Hockey season is in full swing and whether you are a PeeWee or a pro, the way to move your game to the next level is summed up in one word: TRAINING. Not merely “working out,” but specific hockey training. We had the opportunity to discuss training with two of the top names in women’s hockey: Winny Brodt-Brown and Natalie Darwitz. Both women have trained or coached some of the top names in girls’ and women’s hockey in Minnesota. Although some common themes appeared, each had a slightly different approach to training at different developmental levels.
According to Brodt-Brown, players at ages 5-8 is about building confidence. She stated, this is the age where, “You really want to get kids to enjoy skating not just forwards, but backwards,” because it will build confidence. Instilling confidence in skating skills increases the chance that a younger player will continue to enjoy hockey.
For Darwitz, age 5-8 is about, “fundamentals and setting the foundation.” She noted that, “You want to make skating fun for a youngster,” but also work on body positioning skills. Both Brodt-Brown and Darwitz also stressed making certain that drills matched the “maturity level” of the players.
At ages 8-12, Brodt-Brown likes to focus on shooting in terms of “accuracy and keeping your head up.” This is a time for players to learn to be more, “vocal on the ice and to learn to communicate with one another.” She also noted the importance of avoiding hockey “burnout” and “being around positive people.” Darwitz noted that ages 8-12 is where training becomes advanced, and “preference-driven for hockey.”
Training takes a shift at the time players enter high school. Darwitz noted that high school is where skills start to become fine-tuned: “You want to start focusing on angles of passes” as well as learning to help out other players. She noted, for example, teaching players how to help out the goalie who is out of position. Brodt-Brown also focused on fine-tuning, including, setting up small game scenarios, playing in the defensive zone and working on skills away from the puck.
For those players who aspire to play at the college level, both Brodt-Brown and Darwitz agreed that “self-motivation” and keeping the game “fun” plays a significant role. Brodt-Brown stressed the importance of practicing skills “on your own, but make it fun.” Practicing wrist shots, slap shots and shooting for accuracy as well as skating drills are all skills that can be practiced on your own. Darwitz stated that players need to “stay in the moment. Play each shift as well as you can and have fun.” She also noted that players, “need to be a sponge and learn from the best. Strive to get better every season.” She pointed out that at the beginning of the season a player should set goals for areas of their play that they want to improve.
Brodt-Brown and Darwitz also gave us their top three training tips for players of any age. For Brodt-Brown, puck touches, speed training, power skating drills and edge-work skating were important. For Darwitz, skating efficiency, life balance and combined personal growth and being a student of the game were important noting, “Pick a player to watch and emulate.”
One final theme that was reiterated several times by both women was making sure to avoid “burnout,” and keeping focused on a “balanced approach” to hockey and other aspects of life. Brodt-Brown specifically warned about the dangers of, “burning kids out,” particularly around ages 8-12. One of Darwitz’s top three training tips was making sure there was a, “balance in life,” noting that, “focusing on hockey 24/7 is not a great idea. There needs to be family time, friend time, sports time and school time.” Great advice not only for hockey, but also for life.