Howie Meeker talks Hockey

and Minor Sport in General Should be Listening…

In Sunday’s Globe and Mail the sports pages bring together two of the best commentators on sport this country has produced and the result, not surprisingly, is a good bit of wisdom that all minor sports folk should read.

Roy MacGregor, the writer, sits down with Howie Meeker, the former NHL player/coach/ commentator, to talk a little hockey and golly gee whiz as Meeker might say the result is not just a great insight into hockey at all levels but thoughts into what can be done to improve all minor sport.

Meeker who was the sport analyst personified  in the 70s and 80s with his Hockey Night in Canada telestrator pulls no punches in what’s wrong both at the pro and developmental levels with hockey but his recommended fixes could and should resonate with officials across all sport.

Soccer, in the midst of rolling out new leagues and developmental programs in particular should take note of what Meeker would change in minor hockey:

  1. “We have to train people to teach skills.” Seems like a no-brainer but this has been what is missing for years in coach education in this country.  Give coaches the proper tools and the results will be astounding – teach them how, what and when to teach the fundamentals and the game will will literally explode in this country.
  2. Meeker would stress skating and skills and puck handling.  In soccer parlance – movement (on and off the ball), skills and touch.
  3. He would never allow 12 year olds to play on a full sized ice surface. Small sized versions of the game are finally becoming the norm for soccer at the younger ages but we are still in too much of a hurry to force them into the full sized game. There is no rush – when players are ready the big fields will still be there.
  4. Cut down on the number of games and make practices the main emphasis. One of the simple reasons being if we want players to get better they need to touch the ball – touches come in training not in games.  We still need games (obviously) but we need to get to the point where we are learning and preparing to play not playing instead of preparing and learning.
  5. He would put a fast end to costly travel and tournaments.  Like everything in life balance is required – there is a time and place for competition but let’s not compete for competing’s sake and to satisfy the wants of parents over the needs of players and their development. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of this.
  6. Meeker would end the arbitrary divisions that decide minor hockey levels by birth date: “It’s got to be by size and skill.” Imagine if suddenly soccer team’s were all picked based on skill and not on the fact that by quirk of genetics at the age of 12 you were extremely big or fast.  Eventually the size and physical traits tend to even out but true skill allowed to blossom is something special.

One final thing that struck me about the article was Meeker’s comment on the hockey mind.

“… a skilled hockey mind, is as important, and as teachable, as skilled skating or stickhandling. “They can skate and check,” he says, “but they’re not creative. Holy jumpin’ but they are not creative.”

Holy jumpin’ indeed.