Confidence is built on successes, big and small. Scoring a goal, posting a shutout, or even just completing a few simple passes can help a player’s confidence.
“You can tell a player is confident on the rink by their want for the puck and their willingness to try to make plays throughout the game,” Minnesota Hockey coach-in-chief Christian Koelling said.
On the flip side, a couple of bad games, turning the puck over for a goal, or missing a golden scoring chance can start to chip away at confidence. But in the right youth sports environment, it doesn’t have to. Hockey is a hard game to learn and kids are going to make mistakes.
We should let them.
“It is important for coaches to encourage players to create on the rink, or make a play, rather than focusing on not making a mistake,” Koelling said. “It should be a constant message from the coach.”
Coaches and parents should avoid pointing out every mistake made by their kids. It usually makes things worse.
“Players know when they screw up, and if they don't realize it, better yet,” Koelling said. “If a player loses a puck trying to beat a player, focus on how to better protect the puck or read the situation, not avoiding the situation all together by dumping the puck.”
Developing skills and having fun should be the top priority for youth hockey players – and that happens in age-appropriate practices loaded with puck touches, passing, shooting, creativity, competing and chaos in small-area games.
The kids are always engaged and having a blast, without fear of failure, but learning from failure and building skills and hockey sense.
“Kids that are confident definitely enjoy the game more and have fun coming to the rink,” Koelling said. “I’ve also found that possessing confidence and having fun produces better hockey players, not the other way around.”
Eden Prairie native and 2017 Mr. Hockey finalist Nicky Leivermann has seen firsthand the impact confidence can have on performance. The future member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish shares his confidence tips for young hockey players.
Hockey is the ultimate team sport. Each player can have an effect on another’s confidence level. Showing encouragement, picking others up when they’re down and having a positive attitude goes a long way for the entire group.
“You’re brothers. That helps a lot,” Leivermann said. “And it’s not just on-ice stuff, it’s off-ice, too. When you’re making buddies and hanging out with kids, just kind of getting to know them really well, it makes it a lot easier when you’re at the rink and on the ice with them.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Feel like you’re slumping? Make the most of practice. Put in some extra time stickhandling and shooting off the ice if you can. Get outside for some unstructured pond hockey with friends.
“One of the things we say is practice makes permanent, so going out on the ice every day and trying to get better for the games and trying to make plays as much as you can for that confidence aspect so you can do it in the game at 7 o’clock,” Leivermann said.
Supportive parents help – a lot.
“My parents will talk to me after every game,” Leivermann said. “My parents have always been supportive no matter what, when I’m playing poorly and when I’m playing well. That makes it a lot easier on me to not think about that too much.”
Leivermann has made his fair share of mistakes on the ice. That’s how he’s been able to grow and develop. When he feels like he’s losing control, he’ll focus back to fundamentals and find his groove again.
“I think the one thing that people can do to regain confidence is just kind of simplify their game,” he said. “Myself, I’m the type of player that likes to try and make plays and be a little bit too fancy you could say. So if I ever got in trouble with it, I just try get a simple pass and get it out of the zone, take easy shots, and relax a bit.”