I’ve heard countless parents describe their young hockey player as a “good little player” who’s missing that one big ingredient… “aggression”. What they are usually referring to is “sports aggression” and not aggression in the more common sense of the word. In hockey coaching circles we call it “puck aggression”. A player who’s puck aggressive at the Novice level can really stand out because the fact is that most 7 and 8 year olds are not. What coaches will usually notice is a player’s desire to go towards the puck, to slam on the brakes when the play goes the other way, to jump into the fray trying to dislodge a puck, to back-check or in some cases, to bump a player off the play. These are very effective actions that allow a player to really shine out there.
Now, we know that we can’t force our kids to be more aggressive, that has to come naturally or from within. What coaches do to promote puck aggression can be seen in several types of drills that pit player against player in various game situations. For example, having any kind of drill that creates a race to the puck is also excellent for developing puck aggression. I’m a big believer that the intensity of a drill is the key to creating puck aggression. The key to teaching overall hockey aggression is to do it without the players even realizing it.
What parents can do to help little Frankie become more aggressive is to use positive re-enforcement when talking to them about their play. Challenge them to do a couple of small things each time they hit the ice. An easy one to focus on is back-checking. Encourage them to “get back” and break up a breakaway or a 2 on 1. And if they do, make sure to tell them afterwards what a great play it was and how “aggressive” they were to “skate back so fast and catch that guy from behind”. These small victories will multiply and will lead to a player’s desire to do aggressive things in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone too. It’s a snowball effect! Eventually you end up with a player who wants to be involved in all aspects of play.
Remember, you should never tell your 7 and 8 year old player to “get aggressive and go hit somebody”. That’s not cool. But reminding them that puck aggression will lead to them having more chances to shine will hopefully do the trick.