5 ways to make the most out of your practice.
According to Hockey Canada’s studies, an individual player's skill development takes 11 games to match what they would get out of one quality 60 minute practice. This shows you exactly how valuable each and every minute of a practice ice is.
It makes sense if you think about it. In a game the average minor hockey player has the puck on their stick for less than a minute per game, takes 1-2 shots per game and takes an average of 18 shifts per game.
Throughout a quality 60 minute practice a player should have the puck on his or her stick for 10-15 minutes, take a minimum of 30 shots on goal, give/receive a minimum of 30 passes and be moving for 40-45 minutes throughout the practice (individual instruction, rest time in line and water breaks make up for other).
Here are 5 ways to help create an efficient, effective practice where the players are having fun, continuously learning and developing as hockey players.
1. Be Prepared well before practice and prepare your players prior to practice
When pre-icing your players prior to practice it should be quick, clear and to the point. Any more and they will lose focus and not retain anything. You don’t need to show them the entire practice, show them any new drills/stations right away in the pre-ice then discuss the purpose of the practice and the “why”. Keep in to 5-7 minutes max.
2.Use Specific Skill Based Stations:
The reason why almost every hockey association in North America went to cross ice hockey for U8 players is they get more puck touches, shots, passes, saves, puck protection, checking more reps at everything which equals developing and learning new skills in less time.
This doesn’t stop at U8, from novice to pro the more quality reps an individual does the better they will become at a particular skill. Once they master a particular skill progress to the next step which could be adding a puck, increasing the speed or throwing in something new. Anything to keep the athlete challenged where they are reaching to try and succeed.
Build your stations with purpose in game like scenario’s where the players are consistently being challenged, reaching and repeating. (keep station time between 6-10 min)
Everything should be broken down into chunks. For example; a defensive zone breakout could be split into 4 stations each working on a different skill of the breakout. With breaking it up into 4 stations with 4-5 players per station everyone is going to get 4 times as many reps in as they would if the entire team was doing full ice team breakouts.
This can work with anything, 2-1s, Gap control, angling, passing/shooting in stride, footspeed, etc… and it doesn’t have to be all 4 stations working on one specific thing it could be 2 stations working on shooting off a pass, 1 station working on puck protection and another station focusing on lateral speed with the puck (practice purpose = creating space, offense, puck control). Depending on what your players and team needs is how to build your stations. Then after the stations you could do a full ice drill (or SAG) putting all the skills together you have been working on that practice. Then do it with pressure.
3. Create a Competitive Environment
Getting your players to compete with themselves and other players is a must in every practice, this keeps the pace up and the competitive juices flowing. Within your stations and/or practice always devote some time for the players to compete against each other. Battle drills in a confirmed area or Small Area Games (SAG) are perfect for this and should be used in every practice. This also creates game like conditions where a lot of skills come into play (puck protection, edge control, angling, checking, agility) and players have a chance to be creative in a stress free environment.
If your team has a wide variety of skill levels from the top to the bottom then you can divide them into groups within their similar abilities to everyone is consistently being challenged.
4. Challenge your players
Reach and repeat. Create a practice which puts your players in challenging situations and enables them to reach outside of their comfort zone every repetition and then repeat. If they are making it look easy then it is too easy and it’s time to progress to the next step.
If they are only completing every 2nd rep clean then it’s challenging them and they are developing to their fullest ability – keep it up. This is a good time to instruct, don’t let them make the same mistake over and over again. Let them struggle at first and see if they self-correct then you can add precise small detailed information that will help them. Teach proper details and create good habits.
Keep in mind that if they are really struggling and only completing every 4th rep or so then it’s probably time to dial it back a bit and make the drill/station less difficult, otherwise they might lose confidence, become overwhelmed and lose interest.
5. Keep your players mentally and physically engaged throughout practice
How many times does a lazy pass interrupt the flow or learning process in practice? Or how often does someone in the front of the line kill the flow because they are talking to the player behind them? These are both examples of players not being mentally engaged during practice. First you need to get the players to buy in to how important practices are. Then keep them mentally engaged by building a fun, competitive, challenging environment with the right amount of variety.
Keep them physically engaged by keeping them moving and getting in lots of quality reps by using appropriate stations, groups and having an organized practice plan, but not being afraid to alter the plan if needed.
There is so much that goes into an effective practice and each age and skill level is different from the next. Hopefully these will points will help give coaches a base to build off to help develop their players.
"Players need to be physically engaged by keeping them moving and getting lots of quality reps by using appropriate stations, groups and having an organized practice plan, but not being afraid to alter the plan if needed."
Be Prepared well before practice and prepare your players prior to practice
Use Specific Skill Based Stations
Create a Competitive Environment
Challenge your players
Keep your players mentally and physically engaged throughout practice, be creative and have fun.