As a youth hockey coach, it is critical to figure out ways to make your practices fun and engaging.
If coaches and players enjoy coming to practice, great things will unfold throughout the season. Not only will players be more engaged during their time on the ice if they are having fun, but they will work harder, laugh louder, and the team will become closer because of it.
Below we explore fun hockey drills & games that coaches can implement into their practices to shake things up and bring out smiles. Obviously it is important to focus on skill development and team concepts, but it is critical to make sure your team loves coming to practice.
Below are 6 great times to prioritize fun at practice:
- Start of Season: Fun activities at the beginning of the season can help build culture and bring a team together.
- Middle of Season: Break up the monotony of practice rituals during the dog days of the season with extra fun.
- End of Season: Smiles and laughs are a great way to close a long season.
Start of Practice: a fun activity can help jumpstart the energy and communication of practice. Remember, many of your players are coming from school or home where they might be faced with tough situations. A fun hockey activity can change their mental state and get them smiling and ready to work!
End of Practice: a fun activity can close a practice in a positive way, especially if the practice was demanding.
- Anytime: As stated before, if you, your coaches and your players enjoy coming to practice, great things will unfold throughout the season. At the bottom of this post we give more excuses prioritize fun at practice!
Let's get started!
1) Ice Hockey With A Ball
Bring a ball onto the ice to have extra fun! In the video above, the Calgary Flames bring out a soccer ball to change things up. It is clear that the players are having a blast and working hard. In this particular game, players were only allowed to hold onto the ball for 3 seconds. If they held the ball for longer than 3 seconds, the coach blew the whistle and the other team got the ball. The players must kick or throw the ball to their teammates as they work to score a goal. View more highlights of their on ice soccer game here.
Skills Used: Not only are the players having fun, but being able to play a game without a stick, while you are kicking and throwing helps players work on a variety of skills such as balance, edgework and spatial awareness.
Modifications: You can use other sport balls to put a spin on the cross-ice game or any hockey drill. Without sticks you can use a football, basketball or soccer ball. With sticks, you can use a tennis ball or racquetball for more bouncing and stick reaction.
2) Knockout Tournament
In the video above, the Colorado Avalanche begin their training camp by playing Knockout in the center ice circle! The goal of the game is to protect your puck as you knock other players pucks out of the circle.
Skills Used: This is a great game to work on puck protection and keeping your head up.
Modifications: You can start with your whole team involved in the blueline like the Pittsburgh Penguins did here, or you can use a faceoff circle to have mini-tournaments (like the Colorado Avalanche did).
3) Finders Keepers
Finders Keepers is a fun game that gets the whole team involved at the start (or end) of a practice. Put 1 puck in a designated area for every 2 players that you have. The players will individually battle for the puck until the time runs out. Usually, 30 seconds - 45 seconds is a great time frame for each round to keep the energy high. Once the whistle blows, the players without a puck are removed from the game and take a knee to cheer on the remaining players. The game continues until there is 1 puck for 2 players! The last player with the puck is the champion!
Skills Used: Puck protection and awareness.
Modification: Play Finders Keepers with Teams! See the video below to see how Finders Keepers with Teammates looks! Players can use their teammates to pass to and keep the puck away from the opposing team. The team with the most pucks at the end of the round wins!
4) Dodge Ball
A fun hockey spin on a timeless gym class activity! The Carolina Hurricanes demonstrate hockey dodgeball during one of their storm surges!
In dogeball, the balls are lined up at the center of the ice. Players can not cross the center line. Players are knocked out if they are hit with the ball, or they throw a ball and the other team catches it. The team that knocks out everyone on the opposing team wins!
Skills Used: Awareness, quickness, edges (and possibly, some deception with fake throws, looking the other way when throwing, etc).
Modifications: If you do not have "dodgeballs" you use soccer balls or you can even allow players to use their sticks to shoot tennis balls. If accuracy is a problem for the team, reducing the size of the game space can be helpful as players are eliminated.
5) Individual & Team Races
Ready, Set, Go!!!
It is amazing how hard humans will work when those three words are said in that order. Races will instantly bring out the competitive nature in all of us. The races are a great way to work on conditioning, skating and puck handling. Below are a few ideas for individual and team races:
- Stop & Start 1 vs 1 Race - 1 on 1 races for a puck.
- Defensive Pivot Races - 1 on 1 pivot races for a puck.
- Side by Side Skills Race - racing through a set of cones practicing a specific skill.
- Find Your Stick - to start practice, a coach takes all of the players sticks, mixes them up and sets them over on the far side of the ice. When the whistle blows, all of the players skate over to the far side of the ice and race to find their stick, then skate back to where they started. The goal is to not be the last person back!
- Team Relay Races
- Obstacle Course Races - Be creative! Make a course that players need to stickhandle and skate around before they come back and tag their next teammate in line.
- Tick Tac Toe
- Fill The Bucket! - Coaches divide up the players into two groups. On the far side a coach has a handful of pucks (or balls). When the whistle blows, a player from each team races to get a puck (or ball) from the pile and race back to their line. When they put the ball or puck in the designated area, the next player in line on their team goes! Goal is to fill the bucket or get all of the items back to your side before the other team does.
- 5 Puck Shootout Race - Animation shown below. Players with the puck can reach with their stick and try to knock away the other teams puck!
The 5 Puck Shootout Race is a fun game that changes up the normal shootout routine and requires a player to score a goal. If they score, the next player on their team goes. If they do not score, they must pick up their puck and skate it back to the next player in line on their team.
Skills Used: Skating, Shooting & Puck handling.
Modifications: Can add more pucks. Can require players to skate around cones before they begin their shootout.
6) Skills Competition
A skills competition will require a little more work and planning from the coaches, but it can be an extremely worthwhile endeavor that the players will look forward to. You will want to divide up the ice into stations so that players are not sitting around waiting for their teammates to finish up their competition.
As a coach, you can encourage players to work hard for their individual times and scores. You can give out awards for the individual winners and also give a "team" award for a winning team. If it goes well, you can do this a couple times a season and see if there are improvements in individual scores!
Below are some ideas on how to make some events happen:
- Longest Slide - How far can someone slide on their belly?
- Fastest Skater - Create a course and time each players time. You can use a stopwatch or your smart phone timer to keep track of times.
- Fastest Skills Course Time - Create a course where players must stickhandle through and complete other skills. Just like the fastest skater, you can use a stopwatch or smart phone timer to keep track of times.
- Most Accurate Shooter - You can buy targets or make your own. Search online for "magnet hockey targets" or "foam hockey targets" and some cool options will come up! Record how many pucks or how long it takes a player to hit all targets.
- Most Accurate Passer - Create obstacles that players must pass through and shoot over. You can get creative here with passing through tires, saucing over sticks, etc.
- Hit the Dot - Player passes a puck and trys to get it to stay on a faceoff dot (similar to curling). Closest puck wins!
- Angry Birds - A hockey spin on the popular video game Angry Birds. Set up a bunch of objects that players aim to hit or knock down. The harder to hit objects are worth 5 points, the middle of the road objects are 3 points and the easy ones are 1 point. Have a team and rotate through players.
- Get creative! What else can challenge your players to compete on? Maybe a hockey trick shot competition? Or, check out the NHL Skills Competition for extra ideas.
7) 3 on 3 Tournament
Split up the ice and have a 3 on 3 Tournament! If you have full ice you can have two games going on in each end. Players who are not playing can work on various skills or drills in center ice. If your team has half-ice for practice you can split up the ice to have two games going on in the zone and skill work or drills in center. Or you can get your whole team involved so it's an all-out 3 on 3 (or 4 on 4) tourney with line changes.
Pro Tip: Award a fun trophy to the winning team at the end of practice. Have fun with it. Take a photo of the winning team and let them celebrate! You could do this tournament a couple of times during the year and switch up the teams so everyone has a chance to battle for the cup!
Look at the photo below of Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, Jay Bouwmeester and others posting with a trophy that they battled for during a pre-season camp that ended with a 3 on 3 tourney. Even the pros have a great time working for a trophy, no matter if its the Stanley Cup, or personal pride when no one is watching.
3 on 3 Tournament Modifications: You can also have this be a 2 vs 2, 3 vs 3, or 4 vs 4 tournament if you want a different setup.
- If you do not have goalies, you can make a target in the net that the players have to hit, use a shooter tooter, or play "Gates of Buffalo" where teams can only score goals by passing through a gate. Can't pass through the same gate twice! View Gates of Buffalo video demo below:
8) Greatest Drill In The World
Players loved this drill so much on one or teams, it was referred to as "The Greatest Drill in the World." View game details below:
The Greatest Drill In The World is a normal 3 on 3 cross ice game with a little spin.
In this game, coaches, or designated players, are placed on each side (as shown in the diagram). These coaches (or players) are used as outlets for each team. Therefore, when a team has control of the puck they will have a 5 on 3 advantage because they can use either of these outlets. When they receive a pass, the designated coaches (or players) must pass back to a player on the same team from which they received the pass.
Skills Used: Awareness, transition, quick passes, moving without the puck. Lots of communication
Modifications: Can make the game a 2 on 2 in a smaller area of the ice. Can play "Levels" with this setup if you spin one of the nets backward. Watch the Buffalo Sabres play Levels 3 on 3.
9) You Against The World (1 vs. 3 or 2 vs. 2)
Above is a great battle drill that is quite a challenge, especially at the end of a practice. This drill can be set up as shown, which is 1 person verse everyone else, or you can create teams and have it be 2 vs 2!
Note: Players should not go for a hit during the first touch of the puck! After a player has control of a puck then body contact can start. You don't want all 4 players destroying each other going for the initial puck touch.
Skills Used: Works on battling, being strong with the puck, and deception.
Modifications: Can make this drill 2 on 2, or add another cone and make it 3 on 3. Can also set this up so it's a start of a 3 vs 3 cross ice game with two goalies. The extra sprints in the beginning of the drill make players work harder to be the first to the puck!
10) Cross-Ice Opposite Hand Scrimmage
A fun game that was submitted to us by From Erik Kukkonen at Osseo Maple Grove Hockey Association that is sure to get a lot smiles. You can follow them on twitter at @omgha2k.
Opposite Hand Setup: Everyone brings out their backup sticks. Every player must play the game with their opposite hand. During the game, you can NOT switch hand position. If you do, the game stops and the other team gets the puck. It is amazing how many people forget how to skate when they are holding their stick in the opposite hand.
For extra fun, allow goalies to use a player stick and play the correct hand. You can have skaters play goalie as no pads are needed since players can not shoot great with the opposite hand and wrong sided curve :)
Top Hand Only Modification: You can have players use their correct hand but only allow them to use their top hand on their stick. Therefore they can only pass, stickhandle and shoot with their top hand. No goalies.
Skills Used: Fun, hand-eye coordination, skating and brain (it is tougher than you think!). The top hand only game is great for top hand strength & puck protection concepts.
Additional Modifications: You can have players switch hands or only use one hand for any small area game or drill. You can also allow players to only use their bottom hand.
11) Tennis Ball Reactions
A fun reaction activity for shooters and goaltenders!
Skills Used: Goalie Reaction. Shooting creativity.
Modifications: You can have players come down and shoot against the wall.
12) Get Away From The Rink!
Getting away from the rink is also a great way to have fun, connect with the team and work on various concepts. A couple of ideas are:
- Off-Ice Ball Hockey
- Roller Hockey
- Pond Hockey
- Track & Field Day
- Laser Tag
- Golfing or Mini Golf
Coaches Actions, Tone & Body Language
Your actions, tone and body language are not a specific game or drill but we are putting it in here because any drill (and practice) can be fun if you have the right actions and body language. Your actions will impact your assistant coaches and players. Below are some things to keep in mind as you are coaching:
- Have Fun - Let the players see you and the coaches having fun. Human energy (positive & negative) is contagious.
- Add Music - Blast fun music when applicable to keep the energy high, or ramp energy up.
- Be Clear in Your Speech - Limit rambling energy-sucking speeches.
- Cheer - Cheer when a great thing happens at practice and encourage players to do the same.
- Be Encouraging - Encourage your players are they are trying new skills. This is practice if players are not making mistakes, they are not working outside of their comfort level and getting better.
- WHY - Let players know WHY you are having them work on a specific game or drill. If they know why they are doing something, they will have a better understanding of how to apply the skill in their game.
- Gamify a Drill or Game - anything can be fun if there are races, or a scoreboard, or a challenge that players (or a team) work at to improve their time or score. How can you gamify your normal drills?
Need additional excuses to have fun at practice?
Here are a few excuses you can use to rationalize having fun anytime of the year:
- Beginning of the Season - helpful to build culture and bring a team together with fun activities.
- Middle of the Season - helpful to break up the monotony of practice rituals during the dog days of the season.
- End of the Season - smiles and laughs are a great way to close a long season.
- After a Big Loss - having fun and being positive can force players to be in the moment and not dwell on the loss.
- After a Big Win - celebrate a big win by having fun!
- Start of Practice - a fun activity can help jumpstart the energy and communication of practice. Remember, many of your players are coming from school or home where they might be faced with tough situations. A fun hockey activity can change their mental state and get them smiling and ready to work!
- End of Practice - a fun activity can close a practice in a positive way, especially if the practice was demanding.
- Anytime! - As stated before, if you, your coaches and players enjoy coming to practice, great things will unfold throughout the season. Not only will players be more engaged during their time on the ice, but they will work harder, laugh louder, and the team will become closer because of it.
Additional Fun Drills & Hockey Games
More Fun Ideas From Around The Web
- Fun Games on the Ice - Minnesota Hockey
- 2 vs 2 Spike Ball Competition - WMU Hockey
- Trucks & Trailers Warm-Up - Sane Sports
- Fun Beginner Hockey Stations - Hockey Extreme Toronto
- Chicago Blackhawks 5 Puck Shootout - Charlie Roumeliotis
- 3 Pass Rugby Warm-Up - Brant Berglund
Have other fun hockey drills & games you would like us to share? Contact Us to let us know!