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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 following steps:
  1. 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 team’s practices. This will give you double the rink time and that is beneficial when practice time is scarce.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Learning Systems