By: Topher Scott
If you’ve followed me on social media or have listened to our podcast, you’ve probably heard me talk about the pros and cons of “PLAYING FAST.” I feel like it’s the biggest buzzword of the past decade in the hockey world (although I think deception may take that banner soon).
Playing fast has its merits.
From an individual perspective…it’s thinking fast. The older you get and the higher level you go, the faster you have to think because defenders are all bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter. So having the ability to think quickly to solve problems is extremely important with your diminishing time and space.
From a team perspective…it’s catching the opposition before they can set up in their defensive structure. Teams are so good and detailed nowadays in their structure defensively that it’s often difficult to make plays when they’re ready for you. By playing fast in transition or after changes of possession, you’re catching the defensive team when they are the most vulnerable…before they have formed their structure.
Playing Fast has value in the right context.
But by preaching playing fast so much, I feel like we’ve lost contact with one of the most important skills that players can learn…TIMING.
Hockey is not a game that is played at 100mph ALL.THE.TIME. It’s a game that has ebbs and flows, that has pockets and windows, that has layers and seams.
If you’ve heard Darryl Belfry or Adam Nicholas speak, two of the most innovative and well-known hockey development guys in the game, you’ve heard them speak passionately about “speed differential.” It’s about knowing when to go fast, when to change speeds, and when to let plays unfold by being patient. It’s about manipulating the defense, either individually or as a unit, so you can create what is gold in hockey…TIME AND SPACE.
We posed the question to MARTIN ST. LOUIS, who we were fortunate enough to have on our podcast. When we asked him, he talked about not skating fast into crap. You have to be able to “think it” and timing is one of the most important aspects of hockey sense in the game.
Picture the following situations as a coach:
-A defenseman joining the play on the weakside after a successful breakout…going fast but being right on top of the forwards…so it eliminates him as a second wave option.
-A center going fast and being way ahead of the puck in a neutral zone regroup after a D to D pass…eliminating him as an option (or getting a suicide pass).
–A weakside forward on a 3v2 that goes fast to nowhere, rather than letting the center drive and fill that delayed lane…and eliminating him as an option.
If you’re a coach, you’ve probably seen these too many times. And in no fault to the players, as they are working hard and “playing fast.” But they are not thinking the game.
I’ve done some small group sessions this summer and started to incorporate some timing drills. I found that the players were almost always too far ahead. Rather than let the play develop in front of them, they were too fast and ended up getting a lot of passes from bad angles and in their feet.
They were doing the drill at 100% and playing fast…but they were not playing smart.
As we continued to work on it, I saw major improvement. Execution of skills was way better, confidence grew, and you could see the kids get it. I’m looking forward to seeing if it translates to the games this fall.
As coaches I think we need to a better job defining what it means to play fast. We need to teach the kids when to play fast, and how to play fast, and why it can create advantages in certain situations. Not just preaching “PLAY FAST.” It will better allow our players to play in support, create passing options around the rink and create more offensive opportunity. And at the end of the day…it will create smarter hockey players that we all love to coach as well!