Play to your strengths ...
As a player, it's important to know your strengths and weaknesses. Analyzing your strengths as well as deficiencies may be hard, but an honest self-assessment is half the battle.
All players have different strengths and weaknesses. While a player may have several strong skill sets, it's rare a player can be great at every aspect of the game. Some players are lightning quick, some have great hands (puck handling), some may be physically strong, some great at faceoffs, and others may have a heavy shot, just as examples.
This applies to goalies as well, Some netminders may have a great glove hand, whereas others may have great rebound control. The point is every player has some areas of their game that are strong, and playing to those strengths while limiting exposure to those areas of weaknesses will help them be more successful.
A great example of a player knowing their strengths (as well as limitations) is former Boston Bruin defenseman (current NY Islander) Zdeno Chara. Chara wisely recognized early in his career that skating and speed weren't his strengths; however, his massive size (6'9") height, as well as his strength and reach, would allow him to succeed by keeping opposing forwards on the perimeter, win puck battles in the corner, and keep the crease clear for his goalies. Playing to his strengths allowed Chara to play 24 seasons (and counting) in the NHL.
Had Chara decided to be stubborn and want to carry the puck all the time or think he could outskate everyone, he would have failed. Instead, he used his physical attributes of size and strength to carve out a very valuable niche (being a "shutdown defender") for himself and his team. Young players would be wise to learn from what Chara did and play the game that's suited to their skill set.
Once players' individual strengths and weaknesses are identified, they can work in practice to reinforce their strengths and also improve those areas of weakness. Additionally, players should use this knowledge of their skill set to avoid putting themselves in situations where opposing players can exploit those areas of weakness.
As a coach, one scenario that comes to mind is the speed/agility disparity. In far too many games over many years, I have observed a slow-footed defenseman get burned by a speedy forward busting out of the defensive zone. On nearly every occasion, this occurred because the defenseman either didn't recognize the speed advantage of his (or her) opponent or wasn't honest with themselves about their own lack of speed and agility.
If the player (or the player's coach identifies this limitation in the player, there should be a light that goes on in the player's or coach's mind (using their HockeyIQ) that they need to be more careful when on the ice against a very speedy player or players. Maybe they use that recognition of the skill disparity to retreat more quickly from the offensive zone or be super careful about pinching down the wall to help counteract that speed disadvantage.
The above example is just one of a myriad of examples I could cite to illustrate how a player needs to be cognizant of their strengths (or weaknesses, but the trick is for the player to understand their game and then adjust their playing style to put themselves in the best position to succeed.
The more players understand themselves and their opponents and use their HockeyIQ to play better strategically, the more they'll enjoy the game and the bigger impact they'll have on it, regardless of their skill set.
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