Hockey Camp Hero

Ahhhh, summer time. Sleeping in, hitting the gym, relaxing by the pool. It’s also the time of year that many wanna-be future NHLers will turn to you for wisdom as they experience hockey camp for the very first time.

You are obviously one of the great ones if you were selected to don the uniform of a counselor, instructor or group leader at the XYZ Hockey School.  Kids will turn to you for more than having their skates tightened and their helmets snapped. You are a go-to guy, someone with knowledge, experience -- maybe even a few scars -- and stories to share about the thrill of the game. 

Let’s face it, these kids have no idea how lucky they are that you will be there to guide them down the path to future hockey success.  On the other hand, before you start thinking that you’re doing them a big favor, consider that they may be doing YOU a favor.

In USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program, new coaches are taught that while human beings learn only about 20 percent of what we hear and 30 percent of what we see, we learn a full 95 percent of what we teach someone else. So, while your campers may be picking up a few tips, you may actually be the one learning the most at this summer’s camp. Not only do you have an opportunity to infect these newcomers with love for this amazing sport but at the same time you have a chance to become an even better player yourself.

There is, however, one small catch. In order to positively impact these young lives -- and improve your own game – you’ve got to do more than shoot hockey pucks while the head coach is trying to instruct. To leave your mark on these kids and gain the most for yourself, you must be an engaged, encouraging and dedicated instructor. You’ll have to be fair and approachable, a good listener and a role model.  Bottom line, you’ll need to teach these new players the important basics of hockey in ways that will make them crave more information and more ice time. 

Hockey camp is always fun when the pucks start flying, but the challenge for many instructors is to make the power skating portion of camp something players look forward to. Instead of resorting to the old “skate ’em till they drop” tactic, trying new ways to teach old tricks can result in better skating and, believe it or not, a desire to practice. 

The “Stop in a Box” is a good hockey camp skating drill. It’s easy to run even with a lot of campers, simple to explain, utilizes counselors and improves skills while holding the players’ attention. To set up this drill, use cones or hockey sticks to make three sides of a box that is just big enough to stop in. The open side should face the red line.  Make enough boxes so that there is at least one per counselor and about five players per box.

From the red line, the campers skate quickly toward the box.  The counselors stand behind the box and facing the skaters.  Just as the player is about to reach the box, the counselor will pick a side. The player should stop so that he or she faces the counselor and immediately execute a start back toward the line, all without hitting the cones.

The skaters will learn to stop and start on each side without using unnecessary space, and the counselors, by helping individual players overcome any troubles they have performing the stop-start transition, will learn how to make better, tighter and quicker transitions themselves. This is just one idea to get you thinking about the skills you’ll be teaching this summer and whether you can come up with some of your own.

As for any aspirations you may have for becoming a hero to these kids, it’s possible even though you’ll be learning more than they will. The responsibility that you take on when you choose to work with kids is an awesome one. Good or bad, you will impact every child you work with, just as your former coaches and counselors impacted you.

At the Southeastern USA Hockey Level 1 Coaches Certification class, one instructor shares what has become my favorite quote with newly certified coaches: “They (the youth hockey players) don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” That’s a great thought to keep in mind whenever you work with kids.

Wendy Marco is a two-time speaker at the International Hockey Skating Symposium, a USA Hockey CEP Instructor and a professional skating coach in Washington, DC.  Her instructional DVD, “Breaking Out of the Ice Age,” and other  skating tools can be found at  Look for the caveman in this publication!

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