Scrimmage is the Study Hall of Hockey

Scrimmage is the Study Hall of Hockey
A little scrimmaging is OK. Too much is not OK. [Photo by Shellie Lewis]

I have grown to resent too much scrimmage in my hockey lessons. Sure, a short scrimmage at the end of a hockey class is an ideal time to apply what you learned that day in a low-stakes, game-type situation. But too much of a good thing quickly becomes a bad thing. I am a college professor, and giving my students some time to work in class to practice what they learned is helpful. Were I to make 90% of the class time “study time” each week, you can bet there would be complaints. Why? Because you don’t learn anything new in a scrimmage, just like you don’t learn anything new in study hall. And scrimmage is the study hall of hockey.

Don’t get me wrong — scrimmaging is fun. It is like playing hockey, but without penalties or keeping score. There’s no pressure. If you and your classmates have similar abilities, then it can be a good time to try out something that you wouldn’t do in a game, or move out of your comfort zone. Many times in a scrimmage, I will force myself to play center or wing, since I mainly play defense in league games.

At the same time, scrimmages are when most hockey coaches “punch out,” and either leave class early or play with their smart phones. Just like when your high school science teacher would pop a 30-minute video about the solar system into the VCR, then go outside to have a cigarette, a hockey coach usually chooses to not do much when the class is scrimmaging. No big deal if the scrimmage is the last 15 minutes of class, but definitely a problem if it goes much longer.

When doing drills in a class, you can hope to get some sort of feedback on what you are doing wrong and how you can get better. But that almost never happens during a scrimmage. Really, you’re just playing rat hockey, and the teacher does not pay much attention or give you advice on how to improve.

I recall one particular class a while back that was taught by a substitute instructor. After 10 minutes of drills, the rest of the hour was spent scrimmaging. The sub instructor promised detailed feedback on how what we were doing right and wrong but did not deliver any. At the end of class, I confronted him. I asked him what’s the point of paying around $20 for a hockey lesson spent almost entirely on scrimmaging if I could just pay $10 for drop-in rat hockey. The instructor gave some b.s. feedback about what I could be doing better and acted wholly justified in the 50-minute fake game, but I wasn’t convinced.

Most of the time, the last day of a hockey class is spent scrimmaging. That is the case in Hockey 101 and Hockey 102 at Johnny’s Ice House, the Intermediate Class in Skokie, and the I.N.T.L. Adult Hockey Clinic at Franklin Park. I guess that is supposed to be like the day before Christmas break in grammar school, when everyone goofs off and no real learning takes place. I suppose that is OK. But when more than half of a given hockey lesson — not the last one, per se — is spent on scrimmage, I think that is a waste of money. I am paying to learn from people who are better than me, and not to have a coach run a clock and play with his phone. What’s the point of a study hall if you haven’t learned anything new?


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Filed under: Advice, Hockey Lessons

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