Drill Design for Hockey Coaches: How to Modify Drills to Fit Skill Capacity and Space Constraints

“I’m a new coach. I played at some pretty high levels, including pro. Now I’m a dad, looking to coach my kids. I have lots of drills, but they’re too advanced for the group I’m working with… I’m having a hard time scaling them down to the skill level of my team; and we’re sharing ice too, so I need to downsize the drills for a half-ice or station setting.”

I received this in an email from a coach a couple of weeks ago. Modifying drills for less experienced players, or downsizing drills to fit in smaller spaces can be tricky. It definitely takes some trial and error, and can often push us outside our comfort zones.

I’ve actually been functioning in this state of “discomfort” for the past 7 years or so. Before my oldest son, Tyler, started hockey, I was very comfortable and confident in the full-ice setting. When Tyler started, USA Hockey made some modifications, and things started moving to station-based and half-ice practices.

At first it was uncomfortable… but I got the hang of it, and before long I was fine in the half-ice realm. Then things changed again!

This year our program grew, and we were asked to share the ice 3-ways! So, my players are older, bigger in size, with bigger rosters, and we have a smaller space to practice in!

Once again, I was pushed outside my comfort zone. But we’re making it work, and I’m growing as a coach.

Three Key Points to Effectively Designing and Modifying Drills

There are three key points I consider, when designing and modifying a drill to fit a different circumstance:

  1. What does the drill work on? What are the key elements that make this drill effective?
  2. Understand the “flow” of the drill. How many players go at once? What does the wait time look like between turns? Etc.
  3. Can I add or remove any elements to make this drill work better for my circumstance without compromising the integrity of the drill?
Here’s an example of a Quarter-Ice 1 on 1 drill

Take an Assessment

Lastly, whenever you try a new drill, or a modification of an existing drill, it’s good to take an assessment of how it went.

  • Did it run properly?
  • Did it accomplish what you had hoped?
  • Is there anything you could do to make it better?
  • Were the players involved?
  • Was the wait time about right for the players in line?
  • Etc.

These tips have been working well for me the past 7 years in a constantly changing landscape. I’m interested to know what you would add to this advice. What is your process for designing or modifying drills for less experienced players? What’s your process for shrinking a drill down to a smaller area?

Let me know in the comments below!

Jeremy