Not every practice is going to run smoothly and be perfect. But if you aim to make practice the best part of your players week and the best part of your week, great things will unfold throughout the season.
Let’s face it, the cost of ice time is extremely expensive and it's on the rise. As a result, it is critical for organizations and coaches to work to make the most out of their time on the ice. Before we jump into tips on how to make the most out of practice, let’s make it a point to remember two important questions:
- Can you make practice the best part of your players week?
- Can you make practice the best part of your week?
If you only take away one piece of advice from this article, take the questions above with you. The answers to those questions are not always easy to achieve, but if you strive to accomplish those goals, you will naturally make practice a rewarding, engaging and educational experience for all. Everyone will grow, including the coaches.
However, the reality is most youth hockey coaches have full-time jobs, families and juggle a wide variety of other priorities. Time is limited. Even though this is the case, it is crucial to realize a coach has the direct ability to positively (or negatively) impact a players life, forever. Whether you like it or not, you are a role model and your players are watching your actions and are looking up to you. Therefore, it is important to spend time making practice a valuable experience for your team.
Below we will discuss 6 tips along with links to resources to help youth hockey coaches & organizations make the most out of their time on the ice!
Tip 1: Prepare Your Practices
One of the best ways to gain respect from other coaches, parents and players is being prepared. On the opposite hand, one of the quickest ways to lose respect is showing up unprepared, scrambling and winging it. Confidence is earned by being prepared.
Take time to create your practice plan before you step on the ice. You and your assistant coaches should know your goals, drills and coaching points for each practice. Here are some tips for planning out a practice:
- Have Practice Goals: What skills, concepts, systems, and / or life lessons are you working on today? Do they contribute to your season goals? Are they relevant to what your team currently needs to work on?
- Outline Your Practice: List out your warmup activities, drills, games and actions to make sure they support your goal. Each of these should have coaching points and a reason why you are doing them. If you explain to your players and assistant coaches why you are doing something, everyone will benefit. You do not have to set exact drill times. Your priority should be to make sure your players understand what you are trying to teach. Be willing to spend more time on a drill, concept or skill if players are not fully understanding it.
- Potential practice outline: There are a lot of practice outlines that can be created to support your goal, one example is a warm-up activity, followed by drills to work on a specific skill and / or concept and then finish with small area games that reinforce what you are aiming to teach.
- Share The Practice Plan: Share the plan with assistant coaches and team so you are transparent with your goals and on the same page. You should spend at least 10 minutes before each practice to let your assistant coaches know the practice framework so you are all on the same page. Additionally, sharing a practice will allow your assistants to provide feedback so you can discuss and refine the practice if needed. IHS Members can create and share practice plans digitally on any device with their team (learn how here).
- Control What You Can: You can’t always control everything about your team and the rink, but you can control the variables below:
- How prepared you are for the practice and what time you arrive at the rink.
- Your mindset and energy at practice (listing to a hockey podcast or coaching book on the way to the rink can help get you in the right headspace).
- Make sure the whiteboards, pucks, water, nets, shooter tooters, obstacles, etc. are set before practice so you don't have to waste time gathering them during practice.
- Create A Drill Book To Keep Ideas Fresh: Keep a drill book and list out what skill or concept each drill works on. This will allow you to keep your practices fresh with new ideas and reference great drills from the past. You can keep a drill book by printing out and saving these items or you can upload them directly to IHS for years to come and access them on any device. If you are an IHS Member, just click "Upload Drill" to add an image or video. Learn how here.
- Warm-Up Off Of The Ice: If you have the ability to do a warmup before players get on the ice, you will have additional time on the ice.
Tip 2: Make Practice Engaging & Fun
If players are not engaged, they will not pay attention, and their minds will wander. Poor engagement will lead to disruption and make the practice not fun for you and the players. Therefore, it is imperative that you make sure practices are engaging!
Players that are engaged will work harder, have more fun and retain more of the concepts that you are striving to teach. Remember to aim to make practice the best part of your players week. If your team loves to practice, great things will happen. Below are a few ideas to help maximize engagement on the ice:
- Tell Your Players Why: Let your players know why they are doing a specific activity or drill and why it will make them better. Having players know why instead of just telling them to do something will allow them to understand your reasoning, allow them to learn, think about it and apply the reasoning to their game. It even opens up dialogue because they can ask legitimate questions. Also, it will force you as a coach to fine-tune your coaching methods further because you will have to be prepared with why you want to teach them something.
- For example, instead of just telling your players we are practicing "Changing Your Shot Angle like Auston Matthews" let them know why you want them to practice it. You could tell them that most goalies are good at straight-on shots and if you change your shot angle, it is harder for the goalie to read, which can catch them by surprise and increase your scoring chances.
- Limit Wait Times And Long Lines: Having you and your coaches prepared and know what drill is coming next will allow you to reduce the time players are sitting around waiting for you to set up and demo a drill.
- Teach With Progressions: Players can learn deeper if you fully immerse them by focusing on a particular skill or concept one at a time instead of bouncing around multiple unrelated topics, skills and concepts. Start with the absolute basics of a topic and add progressions or variations when the player or group is ready to move on. Click to see an example of learning a complex skill with a progression. As you can see in the video, it would be hard for most players to do that skill right out of the gate, but if you get them to learn each basic skill before moving onto the next, they will have a greater likelyhood of performing the complex skill.
- Develop Skills & Fundamentals: It is important to always continue to develop players skating, stickhandling, passing and shooting skills. You can start practice with the Finnish Skills Series and dive into our 40+ Free Skill Development Videos for ideas you can implement for into your practices.
- Include Small Area Games! It is no secret that small area games and cross-ice hockey are massively beneficial for all age levels. These games are a great way to let kids (and pros) apply their new skills and concepts in a game. They games help players work on decision-making skills and allow them to develop their "hockey sense." Check out our resources below for more information on why you should be including small area games into your hockey practices, along with game ideas:
- Add Challenges & Races: Another way to naturally bring out the competitive spirit of your players is to include races or create challenges during practice. We have a short blog post that discusses 4 Races you can add to practice to get players competing for the puck and a shot on net. You will be surprised at how hard kids will work if you just drop a puck and say "go!"
- Limit Rambling Speeches: Know your practice goals and your coaching points. Focus on 1 to 3 major coaching points per drill or activity. If you go higher than that, most players will get overwhelmed and be unable to focus on the priority. If you find yourself rambling, it can be helpful to reference your practice outline and coaching points.
- Encourage On Ice Communication: Encourage coaches and players to be communicating with each other throughout the practice. Cheer for each other when a great effort or play is made in practice. Team support goes a long way. Also, players should be vocal when they are playing with others on the ice. If players are positive and communicate well in practice, it will translate over to the game.
- Drive Home Learnings With Video Examples: Not all teams will have time and/ or access to tv’s or iPads in the locker room. But showing video clips will help players get a greater understanding of what they are learning, why they should be learning it and how to apply it. You can also add in video examples into IHS Practice Plans or send emails with video clips so players can review before a practice.
- Add Variety & Your Own Spin: Work to find cutting edge ideas from around the web to keep things fresh. Also, as you learn and become more confident as a coach, put your own spin on drills. Don't be afraid to get creative and think outside of the box!!
- Add Music To Modify Practice Tempo: A quick and fun way to instantly increase the energy of practice is to add high energy music. You can bring this out for particular drills, a game or the whole practice.
- Let Players See The Coaches Having Fun: If the kids see the coaches having fun and smiling (while working hard) it instantly gives them permission to have fun and enjoy the practice as well. Emotions are contagious! Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice speaks about this topic in a short 1 minute Twitter video here.
Tip 3: Divide Up Ice
The ice can be divided up in a limitless amount of ways to allow coaches to reduce lines and work on a variety of skills, drills, small area games and challenges at once. Below are 6 potential ways the ice can be divided up to maximize your ice time. Please note it is best to have at least one coach monitoring and managing a divided area of the ice.
Click on the link below for free printable PDF's for each layout that was listed above, along with drills and games that can be taught in the specific layouts:
- 35+ Warm-Up Drills
- 195+ Full Ice Drills
- 200+ Half Ice Drills
- 85+ Unique Stations
- 50+ Small Area Games
- 40+ Skill Development Videos
- Goalie Development Videos
- View All (600+ Hockey Drills)
BONUS Station Idea: Half Ice Full-Width Drill Example
Stations are an incredible way to maximize ice time but they do not always allow players to work on full skating extensions and getting up to full speed. Below is a creative example of a drill that can be used that can get players working on getting up to full speed, while using the other half of the ice for other skills & stations. The drill below is called the Half-Ice Full Length Breakout Hockey Drill.
Tip 4: Coach With Intention
You did the work. The practice is here. You prepared the practice and shared the goals with your coaches and team. You selected drills, games and activities to maximize the players' engagement and know why you are coaching each drill. Now it is your time to shine!
Below are tips to help you coach with intention, by encouraging your players to get better, while holding them accountable.
- Be A Good Person: Interact with your players, their parents and the coaches the same way you would want others to treat you and your family. Even if you are providing critical feedback, you can say it in a positive way.
- Listen: It is important to listen to your players, team and coaches. Their feedback can help you grow as a coach and develop practices that better fit their needs.
- Build Trust: Every time you show up to the rink prepared with a positive mindset shows your coaches, players and parents that you care. When players, coaches and parents know that you care, trust will develop. When trust is there, full team buy-in is possible.
- Explain Why: As a coach, if you know why you are coaching something and share this information with your assistant coaches, they will be able to reinforce your coaching points to the team. Having all coaches and players know why they are working on something, instead of just telling them to do something, will bring in greater understanding, discussion and engagement.
- Encourage Your Players: Make sure you create a culture where players push themselves but know that it is ok to make mistakes while they are working to get better. Not all kids come from supportive environments at home, at school, or with their friends outside of hockey. Being a coach that can encourage, push and show a player that hard work creates improvement can help a kid develop self-belief and positively impact their life forever.
- Hold Players Accountable: If you see a player not skating at their potential, or messing around and distracting others, let them know it. Also, correct and remind them of the coaching points and playing habits you are helping them reinforce.
- Challenge Your Team: Be aware of the current skill level of your team and make sure your practices are helping your players progress. Humans (including kids) love to see progress.
- Be Willing To Adjust & Modify: If you notice that your players are struggling to understand a concept or a skill, be ready to adjust and modify to help them understand what you are trying to coach. Feel free to spend more time on a particular drill, or break down the drill (or skill) further to help them progress. Don't be tied to your practice timeline and outline.
- Show Players You Care About Them: Being prepared shows players you care, but also spending time getting to know your players before and after practice goes a long way. Ask questions about school, sports, and life outside of hockey.
- HAVE FUN! Make sure you, your coaches and players are enjoying the process of practice. Make sure you find time to smile, breathe and enjoy yourself during a practice! Having fun and smiling is contagious!
Tip 5: Reflect On Each Practice
The practice is finished. Now what? Some things went better than expected and some went worse. Take note of what clicked, and what didn’t. Being able to reflect on practice will allow you to learn and make adjustments for the next practice. This will help you evolve as a coach. Below are 7 questions to ask yourself and the assistant coaches after each practice:
- Did we achieve our practice goals?
- What worked?
- What didn’t work?
- What do we need to spend more time on?
- What should we try next practice?
- What parts of practice were fun?
- As a coach, what did I do well?
- As a coach, what could I have done better?
Take a few minutes to answer the questions above. Even jotting down a sentence per question will help you fine-tune your future practices. You should do the same for each game. Practice and game reflections will help you grow as a coach and keep you and the assistant coaches accountable. It also will be fun to look back on at the end of the year. Bonus points if you and your assistant coaches share and discuss your responses back to each other. This will allow you all to help each other out and make you a closer unit.
Tip 6: Continue to Learn
Just as you are working to develop your players, you should strive to develop yourself as a coach. The questionnaire above well let you know your strengths and weaknesses that you can work on.
There are so many incredible resources out there to use to constantly be learning. Additionally, realize that all of the skills you learn as a coach will bleed over to your personal, professional and family life. Understand that investing in learning how to be a better coach, will be investing in yourself. Below are a few tips on how to improve as a coach:
- Listen to hockey, coaching, and leadership podcasts (you can do this on the way to the rink)!
- Read coaching and leadership books (not just hockey books)
- Ask for help when you need it or have questions
- Go to coaching conferences and network with other coaches
- Read different hockey coaching materials online
- Follow coaches that post content on social media
- Watch hockey games and hockey highlights
Extra Credit Tip: Practice off of the ice
Since the cost of ice time is rising, there are other ways you can work with your team to develop their skills, camaraderie, and love for the game. Below are a few ideas:
- Team Practice: Unstructured hockey play on outdoor rinks, streets, parking lots is a great way to build a passion for the game. You can also organize team meetups to work on specific skills off of the ice.
- Individual Practice: Encourage players to develop an off-ice stickhandling routine. Also, when players are working on getting stronger, there are many off-ice workouts that can be done at home with no weights.
The practice planning tips above should help you get the most out of your practice time, but make sure to make the practice your own. Be authentic. As a coach, this is a great time to take all of your life experiences and work to inspire the next generation. Lessons you teach your players on and off of the ice will transfer over to their life.
Not every practice is going to run smoothly and be perfect. There will be a lot of trial and error. But if you aim to make practice the best part of your players week and the best part of your week, great things will unfold throughout the season.
- Learn How to Create & Share Practice Plans on IHS
- 25+ Premade IHS Practice Plans
- Create a Custom Practice Sheet With Your Logo
- A Thank You Message To Hockey Coaches