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Teaching Skills Over Drills

By Aaron Wilbur, The Coaches Site, 10/29/21, 2:15PM EDT


Adding competition to your practices to keep players engaged

Coaches are always looking for the best ways to get the most out of their players during practice. Over the course of the season players will use this time to improve on their skills and understand different concepts. One of the ways this is done is through small area games. 

Players of any age or skill level can enjoy Small Area Games to incorporate competition into practices. With an increased tempo, engagement and fun, these games check all the boxes for what coaches want. 

Adding competition to skill development and practices keeps these drills fresh and players engaged.

“They’ve been practicing for two years… Now that their seasons have officially started, their ecstatic. There’s got to be the payoff,” said Derek Miller, Ottawa 67’s Director of Player Development and Performance. “We love practice and we miss it, however the game is where something else comes with it. There’s so excited to be back in competition.”

This is what Miller refers to as the evolution of skill development. It isn’t just about going around pylons anymore. Players need to be put into game-like situations and understand how to look at the game from a different perspective.

“We have to put our players into stressful situations. It’s not just turning left and right around cones. Great, your edges are good but that’s shallow learning. We need to create deep learning environments where the learning starts in their brain and it becomes longer term in their memory and that applies to game quicker.”

For coaches, it’s about being confident in what they’re teaching. Miller says coaches should expect players to grasp a concept during a single practice or drill but rather focus on the desired long-term outcome for the end of the season.

“We probably have 12 core drills and they tick all the boxes. Those 12 drills have four or five progressions each. Instead of teaching new drills at every practice, we’re doing similar drills and adding layers to it.”

Miller recommends focusing on teaching the skills over the drills and focusing on getting those reps in. Give players time to practice and execute instead of spending valuable practice time explaining at a whiteboard.

“They’re going to figure it out without all the extra dialogue. Keep your players moving. Often learning takes place in action, not when they’re standing around listening.”

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Aaron is the Founder and CEO of The Coaches Site, the #1 online resource for hockey coaches, and also the host of the Glass & Out podcast. He is married with two boys, believes Major League is the best sports movie of all-time, is scared of heights and is mildly obsessed with the Alabama Crimson Tide football program.

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