As a member of Team Canada and an idol for many aspiring female hockey players, which skills do you believe are the most important for players to focus on at the minor hockey level?
L.J. — Vancouver, B.C.
Every hockey player is asked many times throughout their career how old they were when they first started playing hockey. I started playing ringette at five years old and was seven years old when I started playing hockey. But before I did either, I learned how to skate.
In my opinion, the absolute most important skill that you can possess as a hockey player is the ability to skate. I don’t just mean being able to make it up and down the ice. I believe that having the “ability to skate” means that you are fast, explosive and agile in all situations on the ice — both forwards and backwards.
I am thankful that my father, who is a former NHL defenseman, emphasized the importance of skating to me and my brother, Brendan, at a very young age. Brendan (now an NHL defenseman with Tampa Bay Lighting) and I spent countless hours at power skating schools — whether it was in the summer or mid-season — working on the technical aspects of our skating. It has, without a doubt, been the most valuable tool in both of our games, and it is a skill that I continue to work on developing to this day.
Beyond that, the skills that every hockey player should focus on the most are whichever ones are their weakest. To maximize your potential as a hockey player, it is important that you work hard and, even more importantly, that you work smart!
Sit down and analyze all of your skills. What are your strongest and your weakest skills? What areas of your game need to be improved the most and how exactly can you make those improvements?
Spend time continuing to develop your strong skills, but spend even more time developing your weak skills. Players like to practise the things they are good at (their strengths), because there is little satisfaction gained from plugging away at the things you don’t do well. But therein lies the gold! Order your skills from your strongest to weakest. Take your two weakest skills and vow over the rest of the season to make them your strongest skills by devoting 80-90 per cent of your practice time to these areas. Imagine what that will do for your overall game! Repeat this process each year to make each of your two weakest skills your strongest and, over time, you will see great leaps in your overall effectiveness as a hockey player.
As you work on your skill development, it is important to understand that making significant improvements in your areas of focus takes hours and hours of practice. I say this not be discouraging, but rather to encourage you to be patient in your development. Remain diligent and your smart work will pay off!
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