"You're getting better with the puck, kid." - coach
"I had 20 more assists this year."
"I'm feeling better about stickhandling now."
"I dropped 2.1 seconds off my puck control agility test compared to the same test last summer."
Feedback is important to a player's growth and development. What is listed above are all good indicators of improvement in a hockey player's game, but the last statement is the one that is most measurable and most within someone's control. As coaches and parents we talk to our kids about setting goals. Many young players will say they want to "get better at stickhandling", for example. Setting goals is more impactful if they can be measured. Wanting to get better at something isn't often going to grow a better stickhandler as well as something that is measurable - like taking the same test a few times every year.
The idea of goal setting is to set personal bests in your activity of choice. Think of a track and field 4 x 100m team. That group trains individually as sprinters but then comes together to form a team that runs one lap around the track, passing a baton in designated passing lanes. Each run the team performs can be a S.M.A.R.T. goal. They want to get better with each practice and each competition. If they run the 100 meters in 52.7 seconds they may want to get under 52.0 with more practice. This goal is S.M.A.R.T. because it is Specific Measurable Agreed upon Realistic Time-bound. If the team runs it in 51.8 seconds they scored a personal best and achieved their SMART goal and it should be celebrated, even if they didn't win a medal at the track meet (Setting a goal to finish in ___ place is not a great goal because much of it is beyond one's control).
Hockey players have the same need as track and field sprinters. They want to improve in the areas of the game that matter to them. For example, they could set goals of scoring 70 and assisting on 100 others but there is too much out of their control. Certainly try for them if it's realistic, but don't make these your only goals you hope to celebrate. The process is important too. What does a hockey player need to do to get to 100 assists? Perhaps a player should improve his stickhandling and getting to space quickly with the puck. Or perhaps she wants to shoot harder. It's easy to measure shot power with the proper equipment. Knowing one's starting shot speed is the baseline to set goals from. Perhaps the realistic goal is to shoot a speed of 50 miles per hour in 6 months but the starting points is 42 mph. Those extra 8 mph must be worth a few more good scoring chances and a few more surprised goalies. Shot power is one area to set a SMART goal. Shooting accuracy is another. Release speed would be the third. Wouldn't you think if someone's shot power, shot accuracy and release speed all improved that player would score more? I do.
Apollo Hockey Development has a skills evaluation being offered in 3 rural Nova Scotia locations this summer and fall. Starting a hockey season it's important to know where one's strengths and weaknesses are. From skating and stickhandling to shooting and passing, Apollo can give each player an evaluation on where their skills lie, what their weaknesses are and a few suggestions for how to improve them. Knowing where to start is the first step.
"Certainty of purpose is the starting point of all achievement." - W. Clement Stone