Adjusting Difficulty as Players Improve

Adjusting Difficulty as Players Improve

In last week's post I left some loose ends that need tidying up this week. There were two main points to address. First, as coaches, calibrating difficulty level for skill drills is critical and the most common tool that a coaches use to manipulate this is the speed with which players attack a drill. In other words, having players start slow and speed up on difficult skill drills is a tried and true way to adjust difficulty for players. Second, mostly having only the one parameter (speed through a drill) limits coaches’ ability to make these difficulty adjustments, but the new wave in skill development that features extra devices on the ice (such as slip under devices) adds new opportunities to control difficulty.

Today, we'll take a look at those new opportunities and how we can use them to create "ramp-ups" of difficulty so drills can adapt as players start to get a handle on them.

In addition to the usual speed parameter, there are five additional parameters that coaches have available when using slip under devices in drills. These are; slip under angle, tight sequencing, simultaneous skating and puckhandling requirements, additional detail requirements, and device modes.

Some of those parameters are also available to coaches in other types of skill drills. Applying a high detail requirement can make any type of skill more difficult to achieve. And, tight sequencing, where players rapidly encounter tasks one after another, is also not specific to slip-under-device drills. However, slip under devices are still relevant in these cases, because these two parameters jump out naturally and come to mind for coaches when implementing slip-under-device drills in a way that they may not in more traditional skill drills.

Let’s consider each in turn:

Slip Under Angle

Slip Under Angle could mean a lot of things, but what I am getting at here is the degree to which the skating direction of the skater is lined up with the direction that the skater is supposed to push the puck under the slip-under device. If these are both the same direction, it makes slip unders fairly easy. If they are 90 degrees apart (so the puck needs to move sideways under the device compared to the skater's direction of motion), skaters need to take much more complicated action to get the puck under and get their body around the device. There is an even more difficult set-up and that is to be forced to go past the simulated stick blade to get to the far side of the slip under device and pull the puck back in the direction the skater came from to get it through. Without adjusting the path of the drill significantly, slip under devices can be rotated to modulate this aspect of the challenge of the drill.

The puckhandling in the above clip is very difficult, but the second FÉNIX is set up for the easiest slip under direction… just pushing the puck forward through.

Tight Sequencing

For a fairly skilled squirt / u10 up through to more advanced players, a slip under where they have a lot of time to plan out the needed skating and puckhandling is not a really tough task. However, if you have them cup the puck to the outside of a power turn and then have to quickly pull it across their body shortly after the turn to get to a slip-under position and then execute the slip under, only fairly advanced players will thrive early on. This is the idea of tight sequencing. It eliminates "recovery time" after some skill challenge and forces players to quickly adapt, whatever position they find themselves and the puck in.

The quick clip above is an example of a tight sequence of slip under and skating interactions.

Simultaneous Skating and Puckhandling Requirements

At a certain stage, skaters become comfortable with the more challenging agility movements of the game. Transitions and Mohawks are probably at the upper end of this for movements used commonly in a game. However, these can be made not so easy if there is intricate hands work prescribed at the same time. Slip-under drills can facilitate this. It is common for the back side of a slip under device to be used to facilitate a multitasking challenge like this just before or just after interacting with the "business end of the device" (the stick-simulating end).

The above clip is queued up to show a few examples of intricate skating mixed in with slip under device interactions.

Additional Detail Requirements

How should we position the puck or be deceptive right before a slip under? How should we push off to "change lanes" over to the side the puck is going to when encountering a slip under device head on? What about rolling the puck to the toe of the blade and using the toe to lateralize the movement of the puck under the device? Or how about maneuvering the stick around the simulated stick shaft (when using a stick-simulating slip under device) by sliding the bottom hand down the shaft and pulling the stick back toward our body? These are all great (and, in a few cases, advanced) habits that can be developed and can really help make slip unders actually work in game situations. Players can't really handle all those details when first starting their work on slip unders. But, these demands can be ramped up as they get good.

The above video explains some of the details that one can bring to bear on slip-under technique in a stationary setting. Adding in on-ice footwork provides even more details to build into great habits.

Device Modes

Some slip under devices, in particular The FÉNIX, offer a variety of set ups that represent changes in difficulty. In easy mode, it can act as just a simple bridge that the puck can go under. We can also get the simulated stick shaft involved. In the case of the FÉNIX the shaft has multiple positions that can offer a different level of difficulty (it can be harder or easier depending on the angle the stick shaft makes with the ice).

The above clip is queued up to share the usefulness of two of the four stick-shaft positions the FÉNIX is able to provide.

As a coach there is a lot to play with here. In any one practice or even week of practices, it may be the case that it is best not to overwhelm oneself with the possibilities and just focus on one or two of the above parameters to keep things challenging as players progress!

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