If there is one trait that is looked for by coaches and scouts at all levels when analyzing a player, it is that elusive Hockey Sense. Elusive because it is incredibly difficult to define, indeed, some even suggest that it is impossible to teach, but it is that adaptability that some players have that means they always end up in the right position, whatever zone the play is happening in. It may be difficult to clearly define, but most coaches know it when they see it, and one thing is sure, it is an ability that really elevates the play of anyone who can master it, and offers a greater chance of a successful hockey career.
But can someone teach Hockey Sense to a player? Some say no, it is an innate ability and that is that. Plenty disagree with that, and have the coaching results to back it up though, so how can you teach Hockey Sense?
They key to gaining that Hockey Sense is understanding of the game, recognizing situations as well as patterns that have been practiced, as well as studied, and knowing what the likely outcome is and positioning appropriately. That sounds easy when written in a single sentence, and of course it is not, but with hard work, invested time and a lot of repetition, situational knowledge combined with understanding of the team’s playstyle can be built up to improve Hockey Sense over time.
This is a balancing act however, whilst repetition allows that situational knowledge to build, and combined with the teams playstyle will mean an individual will know where to be as the game unfolds in any zone, the danger is focusing solely on that during the game, losing the adaptability and spontaneous action that makes the exceptional players what they are.
Hockey Sense should not define the player’s game, rather it should become second nature and reinforce the skillset that any player already possesses, ensuring that adaptability and natural skills are not masked by the need to shift to the perfect position constantly.
Being able to teach Hockey Sense is still hotly debated amongst coaches, but the situational knowledge gained through repetition does work, however, it is the ability to teach Hockey Sense whilst allowing players to retain their unpredictable skillset and adaptability for the game as it progresses that is really the key ability when it comes to teaching Hockey sense.
Making the right decisions as play progresses should be about reading the situation and acting on the knowledge gained through repetition and patterns for those with Hockey sense, rather than the simple reading the game and reacting to it that those without a developed Hockey sense will do. Teaching that situational knowledge is a challenge, it is time consuming and by its nature very repetitious, but there is no question that the end result is improved players who have a much greater chance of success as Hockey players than those who do not develop Hockey Sense at all.