Repetition or “reps” is a big buzzword for any type of hockey development but I will specifically be talking about skating. When we look at repetition, we are looking at a number of different things; duration, or time spent with each skill, number of times we do a specific skill, as well as how many skills we are able to accomplish throughout a practice. It is such an important concept for coaches to think about.
When looking at repetition, quality should never be over-looked. When you look at other sports, precision of the repetition comes to mind. For example, if you were practicing your putting or free-throw shooting, the result is pretty black and white. You either make it or you don’t. When looking at skating things can be more subjective. For example, coaches will tell a kid to bend his/her knees and their usual response is, “I am”. It is important for coaches to keep the kids focused on basic fundamentals when skating. As skaters get tired, form and technique tend to break down. This is the most important time to build muscle memory as habits are being formed. Repetition is only good if you are repeating something correctly.
Coaches always ask us what the common number or reps is for each skill during a designed practice. The answer is always dependent upon the age and ability of your skaters. While rehabbing NHL skaters, I have the ability to go over things more because the skater obviously has more of a capacity to focus on a set of specific skills for a long period of time. I will not get that same focus with mites. When looking at younger skaters you are really looking at the point of diminishing returns. You can stay on a skill or drill for an extended amount of time but the coach should be aware of when players start “losing focus” or start “going through the motions.” The key is to have that 6th sense as to know when you start “losing kids”. If we are going over a skill slowly for technique for an extended amount of time you have to be aware of your threshold to get quality reps. Once we have gone over something slowly for an extended amount of time, we know it is time to switch gears to get the kids moving with some speed. That is really the key because if you lose the kids mentally, it is tough to get them back to become engaged in the practice again.
The other big factor when it comes to getting repetition is what we call “same skill, different drill”. As coaches we need to prepare and be creative to come up with different ways to teach the same skill. This helps keep the kids get engaged more as well as taking the redundancy out of any skill. If we look at a basic inside edge there are really hundreds of different drills you can do to accomplish executing an inside edge. The problem is we always come back to the same C cut inside edge drill over and over. Yes we want the repetition but there are also different creative ways we can get that same skill developed.
The biggest danger coaches’ face is when practices, skills, and drills go stale. Once things really go on autopilot, it takes all the thinking and creativity out of everything and you tend to lose the passion especially from younger skaters. This does not mean you need to take your staple drills out of practice it just means give the practices some thought and make sure to plan properly. Even when working with the NHL players I try to do different drills and skills each session. It keeps things fresh and enjoyable for both players and coaches. Good Luck