Observations From the Rink: More Skill, Less Creativity, Who’s to Blame?…….The System?

Is this generation of players more skilled, but less creative due to implementation of team systems at earlier levels of the game? Is that hurting player growth and development? Are coaches holding players too accountable when it comes to team systems, and is that hurting player creativity?

Are more and more players nowadays just systematic playing robots?

What are you observing in the game these days?

We are seeing all of the “Michigan” attempts and successes and all of the skill at elite levels of the sport, which is great, but what’s happening at the minor hockey ranks?

Every scout and organization are looking for something different, but players that can think the game, and skate certainly jump off the page. What about creativity? What about playing in a system? Where does that rank on scouts’ criteria?

Obviously, every young player is taught their position and different systems throughout their path in the game. Their position and various systems are essentially engrained into their hockey playing DNA.

You would be surprised in today’s game to see how many players struggle understanding their positions and other positions on the ice. Clearly the game is quicker than ever before, which is great to see, but do young players really understand their role on their team and their identity as a player? Do they know how to be creative? Obviously, we all know players are more skilled than ever, but are they less creative? Do players these days actually know how to display or maximize their creativity within team systems or are they being punished for it?

As a coach, I had team systems, hell every coach has systems, and those systems are really important, but I always tried to allow for creativity. Looking back on it, I could have done a better job of it, I tried to hold every player accountable, while also giving them tons of runway to create and explore, but they all had to pass the puck. If they didn’t pass the puck for the sake of individual creativity, I used to lose it. The players knew where I stood on that one, but do young players know where they stand nowadays when it comes to creativity?

Some would say individual skill is at an all-time high, but would they say the same thing about creativity?

Some young players are struggling with the systematic approach to the game, they actually look quite lost out there. We can all agree that systems or systematic play could in fact be robbing a player of their creativity especially if they are all encompassing at early stages of the game. Naturally creative and gifted players, always seem to struggle in systems, and let’s hope they adjust quickly, some do, but many don’t. In some cases, these days showing creativity will get you benched or could see your minutes drastically cut.

Whatever happened to the concept of just letting them play? There was a time in the game, where some coaches would let their “skilled” or “naturally gifted” players just go out and create and play their own style of game, no matter what. Don’t get me wrong this still happens all of the time and in many ways to the detriment of the player. That might sound contradictory but hear me out. Some coaches teach young players how to play a complete game, while others just allow a free for all to exist for the almighty “W.”

Clearly the best coaches hold every player accountable, they teach and reinforce the system, but they allow their players to show creativity within the system. A matter of fact, the best coaches promote and encourage creativity, they sure as hell don’t stifle it. Creativity doesn’t mean being a puck hog or showing off your individual skill set and over-handling the puck. That’s not being creative, that’s being selfish. Creativity when used and promoted properly these days should always fall within the team systems. What about the coaches that smother creativity or try to eradicate it in favor of the almighty system? Are they more successful in the win column, than the development column?

Some would tend to argue that when players are stripped of their creativity, they become hockey playing robots, which is awful to witness.  A perfect example of this happened last year. I watched a young defender who was being pressured from behind his own net essentially pass the puck to no one on the half boards. He had some delayed pressure coming from the middle of the ice, all he had to do was skate, all he had to do in that moment was skate five or six feet and reassess on the fly, all he had to do was showcase his puck and skating skills, but instead he passed the puck indirectly to no one. This was a D-man that was highly rated on last year’s draft list and rightfully so, but that showed me that the creativity of that player was slowly being beaten or trained out of him due to the almighty system. It wasn’t his processing, you could tell, he wasn’t permitted within the system to take those four or five strides. You could see it in his eyes as he rounded the net.

Systematic play is essential, but it should never deteriorate the processing or creativity of young players. You can preach execution of team systems all day long, but again the best coaches know how to hold players accountable within that framework and still provide room for or promote creativity.

In some cases, coaches seem to be over teaching and over emphasizing systems thus creating hockey playing cyborgs, that don’t know how to process the game, play their position or the game. Those players skate really fast, have skill and ability, but never seem to accomplish very much of anything. What about a player’s instincts for the game? Well, those instincts are stepped on and so is their confidence when confined within a system. As mentioned before those young players skate into trouble or make ill-advised plays or passes, because they are so fixated on executing the system they have no idea how to improvise create outside of it. They did before, but that “skill” or “instinct” is gone. Call me old school, but when I see a player that can process the game and is positional sound in all three zones and is creative, I celebrate that shit. That’s the kind of player jumps off the page. That’s exactly the type of player that I would draft in a second.

Unfortunately, in this day and age those players are considered by some role players and are assigned to checking duties because they are “responsible.”

That’s such horse shit, but trust me it’s happening and the saddest aspect of all of it is that the coach doesn’t even know what type of player the player could be because they aren’t getting an opportunity to showcase their real creativity, their real skill set.

Wouldn’t it be great if we got away from creating systematic hockey playing robots!

Wouldn’t it be great to dial in on promoting processing and creativity with and without the puck at younger ages!

Wouldn’t it be great if every player felt comfortable and compelled to be creative within the systematic framework of their teams.

All the best coaches know how to encourage creativity while holding every player accountable within “player friendly” team systems. It’s happening out there, some coaches are excelling, some not so much.

What are you seeing in the game?

See you at the rink,

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