I recently saw a Facebook post promoting a free at home stick handling program. I’m not going to name or comment on the program because I didn’t look at the actual drills. I’m sure the drills are excellent and would help a player improve, but the reason I didn’t look at them is because it asked me to sign up for the website first and I didn’t want to. I was put off because this website listed three ways to improve stick handling. The number one method was this:

“1) OFF-ICE TRAINING: You have to train OFF the ice 4-5 times a week. There is NO way that you will improve enough just by practicing with your team. That is why we have a free off-ice stickhandling workout here -“

Yes, it’s generally true that if you were to specifically train 4-5 times a week you’d most likely be a better stick handler. On the other hand, this sends a bad message to players and parents. In three sentences we were just told that no matter what a coach does with your player it’s not enough, and for every single night you haven’t made your kid do stick handling training you’ve failed them. Maybe you don’t feel quite as bad about your kid because they like to go outside every now and again and play around with a ball. Uh oh. Not good enough according to method three:

“3) HAVE A PLAN: Don’t just go out to your garage and stickhandle for 30 minutes with no plan. You need to have specific skills, moves and drills that you are working on. You need to time yourself and challenge yourself to get better each time. This is how you improve and if you aren’t doing this you are just WASTING YOUR TIME! Our free stickhandling workout will get your started -“

Still feeling confident? I wouldn’t be either. But let me tell you something about coaches. If your kid chooses to take 30 minutes or longer of precious free time to go out in the garage and play around with a stick and a ball, then some coach somewhere along the line has already done more for their development than any online program ever could. They’ve instilled your child with an enjoyment of the sport and a desire to improve. If they want to play in the garage or stick handle a sock around the living room for the cat or dog to chase, that’s training whether they know it or not. There doesn’t always need to be a specific set up of cones and a timer on the wall. In a world where parents are already feeling like they have to shell out huge dollars to join spring leagues, travel to summer camps, preseason camps, off season camps, “elite” or “academy” evaluation camps, the last thing they need to be told is they’re not doing enough during the regular season as well. This half hour your kid is supposed to spend practicing stick handling is just for one skill. I own a skating school so I should be telling you to practice skating for half an hour as well. What about shooting? That would be an hour and a half a night of just straight structured training on top of regular ice time and games, school, friends, work, and *gasp* other hobbies or sports besides hockey. With all this training, when is a player supposed to actually use these skills they spend all their time acquiring? Where’s the time for fun?
The saddest moment I’ve had so far as a hockey parent happened early this season. My son asked me to play hockey with him in the basement. Before we went down he stopped me and said “Daddy. Don’t try and teach me anything tonight, ok?” That night was the best time I’d had playing with him and since then he asks me to play more often.
Now, like I said, I’m sure the stick handling program and others like it will help any player get better. I don’t have a problem with the techniques and tips. I have a problem with the angle being used to sell you on them. Don’t do them because you feel like your kid will be left behind without them or won’t get drafted or scouted. Don’t be mesmerized by the terminology of dreams.
When someone signs up for my skating school I get one week with them. I don’t spend that week doing everything I can specifically to get those kids drafted. I spend that week doing everything I can to give those kids confidence and enjoyment enough to push themselves to improve. Yes, a lot of what I do is technical styling and I can guarantee each player will be a better skater at the end of the week, but the most important thing I need to do during that week is make them love skating. I want them to want to come back for all of the sessions. I do recommend particular training exercises to do on your own time, but I’d be just as happy to know that because of me your kid likes to go out to a public skate, or go out on a lake. I’d like to know that because of me your kid looks forward to hockey practice. I’d like to know that your kid wants to come back to my camp the next year not because they thought it would get them drafted but because they enjoyed their time with me as a person and it made them feel good about themselves.
I was blessed with coaches who were very knowledgable in the game of hockey. More importantly I was blessed with coaches who had variety in their practice plans, kept things interesting, and kept me wanting to come back.
Improvement comes with practice and reps, but practice and reps come with love and desire. Don’t let the pressure of trying to keep up take the love of the game away from your kid.