Hockey: Possession Time in Games is not Enough to Develop Hockey Skills

Hockey: Possession Time in Games is not Enough to Develop Hockey Skills

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education Update

Hockey at the school and developmental levels often employ a system in which players participate in more games than practices.

This is partly because the high cost and scarcity of ice time make games more of a priority than practices. However, there is also a belief by some that the best way to teach players competition skills is by placing them in a competitive situation.

But are organized games really the best place to learn hockey skills? A study by USA Hockey says "no." Players do not touch the puck for long enough in a game to develop basic skills. In fact, the amount of time that players touch the puck in a game is surprisingly small.

USA Hockey Study
The USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program studied this issue by observing the three best players in 31 men's and 24 women's hockey games at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Their goal was to record of the amount of time each player was in possession of the puck.

The results were enlightening. In the championship game, Joe Sakic, the best player on Canada's winning team, was in possession of the puck for only 79 seconds, total! The best player for the USA's championship women's team, Cammi Granato, touched the puck for only 62 seconds.

A similar study was performed at the Youth Hockey Tier 1 National Championships in Colorado Springs the same year. The skill levels were different but the results were the same.

The results were clear-cut and validate what many experts have been recommending for years - that organized games are not the place for players to develop skills. They simply do not touch the puck enough to get the repetitions required to make skills instinctive.

The best place for skill development is in practice or free play, where enough repetitions occur that skills can become ingrained. USA Hockey now advocates a three-to-one practice to game ratio Rather than me 1-3 ratio that was often employed.

As Mark Tabrum, USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program says, "Games are a measuring stick where you evaluate skill development, but it's not where you teach it."

References 1. Joseph Bertagna, The Hockey Coaching Bible, Human Kinetics, 2015.

2. Harry Thompson, "The Numbers Game." American Hockey Magazine c/o the North Florida Hockey Association website, December 18, 2006.


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