| We’re learning very quickly, as
evidenced by the European and Soviet invasion into the NHL over
the last fifteen years, that the North American system, or lack
thereof, for developing skilled hockey players is immensely inadequate.
Although the 2002 Olympic and 2004 World Cup results would seem
to indicate otherwise, when you consider all the relative data,
there is a trend that should sound an alarm to players, coaches
and parents in North America that the time to reevaluate our approach
to training players is now. Consider these facts:
||In 1982, nearly
83% of the players in the NHL were Canadian, approximately
11% were American
||In 1992, 66% of
the players in the NHL were Canadian, approximately 13% were
American and 21% were European.
||In 2002, 54% of
the players in the NHL were Canadian, 13% were American and
33% were European.
||The Czech Republic,
Finland, Russia, Slovakia, and Sweden account for less
than 18% of the total number of players in the world, but
in the 2001-2002
season 36% of the NHL’s top 50-point scorers were comprised
from these 5 countries.
||In the 2003 All-Star
Game, 6 of the top 12 starters (50%) were European,
3 were American and 3 were Canadian.
A typical North American reaction to this information
is, “it’s in their blood”. That’s not
true though. The Europeans learned the game from us. Another reaction
is, “hockey is all they play over there”. This is
not true either. Soccer is all they play over there. In fact,
we have almost 4 times as many registered hockey players in North
America (955,329) as they do in Europe (258,919)1.
So you might logically conclude that our players don’t have
as much access to ice time. The opposite is true again. We actually
have more than 8 times as many indoor rinks (5,850 versus 714),
which means North American players have twice as much access to
ice time as our European peers. And even with these huge disparities,
5 tiny European countries – Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic,
Finland and Slovakia, which account for just 18% of all the registered
hockey players in the world currently provide 33% of all the players
in the NHL. If the current trend continues, and all indications
from the last three drafts are that it will, these five countries
will provide more than 50% of the players in the NHL by 2010.
So what’s the deal? Why is it that there
is such a disproportionate percentage of highly skilled players
coming out of these 5 countries? The answer is two part and actually
quite simple. First the Europeans employ a 5:1 practice to game
ratio as compared to our 2:3 practice to game ratio. And second,
European coaches emphasize skills development using a linear skills
development progression program, which was developed in the former
For the past ten years, North American elites
at the very highest levels of the game have recognized both the
problem and the solution to fixing North America’s inadequate
skills development training systems. Experimental teams like the
US National Junior Development Team (NJDT) were created to see
how the best US players would fare if trained properly. The results
have been nothing short of spectacular. In just 3 years over 61
of the 179 players (34%) that have passed through the NJDT doors
have been drafted to the NHL not to mention the #1 pick overall
in the 2000 draft. Almost 80% of the players who have played a
season for the NJDT went on to play either Division 1 College
hockey or Major Junior A and this is just a small sampling of
the possible results when our players are trained properly under
competent coaches. Unfortunately disseminating the NJDT model
across the entire North American system is impossible due to costs
In 1997, Smarthockey realized something had to
be done about the way hockey players were being trained in North
America. It was obvious that the Soviet method for developing
a player’s skills worked. So after nearly three years of
research and development, in 2000, Smarthockey catalogued over
260 Russian ice hockey progression-training exercises on a 4 hour
DVD and created it’s first of eight skills development training
systems, which have focused on disseminating Russian Progression
Training Systems using innovative media technology solutions –
the most recent solution being the “Vincent Lecavalier –
21 day workouts”.
There’s an old saying, “Work smart,
not hard”. At Smarthockey we say, “Work hard in a
smart way”. We know it’s self-defeating to work hard
in a system that doesn’t work, but when you work hard in
a system that creates measured and noticeable results the desire
to work hard becomes infectious and success becomes guaranteed.
The Smarthockey Training System® is exactly
what it implies – a smart hockey training system based on
proven Russian and European Progression Training Systems that
have produced results for over 50 years. We didn’t try to
reinvent the wheel – we just improved upon it. The Smarthockey
Training System® eliminates the doubt of whether or not you’re
training in a smart way and leaves the question of “How
good do I want to be?” totally up to you. It’s a question
of how hard you’re willing to work, how dedicated you are
to the sport, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to
achieve your goals. The great thing is you’re empowered
to decide your destiny. Smarthockey simply shows you how.
|1 Taken from 2002 IIHF Statistics
|The success of the Russian and European
skills development progression training programs can’t be
ignored. It’s time we faced up to the reality that the Russians
and the Europeans know how to train their players and coaches better
than we do here in North America.
the last 50 years the Russians and the Europeans have developed
and refined the most efficient and effective methods to develop
elite level hockey players. As a result a significantly higher
percentage of players who play and train in the Russian and European
systems become highly skilled elite level hockey players compared
to the percentage of players who play and train
in North America.
We need to change our philosophical approach
to how we develop and prepare our players at every level of the
game. It’s nonsensical to think we can develop highly skilled
players when, from the time they are eight years old, they play
80 games a season but only practice 40 to 60 times a season. It’s
even more nonsensical to believe that they can become highly skilled
players when more often than not the coaches teaching the players
have little if any significant hockey experience and absolutely
no access to a clearly defined outline for proper skills development.
It’s time we understood the difference
between “Coaching to Win” and “Coaching to Develop
Skills”. We need to understand why it’s counter productive
to have our players compete in 80 games a year. We need to know
how to implement a North American Skills Development Program which
follows a linear progression of development. We need to understand
how we can change league schedules to accommodate a 5:1 practice
to game ratio. And we need to understand how we can make the game
In the following section, Smarthockey presents
its case and its solution.
|The North American Coaching Dilemma
European coaches have access
to clearly outlined skills development systems adopted from proven
Russian training techniques, which they use to systematically
teach and monitor their players’ individual development.
European coaches employ a 5:1 practice to game ratio, which enables
them to focus on both their players’ skills development
and on their team systems.
On the other hand, North American coaches do
not have access to clearly outlined skills development programs.
And worse, for the most part, North American amateur youth hockey
leagues have adopted a 2:3 practice to game ratio.
It’s Smarthockey’s contention
that most North American coaches don’t “coach to develop
skills” because, one, they don’t know how and, two,
they don’t have enough practice time with their players.
|Due to league imposed practice to game ratios,
North American coaches at all levels are forced to choose between
teaching players individual skills development or teaching them
team systems – known as the “Coaching to Win”
versus the “Coaching to Develop Skills” dilemma.
A coach who is “coaching to win”, focuses on team
systems like breakouts, forechecking, neutral zone positioning,
power plays, man-down, etc. The coach assesses the ability of
his athletes and then uses his players like chess pieces in a
well orchestrated and rehearsed strategy to beat the coaches of
On the other hand, a coach who is “coaching to develop
skills” is only concerned about making his players better
by concentrating specifically on their individual skills like
basic puck control, dynamic puck control, basic skating, dynamic
skating, shooting, dekes, one-timers, passing and one-on-ones.
The coach assesses the playing ability of his players and then
follows linear skills development systems teaching his players
how to be fundamentally skilled players who can be placed in and
excel in any team system.
The “Coaching to win” philosophy works and is acceptable
at only the highest levels of the game. Professional, collegiate
and junior level coaches are hired to win. At these levels a coach’s
job depends on his winning percentage, and by this time his players
should have received enough individual skills development instruction
throughout their careers to be competent players.
Inversely, coaches at any other level of the game, whether it
is High School, Midget, Bantam, Pee Wee, Squirt, Mite, or Mini-Mite,
should only be concerned with how to most effectively develop
the individual skills of their players so that their players can
ultimately perform in any team system at any level. Team systems
at the lower levels should be basic and winning percentages should
be an afterthought.
The reality is that if a coach is a good teacher, his players’
relatively superior individual skills inserted into simple team
systems will ultimately win games against teams with less skilled
players. Unfortunately, the majority of North American coaches
don’t subscribe to the “coaching to develop skills”
philosophy, and if they do, most coaches don’t know how
to implement it. As a result, more and more North America players
are being taught how to be position players who rely on size and
physical play to dominate their opponents
but for the most part don’t have any skills.
The next opportunity you have to watch a game or practice, time
how long the best player on the ice actually handles the puck.
In 2002, USA Hockey officials observed 4 Championship games –
2002 Olympic Gold Medal Game, 2002 Midget National Championship,
2002 Bantam National Championship, and the 2002 Pee Wee National
Championship. The USA Hockey officials picked players who were
expected to be key performers for each team.
||# of Shifts
||Possesion per Shift
||# of Shifts
||Possesion per Shift
||# of Shifts
||Possesion per Shift
||# of Shifts
||Possesion per Shift
|As evidenced by the US Hockey Observation Project
and based on the success of the Russian and European hockey systems
which employ a 5:1 practice to game ratio, clearly games are not
the optimal place for players to develop their skills.
Smarthockey is a firm believer in the philosophy of, “If
you can’t beat them join them”. Clearly the Russians
and Europeans have developed superior skills development progression
training systems that work. There is nothing wrong with admitting
that they are training their players more effectively than we
are in North America. It’s okay to copy what they are doing,
but it would be even better if we took what they are doing and
then improved upon it.
Dr. Yasha Smushkin, a Russian skills development instructor,
used to always say, “To be best, it is easy. Do everything
the best player can do and then just a little bit more”.
In other words, duplicate everything the best player can do and
then improve upon it.
Based on Smushkin’s philosophy, we not only need to provide
our coaches with a clearly outlined skills development progression
training system which can be implemented into team practices like
the Europeans do, but we also have to provide a training guide
and a way for players to work on their skills anytime and anywhere
in structured yet simple format. In addition to providing training
programs to coaches we need to provide a way for coaches who have
little or no hockey background to be able to effectively teach
his or her players the necessary skills to become an elite level
player via the use of a virtual instructor.
||Change the “Practice
to Game Ratio”. There should be between 5 and 10 practices
for each game. Currently most A, AA, and AAA teams, from Mite
to Midget, have 2 practices a week and 2 to 3 games a weekend.
This Practice to Game Ratio is counter productive to a player’s
skills development training especially when you consider the
average player only touches the puck for 45 seconds a game
and 90 seconds a practice. We need to provide more time for
our coaches to teach players the necessary skills to become
||The United States
and Canada need to develop a simple, comprehensive, individual
skills development curriculum that can be implemented on a
national basis and taught by coaches with varying levels of
playing and coaching experience. Practices need to become
more productive. The U.S. and Canada need to outline a practice-by-practice
curriculum of “Skills Development” exercises.
These exercises should be disseminated using the most up-to-date
software or web technologies, which can be performed during
the first half hour to 45 minutes of each practice. The goal
should be to develop a Training System that enables coaches
with any level of experience to teach players how to develop
their skills in a linear progression of development. If coaches
can’t perform the outlined exercises they should be
able to bring a laptop computer out onto the ice so players
can watch the drills demonstrated by the instructor on the
DVD. Furthermore, coaches should be able to measure, plot
and compare each player’s individual skills development
against a national average (see www.sportquest.com). This
way coaches will know how their players are doing compared
to a national databank of players and exactly what they, as
coaches, need to concentrate on with each player. Ultimately
this gives coaches the ability to assign “Hockey Homework
Assignments” to their players.
league schedules. Leagues should schedule 6 - 8 round robin
tournaments a season or one tournament a month. This format
does a couple of things for players, teams and parents.
weeks, teams can schedule two practices
during the week and two practices during the weekend
for a total
of four practices a week.
are only held once a month, players and parents
only go on the road once a month, which drastically
cuts down the time,
travel and expenses usually associated with hockey.
games and more time between each game, tournaments
become more meaningful inspiring a higher level of competition.
||Make players and
teams who can’t afford ice time aware of equipment like
the C|SAW® Chassis Technology and Smarthockey Training
Ball® which enables teams to use tennis courts or basketball
courts to conduct practices. This equipment gives organizations
a cost efficient way to achieve a 5:1 Practice to Game ratio,
while still affording their players and coaches the necessary
time to work on skills development and team systems.
and parents a simple off-ice training guide for personal skills
development accompanied by a catalog of drills that they can
reference and use (e.g. Smarthockey Training System). The
same material we provide to the coaches should be given to
each player at the beginning of each season. Coaches should
assign “Hockey Homework” to players throughout
the season and should assign a “Summer Program”
at the end of each season. Players who don’t have access
to ice time can simply perform the drills outside using the
C|SAW® Technology nd Training Ball.
to play pick up hockey with friends using the C|SAW® Chassis
and Smarthockey Training Ball® on tennis courts, basketball
courts or cul-de-sacs. Players need non-structured environments
where they can play hockey for fun.
||In the Preliminary
Round of 2002 Olympics, Canada lost to Sweden 5-2 and tied
the Czech Republic 3-3. Canada has almost 8 times as many
players as either country and almost 11 times as many rinks
as Sweden and 33 times as many rinks as the Czech Republic.
||In the Preliminary
Round of the 2002 Olympics the U.S. tied Russia 2-2. The U.S.
has 7.5 times as many players as Russia and 29 times as many
||In the Medal Round,
Canada only beat Finland 2-1. Canada has 9 times as many players
and 17 times as many rinks.
How is any of this possible? Why aren’t
Canada and the United States exceedingly superior hockey countries?
The answer is simple:
“Even at the age of 10 or 11, when
you go to hockey school, the quality of the coaches is tremendous
[in the Czech Republic]. That is one of the problems for the U.S.
The coaches [for children] are just not as good. Even small guys
need good coaches, to learn how to skate, to pass, and to play.”2 Jan Hlavac, left-winger for Vancouver Canucks and member of the
Czech National Team
|For arguments sake, let’s say that
the best player in any given game controls the puck an average of
one minute each game and let’s say that same player controls
the puck for an average of 2 minutes during a typical practice.
That means that during a 60-game 40-practice season the best player
on the team only controls the puck for 2 hours and 10 minutes a
season. But what’s alarming is that the average Puck Possession
per Shift is only 2.5 seconds. “The numbers showed that stick
and puck skills can’t be developed in a game. It proves you
can accomplish a lot more in practice with the puck than in a game.”3
Kevin McLaughlin, USAH director
of player development
Players can’t improve their individual
skills during games because there’s simply not enough time,
which makes constructive, structured on and off-ice skills development
exercises taught by competent coaches and instructors that much
more important. “We’ve been saying this over and over.
The more quality repetitions you get with any given skill, the
easier it will be to turn that skill into instinct.” 4
Bob O’Conner, USAH Coach-in-Chief
If a player works half an hour a day using
the Smarthockey Training System™ over a 60 day/12-week period
(summer break), that player can duplicate more than 15 seasons
worth of skills development training in a single summer.
John, “Hip Czechs,” Delta Skywriting Magazine, December
Harry “The Numbers Game,” American Hockey Magazine,
October 2002, pg. 14
|Smarthockey hopes players, coaches and parents
recognize and appreciate the sheer volume of work that went into
the entire Smarthockey Training System®. It was our way of giving
back to a game that has given so much to our families and to us.
Believing the mantra, “Actions not words” I hope that
the Smarthockey Training System is not only seen as a hockey skills
development tool, but that the results players and teams observe
demonstrate that hard work, dedication, humility and a good plan
are the ingredients for success in every aspect of life.
Smarthockey would like to thank you for the opportunity
to impart our knowledge of the game to you. We hope it makes a
So good luck, work hard, have fun but most of
all be Smart.
If you have any questions or comments concerning
the Smarthockey Training System, we’d love to hear from
you. Please contact us.
Harry “The Numbers Game,” American Hockey Magazine,
October 2002, pg. 15