Mastering the Use of Drills for Your Practices

A Hockey Coaching Tool from Greg Siller of Pro Learning Systems


Drills should be designed to teach and reinforce the individual skills, positional tactics, and team strategies that your team needs to employ; based on your Season Practice Plan as well as your recent competition. They should enable the development and improvement of your team’s potential for consistently playing their best in a competitive environment--my definition of a great hockey practice. Drills should also allow players the opportunity to succeed and fail in a safe environment; which is truly the foundation of winning.

Demonstration of the various drills by the players allows coaches to observe whether the players understand the skills, tactics, and strategies being taught to them and whether the players appear ready to employ those concepts in future practices and games.

As a coach, you may be asking yourself, “What drills should I use in our teams’ practices”? An easy answer is the right ones. The right ones are drills that enable you to effectively execute your practice plan and teach your players appropriate skills, tactics, and strategies. If you are not sure what needs to be taught to your players, go back to the hockey basics. Teach them the Individual Skills, Positional Tactics, and Team Strategies as well as make sure that you teach them those attributes at the appropriate time during the season.


Types of Drills

In terms of presentation, there are three types of drills that can be used by coaches. While similar, all three need to be introduced differently. The three types are;

1.      Existing drills

2.      Customizing drills, and

3.      New drills

Existing Drills – If you are new to hockey or coaching in general, using existing drills (drills that have been created and perfected previously) is a great way to get started. Since the sport of hockey has been around for a long time, coaches have already developed thousands of drills to use in practices; at all levels of play—from beginner to pro. These drills can be found in books, online as part of hockey or coaching websites, in software packages, by talking with experienced coaches, and as part of hockey leagues and sanctioning organizations such as USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. As an existing coach, you may already have a set of existing drills that you have successfully used in the past.

Customized Drills - If you have some hockey, coaching, or teaching experience, it can be more effective to use customized drills to get the most out of your practices. Customized drills allow you to tailor the hockey learning around an existing drill for your specific needs. Use your knowledge and creativity to modify existing drills to ensure that your players are challenged, having fun, learning, and applying both individual and team concepts in a variety of ways.

For example, if you begin using an existing ice hockey breakout drill (using 5 skaters), you can customize that drill to be effective for roller hockey (using 4 skaters). In this way, you are using the foundation of the existing ice hockey drill and modifying it for your specific needs in roller hockey. This was done just the opposite way (by customizing roller hockey drills for ice hockey) by some NHL coaches to get their players ready to play 4-on-4 hockey in the overtime period. Another example could be starting with a stickhandling drill that is executed on the full playing surface. By customizing the full-rink drill, you could create a half-rink drill that utilizes half of the playing surface. This can enable your team to get through the drill (if you utilize the same drill on both halves of the rink) in less time.

New Drills - Creating drills specifically designed for your team or individual players, takes both hockey and coaching knowledge. Seeing the learning that takes place when properly executing a new drill can be a very rewarding part of coaching. The inspiration for creating your own drills can come from many sources; watching a pro game, viewing another teams’ practice, identifying areas for improvement from your last practice/game, or to address new learning in a specific area of play. Creating your own drills requires knowing what to teach your players, knowledge of how to teach them, as well as some level of hockey experience. Once the new drill becomes well understood, the coach can employ additional new drills that enable the learning of more complex skills, tactics and strategies to improve the players and team.


Drill Example: Offensive Zone Attack Using a 5-on-2

The following template shows the drill details for an Offensive Zone Attack. Use the template below to help you develop your own drills.

1.      Objective(s): This drill focuses on attacking the offensive net to setup several scoring opportunities.

2.      Existing/Customized/New Drill: Existing drill.

3.      Planned Time to Execute: 5-8 minutes

4.      Execution: Once the offensive team has entered the zone, they continue their progression toward the net. RW and C skate in their patterns hard to the net, while LW positions near the high slot. LW needs to quickly survey the defensive coverage (2 defensemen in this drill) to determine the various attacking options; pass the puck to RW or C, shoot the puck, or continue skating with the puck to buy time for teammates to get open. The outcome will be to execute one of the options to put the puck in the net.

5.      Number of Times to Execute Drill: 8-10 times.

6.      Coach Positioning: Near the blue line or goal line (see the 2 encircled C’s).

7.      Variations of the drill: Run the drill as a 3-on-2, add more defenders, run the drill up the right side, or have the drill executed at both ends of the rink.

8.      Competition/Fun: Working to get a shot on net or pass to the two attackers while being defended.

9.      Skater Feedback: Puck control, ability to have RW and C skate to the net and get open, patience by LW to create time for RW and C to get open, ability of LW to continue carrying the puck if the passing/shooting options are not immediately available, accurate passes, and a hard shot on net, and working for any rebounds.

10.  Goaltender Feedback: Tracking the puck, tracking the three main attackers, crease positioning, communicating with teammates, save techniques, and containing any rebounds.






Drill: Offensive Zone Attack Using a 5-on-2



























How to Introduce Drills to your Team

Now that you have your drill designed and ready to go, how do you introduce it to your team? When introducing drills to your team, there are six elements that need to be addressed. These elements are, what I call, the 6 D’s of drill introduction. These 6 elements are:

1.      Define the drill – identify the skills, tactics, or strategies you want to teach and the reason(s) why it is important for your team to learn this information at this time during the season?

2.      Design the drill – this step is only used for customized and new drills. Create the actual drill in your mind, on paper, or with software. For existing drills, you can skip this step. Use the following questions to help with the design.

·         How does this drill fit into the overall practice?

·         How will this drill expose your players to game-like situations?

·         What part of rink will be drill be executed on?

·         How will you maximize rink utilization during each drill?

·         Who runs the drill and where will they be positioned?

·         What players or groups of players are you targeting this drill for (defense, goaltenders, forwards, all)?

·         What are some drill variations that could work as well?

·         At what point in the practice will this drill be executed?

·         What is the pace of the drill (stationary, slow, medium, or fast)?

·         How complex is the drill?

·         How much time is required for the drill (time, repetitions)?

3.      Describe and Diagram the drill – verbalize and illustrate the drill to your players, defining what you want them to learn and accomplish. Use the information in the previous steps above to help communicate pertinent information to your team; what is to be accomplished, why it is important, and where on the surface specific activities will be performed. How will you describe the drill (verbally, whiteboard, other)? What information will be communicated and by whom?

4.      Demonstrate the drill – so that your players can see what is expected of them. This is especially critical for new drills. Who will demonstrate the drill (coaches, players)? How will you tie this demonstration into the description of the drill so that players get a clear picture of what is expected of them and why?

5.      Do the drill – have the players perform the drill to demonstrate whether they understand the drill concepts. By performing the drill, players demonstrate their sense of learning (or not) to the coaches, which gives you feedback for item #6 below. A couple of items to consider include:

·         How will you know when learning has taken place?

·         If the players do not understand the drill initially, how much time will you spend on the drill over and above the planned time? This number will help bound the maximum amount of drill time to plan for during this practice.

6.      Deliver feedback on the drill – provide the players with information on how they performed the drill compared to the goals of the drill and to your expectations (how will they apply this information the next time your run this drill or during the next game?)

·         Did the appropriate learning take place? Compare what you observed against your goals for the drill. Provide feedback on areas proficiency and discuss where opportunities still remain for learning. Reinforce how this learning can be applied to games and the various elements within a game.

·         Build in time to effectively communicate with your players

·         Plan for some individual attention for players who do not appear to understand the drills or are not able to effectively demonstrate the drills. You may want to have an assistant coach work with some players in a small group to ensure learning is taking place.



Greg Siller, founder of Pro Learning Systems (, has put his 25 years of ice and roller hockey experience into authoring several hockey articles as well as two highly acclaimed hockey books;

The Hockey Practice Playbook and Roller Hockey: Skills and Strategies for Winning On Wheels. These books contain many drill-related topics as well as examples of hundreds of drills that you can use to help teach and improve your team.