Group Lessons or Individual Lessons?

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Recently, I have been in discussions with multiple people who are wondering if they should put their child in a group training session (such as a hockey camp or a hockey clinic) or if they should get individual lessons for their child during the off season. They have concerns regarding what their child will get out of each type of session, if there investment of money and time will be worth it and ultimately will their child become a better hockey player for the upcoming season. All are important concerns that every hockey parent faces at one point in their child's hockey career.

The great news is that each type of learning environment provides valuable opportunities for your child to grow and become a better hockey player. With the right expectations, you can't go wrong with any of them. The key is knowing the differences between a group learning environment and an individual learning environment. By knowing the key differences, you can ensure you set the right expectations and invest your time and money to meet the needs you and your child have.

Group verse Individual Instruction

Let's first look at a group learning environment. This type of learning environment is designed to teach players key topics or skills that apply generally to the group. Once demonstrated to the group, each player in the group then typically performs the skill themselves while also being able to watch their peers perform the skill. Watching their peers is a valuable way for a player to understand how they compare to their peer's skill level. When a player struggles, they work harder to not be the worst performer in the group and when a player can demonstrate a skill as well or better than others, their self-esteem rises. Here are several other key pros and cons of a group learning environment:

    PROS OF GROUP LEARNING
  • Immediate self-comparison with their peers (competitive players can push themselves to beat or outperform the player next to them)
  • less intimidation performing skills because not all eyes are on them
  • dedicated time to exercise typically with clear expectations of activities
  • fun practicing and playing with peers
    CONS OF GROUP LEARNING
  • Distractions can impact focus, reduce retention and impact instruction delivery
  • Unheard or unclear instruction may occur if the instructor is not speaking clearly or is speaking in a direction away from a player or at a distance too far away from a player
  • Potential long lines can occur in sessions where there are too many players resulting in moments of boredom
  • Scheduling is rigid and can be a challenge to align family or work activities around
    POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND
  • Your investment will include skill development but do not expect individualized attention
  • Don't be surprised if some of the more memorable moments your child remembers involves time with their peers rather than a specific skill learned
  • Players should continue to practice after the event to reinforce the skills learned
  • Just because a player attended an event does guarantee they will become a better hockey player
  • If your child has never played hockey before starting in a beginner's group session would be very beneficial
Now let's look at an individual learning environment. This type of learning environment is designed to teach specific skills that apply directly to the needs of the player. The player will be shown first how to perform a skill followed by a focused demonstration period by the player until the player can perform the skill or has a clear understanding of what they need to work on to improve. When a player struggles, the instructor is right there to correct any mistakes and to build their self-esteem through positive encouragement. Here are several other key pros and cons of an individual learning environment:

    PROS OF INDIVIDUAL LEARNING
  • Tailored instruction to address the needs specific to the player
  • Problem areas can be addressed immediately
  • Undivided attention is given to the player enabling more time to focus on each skill
  • Reinforce and supplement what may have been taught in a group setting
  • Scheduling is typically flexible and available across a wide range of dates
    CONS OF INDIVIDUAL LEARNING
  • Players are unable to learn from, compare themselves to or build relationships with their peers
  • Learning is more fluid and the number of sessions are not as defined, resulting in the need to clearly set expectations with the instructor before each session
  • Finding the right instructor for your child's needs may be challenging depending on your location
    POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND
  • Once you know your child likes hockey then this is the time to invest in an individual instructor
  • Per session duration should be limited to your child's ability to maintain focus on the instruction
  • Learning never ends. Be clear with the instructor regarding your child's needs and goals for each session to ensure your investment is yielding the right rewards.
  • Players should continue to practice after the event to reinforce the skills learned
Camps, Clinics and Individual Lessons

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HOCKEY CAMP
Hockey camps are fun! Like all types of summer "camps" the player will get an experience broader than just learning the activity the camp is intended for. Here players build friendships, get to experience a little independence and learn a lot of hockey from skilled instructors as well as from each other. The player will be involved in activities that go beyond just on-ice hockey skills or activities. Learning will occur on the ice, on dry land and in the classroom. Due to these events sometimes including housing and meals and/or lasting for a larger period of time per day, they tend to be the most expensive option for hockey training however in many cases the costs are outweighed by the friendships built, the fun that is had, the learning that is gained and the overall experiences the child gets.

HOCKEY CLINICS
Clinics are like camps however the players are typically not housed or fed during the event and the duration of the event is contained to shorter period of time each day. Players still get to interact and have fun with their peers in a group setting as well as learn a lot of hockey from skilled instructors. The player is usually driven in each day to the session and will leave following the completion of the session. The player will interact with other players and gain friendships however the time spent together is only during the event's duration. Because housing and eating are typically not included in these events, the costs incurred are usually lower than the cost of attending a camp.

INDIVIDUAL LESSONS
Individual lessons are the least expensive option per session however depending on the number of sessions the player attends the costs could become comparable to a clinic or camp. As outlined in the "Individual Learning" section above the key value of this type of instruction is the dedication of focus the instructor gives to the player and the ability for the player to repeat skill demonstration until they can perform it or are confident in their understanding. A player loses out on the social interaction with this type of session however the focus on developing their skills is greatly increased with the potential for retention and future demonstration in live play more likely.

Making Your Choice

Hopefully the information you have read above gives you a better sense of what to look for when choosing which type of training to get your child involved in. Just remember that getting them out there is the important part whether it is in a session with an instructor or out on the driveway playing street hockey. Providing the environment is the parent's role, learning and performing is the child's role.

Before I wrap up, I want to remind you that these learning environments are not the golden ticket to your child becoming the next star player of their team. Each type of instruction will greatly help your child however continued practice after the event is essential for the taught skills to be converted into ongoing demonstrable ability. Hockey is a game that requires a lot of practice and every player should practice the way they want to perform in a game. Try not to be frustrated if your child is the same player after the event than they were before the event. With repeated practice of what they learned, change will happen over time and you'll see your investment pay off dividends. We wish you the best with whatever choices you make and hope that your child continues to love and enjoy the game of hockey for the rest of their lives.