6 Ways to Make your Hockey Practices More Effective

The Ice “Crisis:”
It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of ice in a lot of hockey towns. Different organizations have tried to address this problem in different ways… with some outcomes working out better than others. Many organizations run half-ice practices, with two teams sharing the ice. Other programs are running “station practices,” with 50-60 players rotating through various stations. Some programs are still using the “old-fashioned” method of full-ice practices, with one team on the ice at a time. I believe most organizations are using some combination of the scheduling methods above.

The purpose of this article isn’t to critique the various “ice accommodation strategies” that have been tried over the years, nor is it to attempt to solve the world’s ice scheduling issues (although that might be another topic for another day). What I’m looking to accomplish here, is to set forth a philosophy that you can use with your team, regardless of the stance your organization has adopted.

Making Wise Use of Your Ice Sessions:
There are endless philosophies and opinions on how hockey players should be developed, what types of skills should be taught, and at what age the various skills and concepts should be introduced. I have my opinions, and I’m sure you have yours! Regardless of your school of thought, one simple development strategy holds true… teams MUST make the most of their ice time, especially when ice is as scarce and expensive as it is today!

Here are a few tips I recommend:

1. Take it Outside! Lots of stuff can be worked on off the ice, away from the rink. An obvious one is conditioning. It kills me to use precious ice time for skating ladders! If players, coaches, and teams all got on board to consistently execute a well-designed, hockey-specific workout program, both during the off-season and in-season, then conditioning wouldn’t need to be addressed in practice.
Check out our free, 3-Part video series on Off-Ice Training for Hockey.

2. Off-Ice Skills Sessions: Conditioning isn’t the only thing that can be developed away from the rink. Many teams are holding off-ice skills sessions to supplement their on-ice practices. Modern advances in off-ice training aids have made the experience much more realistic for players looking to develop their stickhandling, deking, shooting, passing, and even some aspects of skating. Getting set up to hold off-ice skills sessions takes a bit of financial investment up front, but the return on investment in the long run can be HUGE. Here are some examples of off-ice training sessions we’ve run:




Visit our friends at HockeyShot to start collecting your off-ice training aids.

3. On-Ice-Specific Development: On the flip side, there are some skills that can only be developed on the ice. Skating technique, agility, passing in motion, 1 on 1’s, 2 on 1’s and other battling tactics all fall into this category. Positional play and systems work are also tactics that must be developed on the ice. Stuff that can’t be worked on OFF the ice, should be highly stressed ON the ice!

4. Homework Assignments: Another place a lot of practice time is wasted is at the whiteboard, while drills are being explained. I know a lot of coaches who assign homework before practices. Usually these are web links to video diagrams, animations, or demonstrations of new drills. There may still need to be a quick explanation, but if the player has done his/her homework, there learning curve is significantly reduced.
Many coaches have used the videos in our Coaches’ Training Course as homework for their players.

5. Core Drills: I also recommend having a core set of 10-15 drills you use on a regular basis. Players will begin to memorize these drills, and know them by name. You’ll eventually be able to just call out the drill, and players will get themselves set up without needing the explanation again. This tactic can help keep practices running smoothly, and it also reinforces the concept of perfecting drills and skill sets.

6. Coach’s Preparation: Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a HUGE believer in planning every single practice. Keeping your thoughts organized on the ice is extremely important to running a smooth practice. In my opinion, the best way to keep yourself, and your practice organized is with a computerized diagrammer/practice planner. The two I use (and recommend) are DrillDraw and HockeyShare. Both are phenomenal!

It doesn’t have to be “either/or…”
Lastly, many coaches and administrators have the mistaken belief that systems play shouldn’t be taught too early, because it detracts from skill development. This can be true if you LET it be true, but I believe it doesn’t have to be an “either/or” proposition. If you make proper use of your team sessions, both on and off the ice, and develop individual and team skills in the proper order, then positional and systems concepts can naturally be built into your practices, even at very young ages!

As players begin to learn the recurring patterns of the game, because of well-structured practice sessions, they will begin to see the play better, and react more quickly when those same patterns present themselves in real games. It can be done, and you’re the one who can do it! Check out our playbook for more information on developing systems hockey at young ages.

What have we missed?
Are there any on-ice productivity tips you’re using that we didn’t mention here? Leave your tips in the comments below!




Open up Passing Options by Crossing Through Lanes

When I was a kid, my first coach (NOT MY DAD) took me a side one day, and drew two lines down the middle of a rink diagram. He then taught me that “the right winger stays on the right side, the left winger stays on the left side, and that the centerman mostly stays in the middle, but can help out if a winger needs him…”

HOW FAR THE GAME HAS COME SINCE THEN!!!

Today’s hockey is much more dynamic, with players interchanging positions constantly––especially in the offensive zone. I like this more “European” style of play, and I think it is much more effective at opening up passing options and scoring chances.

My general philosophy is to let structured, positional assignments govern defensive zone play, and concepts such as timing, support, and triangulation govern neutral and offensive zone play. This allows forwards to be creative within a framework in the offensive zone.

Enjoy!

Philosophy: When to Start Teaching Hockey Systems?




How early can youngsters be taught to play “systems hockey”?

Many people have varying opinions on the correct answer to this question… and, as is often the case with philosophical hockey questions, there is more than one correct answer. The answer depends on the physical skills of your players, the mental maturity of your players, and the manner in which the systems are taught and implemented. In this video, I discuss my own personal opinions on the matter, and why I believe what I believe.

When I was 8 years old, my dad had this idea of taking the top-caliber kids from around the city, and keeping essentially the same kids together for 5 years. The end goal of his vision was to win an Ontario Championship at the “AAA” level.

As 8-year-olds, we were taught to play systems hockey based on a “color-coded” breakout set-up. Our individual skills were advanced enough that we were able to complete the patterns of a structured breakout system, even though we weren’t quite ready to read the play ourselves. So, my dad gave each breakout option a color, and he would read the pressure and call out the play from the bench. We would hear it, and react accordingly. As we got older, we were taught to read the play for ourselves and make our own decisions.

This color-coded breakout system allowed us to learn “systems hockey” years before other teams in our league. I mention a few of our team’s successes in the video.

WARNING: Do not let systems and positional development rob individual skill development. They can both be developed simultaneously if practices are structured correctly.

ENJOY!




The Hockey Development Pyramid is a great tool to help design your season’s “Road Map”

Before the season begins, it’s a good idea to take inventory of your team’s strengths and weaknesses. I use the Hockey Development Pyramid as a tool to help gather my thoughts, and determine what areas of play should be focused on over the course of the season.

Skills within various tiers of the pyramid can be developed simultaneously (i.e. puckhandling and passing can be developed during a breakout drill). However, it is EXTREMELY important to build from the bottom up, not from the top down. Players who have not developed a solid foundation of Individual and Team Skills will never be as effective at performing the higher-level skills such as Team Systems and Strategy.

ENJOY!

YOU’RE INVITED… REGISTER TODAY!!

Most competitive teams do some sort of pre-season training camp to ensure that the players are primed and ready to go as soon as the season starts. This is great, and I’m a firm believer in this strategy!

Coaches must come to training camp with a plan, a goal, and a purpose if they intend to have any form of success during the regular season.

We have developed a FREE Specialized Online Training Course for Hockey Coaches, that will give them a chance to think about, and plan their seasons so they can hit the ground running come training camp.

The course will last 2 weeks and will be done via blog posts with videos, written instruction, and downloads.

Here are a few of the topics we’ll be discussing:

  • Coaching Philosophy
  • Defensive Zone Coverage
  • Breakouts
  • Offensive Attack Options
  • Forechecking
  • Regroups and Neutral Zone Play
  • Special Teams

SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT OUR COACHES TRAINING COURSE TO ENTER!

We would love to have you participate with us. The Training Course is FREE (just sign up below), and we are even giving away a few cool prizes for folks who help spread the word––including a free DrillDraw Pro license (the software I use to create all my videos) valued at $149!

UPDATE:

We just received word that Shooter Tutor is donating one of their “substitute goalies” for the giveaway (a $165 value)… so now we’ll be able to select TWO lucky winners (your odds just went up!)

I’ve been a HUGE fan of the Shooter Tutor since I was a kid. We had one set up in our yard during the summers and I spent endless hours shooting pucks with my buddies. When I started up my hockey school, the first thing I invested in was two Shooter Tutors… and they’ve lasted for years under intense use!!

Owning at least one Shooter Tutor is a must for any hockey coach.


UPDATE:

I couldn’t resist… I’m adding my own product to the giveaway. We’re throwing in an S3 Formula membership as our third prize (VALUED AT $147). The S3 Formula is my web-based strength and conditioning program, designed specifically for hockey players. We have players from all over the globe participating in the S3 Formula, and now you’ve got a chance to join in the action and get an incredible advantage over your opponent this year!

Our users have already had some phenomenal results using this program… check out this before and after shot of our buddy Nate Hymas (S3 user).

So, we have 3 prizes up for grabs now… we’ll pick our 3 winners on July 12th to kick off our Coaches Training Course. If you haven’t entered the giveaway yet, check out the instructions below!

HERE’S HOW TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY (YOU MUST COMPLETE ALL 3 STEPS TO QUALIFY):

  1. Register for the Training Course using the form below
  2. Email (and copy me on the email for verification info@weisstechhockey.com) at least 5 of your favorite hockey friends about this course (your coaching staff is a great place to start). Send them to this post so they know what the course is all about.
  3. Stay tuned for the drawing on July 12th, the first day of our training course!

Talk soon!

Jeremy