Running an effective practice is about being prepared and efficiently utilizing the full 60 minutes of ice time that most teams have allotted for practice. Practices should have age-appropriate drills, get players adequate puck touches, engage players, and create a fun environment. Additionally, players should not be standing around in long lines too much. Most amateur teams are typically allotted only an hour of ice time per practice. In many cases, they are also sharing the ice with another team, so not wasting time and being prepared is paramount.
Below we provide a list of tips we think coaches can incorporate into their planning and on-ice execution for more effective practices.
Planning and preparation - Coaches need to plan their practice in advance and communicate with their assistants about what stations and drills will be run so everyone is in sync and understands the plan. There is nothing worse than a coach scrambling at home, searching YouTube videos and online practice plans an hour before the practice. Proper planning prevents coaches from scrambling and trying to figure things out on the fly while on the ice, which burns up valuable ice time..
Be on time - Both coaches and players need to be on time and ready to go as soon as the Zamboni gets off the ice. There is nothing more distracting to practice than players trickling on the ice 3, 5, and 10 minutes after it has started.
Have a practice objective - What drills and skills (or systems for older players) are going to be worked on in the practice session? Are the skills and drills relevant to what your team needs to work on?
Review the practice plan - In a perfect world, share the practice plan with assistant coaches and the team 24 hours before the practice so you are transparent with your practice goals and get everyone on the same page. A review of the plan with your assistants 10-15 minutes before hitting the ice also is beneficial so everyone knows their assignments and is on the same page.
Name your drills - Naming your drills is a simple concept, but it becomes a valuable time saver over the season. By associating each drill with a name, players remember the drill better. Over time if a coach says OK, we are doing "Overspeed neutral zone dots" as an example, the players will know exactly what the drill is and where to line up. There isn't any wasted time drawing on whiteboards or having long-winded explanations. At the beginning of the year, you may have to take the time to explain the drills a few times; however, as the season progresses, this is a huge time saver.
Off-ice stretching and warm-ups - Again, with limited on-ice time, there is no sense in using the on-ice time to warm up or stretch. Have players do this off-ice.
Learn from other coaches - No one has cornered the market on good hockey ideas. Get suggestions from your assistants, and also talk to and observe other coaches to see what drills they find effective.
Use resources on the web - There are plenty of great resources on the web to provide coaches with fresh ideas for practice plans and drills. My favorite that comes to mind is Ice Hockey Systems (IHS). Weiss Tech Hockey Drills and Skills, USA Hockey, and HockeyShare also provide some nice drill and practice planning resources.
Make practices challenging & engaging - There is nothing worse for young players than doing the same exact drills practice after practice after practice. "OK, guys, everyone line up on the goal line for skating and edgework." While repetition and skill development are vital, coaches can teach those same principles in a wide variety of drills to keep things fresh and engaging.
Use stations: Stations keep players active, allowing them to achieve high levels of repetitions but also increasing skill variety as they move from station to station. Additionally, smaller groups at stations allow for less wait time and big lines. Have players spend 5-8 minutes per station before switching ... 3 or 4 stations are optimal. Each station requires a coach to instruct and supervise.
Small area games: Players of all ages love to play and compete. Small-area games are a great way to let players apply their newly acquired skills and concepts and incorporate them into a game setting. The small-area games also help players work on decision-making and increase their "HockeyIQ."
Up the tempo/reduce the lines - Players, especially younger ones, do not have the best attention span. Keep practices up-tempo by reducing the size of the drill lines. Players will get more reps, be more focused, and not get distracted.
Have fun & enjoy the ride - Don't be a stick-in-the-mud kind of coach, be animated, be engaged, have fun, and enjoy being on the ice with the players.
Teach: Players that understand why they are doing a drill and how it may benefit them in a game situation tend to have a higher level of engagement.
Seek Feedback: As a coach, seeking feedback from coaches and players is important. Their feedback can help you tailor practices that fit their skill development needs better.
Be fun but be firm: While it is good to have fun, you also have to be firm with players. If a player is fooling around, distracting others, or not working hard, you need to speak with them. It can be done in a professional way, but distractions to the practice or lack of work ethic need to be addressed.
We hope some of these ideas help improve your practices.
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