I always try to remind players when practicing to play at game speed. Practice is where players build their foundation and work habits, hence If a player plays slow in practice they are probably going to play slow in a game. A player that goes through the motions and doesn't give 100% in practice probably isn't going to give 100% in a game either. Conversely, the player that plays fast and works hard in practice is probably going to replicate that effort in games.
For some players the instinct to go hard all the time is inborn, they don't think about it they just go 100% all the time whether it be a game, practice, or skills session. Those players that give that level of intensity consistently are definitely in the minority. However, for those that don't fit that mold, we owe it to them as parents and coaches to continually remind them (in a non-overbearing way) to bring effort and intensity to their practice time.
Additionally, those players that focus and work hard in practice are the players that will improve the most over time. In fact, there is an old saying in the sports world, that states "Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn't Work Hard." That work-hard mentality starts in practice and starts with each and every drill, and each and every rep. Players should try to make each rep count, whether it's edge work, passing, puck handling, or shooting.
Perfecting their craft takes attention to detail and concentration. Now we are not saying kids should be robotic and not have fun or put unnecessary pressure on themselves, however when it's their turn to go in a drill they should be focused on the task at hand and try to get the most out of each rep. This is especially true for players as they hit the PeeWee, Bantam, Midget, and beyond years of play.
We often hear the term practice makes perfect, and while that is true to some degree ... PRACTICE ALSO MAKES PERMANENT. What we mean by that statement is if a player's technique is off, or they're not executing certain skills the proper way then all they're doing is practicing the "wrong way" over and over. Practicing the wrong way over a long period of time only cements bad habits (making them permanent), hence why it is important to lock in on your coach's instructions and do things the right way!
Two final thoughts I'll leave you with ... as a player don't be afraid to fail and challenge yourself in practice. All too often players are afraid to try something and fail. Most often players don't
want to look bad in front of their peers, so instead, they cut a corner or take the safe way out in a drill. However, much like in life, taking the easy path or the shortcut may seem good at the time but it only robs the player of his or her true potential.
Finally, as a coach preach to your player to work on their weaknesses and not to constantly just reinforce their strengths. If your player has trouble stopping on one side versus another make sure to tell them each practice to work on their weak side. If your player can't execute a solid backhand pass, tell them to make sure they work that into their practice time as well. If your player has a short, choppy stride, remind them before each practice to concentrate on getting full extension off their push leg.
In the long run, players should use practice to improve and expand their game by doing the following; making each rep count, working on their weaknesses, and playing at game speed.
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