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What It Means to Practice With a Purpose

By Aaron Wilbur, The Coaches Site, 03/09/22, 3:15PM EST


Taking advantage of precious practice time

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.

That’s one of the fundamentals of Tom Ward, the Head Coach of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Boys Prep Team in Minnesota. The school boasts alumni like Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise, among others.

But while the list of elite talent and number of championships is impressive, what really stands out about the program is a culture grounded in hard work, sweat and a philosophy that every player, regardless of their pedigree or resume, has to earn their spot.

These are things, according to Ward, that any organization can unlock and put into practice no matter the age or level.

“We try to have good practices with a purpose, not just whipping drills out there,” said Ward. “They have to be game-like in their performance or it isn’t going to do you any good. We’ve got to help develop them as hockey players.”

There are stories of Crosby and Johnson playing baseball at Shattuck-St. Mary’s where their competitive spirit was on full display. Playing multiple sports is something Ward is a big proponent of.

“I stand on a soapbox and say one hundred percent, we should be playing multiple sports, specifically when you’re younger. Everything. Just get out there and work on your athleticism. I just think that’s super important for your development.”

Ward says that he’s used different scenarios in his practices -3 on 3, 2 on 3, 3 on 4, even 6 on 6 – to keep his players thinking and having to try new things. 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.

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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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