1 of 2 in a special series involving hockey coaches of all levels. How to make the most of your practice ice throughout the year.

You see it all the time at rinks across North America, especially at the youth level. Whether it’s kids standing around for minutes on end in lines to finally getting their 10 second rep of a drill followed to the back of the line for another few minutes wait. Maybe it’s a team using half the rink when they have a full sheet of ice and the team’s assistants are just standing around holding their sticks in the air while again, kids sit on the bench waiting for their turn. Maybe it’s a coach yelling at his players (typically the younger ages) because they can’t complete a full breakout/regroup/game tactic despite the coaching drawing it up on the ice.

If you are a coach and have this happen in your practices, or even someone who just wants to be more efficient with their limited amount of practice ice they get here are some tips you can use to making better use of your time and development.

So where does making your practice the most efficient start? OFF THE ICE.

I’m sure many of you are thinking “that doesn’t make any sense, how is that even possible”.

Tip #1: Plan your practice accordingly – Are you getting a full sheet of ice, or a half a sheet of ice? Are you getting 40 minutes of full ice and then 20 minutes of half ice? How many coaches are going to be there? How many players are going to be there? These are all things that should be figured out a head of time, and communication with both your assistant coaches and the families on the team is crucial to making sure you design a practice that makes best use of the ice given to you. Along with planning your practice based on numbers, try to plan on how to keep kids moving as much as possible. Have 15 kids and 2 assistant coaches? Try running 3 different stations for 10 minutes each that work on different skills or game tactics where kids are constantly moving, or have 30 seconds of rest max. 5 to 1 skater to coach ratio is great especially when working on mechanics and technique.

Tip #2: Keep it simple (at the start) - It may sound easy and simple, but you need to face reality. Just because YOU know how something should be done doesn’t mean your skaters know. Trying to teach mites or squirts a full five-man breakout might seem easy to you, but to them it’s a daunting experience, especially with all the moving parts going at once. If necessary, break the drill down to as basic as possible. Maybe you run a half ice station where you dump the puck in, a defenseman goes back to get it and a forward acting as a winger comes down the boards and gives the defenseman a target to pass to. The pass is made and the winger heads up ice with the defenseman following and setting a gap. Once the winger hits the face-off circle past the blue line he turns back in and goes 1 on 1 with that defenseman. The next progression would be adding in a center, who times the pass to the winger and then goes in 2 on 1. The next progression would be adding in the weak side winger and having them come back in 3 on 1. Now everyone is starting to what their specific position does in each scenario and that five man breakout is now easier to understand and run for them. Be creative when breaking scenarios or tactics down.

Tip #3: Go over practice before going on the ice - One of the biggest wastes of time you will see in rinks everywhere is a coach scribbling a drill on the glass while his team is huddled up trying to interpret his markings and making sure they understand what’s going on. Typically, there will be a few who don’t understand but will just “go with the flow” because they don’t want to be “that kid” and eventually mess the drill up. This happens 3-4 times a practice typically for about 10 minutes total to draw and instruct. Wouldn’t it be great to have everyone on the same page before you step on the ice? Guess what? You can! All you need to do is communicate to your team that they need to be dressed and ready to go on the ice 10 minutes before practice. Then, bring in your white board and dry erase marker to the locker room and go over every drill you plan on running as well as covering the major points of emphasis. Ask the kids if they have questions, (you’d be surprised how many ask now compared to feeling pressure of getting to the drill on the ice and staying quiet) and answer them. Think about it this way. If you spend every practice on ice using 10 minutes to explain and diagram a drill, over the course of 6 practices you would have lost the equivalent of an hour of ice just talking while the kids sat on a knee. For some teams, you are losing up to 5-10 hours a season of ice just talking and drawing drills! Make better use of that ice time and go over the practice plan before you step on the ice.

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