As a skills coach I get many questions from parents and players, two of the most common being “how do I get better?” and “what can I do to get to the next level?” The answer to those questions is not a statement but another question. What are you doing to get better?
In the summer I run what I call my Forward/Defense Elite Camps. As part of those camps I offer all the players an off-ice program and about a player I know very well; my brother Joe who’s known for being a highly skilled player with one of the hardest snap shots I’ve ever seen. In college he led Clarkson University (D1) in goals two out of his four years and is now moving into his first professional season. I visited him during his senior year at Clarkson and when I walked into his room he had all these homemade stickhandling props on his floor. I asked him why they were there and he answered that he likes to practice his drills each day in his room. He was the leading goal scorer on a Division 1 hockey team that year but yet he was still practicing his stickhandling in his carpeted room each day because he wanted to keep getting better.
Getting better is not a lesson that can be learned, it is a process. It is a process that can take many years to unfold. You can’t just decide to improve and have it instantly happen. It takes time, a lot of effort and good planning. As a coach this means coming up with a progressive plan that fits your team, breaking this plan down as simply as possible and keeping your team motivated to follow that plan. As a player, this might mean doing extra laps at the end of every practice, practicing skills/drills at home every day and getting school work done well in advance of being due. And yes doing well in school and not waiting until the last minute to do work is and should always be part the plan to get better.
The ultimate goal of anything should be to improve every day; it should never be about winning. Teams are made up of individuals and if the individual gets better the team gets better. When getting better becomes the goal, winning and long-term success will become the by-product. So what it comes down to is not ‘how do I get better.’ The question that should be asked is ‘what did I do to get better today and every day in the future.’