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Teaching Good Offensive Habits

By Dan Pollard, 02/06/19, 11:45AM EST


Finding the chemistry to build confidence through success

Photo Credit: Roger Stermann/Spectrum Imaging

Success breeds confidence. It’s tougher to do it the other way around. But how can players gain this confidence?

It’s the name of the game, scoring goals, and at the end of the day, more goals are the payoff we are all looking for. Goals help lead to team success, they instill confidence in players, they fuel a fun environment and keep kids coming back to the rink.

Guy Gadowsky is the Head Coach of Penn State’s Hockey Program, whose high-powered offence leads the NCAA for goals scored this season. He has been a NCAA Division One Head Coach for 20 years and has represented Canada internationally as a player.

Through his coaching experience, Gadowsky has found that grouping players who think similar in playing structure on the same line can help lead to offensive success. This works for defensive pairings as well.

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“Offence doesn’t only come from the forwards. It seems to me in the past, decades ago, the thought was to put an offensive-minded defenceman with a ‘stay at home’ guy. So the offensive guy can jump up and you always have someone back,” said Gadowsky. “I think if you talk to those players that really want the puck, they actually want to play with someone like-thinking that likes to move the puck quickly and they get the puck more. I think, to us at least, the thought process has changed and I think some guys are free-thinkers.”

With coaching resources readily available there are many drills and lesson plans out there to teach tangible skills. For players to learn about expecting how a play will develop and grow that awareness, that comes from being put in situations that force them to think outside the box.

“Scoring goals is fun. It keeps you coming back. I don’t think just at the youth level, I think everybody loves to score goals. The more you’re having fun, the better you play and the more you develop, whether you’re 12 or 22. That I believe in. The other thing about it though, I think that playing fast and using your IQ is not necessarily a factor of foot speed. It obviously is a benefit but some of the players that play the fastest aren’t necessarily the fastest skaters, they’re fastest thinkers and the ones that can anticipate.”

While every sport offers its unique coaching challenges, hockey is different from basketball and football in the sense that there is constant communication between the bench and the players on the field. In those sports, coaches can make direct play calls for offensive sets while the pace of play simply doesn’t allow that in hockey. The art of coaching is to get a team to buy into the philosophy without having to stop and talk about setting a play. That comes in practice and reinforcing habits.

Putting his players into positions to be successful, therefore growing confidence, is one of the reasons why Gadowsky is a fan of small area games. They create an atmosphere and position where his players can be successful – scoring goals in a simulated game setting. It teaches his players to think quickly. He schedules it regularly into his practices.

“When you talk about hockey IQ, it’s very difficult if there’s a set outcome in a drill to develop IQ because everybody knows what’s supposed to happen. It really takes a competitive game for people to develop that creativity and that anticipation. I think it’s the best thing going, I think it’s been a big part of why we have been successful offensively.”

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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.

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