Players practice to become the best they can be at their position but are often left with the unknown when comparing their skills to peers their age.
Counting numbers on the stats leaderboard has always been a tried and true method of measuring success but it does not factor in the intangibles such as skating speed and transition agility. While programs like the OMHA Players Club help to improve physical endurance, shot accuracy and hand-eye coordination, it does not account for on-ice comparisons.
In 1999, Hockey Canada began an investigation into ways of celebrating skill development amongst youth players. They created the National Skills Standard and Testing Program based on the philosophy that developing skills should be fun and challenging while being accessible to all players at the same time.
The main goal of the program is to raise awareness about the importance of skill development while providing a measuring stick for players. By seeing where their times rank against others, players can challenge themselves to improve each year and plot their development.
“From a player level, it helps you understand your strengths and areas for improvement on the ice,” said Ryan Hurley, Manager of Hockey Canada’s regional centre in Ontario. “You can understand how this might impact your training regimen in the off-season, for example, and where you should put your focus in the off-season. Do you need to work on your transition or your backwards skating or is it your foot speed?”
Information on testing is available on the Hockey Canada website. Testing can be done in the span of a practice and is recommended to be done two or three times a year starting at the Atom level. Over multiple years, progression should be evident. Hurley suggests using about six coaches on the ice, one for each station.
“From a player level, it helps you understand your strengths and areas for improvement on the ice. You can understand how this might impact your training regimen in the off-season, for example, and where you should put your focus in the off-season. Do you need to work on your transition or your backwards skating or is it your foot speed?”
One aspect of hockey that the testing does not account for is the mental elements. That’s why scouts are still important in the process.
“The tests that we do don’t factor in the way a player sees the ice. The tendency of a player to shoot or pass more… There is that human aspect where you do need to watch those players and see how they operate on the ice. What are their tendencies? On a two-on-one, are they likely to shoot or likely to pass?”
While Hockey Canada is still discovering how to best interpret the data to create improvements, these tests create a baseline for a player to know how they compare to the average.
Hockey Canada is running a development camp on April 16th at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence and players from across the province are welcome to go for testing. Visit here for more information.