With conference champions being crowned today in college field hockey, it seems only appropriate that I spent yesterday working with the next generation of field hockey players on their drives. About 60 girls from Great Falls field hockey came out on a beautiful fall Saturday for a shooting clinic. All the girls were great and Great Falls has done a wonderful job getting over 120 girls excited about the sport. I wish I had started playing that early!
After beginning the clinic I realized very quickly that all these future NCAA hockey stars spend entirely too much time slapping the ball when they “shoot on cage”. So a shooting clinic quickly turned into a driving clinic and with none of the fancy stuff I had in my back pocket.
Having a session breaking down the basics helps me realize the importance of patience when trying to push out bad habits (aka slaps) and teach new ones. Also, when teaching a lot of players at once (I had at least 30 in both sessions) it is important to teach the skill first and then only focus on 1 or 2 components max while reinforcing the technique. If you give too much feedback their brains fry and they over think it. Teach it, do the drill, point out one or two things to focus on, and move on. Don’t forget how hard skills are when you are first learn them, so always be ready with positive feedback.
The Great Falls girls looked considerably better from the beginning to the end of our session. I hope parents and players alike remember, though, that doesn’t take one day, one week, or even one season, to get good at a new skill. We need our muscles to learn it after our brains do, and every player has a different pace on muscle memory. Our job as a coach is to help their brains send the right signals, but they need to do it over and over again the RIGHT WAY to nail it.
Here is a breakdown of some of the techniques I use to teach the drive:
1. Show them a drive and how awesome it can be.
If you play hockey, you probably love driving the ball, so showing them how fun it can be is the first step. I had a great player of mine, Natalie Konerth, drive the ball into the cage a few times. I’m fond of telling the girls, “As a coach, there is no sound better in the world than the a ball hitting the back of the cage. Well, as long as it isn’t your cage getting scored on!” Getting kids excited about scoring and excited about a task is a step you can’t forget.
2. Relate it to what they know.
I compare a drive to a baseball swing and not a golf swing (although now that I’m older I’m realizing field hockey has given me a pretty nice golf swing too!). Although in golf you swing through as well, with most young girls the idea of a baseball swing conveys the concept of fluidity and continuous motion better. It gets them framing the hit as if the ball just happens to be in the path of the swing and not that they need to swing down on the ball. You want to get girls swinging through the ball not chopping down on the grass.
3. Push the ball away farther from your body than you normally do.
I find that making them take a big step and big reach for the ball helps eliminate issues of not extending and forces them to put those hands together. It forces them to exaggerate getting low and extend the baseball swing framework to the hit.
4. Do it “on the move”.
Really, do we ever not step to the ball? No. And with self start we often dribble and then drive. So getting kids to think about placing the ball in the correct position from a dribble, stepping to the ball while bringing your hands together, shifting weight and swinging all at once is better, in my mind, than having it be a static motion. Even if they just push out and hit, it is better than just a no step hit.
5. Find the biggest 3 aspects that need work and focus on that.
After I broke down a drive all the girls shot on cage. After each round I stopped and told the girls to focus on one or two things for each round. Something like “So last time you thought about ____ while you drove. You all did a great job. Now forget that and focus on _____ this time.” When you do this it helps them consciously correct one thing at a time. For Great Falls these were the biggest points I had to stop and emphasize between drills:
Hands come together- A Drive is NOT a slap. The faster you can get rid of the slap in young people the better. I only teach the push and the drive, never teach the slap. They’ll slap on their own, but if you don’t even teach it as a technique, it won’t reinforce it in muscle memory. Be diligent in correcting this.
Push the ball out in front of you. So many girls leave the ball in between their feet- eliminating so much power and setting them up to slap or wiff. When I teach, I have them put the ball a FULL stick length away from their left foot so even if they take an extra step, they haven’t let the ball fall behind them.
Don’t swing too high, don’t swing too low. When just learning to drive, players tend to either hit the ball with a golf swing or a croquet swing. To be fair, this is very cute to watch, but not a great habit. After seeing this, I stopped play, had everyone raise their backswing up so their left arm comes parallel to their chest, so the backswing doesn’t come higher than their shoulder. Then swing through with extended arms and finish the follow through pointing at the target. I know a true follow through doesn’t end like this, but having the girls pause pointing their sticks at the target helps get their pivot points (hips and shoulders) lined up. I found that the follow through usually takes care of itself if they are focused on rotating their hips and lining up their shoulders, especially the right shoulder, up with the target.
World Camp USA has posted a great video of the hit which incorporates a lot of what I coach here. If other coaches have any tips or hints, feel free to post below.
Congrats to all youth clubs out there that introduced a new group of girls to the sport so many love this fall. You are the future of US hockey, keep driving!