1-2-1 Hockey Coaching

6 minutes reading time (1243 words)

Technically speaking

What do you do when a player asks you to help them to improve their technique?

Whoever you coach and however you coach hockey will always involve hitting a ball with a stick...so how can we as coaches create an environment for players to practise this detail as well as developing each players ability to play the game?

At 1-2-1 we love coaching players through gameplay and we love The Golden Thread, which is a brilliant checklist for coaches designing sessions. Great sessions do give players lots of touches of the ball, involve constant decision making, look something like the game, stretch players and most importantly, are fun and gameplay delivers this effectively. McKernick et al., (2018) reviewed the current literature on games based approaches and found;

The review supports the efficacy of GBAs in the development of athlete decision-making and tactical awareness. GBAs promote personal and social development (e.g. player responsibility) along with positive affective outcomes for athletes (i.e. motivation, enjoyment). There was less support for the development of technical skill through GBAs.

So, games are a fantastic way to develop players' all-round game and to promote their personal and social development…but what about developing technical skill? This is a fascinating topic and here are some interesting questions that we have been asked on coach education courses; 

"I want to improve my reverse stick hitting...How many times have you heard someone ask you that?"

1.What is the best way to develop technical skills?

2.What is the difference between a technique and a skill?

3.How do I improve players' reverse stick hitting?

4.Can I still get players to practice skills?

5.Can I do repetition of simple skills during a session?

The Golden Thread. A brilliant checklist for designing and reviewing sessions
Sam Plater. Coaches at Charterhouse School, Godalming.

These questions have led to great discussions and prompted us to ask an expert…

Sports Science Graduate from Exeter University, Sam Plater has always been a hockey players and coach. He previously worked at Millfield School where players spend time during the school day having specialised 1-2-1 training sessions. He is now Head of Performance Sport at Charterhouse School in Surrey and coach at the England Hockey Performance Centre, Guildford. 

"How often does an exercise during a school training session or club team session fall apart because the players are not technically competent enough to perform the skill correctly?

To me, the technical side of the game is incredibly interesting but a side that does not receive enough attention. How can it? One coach with twenty players cannot possibly hope to analyse the technical ability of each player whilst at the same time keeping the flow in a training session. 

Havin​​g the chance to concentrate on the minutiae of a skill and look to adjust and improve an individual player is why I enjoy one to one coaching sessions alongside coaching through gameplay. 

The one to one sessions that I coach typically begin by identifying a skill the player would like to work on, for example the hit and creating an environment where I have the opportunity to observe at least twenty to thirty repetitions and work out themes or patterns; it might be a tendency for the ball to go to the left more often than straight. I ask players to self assess how they are doing on their own scale '0 - 10 on the Sam Plater scale'...this is fun, takes out the pressure of reaching an expected level and challenges players to self-assess.

I also ask players open questions; 'what did you notice?' ' How does that look?' 'How did it feel?' but importantly I also layer on my own expertise and try to explain what I have noticed and suggest some possible solutions.

I explain one or at most two technical factors that could alter their technique. With each adjustment I allow the player to explore the new technique and work out if it feels "comfortable". If I can then I substantiate the adjustment with statistical evidence, i.e. "when you hit the first 20 balls you missed the goal to the left 9/20 times. With the adjustment you missed the goal to the left 4/20 times." In this way the adjustment is seen as more believable and gets more buy in from a player. The challenge though, is to create opportunities for repetition without repetition in largely unopposed training. Someone learning to hit a stationary ball from exactly the same spot isn't going to be able to transfer that learning into many match situations. Here are some tips to create variation alongside repetition;

  1. Time pressure...forces players to adapt and mirror time pressure from a match
  2. Changing the feed...the speed, quality and frequency of the feed
  3. Scoring...keeping the score creates pressure and focus
  4. Verbal queues...change the skill, the outcome you want or the practise based on your verbal queues

At the same time, the extra space and time afforded to players when they can work without the pressure of game play gives time for exploration and discovery that they might not otherwise be able to attain. Don't be afraid to let players have time to explore!

Explaining a technical matter to a group of players requires time and doesn't take into account the different ways that each player may solve a given challenge; such as how to hit a backhand shot. This is time which the group of players as a whole could be using for practise. In an ideal world, each player should receive the total attention of a coach to make them better players and to help them better understand their own game. Don't get me wrong…It is still valuable to add in comments to players when you can, but to do it properly you need time and if you are running a game or activity for 16 players then time is very short!

But when are players supposed to receive this technical coaching? During the early stage of any hockey career the most important part of junior coaching is FUNdamentals. Players leave the sessions saying they have enjoyed themselves AND improved their ability to execute new skills. However, I feel that those FUNdamentals are not being emphasised enough. To coach young players well, a coach needs a good technical understanding to identify poor technique early and adjust accordingly. If poor technique is missed in early maturation, then that is when we see good players with poor technique and poor skill execution."


Top tips for demonstrating a skill... 

Ian Sloan, Great Britain Co-Captain delivering some 1-2-1 Coaching at Bisham Abbey

(From our Coach Education module "TEACHING THE BASICS")

  • Identify key elements of the skill
  • Keep it simple. Don't overload players with too much information
  • Use players to demonstrate a skill
  • Make sure that everyone is focused and paying attention
  • Allow players plenty of time to practise the skill
  • Create situations where players watch each other and reflect
  • Engage your players by using a variety of practices
  • Repeat the demonstration if necessary
  • Ask questions 'How does that feel?' 'When might you use this?'

Sam is one of over thirty coaches who deliver 1-2-1 Hockey Coaching sessions around the UK. 1-2-1 Sessions are tailored to individual players needs and are part of our vision of delivering #GreatHockeyEverywhere. For more information about our 1-2-1 Coaches, Coach Education courses or Hockey coaching camps please visit our website at www.1-2-1HockeyCoaching.co.uk 

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