skip navigation

Building a Toolbox of Necessary Skills

By Dan Pollard, 10/30/18, 3:15PM EDT


The difference between open and closed skills in players

Photo Credit: Steve Finlay Photography

Like in many other sports, the hockey environment is constantly changing which forces players to continually adapt. This makes most skills dependent on the game action such as making a pass or finding the open space to receive a pass. The importance of developing decision-making skills and building a toolbox to use the necessary skill at the necessary time is something that can make the difference in a game.

Tom Bly is the Chair of the OMHA Coaches Program and broke down the difference between two types of skill and when they would be used on the ice on the latest episode of the Breakaway Podcast.

A closed skill is one that is performed in a stable, predictable environment. Players know what to do and when to do it and the actual skill isn’t effected by what’s happening in the game. For example, a serve in tennis or a free throw in basketball are two actions that are the sole ones being performed in the game at that time. The attempted end result of it is known.

Save 15% at The Coaches Site!

Members of The Coaches Site have access to over 70 hours of educational video including presentations from more than 30 NHL coaches.
Save 15% on an annual membership by entering promo code: OMHACOACH Plus your first month is free!
Don't miss out on being connected with the top coaches in the game today.

Open skills take place take place in an environment that’s constantly changing. Players make movements that are adapting to the environment and are controlled by the pace of the game. Examples of this include making a pass through traffic or getting around a defender. These are interactive skills that come with the flow of the game.

“I think the key thing for coaches is to plan effectively, so from a creative standpoint you put your athlete in a position to be successful. Understanding that they need to have more than one tool in the toolbox,” said Bly. “You look at athletes, those that have more than one desired go-to move are more successful than the guy who has only one move. It’s important that we put on a learning environment that allows athletes to be creative, figure out what they’re good at and from a coaching standpoint, what error detection and correction can we put that allows them to be successful.”

Bly used the analogy of how coaches are engineers in the building of an athlete. When you’re building a house, you don’t put the roof on first. A solid foundation is needed, then all of the intricate parts are added to make the finished design. For athletes to become efficient and effective they need to have an understanding and confidence of skills that they can continue to grow.

With age-appropriate skill-building and development this puts our players in the environment where they can have the highest possible success of learning new skills and growing a love for the game. When ready, players can then build on these skills through new challenges.

“Why can’t we have an environment where even our highest athlete is put into a smaller environment where the parameters (half-ice, cross-ice, etc.) are different? Now their decision making has to be efficient. They have to be confident… that is a benefit of putting that athlete in a position of success versus a position of fear or ‘I can’t’.”

Like this article?

Share with your friends on Facebook and join the largest network of hockey parents.


Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

you may also like