Tournaments are an exciting change of pace for youth hockey teams. They provide a chance to test individual and team skills against new teams, to travel, and play at different rinks against different teams. Winning the tournament is even more rewarding, but it rarely happens by mere chance.
A well prepared and effective youth coach will have an initial plan designed to win the tournament, one that is flexible and can be tailored to fit different playing situations. Some effective tips for a winning tournament strategy include the following.
During regular team practices, incorporate a variety of drills. Have players alternate shooting from the left and right wing positions, work on passing, dekes and breakaways, and reinforce goaltending strategies. If the team has a wide selection of familiar drills to choose from, they will be better prepared to take advantage of each opportunity.
Know your teammates, anticipate their moves, and read and react accordingly. When youíre on the playing surface during the last few minutes of a close game, you donít want to waste valuable time second guessing your teammates next move.
Know your tournament schedule. Playing several games in a couple of days is a rigorous demand on a playerís mind and body. Keep the mental edge by arriving at the arena early and ready to play.
Scout your opponents
Careful planning for upcoming games gives the coaches and players a sense that they are ready. A well-prepared team knows what they are capable of doing and what to expect from the opposition. Information that should be gathered covers all major components of a team; offense, defense, goaltending, strengths, weaknesses, and overall observations. Discuss this data with your team and use it to fortify your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.
Even if you have not played any of the other tournament teams, you still can evaluate most of the teams before playing them. The coach, parents, and team members can scout rival teams. Identify your opponentís goaltending style (butterfly, stand-up) and whether he or she is most effective on the glove or stick side. Note the strong players (the ones that control the flow of the game), the best shooters, and the other teamís defensive style (aggressive or patient). How effective are their special teams? If the opponents arenít playing earlier games, ask other coaches for input.
This is perhaps the most difficult factor to control. If the tournament takes place on the road, not only does your team lose any home-ice advantage, but it also loses constant parental support and supervision. Itís only natural for young players to want to explore the new cityís hotel, restaurants, pool, and tourist attractions. This is part of the fun in being on the road, but it also takes time and energy away from a teamís overall purpose. Try to keep the team focused on the tournament, and celebrate their new surroundings afterwards.
Now it is time to put all of the practice to the test: itís game time! Now, the coachís role is to ensure that the game plan is relayed to the team and the team is mentally ready to play. During the pre-game meeting, the coach should cover the game strategy and the opponentís strengths and weaknesses, according to the latest scouting report.
Additionally, the coach should make sure that all players are mentally ready to play at 100% for the entire game. Face it: there is no way that a team is going to improve physically just prior to a game, but the mental component can be adjusted so that the players are all focused.
Having done all this, the coach must be ready to make quick personnel decisions throughout the game and must have a feel for which players are playing well during that particular game. It is important for a coach to decide before the game which players he is going to use is certain situations, such as the power play or penalty-killing roles.
The coach also needs to consider the starting lineup, changing lines, tight game situations, and when to use a time-out.
Wrap up each game and the tournament by providing constructive feedback to each individual and the entire team. Playback any videotapes taken, encouraging the players to speak up during the viewing. Note which strategies worked and which need improvement, and use this information for future games and practices.
Being on the road and playing a variety of new teams over a short period of time is definitely a challenge. Teamwork is a must. Plan ahead with a winning strategy and make the most of your tournament time by learning, having fun, and expanding your game. l
Mary Patricia Millar is a freelance writer covering youth and womenís hockey