Private Coaches One Piece Of The Development Puzzle

We all want to give our kids the world, and expose them to all the world has to offer. Especially at an early age. For our son, Joe, that meant football, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, karate, Boy Scouts and even the clarinet. You name it, he tried it.

Still, we found there were plenty of nights we were dragging him to practices or fighting some "mysterious illness" to avoid commitments.

Then he found hockey.

At 8 years old, he pulled a 180, rushing us out the door, ecstatic to hit the ice for each and every practice.

But there was one minor problem: kids were skating literal circles around Joe.

As relative newcomers to the sport, we didn't realize just how much catch-up he had to do, having not discovered his hockey passion until the ripe, old age of 8. So, I reached back to my own skating roots and put him in touch with a figure skating coach.

Now I know the figure skating vs. hockey feud may precede even the Hatfieldsvs. McCoys, but hear me out.Joe's edges got deeper, his turns quicker, and by midseason, he not only caught up, but there were times his coach had Joe demonstrating the edge technique he had quickly mastered. That extra bit of guidance and hard work was paying off.

As soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter puts it, "There may be people that have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do."

So it was for Joe.

Minneapolis hockey dad Michael Farnamcan relate, having also discovered the value in having a skills coach work with his son.

"It's hardto believe that a teenager would get up early for this, but the coach really works them hard, matching them up against similar ages and skill levels," said Farnam, who found the coach through another parent who was looking for some extra skill work. 

"I guess it's his ability to get the kids to work really hard, but also making sure they have fun."

But before you pull a muscle reaching for your check book to hire a private coach, there are some things to keep in mind.

Charlie Giltz, a 35-year coaching veteran from Skaneateles, N.Y., cautions parents to find a balance if you go the private lesson route. And rather than focus on age, Giltz said it's important to consider maturity, physical development and the level of commitment. The focal point of private sessions should be based on building block principle; skating, puck skills and game development. And most of all, it should be enjoyable for the athlete.

Parents need to do their homework, before hiring; ask for references and maybe watch a lesson before you commit.

"Kids smiling and having fun may be the best test," says Giltz who also says there's nothing wrong with letting your hockey player discover skills on their own through videos, driveway time or public skating.

"Kids will find a way to improve if that's their passion."

Ken Martel, the technical director of USA Hockey's American Development Model, also believes kids learn more intuitively through trial and error and asks us to think back to the time we learned how to ride a bike.

"Did your parents hire a bicycle riding specialist to teach you? Did you need to break it down into component parts (practice pedaling only with the left foot, then the right foot and then put it all back together)?" Martel asks. "My guess is that you jumped on the bike, fell, got back on and slowly acquired the ability to ride."

After my son got the basics down, we saw him kick it up a couple of notches on his own. It meant a lot of hours in the driveway, shooting on the net. Fortunately for him, he had a little sister who loved attention - and hockey - not minding at all when big brother would occasionally pad her up, stick her in net and take aim as he worked to perfect his wrister.

Suffice to say, we saved some money with her first skills coach.




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