under these conditions, what sort of shots should we expect to see?
- Safe – Kids will tend to use a technique that is within their comfort zone to ensure they can achieve the following two characteristics.
- Hard – Kids will do what they can to shoot hard.
- High – At around the end of mites (u8s) and the beginning of squirts (u10s), some kids develop the ability to lift the puck and once some of the kids can do this, they all want to. Often this involves some technique “cheating” by scooping the puck in order to make this happen.
- Long release – Players will make sure there is plenty of time to accelerate the puck in order to shoot hard and high.
- Comfortable skating form – Players will tend not to simulate the skating requirements to get a shot off in tight spaces in a game situation and instead will use their feet in a way that makes a high and hard shot easy to achieve.
Hard shots are good depending on what else may be sacrificed in order to get that velocity. High shots are often good if there is room in the upper part of the net to score. But the other characteristics are often targets for improvements that coaches may want to see. In fact, coaches will indeed want to see those things fixed as players push into the higher levels of the game.
You are fighting psychology if you are going to ask for a shot different from the one described above under the conditions of most team hockey practices. Can it happen? Yes, for some youth hockey players, some of the time, you can get them to work on shooting in stride, coming out of a deceptive move, or with a quicker release. But, most of the time, they will opt for whatever gets them the high hard shot that looks good to their buddies. Just as golfers want to look good on the first tee and should not get out of their comfort zone when trying to do so, youth hockey players will stay safe with their shot in practice.
This is why the good shooters spend a lot of time shooting on their own. Basements, back yards, and garages are the venues in which elite shots are made. In golf, when you make a fool out of yourself with a bad shot on the driving range, at least you can take comfort in the fact that you are signaling to the other golfers, “yeah, I know I am bad, why do you think I am here on the driving range?!”. In any case, the driving range is the right place to work on your swing while knowing that your mistakes vanish into the ether as soon as they land (as opposed to in round of golf where you have to go hit a shot from that spot). In hockey, we need those low-stakes areas where kids can develop the qualities in their shot that makes the difference between just shooting and goal scoring!
One of Minnesota's premier hockey trainers, Andy Blaylock is a regular contributor to The Inside Post powered by Sniper’s Edge Hockey. Andy is the General Manager of Competitive Edge Hockey in Orono, MN, where he focuses on both on-ice and off-ice training. In addition to running his own private clinics and camps, Andy has trained several organizations including Andover, Anoka, Edina, Hutchinson, STMA, Wayzata, and Orono. Andy can be reached via email at Andy@compedgehky.com