When teaching basic stickhandling, I find many players, young and old, display common shortfalls in their approach. In this blog post I am going to identify these issues and explain how to correct them. Equipped with this knowledge every player should be able to improve their stickhandling and every coach should be able to identify these faults and correct them.
Mistake #1 – Not rolling your wrists. In order to be an effective stickhandler, you have to roll your wrists and work the muscles in your forearm. This wrist roll create the ‘cupping’ of the blade around the puck, making it easier to control. Most players have a tendency to practice stickhandling in a robot-like fashion where they are ‘chopping’ down on the puck. When this is the case there is no wrist movement involved. To correct this make sure the top hand of the stick is the one primarily responsible for rolling the wrist, while the bottom hand is primarily moving the stick around the body.
Mistake #2 – Keeping your top hand affixed to your hip. There are some coaches and trainers out there that advocate keeping your top hand on your hip. I believe you are a more effective stickhandler if you keep your stick out in front of your body and the top hand out in front of your hip. You should begin the progression through your stickhandling skills with the puck close to the midline of your body. If the puck is in front of you and out away from your body then it will be easier to move the puck around your body with more advanced maneuvers in the stickhandling progression.
Mistake #3 – Not moving your bottom hand when going wide. This one is painful. A lot of players as they move through their stickhandling progressions will begin to execute moves with good fakes. However, when they take the puck wide on their opponent, they will often leave their bottom hand mid-way down the shaft. This prevents them from moving the puck farther outside of their body and more importantly away from the defender. Too many times I have seen young players set up a move, execute it correctly, then get the puck taken away because they are not properly going wide. Remember, whether going wide on your forehand or backhand you should have two hands on your stick and your bottom should slide up the stick until it reaches your top hand. This ensures maximum amount of reach and allows for easier elusion from your opponent.
Mistake #4 – Not keeping your head/eyes up. From the start of teaching or learning stickhandling, it should be a point to practice with your head/eyes up. I use both interchangeably as most coaches do. I don’t want to be confusing and have people take me literally when I say keep your head up. What this simply means is that your eyes should be in a position where you are able to scan the ice and use peripheral vision to see the puck. With enough practice, most players can get to a point where they simply rely on the feel of the puck on their stick and rarely need to visualize it. With the inclusion of body checking in the sport, it is imperative that all players learn to handle the puck with their head/eyes up.
Mistake #5 – Going wide slowly. Riding the coattails of mistake #3, a player can move his bottom hand up the stick while going wide, but does it in a slow and inefficient manner. In a game situation this would lead to the player getting too close to the opponent and losing the puck. When going wide from the front of side of your body, it needs to be quick and efficient. This allows for less time for the opponent to react by using a poke check or stick check. From a progression standpoint work on getting the bottom hand up the shaft, then progress to making the movement wide an explosive and quick one.
Properly correcting the mistakes listed above with not only help your puck handling skills, but will also help you in becoming a well rounded and elite hockey player.