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On-Ice Communication: The Key to Success for Players and Teams ...

I've consistently been a vocal hockey player—my words echoing across the rink, whether I was on the ice or on the bench in between shifts. It wasn't about being excessively loud, though I'll admit to some good-natured "chirping" with opponents now and then. Instead, my verbal presence aimed to motivate my teammates and, more importantly, foster communication among us. The goal was to collectively enhance our gameplay, offering an extra pair of eyes on the ice fro my teammates. Whether it was assisting our defensemen to oncoming forecheckers when their backs were to the play, or calling for the puck from an offensive linemate when I found myself open, my voice played a crucial role.

Listen to any advanced-level hockey game, whether it's high school, juniors, college, or the pros, and you'll hear constant communication among players. For instance, if a center is available in the offensive slot, you might hear calls like "open... slot, slot." Similarly, when a forward wins a corner battle in the o-zone and gains possession of the puck, you might catch their defensemen shouting "point, point, or calling the teammate by name" letting the forward know they are open for a shot and alerting their teammate to get them the puck,

In the defensive zone, a goalie or backchecking forward may shout something like "one on you" to alert a defenseman/teammate with their back to the play about an approaching forechecker. On the flip side, a player may inform a D teammate that they are under no pressure by yelling something like "You got time" or "No one on you."

Bergeron communicating faceoff strategy to Marchy.

Consistent communication and the ability to project one's voice are crucial for player development. This not only enhances individual skills but also contributes to elevating the performance of teammates. As a coach, I consistently emphasize the importance of vocalizing during scrimmages and games, urging players to communicate loudly. Please, I strongly advise against relying on stick-banging on the ice as a signal for the puck (as a coach it drives me nuts and looks likemite and suqirt level stuff). While voices, especially those of teammates, are distinguishable, all stick bangs sound the same, creating an equal chance of it being a clever opponent attempting to trick you into a turnover as it could be your teammate. So please, please, please stop doing it!!!

The game moves fast, and players are in small area battles all over the ice, so they can't always clearly see the best available play - getting input from a teammate (being their second set of eyes if you will) can help them stay a step ahead of the pressure or guide them to making the right play.

A prime example of effective communication is showcased in the video below featuring Brenden Dillon, previously with the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals and currently a Winnipeg Jet. Dillon utilizes extensive communication and vocalization to assist his teammates in making plays and staying informed about the on-ice situation. His demonstration exemplifies the level of communication that EVERY player should bring to the rink whenever they step onto the ice.

Specifically, watch the 0:37-0:49 second mark of the video, as well as the 0:50-1:12 mark, the 1:49-1:57 mark, and the 2:03-2:26 mark.

The challenge for a coach, parent, or team captain is that not every player feels comfortable being vocal. While being loud and assertive is second nature for some, it may not be the case for others. Nevertheless, akin to life's challenges and hurdles, continuous encouragement can assist a player in developing their vocal skills. As a coach, I consistently stress the importance of vocalization to players during every practice and game, underlining the need for it to become a habitual practice.

One effective way to reinforce this vocal behavior is through peers, especially team captains, particularly at the Junior, High School, Semi-Pro, and Pro levels. Captains should play a crucial role in educating players during both practices and games whenever they observe a lack of effective communication. Guidance from peers tends to be better received and can contribute significantly to the development of vocal skills among players.

The role of team captains becomes pivotal in ensuring that every teammate embraces effective communication, making it a continuous and ingrained practice. It's imperative for captains to stay vigilant, consistently urging their teammates to buy into the importance of communication. This reinforcement should be a focal point at every practice until each member of the team adopts improved communication as a natural and integral part of their play. Team captains play a crucial part in fostering a communicative team culture, actively encouraging and reminding teammates to prioritize and commit to better communication consistently.

Being an effective communicator is also a critical life skill that will translate off-ice. Vocal people tend to be respected by their peers and looked to as leaders, and they are always heard as opposed to those that take a back seat and remain passive.

Cheers, and keep enjoying the game, whether you're a player, coach, or spectator !!!

Coach Kevin

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