The talent of hockey players continues to rise. Players are quicker, faster and more skilled than ever before. However, one major training component that coaches often overlook is adding in activities that force players to practice their decision making. There is a big difference between hockey drills that require a pre-determined course of action and ones where the players are allowed to make all of the decisions. In the process of searching for drills to use in practice be sure to include ones that allow players to make decisions.
Below we give you 6 small area games where the "game" is the main teacher. The games are excellent for all age and skill levels since the players will be playing with and against their teammates. Players will rapidly learn that if they do not pick their head up and make a quick decision, they will fail. Also, the games will reinforce important concepts like communicating with teammates, reading the play, creating time and space, jumping to open ice, protecting the puck, passing in tight areas and more.
These dynamic games will help your players build confidence in their ability to pick up their head and make a play. Plus, your team will love them!
Game # 1: Finnish 5 Puck
Finnish 5 Puck Description: The Finnish 5 Puck is a progression of activities that starts with an individual warm-up, then advances to a group exercise where players work together to pass 1, 2, 3, 4, and eventually 5 pucks at once.
This game will look extremely messy at first but as time goes on, players learn how to communicate with each other verbally and non-verbally to complete passes. The dynamic nature of this game forces players to keep their head up and make decisions by reading and communicating with each other. If a coach commits to an activity like this throughout the season, you will marvel at the teams' improvement throughout the year.
- Players: Great for 3, 4 or 5 players at a time.
- Space: Can be set up within a zone, or as a station. The smaller the space, the quicker the decisions need to be made.
- Variations: Add obstacles within the space to challenge the players further. Count the # of successful passes. You can also end with a 3 vs 2.
- Full Game Details: Finnish 5 Puck
Game # 2 Corner to Half Wall 2 vs 1
Corner to Half Wall 2 vs 1 Description: This game forces players to practice 2 on 1's and using the boards in a tight area. The goal for the forwards is to connect on 4 passes in a row. If the forwards get 4 passes in a row, they are awarded a shot on net. If the defense breaks up the play 2 times they are awarded a shot on net. Make sure players use the boards for puck protection and bank passes!
- Players: 2 forwards and 1 defender. The goalie is optional.
- Space: Corner of ice. You can also set this up on other tight areas.
- Variations: Players should switch up playing offense and defense. You can make the space smaller. You can require more or less passes. If the defense is taking the puck away too much you can require them to flip their stick. You can also go 2 vs 2.
- Full Game Details: Corner to Half Wall 2 vs 1
Game # 3: Gates of Buffalo
Gates of Buffalo Description: The goal of this game is to pass the puck through as many "gates" as possible. Players are not allowed to pass through the same gate 2 times in a row, so it requires players to communicate with each other and work to move to open space and open gates. You can have the group compete against other groups for most successful passes in 45 or 60 seconds.
- Players: 3, 4, or 5 players at a time.
- Space: Can be set up within a zone or as a station.
- Variations: Can add more or fewer gates, or additional obstacles that they must pass around. You can make the gates smaller or larger. You can also add defending players. Can also say get 5 passes and then 1 shot on net, and then go back to aiming to get 5 passes again.
- Full Game Details: Gates of Buffalo Small Area Game
Game #4: Run Ragged
Run Ragged Description: The emphasis of this hockey game is to get forwards moving without the puck. As soon as the game starts, the coach passes to a forward. The forward must pass to their teammate and immediately jump to an open cone. They are only allowed to leave a cone after they make a pass. After 5 consecutive passes, the forwards are awarded a shot on net. If the defense intercepts the pass, the game starts over with a new puck. The defense should focus on stops and starts with an active stick.
- Players: 3 forwards and 1 defender. The goalies are optional.
- Space: Can be a station, or half-ice.
- Variations: Can make the playing space smaller or larger. You can add in more cones. You can move the cones to different areas. Can require more or fewer passes. If the defense is getting the puck too often you can have them flip over their stick. You can also set this up to be a 3 vs 2.
- Full Game Details: Run Ragged Small Area Game
Game # 5: Swedish 2 vs 1
Swedish 2 vs 1 Description: This is a simple yet highly effective small area game that requires 2 players to work together to connect on 4 passes in a row. If they get 4 passes in a row they are both awarded a shot on net. If the defending team breaks up the play 2 times, they are awarded a shot on net. It is similar to the Corner to Half Wall 2 vs 1 but there is no boards to utilize. Players should work on deception to open up and expose the defender along with short passes and jumping to space.
- Players: 2 forwards and 1 defender. The goalies are optional. If you do not have goalies, you can set up the game like this: 7 Pass 2 vs 1
- Space: Can be set up as a cross-ice activity within a zone or as a station.
- Variations: Can make the playing space smaller or larger. Can require more or fewer passes. If the defense is getting the puck too often you can have them flip over their stick. You can also set this up to be a 3 vs 2.
- Full Game Details: Swedish 2 vs 1
Game # 6 Decision Time 2 V 1
Decision Time 2 vs 1 Description: This activity forces players to react and make a decision with the puck. 2 players start out with the puck and a coach (or player) will charge one of the players. This forces the player to decide if they should pass the puck or keep it and try to evade the defender. The coach should switch up their defending technique so the players always have a different decision to make.
- Players: 2 forwards and 1 defender (coach or player). The goalie is optional.
- Space: Station
- Variations: You can have a player be the "coach." The defender can be stationary or can charge faster so that quicker decisions need to be made. Make the space tighter or add in obstacles for an added challenge. Can also make this 2 vs 2.
- Full Game Details: Decision Time 2 vs 1
Adding small area games and activities like the 6 games listed above will help your players work decision making, which will improve them as a hockey player. Additionally, as a coach, you can brainstorm and modify some of your current drills to make sure a player does not always have a set path and that they need to make a decision on their way to completing the drill.
It is inevitable that players will lose the puck at times trying to stickhandle with their head up. If they lose the puck looking up, acknowledge their effort and encourage them to keep working at it. As time goes on they will get more comfortable playing with their head up.
The best part about these games? Players enjoy them and will work harder because the games will naturally bring out the competitive spirit in each of them. Adding games like this will make your practices more enjoyable.
Extra credit: It should also be noted that players can improve their decision-making abilities by developing their puck protection skills, which can allow them to protect the puck longer if they need to, so they can make a better decision. Also, spending time stickhandling at home with their head up is extremely beneficial!
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