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Wayne Gretzky with the New York Rangers.

Why Multiple-Skill Drills are Revolutionizing Hockey Training

07/18/2014, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

Practice is one thing - are you ready for the game?


Hockey has five key skill components:

  1. Skating
  2. Stickhandling
  3. Passing
  4. Shooting
  5. Checking

Every situation in a hockey game borrows from these 5 areas.

Think about it; breaking the puck out of the defensive zone requires skating, stickhandling and passing. Scoring a goal on a 2on1 involves skating, stickhandling, passing and shooting.

Checking enters the equation when we don’t have the puck. So, breaking up that 2on1? Skating and, hopefully, stickhandling followed by a quick pass to a forward. 

Each key skill component of hockey is a small piece of the larger overall puzzle. Strength in one area can overcome a degree of weakness in another, but only to a certain point. This is why hockey players graduating from bantam or midget are combining not only on and off-ice workouts, but the actual skills being trained during these workouts. 

Game Simulation

“I’d never do that in a game” is a common refrain from younger players. One that usually has a coach answering “that’s right, but it’s a skill that will help you perform more complicated routines during a game.”

Performing drills that combine skills together is as much an exercise for the mind as it is the body. Skating with the puck, making a pass, getting a return pass and taking a shot on net is a simple combination of the first 4 key components. 

Does this exact situation happen in every game? 

Nope, but a variation of it sure will. Practicing these skills in sequence prepares players for the game by introducing unexpected events.

Mental Conditioning

Don’t get me wrong, introducing laser-focussed basic skills one at a time is still immensely helpful. If each key component is a piece of the overall puzzle, then we best be sure each of these components is operating at the highest level of performance. 

Here are 5 basic drills to focus individually on each of the key skills:

  1. Skating. Work on extending each leg from a basic hockey stance to develop a full stride.
  2. Stickhandling. Stationary puck work through hurdles or around pylons.
  3. Passing. An excellent way to warm up: stationary passing.
  4. Shooting. Focus on the hand position, weight transfer and follow through.
  5. Checking. Still dependant on skating, work on understanding body position.

Working on each of these skills on their own and then adding others to the mix improves the brain’s capacity for the game. Once these skills are solid, focussing on other skills simultaneously forces the brain to remember each part. 

This is how we build habits.  

Watch Desi Burgart and Justin Wilson practice their stickhandling.

Physical Conditioning

Rarely in a game are hockey players free of distraction. Shooting from the high slot without any pressure is easy, just like standing still and stickhandling underneath a hurdle.

The key, though, is the muscle memory we create with multiple skills. If we can agree that the best hockey players on earth function more with instinct than purpose, then we can also agree that hard-wiring as many possible sequences into the mind of a hockey player allows for the greatest possible number of options.

… which is all a fancy way of saying ‘habits’.

A habit is shooting the puck hard after receiving a pass on your backhand in full speed.

A habit is keeping the puck close to the your feet in traffic while keeping your eyes up.

A habit is carrying the puck with speed behind the net and hitting an outlet pass to a winger on the wall.

Plus, performing a 45-second sequence involving multiple core hockey skills is physically just harder. And therefore achieves more results.

Training Readiness & Awareness

Training the mind and the body to perform in pressure-filled game situations ins’t easy. It’s a long way to transfer everything you learn in practice into a game, which is why performing complicated sequences of basic skills is important. 

So, to answer our original question, how are multiple-skill drills revolutionizing the way hockey players train?

Multiple-skill drills aren’t just training quicker hands, a harder shot or any of the 5 core skills. 

Multiple-skill drills are training hockey players to use those skills. 

Looking for a camp that works on multiple skills? Join the Bantam/Midget Battle Camp to work on individual skills and then put them to the test in competitive situations.

Register Here for Bantam/Midget Battle Camp ->

Atom/Peewee Battle Camp ->

photo credit: Håkan Dahlström via photopin cc

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