Monday, January 26, 2015

Input (yours)

I've discovered over the last couple of years that the travel hockey program in our community has a problem, and even if you're not interested in hockey, I think you might find the processes involved interesting.

So bring a snack. Have a seat. Nice to have you here.

The problem, at its core level: in many situations during a game, kids don't know where to be on the ice.

That seems like a simple problem, and a simple fix, right? It's not.

Here's why.

Our program, at the House level, teaches using the ADM (American Development Model). This model works quite well for teaching skills, and I think it's a very strong teaching method.

However, when kids want to go from playing House to playing travel, they don't understand very much about positioning, because the ADM focuses on skills, not tactics.

That's an oversimplification of more complex issues, but the bottom line is that on any travel team we have, probably 5 kids on the team have a good understanding of positioning, 5 have somewhat of a grasp, and 5 are downright confused.

That doesn't mean that the kids are never in the right place. The problem is not starting out in the right position at the beginning of a play. It's staying in position and reacting to what's happening with the puck/other players to adjust their position accordingly.

I've seen coaches try to instruct players on positioning, but it tends to be very rigid and only covers a few possible situations out of many, and it almost entirely focuses on memorization, not understanding at a conceptual level. And it is so specific and memorization-heavy that kids have a difficult time mastering it.

I don't learn well that way, either, and so I thought there must be a better way to package the information.

When I try to understand how different sports work, I always come back to one idea: space. Most team sports, and many individual ones, are fundamentally about creating or controlling space.

Hockey certainly works like that. The entire game revolves around the control of space, and it seems like it would be a useful way to explain to a young person as the basic concept for his position: on defense, you move to increase your control of space; on offense, you move to create space.

Too simple? Yes. As a concept, though, it seems like an acceptable starting point.

Second step. If you consider defense, offense, and the transitional states (defense to offense, offense to defense) as four separate situations, then it would be useful to start with one situation. Since kids love to score, let's start with offense (as the father of a goalie, it's hard for me not to start with defense, though).

Here's the concept. Every position in offensive situations has a movement range that covers 95% (at least) of the possible situations. Some of these movement ranges overlap with other players (because there are so many possible situations), but every player has a defined range.

So for the first time a young player has positioning explained to him (I mean very young, like seven years old), he just learns his movement range for his position. When you play position X, you are going to skate in this area on the ice.

It doesn't matter if he's in the wrong place in specific situations (he learns that later)--the only initial objective is that the player be inside the general movement range for their position.

That seems very doable, even for a young kid. In fact, he should be able to learn his positional movement range on both offense and defense. The transitional states are more complicated and less intuitive, so those can come later.

Three months or so after you introduce the concept of a positional range, you tell the player that his big island of space is going to split into two pieces, and why. So instead of just skating inside one big area, his big area is now two smaller areas, and he needs to understand the situations for each area.
[Aside: It's a very rock-paper-scissors approach, though, because in any situation, the player should either go to the puck, the man, or into space.

It doesn't even have to be those three, but it needs to be a rock-paper-scissors kind of format, because trying to remember more than three things is a pain for almost everyone. So if a kid knows that, at any moment, he should be doing one of three things, at least he's narrowed down the possibilities.]

Back to positional areas. The two areas don't have to be equally sized--in fact, they probably won't be. For future purposes, one area should have 1X situations where the player should be there, while the second area should have 2X the situations.

See how this works? Three months later, that second area with 2X the situations is going to be divided into two pieces. Now, there are three possible areas inside the player's positional area, with an equal number of situations requiring his presence in each.

This kind of incremental approach seems like an easier way for kids to learn, even if they're older. And teaching this way seems like it would create a more fundamental conceptual understanding than simple memorization.

Okay, so what I really want here is your input. Is this a reasonable way to teach? Are the building blocks small enough that they would be easily understood? Or is there some reason that this just won't work or doesn't make sense?

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