I always try to remind players when practicing to play at game speed. Practice is where players build their foundation and work habits. If a player plays slow in practice they are probably going to play slow in a game. If a player doesn't give 100% in practice they probably are not going to give 100% in a game. Conversely, the player that plays fast and works hard in practice is likely going to replicate that 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 are definitely in the minority. However, for those that don't fit that mold we owe it to them as parents and coaches to remind them (in a non-overbearing way) to bring the effort and intensity to their practice time.
The 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 hockey 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. 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 to the and not have fun with their teammates or putting 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.
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 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 those bad habits (making them permanent), hence why it is important to lock in on your coaches instructions and do things the right way!
Two final thoughts I'll leave you with ... don't be afraid to fail and challenge your player. 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, preach to your player work on their weaknesses and not constantly just reinforce their strengths. If your player has trouble stopping on one side versus another, tell them each practice to make sure they are working on their weak side as well. 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.