Looking ahead to the 2020 - 2021 youth hockey season there is a good chance that many youth hockey associations will not be playing league games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chances are each State and Province will handle it a little differently. Associations within each district may even handle it in various ways.
If there is a possibility that your association may be restricted to in-house play to start the 2020-2021 youth hockey season then this is a good article for you to read.
In this article we discuss ideas on how we can create a good environment for our players when they are playing in an in-house environment for a portion, if not all, of the season.
As coaches and directors we have to come to terms with this possibility. We have to start thinking about creating an environment and culture where our players will still thrive in an in-house environment.
Adjusting Our Mindset
The mindset needs to start at the top of the association and trickle down to coaches, players, and parents. If we look at the positives that in-house play brings then we can start to get excited about the environment we are going to create. It all starts with accepting the fact the team will not be playing official league games for a while. We need to be excited about the opportunity to focus on pure development without being distracted by scores and standings.
We know that well designed practices are much more beneficial for young hockey players when compared to official games. The amount of play time, puck touches, and engagement is far greater in a 1 hour practice when compared to a 1 hour game.
This mindset also needs to be transferred to the players and parents. Without “buy-in” from the parents and players it could be a tough year. Explain to them how much more beneficial the practices are when compared to games. If you design your practices with enough competition and fun then you will easily prove your point.
Therefore, with the proper mindset we have to feel confident that our players will have an opportunity to develop more, not less, during this time. It starts at the top with a director and trickles down to the coaches. If the coaches are truly excited about the opportunity then it will trickle down to the players and parents.
Benefits of In-House Hockey
From a pure development point of view there are a lot of benefits to not playing league games. These benefits can be used to help get your players and parents on board and viewing the in-house model in a positive light.
- Number of puck touches increases
- Amount of play time increases
- Team morale is not dictated by wins and losses
- Families get more time back on weekends because there is no travel (more time to be kids)
- Coaches prepare for developing players, not winning games
How to Keep Players Engaged When They are not Playing League Games
Let’s be honest there is a certain amount of excitement that young players have for competing in league games. Therefore we need to try and create an environment that will create competitive excitement. Here are a couple of ideas.
Organize 3 on 3 tournaments
Organize a 3 vs 3 tournament once every two weeks. This gives the kids quality “pond hockey” time in a competitive environment.
- Here are some ideas on how to organize a 3 vs 3 tournament:
- Each team consists of 6 players so players get a lot of ice time.
- Ideally you would have access to a studio rink or the ability to split a full ice sheet into two halves.
- Create rules that allow maximum play time for the kids.
- Switch up the teams for each tournament.
- Limit the amount of coaching, just let the kids play.
- Organize a post tournament party.
Create Skill Competitions
Host an optional skills competition each month. Keep players scores and times posted at the rink and on the association website. Incorporate things just like the NHL skills competition so players can relate to the races and competitions.
Create a Competitive Practice Environment
Kids are very motivated by competition. If you create a competitive environment on a consistent basis in practice it will become part of your team culture. On the contrary, if you do a lot of static drills with no pressure then it will also be evident in the energy your players bring to practice.
Adding a “go to” library of competitive activities, battle drills, and small area games can help you achieve this. Try a consistent structure where you include competitive activities to start practice, include battle drills within the main part of practice, and end practice with small area games. Ideas for fun and competitive activities at the start of practice include:
For ideas on battle drills and small area games have a look at these two sections:
Organize Fun Off-Ice Activities
With less travel on the weekends there might be an opportunity to organize some off-ice activities. The activities can be competitive games where the focus is more on athletic development than “hockey specific” training. Try asking the team what kind of games they like to play. Here are a few ideas:
- Flag football
- Ultimate frisbee
- Capture the flag
Ideas on how Coaches Can Prepare
Develop a Practice Structure
There are a lot of options for developing a weekly practice structure. Here is a hypothetical structure for a team that has four practices per week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
- Tuesday: 4 station practice
- Thursday: 3 station practice
- Saturday: 3 station practice
- Sunday: Full or Half ice games
This structure allows you to then work on practice plans that fit into this structure. Keep in mind you need to make sure you are implementing enough fun, creativity, skating fundamentals, skill development, competition, and small area games / “pond hockey” time.
Create Practice Plans That Support Your Practice Structure
Have a strategy and a “why” behind the design of your practice plans. This will help you choose drills and activities that have a purpose and are appropriate for the age and skill level of your players.
Before you begin designing your practices decide what elements you want to include. Here are some suggestions:
- Skating fundamentals
- Stick and puck skills
- Creativity, awareness, and decision making
- Puck races / relay races or “compete games”
- Small area games or “pond hockey” time
For example at the Mite / Novice age levels you should consider including skating fundamentals and fun into every session. As you move on to the Squirt / Atom age level you may think about incorporating skating fundamentals 2 times per week and start adding in more stick and puck skills. Directors should be giving their coaches good direction in choosing these practice elements based on their age level.
Example of a U10 (Squirt / Atom) practice plan
Setup: 3 stations
Objective (the “why”): Get players excited to start practice with a game they all love. Re-inforce skating fundamentals from previous practice. Stations will address puck protection, stick skills, and “pond hockey” time.
- Warm up game (7 minutes): Full Ice Torpedo (fun, skating, awareness)
- Full ice line skating (10 minutes): Focus on better hockey position and full extension and recovery with full stride (skating fundamentals).
- Stations (15 minutes each):
- Station #1 - Finders keepers (puck protection, awareness, decision making, creativity, and compete level)
- Station #2 - Finnish Skills Series (stick skills)
- Station #3 - Cross Ice 3 vs 3 (Creativity, awareness, decision making, “pond hockey” time).
Practice Plan Resources
Here are practice plans that include an emphasis on activities, competitive games, skill development, awareness, and decision making.
The increased amount of practices means a lot more planning time for coaches. There are a lot of good resources you can use to help find great content, organize your practices, and communicate with your coaches. Good use of technology by the coaching will ultimately benefit the players.
Icehockeysystems.com provides a platform that provides great resources for hockey coaches that provides the ability to:
- Find drills and activities by category and age level
- The ability to save and organize your favorite content
- Upload videos (or save from YouTube & Vimeo)
- Create practices
- Share your own content or content from icehockeysystems.com with your team
Hockey Drills that Accommodate Social Distancing
In some areas it might be recommended to practice social distancing while on the ice. If this is the case there are still a lot of things you can do. However, it will eliminate any kind of battle drills or small area games where the kids come into cloase contact.
Line Skating and Skills
Line skating and skills is where the players are lined up on one end and skate the full length of the ice dong a specific skating drill or stick skill. You can do this while keeping players socially distanced using the full width of the ice. Starting at the blue line with the lines going back to the goal line with enough space between players will allow you to use 75% of the ice. Here is a diagram of how it is set up...
More Hockey Drills and Activities for Social Distancing
Any drill where the player is isolated and doing it by themselves can be made to work with social distancing guidelines. Here are a couple example of skills series that would work as long as you space out the lines:
However, finding dynamic drills, activities, and games that require more reading, reacting and decision making are tougher to find.
Here are some links to drills and activities that are more dynamic, include competition, and allow players to read, react, and make decisions.
Hopefully our players will be able to return to normalcy in a safe and healthy environment sooner rather than later. If your association plans to play a portion of the 2020-2021 season in-house, without league games, then more planning will be required by the directors and coaches. A well designed structure and environment can be beneficial from a development standpoint. Hopefully this article has provided some ideas and motivation for any coach or director who is facing an extended period of time without league games this season.
If you have any ideas you would like to contribute please leave a comment below.