Contributed by Mike Simon (Saint John, NB)
LET’S FACE IT, HOCKEY IS NOT ONE OF THOSE SPORTS where you can simply step on the playing surface and walk away with the top prize. It’s a complicated game that requires intense hours of practice intermixed with talent and knowledgeable coaching.
A few years back Sports Illustrated rated hockey as the second most difficult sport to play (behind boxing if you can believe it). The magazine recognized the fact that a player must be able to balance, glide, and turn on elevated platforms that only maintain contact with the ice via a few millimeters of steel, all the while controlling a chunk of vulcanized rubber on the end of a long stick. Never mind the dexterity, momentum, or coordination needed to control the puck, or the 200-pound warriors barreling down the ice all trying to separate you from said puck or, better still, separate your body from its component parts.
Which is why it never ceases to amaze me why some coaches make so little use of their practise time.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years, both as a parent and as a coach, is that the more active the practises are the more likely a team will be successful. Ice time for most teams is a scarce and valuable commodity, hockey organizations can only afford to dole out so much to its teams and purchasing additional ice time can be financially prohibitive even if it was available which, in many communities, it is not.
The common thread among teams that tend to succeed is that they make use of every minute of their practise time and every practise has a distinctive focus, like an emphasis on defensive tactics or offensive cycling.
What follows is a short list of do’s and don’ts I’ve accumulated that could be applied to any age group, from the wide-eyed IP’s to the body-crunching Midgets.
- Don’t waste the beginning of practise firing pucks around.
- Don’t have players standing around. If a drill calls for only two players to participate, consider modifying it to include four.
- Don’t skate into a practise blind. Have a plan, set targets, and define your strategy. If you lost your last game 10-5 perhaps you should plan your practise around defensive zone coverage. If your power play went 0 for 8 maybe that’s a good place to start.
- Have players ready to set on the ice when the Zamboni doors close. They should have a regular warm up as part of their practised routine.
- Have enough helpers on the ice even if it’s to pick up the pylons while you explain your next drill at the whiteboard.
- Intermix conditioning drills with team play in order to keep the players involved. It’s easy to get bored with repetitive practises so make small changes and keep them thinking.
Keep it challenging. Players like it competitive, that’s why they play. Therefore use competition as a motivator in practise when you set up your drills.
Every coach has his or her own set of priorities just as every team has its own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve found that all these factors can be addressed over time in well run practices and both the players and the team will be better for it.