Adding Decisions & Cues To Practice

Coach Alyssa Gagliardi & Coach Ben Eaves discuss the benefits of adding decision making and cues to practice. The earlier players learn to play with their head up, the better.

By adding decision making and cues to practice, players will be put into situations that encourage them to pick their head up to be successful. This will help develop their on-ice awareness & hockey sense.

6 Examples of Decision Making Activities

1. Use Active Sticks Instead of Static Objects

Using an active stick instead of static objects (like cones or tires) will force players to keep their head up & look for cues (where the defenders stick is) that will guide their next decision.

Below are 2 examples of drills that progress from static objects to moving sticks. The first example uses a coach and the second example uses players that would normally be in a line. Coaches can jump into any drill and make it more dynamic by moving their stick one way or the other.

View our hockey drill database to view 600+ drills that can be modified by adding a coach or a player in the drill (instead of a cone) to force players to pick their head up and make a decision.

2. Add Variables That Require Players To Keep Their Head Up

In the drill below, Decision Time 2 v 1,  is an example of a drill that uses an active coach. This will force the players to keep their head up to see what way the coach is moving. Then the player can decide to pass, or hold onto the puck.

Additional drill examples that have variables which require players to keep their heads up:

  1. Decision Time 2 v 1 (shown above)
  2. Rondo Keep Away Passing
  3. Sticks In Lanes Game
  4. Chaos Weave Passing

3. Use Drills With No Pre-Defined Route

In the Protect The Puck Warm-up, there is no pre-defined route that the players must skate to. This forces players to scan the ice for time, space & other players. All things they need to do in a game. In Part 1, the players are protecting the puck by themselves and then they progress to Part # 2, where they play keep away and protect the puck from the other team.

More examples of drills that do not have a pre-defined route.

  1. Protect The Puck Warm-Up (shown above)
  2. Finders Keepers With Teams (similar to above, but team with most pucks at the end wins)
  3. Finnish 5 Puck
  4. 3 Speed Warm-Up

4. Add Goals For Both Teams

Having goals for both sides will make all drills more game like as they bring out additional competition (& fun). In the game below, Picket Fences, offense tries to score, while defense tries to skate the puck out between the gates for a point!

Below are links to the example above along with examples on how to play games with NO goalies or only ONE goalie.

5. Use Battle Drills

The game of hockey is made up of 1 v 1 and 2 v 1 situations all over the ice. Coaches can utilize battle drills to bring out extra competition at practice and help players practice making decisions in tight during a competitive environment. 

In the 2 v 1 Rebound Battle Drill below, 2 players battle for a loose puck & look for support at the point. A very common situation in a game.

Below are links to additional battle games & situations:

  1. Rebound Battle 2 v 1 (shown above)
  2. 1 v 1 Battle Drills
  3. 2 v 1 Battle Drills
  4. 2 v 2 Battle Drills

6. Use Small Area Games or Scrimmages

Using small area games & scrimmages is a great way to get a lot of players involved in dynamic game like decision making at once! In the small area example below, Coach TJ Manastersky explains The Redwing 2 V 3 or 2 V 4 Game with footage from  Union College. The game is a special teams game that can work on the penalty kill forecheck and power play breakout concepts. 


Coaches can get many players making game like decisions at once by utilizing small area games and scrimmages.

Scrimmage modifications:

  • Player modifications: Coaches can modify scrimmages to give another team an advantage. For example, instead of a normal 3 v 3 game, a coach can start with 3 v 1, or 3 v 2 so that the offensive team can focus on moving the puck around while the defense works on good habits like keeping their stick on the ice and angling.
  • Rule modifications: Coaches can also make certain constraints in scrimmages. For example, a team must make 3 passes in a row before they can shoot. Or, players can only shoot off of a one time pass. These unique situations will help players work on a skill while thinking creatively on how to achieve the intended goal.

Looking for small area game ideas?

Examples of Hockey Cues

As players improve their on ice awareness they will be able to identify different cues that will aid their decision. As a coach, you can ask players why they made a decision (there is no right or wrong answer). By simply asking them why they made a decision, you will be able to have a discussion on what they saw or didn't see. 

Below are some cues that give hockey players information to make decisions on the ice. 

  • Where the defenders stick is
  • Where the defenders body is
  • What way the defenders skates are facing
  • Where your teammates are
  • Where the open ice is
  • How fast players are skating

Next time you are on the ice, make sure to add some of the examples above to practice!

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