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Milan Lucic & Marc Savard of the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins

Offseason Coaching Manual 3: 5 Rules for a Perfect Practice

05/08/2015, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

Want to know how to run the best practices?


Why do young hockey players play spring hockey?

No, I didn’t ask why parents’ put their kids in spring hockey - I asked why, if you were to approach the player him or herself, and question them about their motives - what would they say?

  • It’s fun?
  • New friends?
  • I get better at hockey?

Hopefully it’s one of those three things, and hopefully you’ve asked the question. 

This is the 3rd in a 4 part series on coaching in the offseason. Read part 1 & part 2. 

The good news is that as a coach, you can have a direct impact on those three questions with what you do in practice. If you’re not coaching and you’re watching practice, then here are a few things to watch for. 

1. Keep ‘em Moving

Ice is priced at a premium in spring hockey. It’s actually starting to rival the costs of winter hockey (lower your eyebrows), so it’s important that you use the ice to your advantage. Get as many kids moving at the same time as possible. If the kids start taking a knee on their own in the lineups, that’s a clear sign the practice is having an effect. 

2. Keep ‘em Engaged

If the kids are taking a knee because they’re exhausted after doing something they enjoy? Even better! When coaches teach skills and activities that engage the body as well as the mind, that’s when maximum development occurs. Make the hour a rich one with quick-paced, physically challenging drills that they enjoy. 

  • Put a puck on every player’s stick
  • Try to achieve 100 shots for each player
  • Passing, passing and more passing

3. Keep ‘em Entertained

“Don’t be afraid to get my kid going! You can yell at him if you want to!” Thanks, but rare are the times when a coach needs to yell in a player’s face. Sure, it happens, hockey is a passionate game. I’ve found, however, that combining the above two rules while keeping a practice light with the odd lame joke goes a long way toward not only injecting energy, but toward keeping the player coming back for more next time. Hockey is a marathon, not a sprint. Getting them to laugh is much more powerful than getting them to cower. 

4. Keep ‘em Organized

There’s so much to cover in spring hockey it boggles the mind. Spring hockey teams are all about skill development, so which skills should you be working on?

Well, there’s positions to consider. What are the goalies doing while you’re working on skating or stickhandling? Strengths, weaknesses - all these elements can be tough to tackle if you’re not organized. 

It doesn’t matter how you do it, but stay true to bullet #1 above by separating players into stations or specific skill groups. 

  • D in one end, forwards in another
  • Goalies with a goalie coach, players somewhere else

Map out the ice to maximize engagement and your players will get plenty of enrichment from the practice. 

5. Keep ‘em Prepared (Instead of Reacting)

Plenty of coaches run into the mistake of reacting to a recent loss at practice and ignoring their original mission. Sure, there’s rom for tweaking things based on the weaknesses of a group, but you’ll never get far ahead enough to react effectively every day. Plan for the future by understanding your group and where they’re at in their development.

Ask Yourself:

  • Which skill areas require the most attention?
  • Do they understand their positions sufficiently enough for the next level?
  • What areas will they need improvement in if they’re to have a positive chance in tryouts in the fall?

These are all questions to ask before the spring season starts. You can change your answer and change your path as you go, but you created your goals for a reason, so stick to ‘em.

photo credit: 080920 Savard Lucic via photopin (license)

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