Getting The Most Out of Your Hockey Practices
by Greg Siller
Practice time is a precious commodity for hockey coaches, players, and
parents. It is generally the one time during the week when your team gets the opportunity
to work together to learn new skills, improve existing ones, and more importantly, make
the learning experiences challenging and enjoyable for the players and you.
Practices should be conceived with the idea that players need to be
exposed to different situations which allow them to make choices on the best solution in
the particular context of play. Players must be taught the importance of using their
physical as well as mental skills.
Getting the most out of your hockey practices requires many things, but
I believe the most important one is to have a plan. Just as each coach asks his or her
players to be prepared, the coach should also be prepared. The old saying that failing
to plan is planning to fail can be very true for a coach. The coach should organize
each practice on paper before it begins; defining objectives, specifying the amount of
time for each element, and identifying the skills to be learned and reinforced. An
effective practice plan is really a Checklist for Success. This checklist
should incorporate six elements:
- Learning and Improvement. For players to improve, they need both information and
an opportunity to use this information. In hockey, information comes in the form of
strategies and tactics. Opportunities are provided during drills and scrimmages which
allow players to execute the strategies and tactics. Players will either succeed or fail
during these opportunities. By trying and failing, the players can learn what doesn't
work. By trying and succeeding, the players can learn what does work. In both cases,
learning has taken place and the players have the opportunity to improve.
- Variety, Competition, and Fun. By varying your practice routine, and by
invigorating your practices with competition and fun, you will keep your players mentally
focussed and allow them to take more advantage of element #1. When interest is high, the
players learning rate and capacity are increased. Variety can include adding new or
modified drills periodically. Competition can be added to any existing drill where two or
more players execute the drill simultaneously. "Fun" should be defined both by
you and your players. Your players will tell you what they think is a fun part of your
practice and you can decide when or if to incorporate it. This may be a scrimmage or a
favorite couple of drills. Listen to your players and use this information when planning
the fun part of your practice. If you incorporate these factors into each practice, you
will be amazed at the work effort from your players.
- Drills are the primary method to reinforce strategies and tactics. Through the
execution of drills, specific individual, positional, and team development can take place.
I have defined hundreds of effective drills in my book, "Roller Hockey: Skills and
Strategies for Winning on Wheels". Implementing new drills should include the
- Describe the drill. This can be done verbally, using excerpts from a book, or with
diagrams that will clarify the verbal or written information.
- Demonstrate the drill. Let your players "see" it in action.
- Have the players perform the drill.
- Evaluate the drill.
- Provide feedback. The coach should provide immediate feedback to individuals or groups
of players so that they fully understand whether they met the objectives or how they need
- Rink Management. Practices should be designed to use the entire rink most
effectively. If particular drills are localized in one area of the rink (such as the
offensive zone), then split the team up and have an assistant coach take half of the
players and the coach take the other half. Rink management could also involve getting two
practices for the price of one. This could be implemented by sharing the rink with another
team during both teams practices. This will give you double the rink time and that
is beneficial when practice time is scarce.
- Working with Assistant Coaches (and Parents). Assistant coaches and parents are
essential (and many times underutilized) during practices (and games). The head coach and
assistant coach should go over the practice plan prior to the actual practice so that each
understands his or her role. The assistant coach should be active in providing feedback to
the players and should have specific duties to support the coach. The assistant coach can
direct the warm-up and conditioning part of the practices, and in some situations run
certain drills. Parents can help out by video taping practices and by supporting the
coaches during certain drills.
- Communication. This is one of the most important elements for the success of any
practice. Effective communication between the coach and players is essential for a good
relationship, and a player should feel that the coach is approachable. One guideline that
every coach should use is to talk to every player at least once during and/or after each
practice. This may only take thirty seconds or may take as long as thirty minutes. In both
cases, the players will all realize that the coach is watching them and is concerned about
what they do as individuals and as a team. Close out each practice by providing some
generalized feedback and information for the next practice or game.
Getting the most out of your hockey practices can be successful if you
plan and use your Checklist for Success.
Contact Greg Siller @ Pro