I recently posted a piece called “11 DOs and DON’Ts for Hockey practice”. I had a lot of positive response to it and thought I would break it down somewhat by looking at how I approach each drill in practice individually. I like to think of running practice as “choreography”. What we are doing as coaches is “choreographing” all of the movements in a practice in order to make it efficient, informative and meaningful.
To start, I make sure in my practice plan that I have given each drill a specific amount of time and I stick to it right to the minute. I would say that the average amount of time I would spend on a certain drill would be about ten minutes. That means in a 50 minute practice we would typically run five different drills (e.g. a warm up, a skills drill, an individual or team tactics drill, a systems drill and a game/battle/fun drill). It’s not a lot of time and in order to get through all that you want to cover you need to keep moving. I will go as far as putting on my practice card that we will run a certain drill from 7:07 until 7:16 and keep track on the clock so we don’t go over.
The first thing I will do to run this drill is tell my on ice staff (assistant coaches, helpers) where I need the pucks and pylons for the next drill towards the end of the preceding drill. In this case, I need pucks at each blue line on the boards and pylons set up at the tops of the circles (see diagram). If I was on the ice by myself, I would get players to organize the pucks while I set the pylons.
The next thing is to get the drill up and running as quickly as possible. I am not a big fan of using a white board (I actually never use one) but I do have great “rink voice” and most of my instruction and explanation is done with players in many parts of the rink. For this drill, I would start my explanation by sending ¼ of my skaters to each blue line on the boards (most likely divided by colours). Once I get them there (pucks and pylons already in place), I give quick instruction that they are always on the same side of the rink (in other words, if you are in line 1 to start you go to line 4 for the next time). Then I would go to the start of line 1 to demonstrate - telling the player at the front of line 3 that they should pass the puck to me at the center dot. Talking/instructing through my demonstration, I will say things like “full speed”, “stick on the ice”, “hard passes”, “good pass catching”. Then, after receiving the pass, I would instruct that we want players “going wide” around the pylon with their “head up” and “shoot from the angle with purpose” and then demonstrate shooting low to the far side (hoping the goalie will give a good rebound into the slot area). After I demonstrate, I will then tell them what order they are going in - Line 1, then line 2, etc. (see diagram)
At this point, if I have allotted 10 minutes for this drill, I would hope that I have spent less than a minute explaining the drill and we are ready to go. I point to line 1 and say “Let’s Go!”
This drill is a progression drill - in other words there are three different passes that we try to employ from the same set up. The second part has players skating towards the passer for a quick 4 foot “Pop” pass and the third, the player skates to the far blue line and across for a stretch pass. Same exact drill but the pass receiver skates different patterns. If I have allotted 10 minutes for this drill than I would have to make sure we only spend 3 minutes on each part of the progression.
So, we have started the drill. Unless the first couple of players totally go in the wrong direction I will typically allow everyone to go at least once in the drill before stopping and making adjustments. But, I will ALWAYS stop a drill half way through to do one of three things: correct something that isn’t being done well (e.g. “Pass the puck hard!”), to add something to the drill or further explain something to concentrate on (e.g. “Always shoot low far side”) or, to tell them they are doing a great job on the drill and praising them for something (“Great stick to stick passes!!!”).
One little thing: I don’t blow the whistle to stop a drill. That will usually mean that someone is in the middle of the drill and has to stop. I will typically go over to one of the lines and tell the next player “don’t go after you pass”. This stops the drill but doesn’t necessarily signal “the end” of the drill. I can get player’s attention much better when they need to visually figure out that the drill stopped rather than the sound of the whistle.
If by chance the drill is way off right from the start, I will reset everyone in their lines and re-explain the drill again. This happens occasionally because I get the drill going quickly with limited instruction but, for the few times I have to explain again I still find it better than dragging everyone to the white board for three minutes while I diagram the drill.
If the drill is a progression drill like this one, I stop the drill (no whistle) and re-demonstrate or explain the next part of the progression.
A couple of takeaways for you as a coach: limit your drills to an allotted time, get your drills going quickly, always stop and correct drills, and make sure there is meaning to everything you do and players are consciously working on some facet of their game in each drill.