How do you maximize your development this season and on this team?

So, you decided to get serious about hockey this spring. Maybe you hired a private skills coach, trained with a professional strength & conditioning coach, did some camps and worked on your skills on your own. You felt like you worked hard, stepped up your commitment, spent time and money and energy. And then tryouts came around and you didn’t make the team that you wanted. Maybe you didn’t even make your second-choice team. What happened and, more importantly, what should you do now?

Outlined below, I’ve listed four concrete things that you can do to maximize your development for this season and on this team.

Don’t Give Up (and Don’t Get Bitter)

Developing as a hockey player and reaching your goals is a years-long process. The worst thing that you can do is work hard for a year, not make the team you want and then give up because “lessons don’t work” or “I’m just no good.” My great-grandfather used to always say: “If something is hard for you, that’s just a sign that you need to be working harder.”

Whether or not you made the team you wanted, the work that you put in during the off-season probably did pay off in ways that you don’t realize. You probably got better (just not enough better to pass some of the players who were already more skilled than you and probably worked hard in the off-season too), you may have kept yourself from making an even lower team, you may have laid the foundation for skills that will pay off big-time in the future.

Working hard and not making the team you want is a speed bump, but it’s only a catastrophe if you let it be. Continue the work you’ve done, consider doing even more and keep the long-term picture in mind.

Commit to Extra Private Instruction and Extra Strength & Conditioning

The biggest thing that most players don’t realize when they decide to step-up their commitment to hockey is that the players who were on a higher team last year are probably already working that hard. If someone is ahead of you, and you’re only working as hard as they are, are you ever going to catch them? The answer, of course, is a resounding no! You have to work harder than these players if you want to pass them.

If you want to move beyond your current level, being at every practice, dryland and team event is just the bare minimum. You have to go above and beyond. If this team doesn’t give you the ice touches or off-ice development that you want, add another strength and conditioning (aka “dryland”) session on your own every week. Do your best to continue with private lessons when your schedule allows and ice is available.

That last point, by the way, warrants some further examination. Players and families are often interested in adding some private instruction just after the disappointment of not making the team that they wanted. But, unfortunately, this can be a difficult time to start up with lessons. The combination of a player’s school schedule and the huge demand for ice that occurs during the season means that private lesson ice (such as “Coach’s Ice” at The Ice Ranch) is extremely limited. If you have the opportunity to get in private instruction next summer when you’re off from school and there is tons of “Coach’s Ice” on the calendar, then you need to jump on it. It won’t be as readily available during the season as you think.

Be a Leader on This Team

I tell players and parents all the time: “Don’t be nervous if you’re playing well during the one week of tryouts. Be nervous whether or not you’re getting better during the other 51 weeks of the year.” The greatest tryout in the world can’t overcome a lack of skill due to poor development in the preceding year.

The truth of the matter is that your tryout for next season starts now and your performance on this team during this season (as well as your commitment to improving) will play a role in your fate at next year’s tryouts. This means performing to the best of your abilities during games and dominating at this level in order to prove that you belong at the next level, but those on-ice results are not the end of the story when it comes to being a leader.

You can be a leader this season by setting an example for your teammates with regard to your preparation, your nutrition, your work habits at practice, the intensity with which you play and practice, the respect you show for your coaching staff and the amount that you listen and genuinely try to do each drill to the best of your abilities. You can be a leader this season by asking your coach for copies of practice plans so that you can understand the purpose of each drill and try to get better at that specific skill. You can be a leader by taking responsibility for your own development rather than expecting your coach or your parents to “make” you better.

Team leaders aren’t just the players who speak up in the locker room to get the team fired up. They are the players who try to squeeze every drop of development out of every opportunity they are given (be it a dryland, a practice, a classroom session, a team-building event). I tell my older players: “every day of development that you waste is just putting you one day closer to beer-league.”

One last way to be a leader on this team and to maximize your development this season is to put in extra work on your own. But be careful, this practice needs to be purposeful. In my opinion, there’s a little too much talk in coaching circles these days about “reps.” Sure, you have to repeat something over and over to become masterful at it. But they have to be the right kind of reps. Guess what kind of hockey player a thousand “garbage” reps is going to produce…Rather than just ripping 100 pucks into a net in your basement, pick some targets (try hanging cowbells in the corner of the net) and measure how far away you’re shooting from. Track how many targets you hit and set goals to improve this number. Change up the distance. Look up videos on proper technique. There are more resources available to young players today than ever before through things like the USA Hockey Mobile Coach App, the Hockey Canada Drill Hub, IceHockeySystems.com or any of a variety of other quality online sources. When working to get better on your own, keep the following quote in mind:

“Deep practice means focusing your attention on exactly what you’re doing. If you make a mistake, immediately go back and fix it, making sure to never repeat or reinforce the mistakes. You will find that this is not easy. The body wants to cheat by compensating and taking the easy route.” – The Talent Code

 Step-Up Your Involvement in Another Sport This Season

                It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason: the best hockey players are the best athletes. At the highest levels, you will find a ton of hockey players who were competitive in a number of other sports when they were young. If you’re on a team with a lower time and financial commitment than you anticipated, consider using this extra time and money to increase your involvement in another sport or even take up another sport this winter. You may be surprised at the improvements in your agility, balance, coordination, speed, stamina, etc. and the improved athletic qualities that you develop in this other sport may just translate onto the ice next fall.

Conclusion

Moving beyond your current level of play and making higher and higher level teams is one of the most difficult (and often frustrating) journeys you can set out on, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. The sense of accomplishment that I felt when I reached some of my goals in hockey after putting in years of work and putting up with years of disappointment is one of the reasons I got into coaching. I wanted to help other players feel that sense of accomplishment too; I wanted to give them what my coaches gave me. It’s not easy, it will take years. There will be setbacks and disappointments and despair along the way. But if you can refuse to give up, keep the big picture in mind, be a true leader on your current team, put in the extra work and become a better athlete, that sense of accomplishment that only comes from earning a spot on a higher level team can be within your grasp.

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Brandon Reich-Sweet

Brandon Reich-Sweet is a former AAA hockey player from Colorado, currently a coach for the historic Littleton Hockey Association south of Denver, a lead instructor with the Ice Ranch’s Learn to Play Hockey Program and a private instructor offering lessons and small group camps. He is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with Distinction (CSCS*D), a Level 4 USA Hockey Certified Coach, a Level 2 USA Weightlifting Certified Coach and a strength & conditioning coach with the Colorado Rampage AAA Hockey Club. He is the founder of BRS High Performance Hockey, a hockey skills and training company dedicated to comprehensive and long-term player development through the 4-pillar approach of fundamental skills coaching, game-representative problem solving training, strength & conditioning, and athletic development. Brandon is currently pursuing an M.S. degree in Applied Exercise Science (Sports Performance Concentration) at Concordia University Chicago.