I conducted a survey a few months ago regarding this blog and I asked about readers’ “burning” questions about coaching. The number one topic that was mentioned was dealing with parents but, I was surprised at the number two topic: practice drills. Questions about age appropriate drills, how to teach skills within drills, and how to create more scoring with meaningful drills.
Two things that are important when it comes to drills: make sure there is something specific that is being worked on, and keep the drills simple.
First, it’s too easy just to run, say, a full ice one on one drill without explaining to players what is being worked on. You need to convey to players why they are doing a drill and what specific things they are to be working on within that drill. For example, in that one on one drill you may specifically want the defencemen to challenge and close the gap early in the rush. In fact, you may want your defencemen to step up and challenge just inside the blue line. This will undoubtedly be uncomfortable for them because their first inclination will be to back further in. But, in asking them to be uncomfortable you are making them better at playing their position. In another scenario, you may want your defencemen to stay between the puck carrier and the net. In this instance you could have your defencemen drop their sticks and work specifically on foot work and skating skills to accomplish what you are looking for.
Second, keep your drills simple. It’s tough to accomplish much with a drill if your players are wondering and worrying about where they are supposed to go and what they are supposed to do. I sometimes watch minor hockey coaches run drills that I can’t figure out where the start and where the end is. Typically, those are the drills that players struggle with and end up not accomplishing much. The complexity of a drill is not an indicator of a coach’s skill level. I would argue that how a coach conveys to their players the lesson that is being taught in a drill is far more indicative of a coach’s effectiveness.
Another question I get asked a lot is how to incorporate progressions into drills. And, there are some great advantages to running drill that have some element of progression.
There are a few ways to make a drill a “progression”. A simple way is to add numbers. For example, progress a 1v1 drill into a 2v1 drill by simply adding a player on offence. Then, that could become a 2v2 drill by adding another defender.
Another way is to add a second puck. An example: after a 3v2 rush down the ice a coach could add a second puck to play it out 3v2 in the zone (or, add a player from the last rush to make it a 3v3).
Doing different things with the same framework of a drill is also a terrific way to create progressions in your practices. For example, a simple drill where a forward passes to the defenceman on the blue line and then goes to the net for a screen/rebound could morph into the defenceman having to drag the puck across the blue line before shooting. Then you could add a pass back to the forward for a shot, etc. There could be many variations but you have the forwards and defencemen in good starting spots and therefore explanation is quick and easy for new wrinkles to the drill.
There are many resources for drills online. One of my favourites is Drill Hub at Hockey Canada. The site includes lots of drills to download, and they are typically relatively simple and come with teaching points and videos.
I have also put together a drill book called Essential Hockey Training that is an accumulation of the best 66 drills from over 40 years of playing, coaching and living hockey. These are my “go to” drills and I have included teaching points with each one. Many drills include some kind of progression. All are easy to follow and understand with explanations and diagrams, and can truly be used at all levels of hockey. Sixty-six drills might not sound like a lot but if you used each one twice in a season that would pretty much take care of all of your practices.
As well, here are some related blog posts to running good practices: