"Winging It" at Practice
At the beginning of the 2018-19 season, I committed to pre-plan practices and deliver all the plans and diagrams of each drill to my assistant coaches at the beginning of the day. I am typically an early riser and I enjoyed getting the plan done before breakfast and emailing my coaches. They were very appreciative and always took time to look at the drills so that they could be prepared as well. It also allowed me to print off the practices and post them in the dressing room and on the glass in the rink for reference. This was a great system and I truly felt that the flow of the drills and the teaching pieces were much better when I took the time early in the day to lay it all out.
I also compartmentalized practice in my thought process for the day. I knew with practice already “in the can” that I could focus on other things during the day and show up at practice all pre-prepared and ready to go. It was actually a great stress reliever for me and allowed me to focus on other things when I got to the rink before practice.
I am not sure what exactly happened one day in early February this year, but for some reason I was unable to plan practice before getting to the rink. I apologized profusely to my assistant coaches. Interestingly, none of my players mentioned that the practice wasn’t posted in the dressing room - clearly, not a priority for them to read it.
Now, I knew exactly what things I wanted to cover in practice and I am particularly adept at “winging it”. I always have lots of drill in my head and, often I just make drills up on the spot. Usually the new drills are good but sometimes, I come up with something that I think works particularly well. I would say that the on-the-spot drills that find their way into my regular rotation are those that have lots of variation and application to different situations.
I am going to share one in particular, but before I do, after that practice in early February, I didn’t plan a practice again for the rest of the season (let’s say it was about 10 practices). I found that I was much more energized on the ice, felt I taught more during the drills (not on autopilot!), overall I was just more engaged with the practice. This was also a time when the team had been struggling. They were trying to find some new energies and a way to be more positive moving into the playoffs. My energy level certainly contributed to helping them achieve what they were hoping to through that period of the season.
Although I have published a drill book, I rarely write about specific drills. In fact, the only other time I did (What Makes a Good Hockey Drill) I received a lot of negative comments about the particular drill I introduced - mostly to do with work to rest ratios, etc. The post talks about eight things that make a good drill. I take for granted that good drills don’t have players standing around a lot (don’t get me started on that) but, I will stand by my premise that the Yale 1v1’s is a terrific drill.
Back to the early February practice. If memory serves, for some reason we only had 60 minutes on the ice that day instead of our usual 80 minutes, and I had a goalie recruit out to skate with us. I had a few goals for practice that day: 1) have a high speed, intense workout, 2) make sure the visiting goalie got lots of shots and enjoyed the practice, and 3) we really needed to work on offensive rushes.
So, I started with a four corner set-up and began our “warm-up” with a Horseshoe Drill kind of feel. The team had great energy this practice and worked at a high tempo. The drill, the “Bear’s Four Corner All Purpose Rush”, went on for 40 of our 60 minute practice with each stage adding to the last with different passing angles, different situations (1v0, 2v0, 3v0, 1v1, 2v1, 3v1, 3v2), etc.
Truly, there are so many variations to the drill that it is difficult to diagram. Here are four different looks to the start of the drill. These can all be done 1v0, 2v0, 3v0 starting from the same corner. I vary between starting on the whistle and on cue, and vary whether we go both ways at the same time.
- Blue - straight puck carry down the boards, wide for a shot on net
- Red - across the front of the net for a quick “pop” pass from the opposite corner
- Purple - “stretch” pass from the opposite corner
- Green - classic horseshoe type pattern with pass from the far corner
Then, we add some resistance to create 1v1, 2v1, 3v1, 3v2.
- Red - Forward(s) and defence start at the same time on the whistle creating a “race” to the far end. Stagger the defencemen up the boards to give them an advantage on the race so they can pivot to backwards.
- Blue - Defence starts from the far, opposite corner and close the gap while pivoting to backwards.
As you can see, there are many variables to this drill and it can serve many purposes. One of the things I do a lot in practice is have my forwards play defence in drills. This allows for our defencemen to step up into the offensive play more in games without the worry of a forward having to cover on a defensive rush with no experience actually playing defence on a rush.
Maybe the best part of this drill is that much can be accomplished without stopping and giving instructions to set something new up constantly. When I look for new drills these are the types I look for - something you can add new things to, and it mimics game situations.