Coach's Corner - Shiv Jagday (2009)

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Game Understanding

In Young Athletes

Coach Shiv Jagday
July August September October November December



I vividly remember playing mini hockey on the roof of my school back in 1957. I was 9 years old, a rather fat boy, matching skills with the players double or triple my age group.

I even remember my older teammates calling me Balbir, after the captain of the Indian hockey team which had won the Olympic hockey gold, an year earlier in Melbourne. This positive feedback was sweet and encouraging for the self image of a big fat boy, who was otherwise being called names by his classmates.

Looking back to my school days, I can see how mini hockey developed my game sense – specific positional play, situation awareness, possession skills under pressure and decision making ability.

During my 35-year career as coach of the junior and senior national team athletes in Canada, USA and India, more than 75 young athletes were developed into Olympians using these very mini hockey coaching methods and strategies.

The message is simple and crystal clear. Develop young athletes by engaging them in mini hockey games. It can be 1-on-1, 2-on-1, 3-on-3 or 5-on-5. This will result in the development of creative, intelligent, skilful and graceful hockey players, whom the spectators love to see play.


Mini hockey is a small version of the regular game - played with a smaller number of players on a smaller playing area. In other words, instead of playing 11 v 11 on the whole field, the game is broken down into small functional components of 2 vs. 1, 3 vs. 3, 4 vs. 3, 5 vs. 5, etc.

In Pictures 1 and 2 below, observe the young student athletes playing 3 vs. 3 mini hockey. Note how the team in yellow, and the opposing team, have formed triangles while playing the mini game.

Picture 1 Picture 2

A study on mini hockey was conducted at Loughborough University in England in the 1980s, resulting in the paper "Teaching Games for Understanding" by Thorpe and Bunker (1986).

The primary objective of this study was to explore the reasons why otherwise highly skillful players were not able to employ their skills effectively during the run of play. The research indicated that one factor for the above discrepancy was coaches training skillful players without developing their decision making ability for specific game situations. As a result, we end up with very skillful players, but poor decision makers, leading to unsatisfactory results on the field.

This is what mini hockey seeks to achieve - develop the basic technical skills, tactical skills, game sense and decision making abilities of the hockey player. These are core qualities that separate a brilliant hockey player from just a good or a great hockey player.


In mini hockey, the big picture (whole game) is transposed to a smaller picture (mini game), taking one functional area of the team at a time and developing it to perfection. For example, we can have a mini game between the right side triangle attack versus left side defence.

When mini hockey games are planned and played, it is important to clearly state the specific position, role and responsibility of each individual player, and how their individual role fits into the mini team's role and ultimately fits into the big picture.

This concept is elaborated through the use-case scenarios below:

Figure 1   Figure 5
Figure 1 (left) - All 11 players are in their respective positions on field

Figure 2 (below) - Shows how the right-in and left-in form triangles, combining with their respective wingers and centre-forward

  Figure 2  
Figure 3   Figure 4

Figure 3 (left) - Note the right-side, midfield and left-side triangle

Figure 4 (right) - Shows triangles that get formed when the 2 full backs combine with 3 half backs

Figure 5 (top right) - Lists the triangles (total of 11) formed by players in various positions.

The key to success is to co-relate these triangles, offensively and defensively, to a specific zone of the field, while playing mini hockey. Coaches must make this point crystal clear and provide specific feedback for the specific position.

That way, a player can relate to coaching instructions in terms of his position, role and responsibility in the mini team triangle, and be aware how this small picture correlates with the big picture on the playing field.


Decision Making and Game Sense

In mini hockey, players become more aware of their options in any given game situation, and make superior decisions - when to pass, where to pass, why to pass, how to pass, what to do after making a pass, where to lead, etc. Isn't this all what hockey is all about?

More Ball Touches

Mini hockey creates a environment where players get to make more touches on the ball, resulting in improved first touch, ball control, passing and receiving skills.

Improve Speed of Thought

In mini hockey, players have to perform under constant pressure. This improves their speed of thought, decision making and execution of the skills. Ability to read the play - both anticipation and reaction - also improves. These qualities are of paramount importance when playing at the highest level.

Awareness of Shifting Roles

In dynamic game situations, positions get interchanged and roles get shifted, both offensively and defensively. Mini hockey enables the player to learning strategies to cope with constantly shifting and changing roles, under pressure, in a fast paced game. Note that interchanging of roles is an advanced concept, and should be introduced gradually.

Positioning Within Zones

Mini hockey helps to co-relate between the specific role of the player vis-a-vis the specific zone of the field. I strongly feel that there are very few players, even at the highest level of our game, who understand in depth this concept of zone + position.

Tactical Game Development

Mini hockey helps in the tactical development of the game; e.g., where should a pass go, when it has come from a certain player/position, during a specific phase of the game, to maximize its effectiveness, keeping the goals and objectives in mind.


Mini hockey is an effective means to educate young hockey players; it enables them to read the game, and employ game-specific skills in the most effective way.

Rather than play mini hockey in isolation, the players must practice the skills in the context of the game situation. This empowers the players to make informed and effective game-time decisions, resulting in efficient and exciting game plays.

Mini hockey leads to a learning environment where the hockey can be intense, focussed, creative, and at the same time enjoyable.

I leave you with a quote from Paul Litjens of Holland - one of the all-time great hockey players of the 70s and 80s:

"Of course players are much faster and physically much fitter nowadays, but they are not so clever on the pitch. It's my opinion that the players do the same things at the same frantic speed and seem totally unaware as to where their team mates are …They all lose possession too often."