Developing A Unified Program

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Creating a Unified Floorball event in Winter 2017 taught me a lot about the game. It’s catching on, and hopefully, serve as a call to action to drive more Unified Floorball events to emerge across the country.

You may have heard of Special Olympics, but it’s likely you may not have heard of Unified Sports.  Special Olympics Unified Sports.  Based on statistics from Special Olympics over 1.2 million people worldwide participate in Unified Sports.  The other question you might be asking is, what is Unified Sports?  The Unified Sports program is focused on breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities by using the power of sports.  The program pairs people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to compete in sports.  Teams are comprised of people of similar age and ability.

I recently had an opportunity to see the Unified Sports program in action.  I was invited to the Special Olympics of Washington Winter Games 2017, located in Wenatchee, WA.  The main reason I was invited was to demo floorball as a new option for Unified Sports.  When I arrived at the winter games the event was already in full swing.  Inside the gym there were athletes all over the place, and there was a noticeable excitement in the air.  The main sport being played in the gym was basketball.  What stood out to me was despite the competitive drive of the athletes there were smiles all around.  The first part of the morning had Special Olympics basketball teams playing, which later transitioned to Unified Sports athletes competing. In between those two divisions of teams was the first ever Unified Floorball event.

I was fortunate to have a friend come with me for the event, and while we began setting up we started to attract interest from the athletes. Ultimately we ran a few short scrimmages for various athletes.  We didn’t have a lot of time for the demo so we did a quick introductory session covering basic rules, got the right sticks in their hands and off we went.  As the scrimmages carried on we started to attract quite the crowd.  In the end, we saw goals, lots of smiles, and hopefully the beginning of Unified floorball in Washington State.

The event exceeded my expectations and helped open the door for continued growth of floorball throughout the state and hopefully the country.  With floorball gaining more attention on the worldwide stage through the Special Olympics World Games I’m hopeful that more athletes will be more included in sports through schools.

Focus On The Basics

Like all new experiences teaching Floorball to beginners takes time and patience.

If your players are complete beginners, it’s important to not worry too much about their overall play.  I can guarantee it won’t be great, but you might have some players who catch on quicker than others.  One of the best things to do when starting out is to get everyone sized properly with a stick and a ball.  The first skill to start on is helping them get comfortable working on their stickhandling.  Because floorball equipment is lighter it may take a little getting used to in the beginning.  It’s not uncommon for players to have difficulty controlling the ball in the beginning.  Make sure to continue to encourage them and remind them to have a soft touch.  As you begin to progress into movement with the ball continue to challenge them along the way.

Depending on the amount of time you have for instruction you can start right away scrimmaging. Players will likely be excited to get playing so it’s important to keep things basic in the beginning.  For beginners, the most important rules to cover include stick heights, stick contact, and fouls.  In a matter of minutes, you can start scrimmaging.  When I’ve used this format I’m normally coaching as the scrimmage happens.  When sticks go above the waist or a foul happens I stop play and use that as a teachable moment.   Eventually as the players progress you can continue to add more specific rules to of the game, as well as introduce more skills to challenge your players.

When players have a basic understanding of the rules and overall game play they will be able to more increase their overall knowledge of the sport.  The more they know and understand the better the overall gameplay will be.  These things will help improve players’ enjoyment of the sport.  When looking to grow the sport of floorball the initial focus should be on safety and fun.  The other aspects of the game will come, but it’s completely understandable that it will take time.  You’ll be surprised at how much fun it is to teach others, and in the end, you’re passing on a passion for the sport.

Creating A Training Regime

Floorball does have its separation of good players from the best. Don’t kid yourself, or your athletes that you coach.

So many people want to be the best, but so few actually make it.

Are they simply just better?  In many ways yes, but not necessarily in physically.  For many that succeed the effort put into getting there far outweighs the physical attributes.  Simply put you have to want it more than the person next to you.  In sports just about all coaches talk about this aspect, and in floorball it’s no different.  You have to work for the things you want regardless of the obstacles laid out in front of you.  While performing on game day is important you can’t possibly expect to succeed in the long term if you don’t put in the work off the court.  Studies say it takes 10,000 hours of doing something over and over again to master it.  That’s a lot of time by yourself on a hot day working on dribbling a ball.  However, to be the best you have to be a master at your craft.  Not just one aspect, but ultimately every facet of your game.

For youth players this is a difficult concept to develop.  The work is hard, tedious, frustrating, and at times it will feel like you’re not progressing.  Stick with it.  Preparation is just as much of a mental game as anything else. When you think you can do that last pushup get out of your head.  You’re more capable than you realize.  If you can’t push through the mental aspect off the court you’ll have a tough time getting past it when things are down on the court.  Think of the best players in any sport, and think of a time when they rose above the rest.  It wasn’t magic, but skill and willpower.

While drills and preparation are essential to learn and progress as a player don’t forget the fun.  If you’re never having fun when you train you’ll ultimately grow to despise what you’re doing.  When you think about it sport are a game, and in the essence of the game it is supposed to be fun.  You should be pushing yourself to be creative in how you train.  You don’t hear it enough, but be goofy.  Sometimes a little levity in the right situation can be valuable for your sanity and for your long term development.

Some of my best memories playing sports don’t fall around how tough a practice was, or how often I get out to train; but in the joy of playing for myself and for my team.  Those are the things that mean the most to me.  I hope that all players take this in.

Navigating Instructional Waters

I’ve been involved with a variety of sports as a coach and I’ve been fortunate to have had opportunities to instruct floorball to a variety of people.

During the past winter, I was afforded an opportunity to bring floorball to my city through working as an instructor through the City of Lacey Parks and Rec.  I had been throwing the idea around for some time about developing a floorball curriculum to teach youth players, and when the opportunity came I jumped on it.  Thankfully at the time my job was flexible enough that I could make it work.  Floorball had never been done before so I was interested in what sort of turnout I would see.  The initial offering for the class was broken into four age groups that ran from 45min to 1 hour.  All told by the time the class started I had 23 kids, boys and girls, signed up to learn floorball.

If you’ve ever been an instructor you know that teaching anything sport related over nine weeks is tough.  I was thankful enough to have had enough experience coaching and teaching youth sports to help.  Essentially in using a curriculum and my previous experience I broke down the program by focusing on a certain skill each week.  Since I was dealing with true beginners I spent time each week focused on stick-handling exercises coupled with drills, and ending with scrimmages.

What I found through this class is that if anything the kids were always excited to come to class.  As younger kids are they were a bit difficult to get focused, but they were eager to learn.  Initially I spent time simply showing them how to properly hold the stick in order to be successful.  As the weeks went on it became apparent that floorball was having a positive effect on the children.  Skills and concepts they struggled with initially they were slowly starting to grasp over time.  As any instructor, teacher, or coach seeing your kids learn and grow is what it’s all about.

I’m thankful for any opportunity to instruct and even more so when someone learns something from the time they spent with me.  Having parents open up to me about the changes they see in their children and the impact floorball has on their life make it all worthwhile.  What this nine week class has done for me is help to focus my own goals for floorball in my city.  One of my new goals is to start a youth and adult floorball league.  There’s a lot more work that will go into making that a reality, but I intend to make that a reality.

Goalie Training 101

The Floorball Goalie can be one of the key areas where you can train ultimate athletic defensive play. But only if you get those who want to serve as goalies.

Remember, your athletes will want to focus on offense skills for Floorball. Getting young athletes to become goalies is the challenge as a coach you’ll have to make.

At the youth levels in many sports one position that tends to be forgotten is the goalie.

On a team full of field players most teams have only two goalies.

With practice time a premium for focusing on offensive, defensive, and tactical play training the goalie can get lost in the shuffle.  Sometimes coaches don’t know how to teach goalie play, or don’t see the same value in goalie training as the rest of the team.  Sometimes it’s all of the above.  The goalie is a crucial aspect of the sport and it’s important to ensure that time is spent helping train and build goalie skill from a young age.

For coaches just starting out there are a number of simple skills to start on to create the base.   As the goalie develops the training can evolve into newer skills and challenges.  For new goalies the first thing is making sure the feel comfortable moving while wearing the equipment.  It’s important to make sure that goalies spend time warming up and stretching focusing on the hips, hamstrings, and back.  For a basic warm up goalies should be comfortable sliding side to side on their knees covering post to post.  The next progression for a warm up can be hand eye coordination with a player lightly shooting at the goalies hands allowing them to catch the ball.  From there the progression can move to covering post to post while taking shots and so on.

There are a number of things to think about and in many cases this sort of training can be done while the rest of the team warms up.  As the team progresses through training it’s important for coaches to remember to use the same opportunities to instruct the goalie.  Whenever possible encourage goalies to be working on mobility front and back and side to side off the court as well.  Along with these skills consistent training focused on body position in relation to the ball and the goal will also be important.

It’s important for coaches to find the time to help develop goalie.  It will ultimately help them as they get older, and like many sports a solid goalie helps build confidence throughout the rest of the team.  At the same time make sure that there is an emphasis on safety especially in regards to time when a goalie is in a position where they could get hurt.  Encourage all players to avoid contact with the goalie as much as possible.  Even though they wear protective equipment it’s not the same as hockey goalie equipment.  Either way encourage and challenge young goalies to improve and increase their abilities.   Whenever possible get create and think outside the box, and don’t be afraid to look to other sports for training techniques as well.  There’s lots of information out there on the topic to help you out.

PE Floorball Programs

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Floorball can attack the epidemic of childhood obesity head-on. Mainly because its participation levels are so high.

It’s no surprise that there is a crisis in American specifically related to obesity in adults, but also in children.  A simple google search on the topic will bring up around 43 million hits talking about this subject.  Many people are talking about this issue on TV and online and there are countless articles talking about how to better yourself and get on the right track.  However, when talking about children and obesity I think physical activity plays a crucial role in helping curb, or at least help lower obesity within children.  It’s not a secret that more and more of us have become sedentary, and sadly that has slowly trickled into our education systems.  With dwindling resources for extracurricular activities and more emphasis on standardized tests physical education programs are slowly being reduced.

I believe that floorball can be a valuable tool for schools and physical education departments.  Floorball is a sport that truly is a sport for all regardless of age or ability.  When looking at the diverse environment that many school provide it becomes a challenge for physical education teachers to ensure that they’re providing activities that are all-inclusive.  Floorball fits the bill in being an all-inclusive sport that will help develop hand eye coordination, communication skills, and fair play.  Another fundamental skill learned through floorball is control of a players’ body, and control of their stick at all times.   Because the sticks are shorter and lighter than hockey sticks players have more control of what they’re doing, especially at younger ages.  Per the rules players’ sticks must stay below their waist, and they may only touch the ball using their stick if it’s below the knee.  These rules force children to be constantly aware of so many different aspects around them, which are very important skills to learn

For many physical education departments introducing a new sport or lesson can be a challenge due to limited funds and ensuring the new sport meets specific standards.  Due to the inclusive nature of floorball and the various skills learned through the sport these challenges can be minimized.  There are a number of grants out there focused on sport development and helping to teach children to live healthier lives through nutrition and exercise.  Depending on where you look some floorball companies have even begun to address these issues in an effort to help.  Generation Floorball is one of those companies.  The partnered with the NHL’s New York Islanders to develop a floorball program for elementary schools in Brooklyn addressing these issues.  While not every school has an NHL partner available to them they certainly can get creative in finding partnerships or grants to build floorball into their physical education programs.

Anywhere, Anytime Sport

Floorball has spawned some interesting variations aside from the traditional game.

What you might not know is that floorball is equally suited for a number of locations and climates.  With some tweaks to the rules you can play floorball anywhere and at any time.  If you want to play floorball in the water you can.  In fact it’s being done already in Europe.  Basically they set up a rink with noodles and play in knee high water.

However, the two versions that have stuck out to me as being a bit more interesting include beach and swamp floorball.  You heard that correctly.  Much like sand soccer floorball’s counterpart beach floorball is fairly popular.  In beach floorball there are no goalies and they use smaller goals.  The rink is effectively cut in half with players playing in bare feet.  There are no penalties but if the ball leaves the field a free hit is awarded.

Unlike sand floorball swamp floorball is played in the muck and in many cases uses hay bales to line the rink.  The size of the rink is around 25×15 meters, but unlike sand floorball the goals are bigger at around 2 x 4 meters.  In swamp floorball there are three players and a goalie.

In either manner the focus for the variation on floorball is about having fun.  I’m not sure what sounds fun about playing floorball in a swamp, but to each his own.  While the biggest concern I have about sand volleyball is sand in the face I love when people think outside of the box.  While there’s always a competitive spirit behind sports when you can change the atmosphere from the norm it can almost level the playing field.  While both sports tend to stick to Northern Europe I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some of these pop up across the US as the floorball gains popularity.  I could easily see a sand tournament played in California attracting a decent crowd on the beach.  Speaking of sand, sun, and floorball that sounds pretty good to me.

Board Tactic Techniques

You can play Floorball without the boards. But it won’t be as much fun.

Part of what makes floorball fun are the boards. While they’re not required to play recreationally, they do help when learning to play the sport as intended.  In many cases there are a boards can be substituted by using walls, tables, fences, and almost anything to be creative.  I’ve been working with some fire fighters and we’re looking into using old fire hose to create a rink.  At Saint Martin’s University we use our two partitions to create a rink.  While it’s not perfect it certainly does the job.

I’ve found that for most the boards are an undervalued aspect of the game.  Aside from helping to contain the ball the boards can be an effective tool throughout the game.  When using the boards on offense it takes a little bit of knowledge to understand of angles.  The angle at which the ball hits the board will equally reflect the angle it leaves the boards.  Being able to accurately use angles during your play can help your gain an advantage.

As a game progresses players become more accustomed to their opponents’ style of play and can begin to key in on how a player moves.  It’s important to keep your opponent guessing by changing up how you move the ball and progress through the field of play becomes key.  If a defender is directing the opponent towards the boards the offensive player can play the ball off of the boards and run around the defender.  Another scenario might include needing to use the boards in order to complete a pass to your teammate.

Use of the boards can become helpful on the defensive side as well.  A lot of times players will use the board as an added defender closing down space and making it difficult to get past.  If played correctly these techniques can disrupt the offense, or create turnovers and counterattacking options.  However, a word of caution to using boards.  While the boards can be helpful they can also create turnovers with the ball going out of bounds, or if the angle isn’t correct can put the ball in a dangerous position.

However you choose to use the boards in your playing style it takes time and practice to become accustomed to how the ball plays off of the boards.  It will also take communication between teammates in order to effectively add the boards as part of your overall strategy.  Simply put, when done well the boards can be an effective tool for players on the court.

Equipment Trends On The Market

Floorball equipment has evolved over time as companies have refined the manufacturing process.

It is important to know what you are purchasing, in order to ensure the best quality for your athletes or recreation program.

In recent years, there have been notable advancements in stick and blade construction using strong and more durable materials.  When looking at a floorball stick it is an engineering feet when you consider the forces placed on the shaft and blade.  The lightest stick in 2016 weighs in at a mere 177 grams through Fat Pipe Raw Concept 27.  As the sport and equipment evolved more has become available to the consumer.

If we look at sticks there are a number of variations to choose from introductory to professional.  On the retail market recreational players have the opportunities to play with the same sticks as the top players in the world.  Sticks also tend to change in color or layouts yearly in an attempt to meet market trends.  This gives more options for the consumer to choose their preferences in both color and functionality.  Currently there seems to be a few things happening with floorball brands.  On one hand most companies are pushing neon colored sticks on the market this year in some fashion.  This trend would fall in line with what’s happening in other sports like soccer where neon colors adorn jerseys, and shoes.  If a neon pink shaft and blade is your preference of color you can find that.  On the opposite side of the spectrum some companies are opting for a simplistic approach.  In this manner colors are basic all white sticks and blades, or all black.  One thing to take note is that blades and shafts are not necessarily compatible between brands, so beware that your Exel Blade may not fit a Salming shaft.

For the consumer there are a number of options available related to equipment from sticks, blades, grips, and accessories.  In the US there is a minimal amount of companies selling equipment, so depending on what you’re looking for you’ll be forced to go overseas. As the market continues to grow in the US more and more emphasis will naturally be focused to meet the demand.  In many cases with equipment it’s a matter of preferences for the consumer and as a whole there are a number of options available in the market.  The US is a primarily untapped market in the sport and as it catches on, and it will, more and more products will begin to flood the market.  As a result it is likely it will also influence in many ways how equipment and apparel is made and marketed in relation to the US and Europe.

Floorball in the World Games

If you didn’t know, Floorball was showcased at the World Games for the firs time since 1997.  If you haven’t heard of the World Games you’re not alone.  The World Games are more or less the younger brother to the Olympics.  In many ways it is the stepping stone to the Olympics.  There were only six teams that qualified for Floorball.  Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, and USA.  Four of the teams qualified for the World Games based on their ranking in the World Floorball Championships with Poland securing their place as the host country.  The USA qualified as the top non-European team, just edging out Canada.

The USA team, comprised of US players based around Europe and playing in various leagues there had a difficult task for the World Games.  In the group stage they were paired with Swizterland, and Sweden (top 4 teams in the world).  The first match against the Swiss ended 17-0, and 20-0 against Sweden.  To many this would look shocking.  While it’s not an ideal score we have to take into account that Floorball has been a staple in Nordic countries for a long time.  In this part of the world Floorball has various tiers of development and competition from youth recreational leagues, up to the National Teams.  In comparison to sports in the US, it could be compared to the farm systems of Minor League teams in hockey and baseball.  Taking that into account it was not necessarily too surprising of an outcome however unfortunate.

As the tournament progressed the US played their third match against Poland for 5th place in the World Games. From the beginning of the match it was apparent that the US team came to play.  They a had a distinct energy to their game that made a huge difference.  At the same time the US was a better match in skill with the Poland team.  That doesn’t take anything away from those two teams, but shows how far the other four teams are in terms of skill and development.  If you watch the games, which can be found in replay on YouTube it will be apparent at the difference in skill level.  However, this final match for the USA was a good one to showcase the skill the US can provide.  The USA were able to outlast the Polish team with a solid performance on both sides of the ball ending in USA 4 to Poland 1.

With the World Games coming to a close it’s important to start looking towards the 2021 World Games, which will be hosted by the USA in Alabama.  Given the success of the this years games it’s likely the USA will get a first hand look at the best in the Floorball world.  We need to grow the sport at all levels targeting youth programs, adult leagues and mostly just get people playing.  As a country we have a long way to go in building this sport back home, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see Floorball grow in popularity.

I challenge all of my readers to seriously consider adding Floorball in  your community.  It’s a great inclusive sport that gets people active and moving, and in terms of cost it’s a very affordable sport.  Get involved and get playing. If you need help contact me for more info at david@floorballguru.com