A typical practice should include work on skill development, team play, and conditioning. For younger players (under 10 years old), the team should focus more on the basic skills of skating, passing, shooting, and puck control, with less emphasis on team systems. Older players still work on fundamentals but should spend more time on game situations and team play than younger players do. Practices can include the following:
- Individual skills and techniques
- Offensive play
- Defensive play
- Special teams (power play, penalty killing, face-offs)
- Having fun
Here is an example of the sequence of activities in a typical practice. A variety of drills for each skill can be performed. And, as mentioned before, depending on the amount of time you have and the age group you’re coaching, you may not be able to cover everything in a single practice. But remember, each practice should include stretching and one individual and team warm-up drill at the start, and a fun drill or game toward the end. And always make time for your players to cool down.
- Dressing room dynamic stretching and instruction
- Individual warm-up - skating, passing, puck control, and dynamic stretching
- Team warm-up - full ice with shooting
- Positional skills - forwards, defensemen, goalies
- Fun - conditioning relay
- Cool-down - including a group discussion with the coach and static stretching
Designing and Using Effective Drills
Developing and implementing appropriate drills are the keys to effective practices. And because drills are the primary tool a coach has to help players practice and perfect important skills techniques, good drills are paramount. To help athletes improve their individual skills and team play, select the most effective drills and place them in the proper order within the practice plan. Your ability to do this will determine the team’s level of success. Following is a common and effective teaching progression to help you choose and then implement drills into your practices. There are drills in this book that address each of the skills and strategies listed. Pick drills that focus on each of the following areas in the order provided. Drills focusing on basic skills and fundamentals should be at the beginning of practice because they are most important. Then progress toward more advanced drills, as illustrated. As previously mentioned, younger players who are just starting out should focus almost entirely on the basics, such as skating, puck control, passing, and shooting. For older, more advanced players, you can incorporate drills that develop offensive and defensive zone play and power play and penalty-killing strategies.
- Puck control
- Passing and receiving
- Offensive zone play
- Defensive zone play
- Power play
- Penalty killing
Clearly explain or demonstrate the drill you are using to work on a skill. You can demonstrate or give instruction on how to perform drills during the practice before each drill and during skill practice. Some coaches prefer to explain drills before practice begins, especially with older athletes. Keep instructions brief to maximize ice time and activity during practice. To communicate effectively, remember the KISS principle: Keep it simple and specific. After you demonstrate the skill, the athletes should practice it immediately. Athletes can practice the skill alone, in pairs, or in groups, depending on the drill.
Also remember that athletes need to know how they are doing in their efforts to learn skills. Provide specific feedback during and after the practice of a skill. As the athletes practice the skill, you and coaching assistants should circulate among the athletes, giving feedback and correction. Group corrections can be given on common errors. In most cases, feedback should be positive, emphasizing correct movements and helping athletes correct or refine incorrect movements. Athletes learn more quickly in a positive environment.
The drills used for practicing the skills should be challenging and as gamelike as possible. If your team includes players with a large difference in skill levels, you may want to match players of similar skill levels in practice. If the difference in skill level is small, this type of matching is not necessary.