skip navigation

Maximizing Valuable Practice Time

By Dan Pollard, 09/18/18, 2:30PM EDT


Communicating with players through clear messaging

Photo Credit: Brian Woo Photography

Running a hockey practice isn’t always easy. Trying to get everyone moving, playing and learning cooperatively can be a challenge, even for the most experienced and confident coaches. Every group of kids is different. One of the most important jobs of coaches is maximizing the limited amount of practice time while providing the most development for players.

Every coach can find the most effective way to communicate with their players and it will differ from team to team. Even within the team setting, there may be players who understand instruction better through visual learning while others may work better in a vocal setting.

As long as coaches come in prepared and ready to use their ice time, a lot of the communication can happen off of the ice according to Aaron Wilbur, President and Founder of The Coaches Site. He suggests coaches can try to communicate the goals and instruction that’s going to happen on the ice before kids get on it.

Keeping messaging concise and to the point helps players understand what you are expecting of them and what the goal of the drill is.

"I think that what we have to remind ourselves as coaches is that standard or end result that you’re seeking may not happen in that practice... I think it’s really important to understand that ultimately for players to grasp any skill, it’s going to come through reps and repetition."

“I think one thing that you have to be clear about as a coach is that there’s a difference between being prepared and communicating. You can be really prepared and not communicate effectively to your players or your assistant coaches and it all gets lost,” said Wilbur. “When you go up to that whiteboard you have to be really clear about what they key piece of information that  you want to communicate to your players is and don’t cloud it with a whole bunch of other information.”

Ensuring that the head coach and the assistant coaches are all on the same page will also help in limiting confusion that may occur. Players should be engaged and continually learning and have it aligned with where the coaching staff is in their seasonal plan.

“The biggest thing I see out there is just consistency. It’s really important that everyone is talking the same language and saying the same things. That will confuse the kids more than anything,” said OMHA Executive Director Ian Taylor.

Save 15% at The Coaches Site!

Members of The Coaches Site have access to over 70 hours of educational video including presentations from more than 30 NHL coaches.
Save 15% on an annual membership by entering promo code: OMHACOACH Plus your first month is free!
Don't miss out on being connected with the top coaches in the game today.

Taylor believes that the same amount of time that is put into planning for tournaments and games should also be devoted to creating practice sessions, if not more. With that said, understanding that players likely won’t master a skill in one practice is important for coaches to realize.

“I think that what we have to remind ourselves as coaches is that standard or end result that you’re seeking may not happen in that practice,” said Wilbur. “It may take several practices in which case could mean several weeks or several months and so I think it’s really important to understand that ultimately for players to grasp any skill, it’s going to come through reps and repetition. You can‘t get those if all (the players) are doing is listening to you talk.”

At The Coaches Site, Wilbur has interacted with many professional and NHL coaches. He says it’s not unheard of for coaches to practice and rehearse how they’re going to explain drills at the whiteboard to ensure direct and clear communication.

Wilbur suggests sharing video clips and practice plans through email or team communication channels in advance so players can come in prepared of what they will be learning that day. Through this method, parents can also understand what is being taught and feel involved in what is going on.

Saving some time at the end of practice to do what they choose, whether a fun game or a light scrimmage, is also beneficial.

“If there’s one thing that’s missing from our game that a lot of great players had access to 20, 30, 40 years ago was the ability to go out on a pond and play without structure and without adult supervision. I think there’s a real value to that if you can harness it and introduce it to your players today,” said Wilbur.

Like this article?

Share with your friends on Facebook and join the largest network of hockey parents.


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.

you may also like