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Running an Effective Minor Hockey Practice

By Aaron Wilbur, The Coaches Site, 02/29/24, 10:00AM EST


Creating an environment where players are excited to learn

Practice time can be some of the most valuable in minor hockey. It gives your team the chance to work on skills, understand new concepts and put in the effort that will show during games.

It’s more than just drills - those are part of the environment you are looking to create. Practice is about coming to the rink prepared to be in an atmosphere for learning. 

“Players need to understand and know what to expect when they come to the rink and what’s expected of them. The first step is defining ‘how’ we practice,” said TJ Manastersky. “What does it look like and what are some of our methods? We want to play fast, so we are going to practice fast. We aren’t going to go to a whiteboard on the ice. We can share that practice plan in advance the day before.”

Manastersky is the head coach of the Brock University men’s hockey team that finished at the top of the OUA West division in U-Sports this season.

To keep practices fresh, he suggests theming your days. This will also assist in the preparation for coaches and players as both will know what to expect when coming to the rink. Coaches can target one or two concepts they want their players to understand at the particular practice and build around it. His coaching staff have several drills that can accomplish the learning outcome that they are looking to achieve.

“The drills change within it, but they know what they’re getting into so that they’re mentally prepared. Setting them up that way helps them perform and learn.”

Coaches should consider what the drills are before and after and how it will all flow within the practice.

Familiarity with their team is an advantage for a coaching staff. Manastersky says to allow players time to figure out a new drill and that it’s okay if it looks messy to start off.

“You have to consider some space for your athletes too. You can’t constantly be on them about this or that. You have to allow them to play a little bit too. There’s an art and feel to that.”

When it comes to planning out the practices, have an idea of how long each drill will run for. The coaching staff should know who’s in charge of the whistle, who’s setting up each drill and who’s running each drill.

From there, it’s about monitoring how players are responding to what you are trying to teach them.

“It’s the message that’s received that counts. That happens a lot. You feel like you’ve delivered the message, but you can tell that it hasn’t been received the way you intended it because of the look they’re giving you or the way they’re actually performing it and clearly aren’t grasping what you’re getting after. At that point, is it a one on one conversation or is it a small group thing?”

In the end, coaches are the ones who set the tone in making practice fun. By playing competitive games and being personable, it can go a long way with the players.

“The attitude and energy that you bring to the rink is step one. Come out with some enthusiasm, a smile on your face, you’re buzzing around, talking to the guys and girls, fist bumps, shin pad taps, joking around… that’s such a great opportunity to interact with people.”

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