In recent blog posts, I've been going over reasons to develop slip under skill. The focus has either been on fostering effective use in games or targeting development of good bottom hand habits for our puckhandling in general. In today's post, we are going to be fair to the doubters. These doubters are those who think that maybe the hockey world is doing a bit more slip under practice than is warranted given how often slip unders are seen in the game.
Realistically, we aren't going to wind up agreeing too heartily with the doubters though as we'll see that the reasons to do slip unders will still apply.
The main reason to consider holding back on doing a ton of skill development work involving slip unders is just the mismatch this creates with respect to how often slip unders are done in a game. In some ways, an even worse comparison is how many players on an NHL team are even "allowed" to try a slip under in a game situation. Here, “allowed” is in quotation marks because it isn't like there is a hard and fast rule. But, players are expected to know their role and, in particular, how much risk they should be taking on with their puckhandling in their efforts to turn puck possession into offense.
For some roles, puck possession is highly prioritized over the creation of offensive chances. This is simply because when one's team has the puck, the other team does not and that means the other team cannot create offense. Lower-line players who don't understand this quickly find themselves in the press box or worse. So, these players do not benefit from trying to beat an opponent by working the puck into the opponent's stick zone. Often times this is true even if it works!
As we look toward the younger levels, the clarity with which players understand their roles gradually reduces the younger you look. Coaches know this, so lower-line players can get away with more at the lower levels of hockey. And they should!
The younger you look, the focus is more developmental. Once you get to Junior hockey, it becomes a blend of development and business and the closer you get to the pros, the more its business. This is understandable as people’s livelihoods are on the line. In youth hockey players have every right to think they may get good enough to use slip unders when they get to whatever level they dream to reach. Why shouldn't they develop the skill that supports that dream (even if a very small percentage of players will achieve it)?
Yet, regardless of the long-term outcome for a player, they still are not going to be using slip unders very often. Even NHL superstars aren't using slip under moves more than once a game on average (in my rough estimate). At all levels, it takes self-confidence even to try something like that and it takes some coach-confidence feel comfortable continuing to do it after initial attempts.
So, the game doesn't feature a lot of slip unders or, more generally, puckhandling of any type that enters the opponent's stick zone on purpose. May we still want to work on slip unders a good amount in practices? I gave my answer away above, but to make the point, lets ask some related questions.
Would JFK's reason (We choose to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard) still apply?
Would we still want to have slip under skill in our back pocket in a situation where we are surprised by a defender and need to attack the stick zone to have a chance to keep possession?
Do we still want to develop good bottom hand habits in our puckhandling?
I answer yes to all three of those. So to slip under puckhandling development, I say "Let's Go!"
But, I am biased.