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Add These Elements To Your Favourite Practice Drills

By Dan Pollard, 10/22/19, 3:30PM EDT


Modifying situations to make them as game-applicable as possible

Photo Credit: Heather Pollock Photography

Coaches know the value of practice time. Coming in prepared and with a plan of what you will be teaching can save precious minutes. Practices are where players can learn how to best be effective on the ice.

Many coaches use game-like situations to enhance the teachings of the fundamentals. In practice, look at how to modify situations to make them as game applicable as possible.

“In a game, we never start with the puck. It’s always off a faceoff or even on a line change when you’re coming off the bench, you never have it. In almost every single drill I try to do now I start with a situation where the kids don’t have a puck, they have to go get it. Whether it’s traditional drills where kids line up in a corner and come out with a puck and do a pattern, now we’ll start it almost as a faceoff alignment,” said Corey McNabb, Director of Player Development for Hockey Canada. “Your skill and your component of what you’re trying to teach is the same, we’re just starting it different. Off a faceoff, you might have to have skate backwards, forwards, do a crossover start, you can add all those little things into it and it’s much more game-realistic.”

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Adding these elements can increase the competition and intensity levels while keeping both the offensive and defensive players aware and engaged. Simple tweaks like changing how drills are started or adding elements like stick lifts to steal the puck will only enhance the skills being taught. The addition of a defensive player chasing the puck carrier is a stresser that is more game-like than simply using open ice with nobody around.

“From the offensive side, whether you’re working on hands or moves or creativity, the kids learn where they have to put the puck so someone can’t take it away. The second part is, if you don’t have the puck and you’re actually chasing someone, you have to learn how to position your body and your stick so you can get the puck back. In any situation in a game, if you have the puck you want to keep it, if you don’t have it you want to get it. The more we can incorporate those things into practice, I think the better off we’re going to be and we’re going to start to see that translate from practice into games.”

McNabb recommends the Hockey Canada Network, a downloadable app for coaches that features thousands of age-appropriate drills and practice plans. Each includes a diagram, demonstration video, key teaching points and a Team Canada game clip showing the skill in a game situation that can be added to a custom Training Plan. The Network also has over 3,200 articles on everything from coaching tips to nutrition.

When creating a practice plan it’s important to find a balance between practicing skills and being able to actually use them in a game. A player may be able to stickhandle around an obstacle during practice but may end up overplaying the puck in a game. A skater may be the fastest on the team but struggles with their control. There’s a difference skating around a pylon versus having an actual person looking to take the puck away from you. That pressure of suddenly having someone chasing you changes the dynamic of how a player may perform.

That being said – let kids figure it out and use their creativity. You can provide a framework for a drill but maybe they can have a creative outlet within it to try a new skill. Coaches can add progressions to each drill to keep them fresh and less repetitive - add a second puck, add a defender, etc. This can turn one simple drill into multiple drills.

“You need to make sure that you’re doing drills and practice where you’re not trying to teach a new drill every single day because then the kids don’t get enough repetition. You also want to have a big enough repertoire that kids aren’t getting bored where they know what six drills you are doing because you’ve don’t it the last seven practices. I think there’s lots of ways where coaches can work on similar skills in a different drill set up.”

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Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

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