Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

www.IceHockeyDrills.info



Thanks for stopping by. This site contains information and drills that I have learned over the course of my 28 years on the ice. Everything is FREE, if I have a drill I will post it and you can use it.

If you have a question you can contact me privately Email Coach Nielsen and I will do my best to answer your questions.

Filed under: General

Wisconsin Coach Mike Eaves – 4 Nations Drill

Here’s a drill from D1 head coach Mike Eaves of the Wisconsin Badgers.

Nice drill to work on zone entry and getting to the net hard. It incorporates timing passes and full ice skating.

I also want to thank Kevin and the guys at www.HockeyShare.com for the animation software, so I could create the video of the drill. Very cool stuff. I’m not an expert, but it was pretty easy to use the first time I tried.

4 Nations

 


 

Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drills

 

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Filed under: coaching, Drills, Passing, Practice, Skating

NHL Coaches Association Symposium

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the NHLCA symposium in Philadelphia. The NHLCA was created to help NHL coaches get union like representation years ago, and for the past ten years they have been holding these symposiums. The place was packed with NHL head and assistant coaches. When I first walked into the meeting hall I saw Mike Babcock just standing there so I went over to say hello and introduce myself. He grabbed my hand and said “Hi, I’m Mike Babcock”. I responded, “of course you’re Mike Babcock, everyone knows you’re Mike Babcock”! It just shows how humble most of these guys are, that they still remember their manners and introduce themselves by name.

The session started with a fifteen minute opening from Scotty Bowman. He told a few great stories and got the proceedings going. Dave Maloney of the Rangers was the master of ceremonies and he introduced the first speakers from the USA olympic team. Coaches, Bylsma, Laviolette and Richards. Their presentation was about how they picked their team and once the team was selected how they put together a plan to make them a team. Coach Bylsma spoke about how he took the time to meet with each player on an individual basis and learn more about their game. Coach Laviolette spoke about how the team would work their forechecking system and Coach Richards covered the defensive zone stuff. All in all it was very interesting how they went about getting the team ready to play in Sochi. One thing they spent a good deal of time on was how they gave so much thought to the larger ice surface, and how to use it to their advantage if possible. When their time was up Bylsma made a few jokes about being out of work and did any of the other coaches in the room need an assistant.

The next group up was the gold medal winning Canadian olympic team coaches, Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien and Lindy Ruff. The Canadian coaches concentrated on how they prepared their team for the gold medal game against Sweden. We watched a lot of game film and they each described how they broke down the film for their respective group of players. Again, a good deal of time was spent on how the larger ice surface would impact the way they played. Obviously they were confident with the talent they had, that they would be able to compete at a high level of success. Mike Babcock gave a lot of praise to Ken Hitchcock for his scouting and pre-tournament preparation skills. Babcock spoke about how each player on the team had to change something about their game to fit in better with the team concept. He pointed out the sacrifice that Rick Nash made by becoming more of a defensive player and not being so much a part of the offensive side of things. Babcock speaking about Nash was part of his closing comments and led to a very funny retort from Dave Maloney of the Rangers when he came to the podium. As Babcock was walking away, Maloney leaned into the mic and said, “thanks for making Nash such a good defensive player, maybe you could teach him how to score again”! An obvious reference to Nash’s lack of scoring during the Rangers Stanley Cup run.

At this point they split the group into different areas. The pro coaches went to participate in sessions about contract negotiations and time of possession discussions. The amateur coaches went to sessions about penalty killing, goaltending and coaching. I had the opportunity to go to either side and I chose to stay with the amateur guys because that seemed so much more interesting.

First up was Lane Lambert of the Nashville Predators. Lane runs the penalty kill and he did 45 minutes of non-stop video analysis and explanation of the Predator PK. I have to say, I think of myself as a guy who knows how to teach the PK, but this guy was from another planet good. He had a breakdown of every different situation you could face on the PK and how his team was trained to react to it. He spoke about how he watches video of all his opponents PP from the most recent five or six games and then goes to meetings with his PK units and goes over that video. I have to admit I am very jealous of the NHL coaches and all that video they have access to. He even had the Predators video coach with him. This presentation was one of the very best I have had the opportunity to sit in on through all my years of attending coaching symposiums. I suspect Coach Lambert will be the head guy someplace in the near future.

We took a break for a quick boxed lunch and I sat in a spot by myself. As I’m eating Barry Trotz walks up and sits across from me, followed by Ken Hitchcock, Mike Babcock, Todd McClellen and another guy I didn’t know. I’m sitting there thinking I hit the coaching jackpot. All of them said hello and included me in some minor conversation while we ate lunch. I told Trotz that my sons think that he and I look very similar and after looking at me for a few seconds he agreed. A few times people walked past the table and looked at the group of coaches and I’m sure some of them thought “who’s that guy with them”?

After lunch Ken Hitchcock gave a presentation that had nothing to do with X’s and O’s. Instead he spoke about how to be a coach. The difference between a coach and an instructor. He said a lot of us are good coaches, but not good instructors, and many are good instructors but not good coaches. He stressed how important it was for youth coaches to have coaches on their staff that are good instructors. By that he means, guys who can teach proper skating technique, or stick handling, or other skills that youth players need to concentrate on. He spoke about how he was a coach for a Midget 16 team for years and told some funny stories about issues with parents while he was coaching that level. He spoke about the importance of letting the players play hockey during practice. He said that he uses small area games plus full ice 4 on 4, and 5 on 5 games to give the players a chance to learn in real game type situations. Spoke a lot about keeping all the players busy and not running drills that have one player with the puck shooting on one goaltender. I have the very same philosophy and try to do those very same things at our team practices. He  finished up with a few funny stories and a question and answer session. After his session I had the opportunity to just speak with him for a few minutes and he was a real gentleman.

Next up was Jeff Reese who is the goaltending coach for the Philadelphia Flyers. He showed a load of video with Steve Mason and how he works on all the minor pieces of the game in practice. He had a bunch of practice drills he uses with Mason and also spent a good deal of time showing goals against Mason and why he gave up the goal. Coach Reese was very detailed on how he prepares for practice and how he has a plan to get certain things out of his goalies at practice. One part I found very interesting was how he feels goalies don’t catch the puck enough anymore. He feels too many goaltenders let pucks hit them in the chest and then drop on top of them, causing potential needless rebounds. He showed many examples of this and I think he is correct. A very long time ago when I played competitive ice hockey I was a goaltender and I always tried to catch pucks whenever possible. Some very interesting stuff from a guy who specializes in working with the goaltenders.

The final part of the day was what I thought was by far the best part. They broke us up into small groups. My group had six other coaches. Three from the Pittsburgh area, one from Canada, another guy I know well from the Comcast organization, Pat Ferrill, who is a very good coach in our area, and one other from the Philadelphia area. In the small group sessions we sat in a circle and two NHL coaches would join us for twenty or thirty minutes and you could ask them anything you wanted to. So many guys passed through our group that they are too many to name, but I especially enjoyed speaking with Craig Berube of the Flyers, Mike Nolan of the Sabres, Mike Yeo of the Wild and Gerard Gallant of the Panthers. Each of them had an assistant coach with them and we talked about every subject we could think of. Not too often you get to pick the brain of a guy at the NHL level. Two seasons ago during the lockout I had the opportunity to coach against Peter Laviolette a few times and spent a good deal of time in the locker room hallway with him before and after games discussing hockey. This was just as good.

If you have the opportunity to attend this symposium next year, I highly recommend that you do. I’m sure you will learn something from attending. As part of our attendance they gave us each of the presentations from the coaches in PowerPoint format. I’ve added links here in case you would like to see them. Honestly, without the coach to speak over them they are less interesting, but maybe you will find something of interest.

Lane Lambert Nashville PK Presentation NHLCA 14

Jeff Reese Goaltending NHLCA14

TEAM USA – Coaches Clinic

Ron Rolson NHLCA14

NHLCA Contract Negotiations

I didn’t get a copy of the team Canada or Ken Hitcock’s presentation, but if I get them I will update this post.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under: coaching

Coach Bennett and Union Win NCAA National Championship

Just want to congratulate Coach Bennett and his Union Dutchmen on their national championship success. Coach Bennett has helped me and my team with defensive zone coverage and skills and we won a championship. Obviously his techniques are pretty solid, helping him guide his team to their first national title. Our site has had input from a few of the coaches who took their teams to the Frozen Four tournament and we want to thank all of them for their willingness to help other coaches, while at the same time guiding their teams to great success. Once again, congratulations to Coach Bennett from my Jr Flyers team and all the coaches who use this site, we appreciate how special your accomplishment was today.

Filed under: General

Contributing D1 Coaches Win Conference Championships

I just wanted to offer a quick note of congratulations to two head coaches who contribute content to our site for winning their conference championships over the weekend.
First up is Derek Schooley (@DerekSchooley) for Robert Morris University. RMU scored five goals in the third period to take down Canisius 7-4 in the Atlantic Hockey final. Next is Mike Eaves and his Wisconsin Badgers (@BadgerMHockey). Trailing 4-2 to OSU with under seven minutes to play the Badgers scored two goals in 28 seconds to tie the score at four. In OT, the Badgers scored the winning goal at the 7:48 mark to take the Big Ten championship. Great job by both coaches getting their teams to the final game and winning the championship. To both men, thanks for your continued support of our site and congratulations on your teams conference championship.

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Filed under: General, , , ,

Drills from Miami of Ohio Coach Rico Blasi

Here are some drills from head coach Rico Blasi that he runs with his D1 Miami of Ohio team. Obviously at this level these drills are done at a very high tempo. Some of the drills we have on the site already in a similar style, but I thought it would be good to group all these drills together anyway. The drills cover  warm-up, passing, read and react, coverage and player battle areas of the game.

I use the Double Pass Wide in almost every full ice practice because it gets the players to make passes through some traffic and keeps them skating. I’ll add a player to the front of the net to track rebounds so the goalies don’t get lazy when making saves. I also use the Two Shot Drive and 4 Whistles drills many times during the season. I believe that these nine drills alone can make up a very good practice that runs at high tempo.

One Touch Passing
Double One Touch Passing
Double Pass Wide
Two Shot Drive with Stretch Pass
Miami 1on1 Continuous
5×2 To 3×3
4 Whistles
Half Ice Breakout
Player Battles

Filed under: Breakout, coaching, Drills, Passing, Practice, Shooting, Transition, Warm-Up

World’s Best Teams Use Small Area Games

Recently I saw a post on USA Hockey’s website talking about how the best teams in the world use small area games to improve their players.

How do the best teams in the world train?

Here is what some of our Olympians had to say about their NHL team practices.
When asked if they play small-area games in their NHL practices here is what the players had to say:

Dustin Brown, “We regularly play 2v2 in a small area to work on our battling skills”
Ryan McDonagh, “We use the small games to try and make plays quickly because you don’t have a lot of time or space.”
David Backes, “We do small area games for battling along with limiting time and space. At our level, making decisions must be done quickly.”
Ryan Suter, “The small games work on all skills that you need to play hockey.”
Ryan Miller, “The small area games we play help me to rely on reflexes as a goalie since your angles and landmarks have changed.”

Small-area games in practice help even NHL players stay at the top of their game

Personally I use Small Area Games at the end of every practice I run with my U16 team. I think they are a great way to develop skills in a “game like” situation and it really builds the compete level of all your players. I typically use the last 15 to 20 minutes specifically for different types of small area games which you can see in the Small Area Games section of this site. I don’t think you should rely on SAG for an entire practice but building in these games to your practice routine will really help improve your team and player skills.

Three years ago I published an article on the reasons to use Small Area Games in practice and with the above USA Hockey article I thought it would be a good time to post it again. Keep in mind it is over three years old so some of the things have changed since then, but it is still very relevent.

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In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote a landmark book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he defined and popularized the concept of the “paradigm shift.” Years later, Dr. Stephen Covey brought the concept of paradigms and paradigm shifts to a much broader audience with the publication of his bestselling work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

In its most basic form, a paradigm can be defined as a model of something, or a very clear and typical example of something. Therefore, a paradigm shift takes place when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something is changed. Quite simply, a paradigm shift is a change from one way of thinking to another.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself what any of this has to do with the sport of hockey. A great deal, actually. Over the past twenty years, our society has been constantly changing. Massive paradigm shifts have taken place in all aspects of society and sport. Think about the advances in technology and communication. In the early 1980’s, only a small group of believers could see a vision of a future that included things we now take for granted such as cell phones, laptop computers and the world wide web. Up until a few years ago, a large portion of the population still had not changed their belief that the internet was just a fad that was only of use for a select few.

Now think about the advances that have taken place in the areas of sport science and athletic training. Athletes today are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before. Strength and conditioning programs are now sport-specific. Sport scientists on the cutting edge are constantly redefining the accepted theories on optimal athletic training and improving both the athletes and the sports in which they are involved. In reaction to both scientific and common-sense realizations, many sports now contain practice routines that look vastly different from what they may have twenty years ago.

I will now ask you to think about the typical hockey practice in our country. Does the typical practice session look any different than it did twenty years ago? I would argue that it does not. Hockey is one of the few sports in the United States that has not embraced change. Many of today’s hockey coaches, from the youth levels through the

professional ranks, hold fast to the belief that what worked for them twenty or thirty years ago will work for today’s players.

If we define a paradigm as a typical example of something, then what is the American hockey practice paradigm? In watching hundreds of hockey practices every year, I am amazed at the similarities most practices contain. Here’s what I see:

• A slow moving warm-up that typically includes stretching muscles while sitting or lying on the ice.

• Skating drills that are not specific to game situations or designed to build and improve technique.

• A few flow drills such as 2 on 0’s or 3 on 0’s which typically result in players skating at much slower speeds than they would in a game situation and making passes and taking shots that would not be an option in actual competition.

• A number of different team drills, such as 5 on 0 breakouts, which consume a great deal of time and don’t allow for the number of quality repetitions players need to fully develop a skill or grasp a concept.

• Practices finishing with traditional conditioning drill such as Herbies or sideboards. Even though we’re training for a sport that requires quick bursts of power and energy, and science has proven that skating technique begins to break down after about 20-25 seconds at top speed, our coaches insist on skating players in a single drill for up to two minutes to “condition” them.

Does any of this look familiar to you? As a coach, do you see practices that are run like this? Do you run your practices like this?

Our current paradigm is outdated. Twenty and thirty years ago, players could overcome the type of practice routine outlined above by developing their skills on the pond or the outdoor rink. Outdoor rinks would be crowded with kids of all ages, developing and honing their skills while playing the game and having fun. No adults to organize and criticize. No whistles, no talk, no overzealous parents screaming from the stands. Just the players and the game.

Society has changed and hockey has changed along with it. Players are no longer spending their days on the pond or the outdoor rink. There is too much structure and too many other options to occupy their time. Every day coaches in our country have conversations lamenting these facts and longing for the good old days, wishing things would return to the way they were. But we all know that things are not going to go back to the way they were. Rather than giving in to this realization and deciding that there just isn’t anything we as coaches can do about it, I would argue that we need to be more creative with our practice time. It is up to us to help our players learn the skills and hockey sense that once came naturally from time spent on the outdoor rinks.

It’s time to make a paradigm shift. It’s time to make small-area games the cornerstone of our hockey practices. Using small-area games in your practices is a great way to bring the feeling of the outdoor rink indoors. Players work harder, learn more and have more fun when practicing with these drills.

We will take a look at the what’s, why’s and how’s of small-area games as well as provide you with some different games that you can begin to use in your practices today. Make the paradigm shift. Your players will thank you for it.

WHAT ARE SMALL-AREA GAMES?

Before examining the reasons for using small-area games in practices and the benefits these games provide, we must first define what a small area game is.

Small-area games are game-like competitive drills that utilize a playing surface that has been reduced in size. A typical small-area game will be played in one end of the ice and can be played cross-ice, between face-off dots, in one corner, below the face-off dots or in any other number of areas, including the neutral zone.

The area of the rink being used is dependant upon the skills being taught. Most games are designed to teach a combination of individual skills and are most easily played in a cross-ice format. However, some games will be moved into a much smaller section of the rink to create a smaller playing surface while other games will take advantage of a much larger area to teach team skills such as breakouts or power plays.

The number of participants is lowered in small-area games. Any combination of players can be used. Again, it depends upon the situation, the level of play and the skills being taught. Teams can have anywhere from one to four (or more) players and will compete against other teams that may or may not have the same number of players. Coaches can choose to add support players or station themselves in a position to become part of the game to receive and give passes or create any number of potential odd-man situations within a game.

Special rules and conditions are applied to small-area games. Even though I am dedicating a section to this topic later in this guide, it is important to mention here that small-area games are created to mimic different situations that are seen in a regular game. While games can be played without any special rules or conditions, it is usually these small modifications that keep the games fresh and allow players to see many different offensive and defensive situations.

Small-area games are designed to focus on multiple skills and situations, increasing puck touches and situational repetition. During a small-area game, players will have more puck touches because of the reduced size of the playing area, the reduced number of players and the special conditions placed on each game. At any level of play, an average player may only have control of the puck for a few seconds during the course of a game. Depending on the game being played, that same player may have over a minute of competitive puck-possession time while taking six or seven shifts in just one ten-minute game. Within every small-area game, players are also placed in more tight situations and have more attempts on net than in any traditional drill I’ve seen – all while competing and having fun.

An often overlooked benefit of small-area games is the positive effect they have on goaltenders. Goaltenders, arguably the most important part of any team, are often the most neglected players in practice. Most drills provide shots that either don’t challenge the goaltenders, come so quickly that the goaltender does not have time to recover properly, or come at a pace that does not adequately duplicate conditions seen in a real game. Goaltenders thrive in small-area games because they are seeing live competition and – much like a skater getting quality puck touches – can face as many shots in one ten minute small-area game as they will see in an entire regulation game.

So who uses small-area games, anyway? Small-area games are nothing new to the Europeans. They’ve been successfully using competitive games in their practices for years. Recently, small-area games have become more commonplace in North America as well. They are used extensively in many professional organizations, colleges, junior programs and USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Many successful high school and youth programs have implemented small-area games as a major means of teaching skills and team concepts as well.

WHY USE SMALL-AREA GAMES?

The reasons for using small-area games as the main teaching tool in youth hockey practices are numerous. We’ll spend some time in the following pages looking at a number of great reasons to use small-area games.

Before looking at those reasons, though, we must take note of the fact that while using small-area games in practices is a relatively new concept, small-area games are not a new concept. Kids have been creating small-area games forever. Pick-up or shinny games on outdoor rinks or ponds have rarely featured the nets set nearly 200 feet apart. Street hockey games rarely cover half of a city block. These games, whether on ice or land, have traditionally taken place in a small area.

Not coincidentally, when long-time hockey coaches or enthusiasts discuss what is missing from today’s game, the discussion often centers around the lack of shinny or street hockey that exists in today’s society. Kids have interests and options outside of hockey and the world is a much different place than it was even twenty years ago.

With that in mind, coaches must find a way to bring the fun and skill development from the outdoor rink indoors. Small-area games are the most effective way to accomplish this important goal. Here’s why:

Small-area games promote creativity and experimentation. Too may of the drills we use today are scripted and include a pre-determined outcome. Nothing in the game of hockey is predetermined. Full-ice 1 on 1 drills, 2 on 0 or 3 on 0 drills done at half speed and any number of other drills that are commonplace in our practices do not replicate actual game conditions. Through the continued use of these drills, we eliminate the thought process and decision making skills of our players. Small-area games produce situations that our players will see time and again in competition. Through trial and error, they will develop many different options to create plays and experience success.

Small-area games create a more competitive practice environment. Competition is fun. More than that, small-area games push players to work harder, compete at game speed and learn to succeed against competition.

Small-area games eliminate the need for traditional conditioning drills. Hockey is a game comprised of short, explosive bursts of power. Shifts are short – typically anywhere from 30 to 50 seconds – and are followed by periods of rest two to three times that long. Logic should tell us that we should train our players in the manner in which they will play. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.

Many coaches insist on their players skating a variety of lengthy endurance drills – we know them by many names – such as Herbies and sideboards that force players to attempt to skate at top speed for up to two full minutes. Of course, we know it is physiologically impossible to skate at top speed for this long. Without going into a detailed discussion, what actually happens during these drills is that players will gradually lose knee bend in the skating stride, bend their backs and lose the ability to fully extend the stride leg at a proper angle. Thus, through the continued use of these endurance drills, coaches are actually creating slower skaters by systematically destroying skating mechanics.

Small-area games provide an intense environment in which to train while maintaining a proper work-to-rest ratio for players. Coaches using small-area games in place of traditional conditioning drills will find that their players are more willing to “work” in practice because they are having fun and competing. Players will almost always ask for one more shift in a small-area game. How many players are begging their coaches for a chance to skate six sideboards one more time?

Small-area games keep more players moving. Have you ever witnessed a hockey practice during which a drill is run with one player at a time skating through the drill while fifteen other players stand in the corner and watch? What are these drills accomplishing? The game of hockey is not played one player at a time. More than that, hockey is a sport in which skills can only be gained through continuous proper repetition. How many quality repetitions can a player gain in a twelve minute drill when only one player at a time takes part in the drill? As we’ve already discussed, there was a time when players could overcome this type of practice structure by going to the outdoor rink to sharpen their skills. Players rarely visit the outdoor rink anymore. Therefore, practices must be designed to allow players the quality repetitions they need to improve. A twelve minute 3 on 3 game played with eighteen players can give each player upwards of six competitive shifts in which they could have more than fifty puck touches and perform every skating maneuver imaginable. This is all done within a system that develops teamwork, camaraderie and hockey sense.

Small-area games develop and improve individual and team skills. Players can develop and improve every skill related to the game of hockey through the use of small-area games. The next chapter of this manual is dedicated to taking a look at a number of the skills that small-area games can be use to teach.

Players learn to excel in tight situations. The modern game of hockey is played in small areas and in tight situations. As players continue to get bigger, stronger and faster, the rink continues to shrink and there is less room to execute. Training to play in these situations through the use of small-area games will strengthen players and teams by practicing for these tight playing conditions on a daily basis. As players get more comfortable playing and practicing in small areas, they are better able to execute skills and systems in competition.

Your players will develop game strategies, make better decisions and have greater enthusiasm for practice. The bottom line is, when players see a situation develop in a game that they have seen hundreds of times before, they’ll know how to handle it.

Players can’t be expected to make proper decisions and go to the right place on the ice during a game if they have never been trained to do it. Where does hockey sense come from? For some players it may be an inborn trait, but for most players hockey sense comes through experience. If they’re not on the outdoor rinks playing pick-up hockey, where is that experience going to come from? It has to be built into practices.

Another common complaint from coaches is that kids don’t want to practice; they just want to play games. “Practice is boring and the kids just want to have fun. The kids won’t work hard at practice, so nothing gets accomplished.” This may very well be true for a number of coaches and teams. It’s true; if the kids aren’t having fun they won’t work as hard. If your players want competition, give it to them. Give it to them on a daily basis in the form of small-area games and watch as the attitude and the level of play consistently improves.

Players of all ability levels improve. I hear from many coaches, mainly at the youth level, that they feel they can’t run effective practices because of the diverse talent levels within their team. Combined practices are another concern. How can coaches challenge all players and keep practices flowing? By using small-area games and pairing players of like abilities together, all players will be challenged, but not overwhelmed.

Small-area games are an outstanding option for both highly talented teams and in-house youth teams. Why? Better players are able to flourish and improve more rapidly when placed in competitive situations against other highly skilled players. They’re constantly challenged to do more because of the small space in which the games are played. In small-area games, weaker players are going to be involved in the play more often and have an opportunity to develop their skills in a competitive situation. They’ll improve over time while having fun and feeling more like a part of the team. Players of all skills levels will be challenged, competing and having fun.

Small-area games foster a love and enjoyment of the game because players and coaches have fun! Hockey is the greatest game in the world and it should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Implementing small-area games in your practices will raise the enthusiasm level of your players and give them something to look forward to in each practice. Happy players fall in love with the game and will want to continue coming back to the rink. It’s no different for coaches. You’re a better coach if you’re having fun and enjoying yourself. Teams model themselves after their coaches. A happy, hard-working coach with a great attitude will produce a team with similar traits.

WHAT SKILLS CAN BE TAUGHT USING SMALL-AREA GAMES?

As coaches, we all have our tried-and-true methods of teaching specific individual skills. In no way am I advocating that we dismiss traditional individual skill training and the drills that are used to teach those skills. Rather, I would make the argument that it’s what we do in addition to our traditional drills and teachings that will have the most profound impact on our players. That’s where small-area games come into play.

Virtually any individual or team skill can be taught through the use of small-area games. Of course, just as in a real game, virtually every skill imaginable is needed and will be practiced in a small-area game. This is accomplished in a learning-friendly environment in which the players are having fun. As a coach, have the courage to allow players to figure things out for themselves and let the game teach the game. Here’s a very brief look at some of the skills commonly taught through the use of small-area games:

Skating. Every skating maneuver is needed in small-area games. Lateral movement, stops and starts, tight turns, transitions, crossovers and the forward and backward stride will all be practiced in virtually every game.

Passing. Nearly every game incorporates passing as an integral part of the game. Rules can be applied to games requiring a number of passes prior to a shot on net or require players to give and receive passes from support players.

Shooting. No traditional drill will allow players to attempt as many shots under competitive playing conditions as a typical small-area game. Players are encouraged and required to use a variety of different shots, including the nearly-ignored backhand, and attack the net to capitalize on rebounds.

Stickhandling. Every player has the opportunity to handle the puck a great deal in small-area games. More than simply handling the puck, they’re required to do it in tight areas and under pressure. In my experience, this is the optimal way to become a better puckhandler.

Cycling. Many small-area games can be designed to give players the opportunity to work the puck low in the offensive zone. Competitive games allow players to develop the ability to work together to control the puck deep in the offensive zone while under the same type of defensive pressure they would typically face in a real game.

Transitioning. One of the trademarks of small-area games are the continual transitions players must make from offense to defense. Forwards and defensemen alike are put into situations that they would rarely, if ever, see in a traditional drill; yet routinely have to face during actual competition.

Angling. Because defenders are placed into a variety of real-game situations in small areas, they learn to close gaps and cut angles with a great deal of skill.

Breakouts. Games can be designed to incorporate breakouts and forechecks. This creates an excellent opportunity for teams to practice specific plays during a live, competitive situation.

Power plays. Many small-area games provide odd-man situations that closely replicate typical power play alignments such as the overload and the umbrella. Conditions and rules regarding the number of players on each team and their positioning can be implemented to meet specific needs.

Puck support. To achieve success in most any small-area game, players must learn to properly support the puck carrier and position themselves to receive passes, anticipate turnovers and run interference for teammates.

Hockey sense. Hockey sense is a skill that a coach cannot teach. Players only gain hockey sense through experience and repetition. Over the course of a season, small-area games can give players hundreds of quality repetitions in various situations that are commonly seen in real games. Traditional drills are all too often scripted, eliminating the thought process and decision making skills. Outcomes of small-area games, while containing specific guidelines and rules, are never predetermined.

Remember, these are just a few of the numerous individual and team skills that may be learned and practiced through the use of small-area games in your practices.

ORGANIZATION OF SMALL-AREA GAMES

Simply using small-area games in practice is not enough. The coach must take steps to make sure that games are properly organized to ensure maximum player development and learning through maximum effort. Some of the important considerations in organizing small-area games include:

Be creative. Creativity is a key to keep small-area games and practices fresh and exciting. The types of games that can be played and the rules they are played by are limited only to the imagination of the coach.

Length of games and shifts. Coaches need to take the length of games and shifts into consideration when drawing up their daily practice plans. How long should a game be played? While two minutes is probably too short a time period, twenty minutes is probably way too long. Typically, durations of between eight and twelve minutes will provide satisfactory time for several quality repetitions while holding the interest and attention of the players.

The length of each shift is equally, if not more, important than the length of the game. Since we are trying to duplicate game conditions during practice, a good rule of thumb is to keep shifts relatively short – no longer than a typical game shift. In fact, given that most small-area games require even more effort and involvement than a typical game shift, small-area game shifts should be kept shorter to prevent a breakdown of technique. Thirty to forty second shifts are usually sufficient.

Teaching points. Every small-area game has a focus and points of emphasis relative to skill training and development. While many different skills and techniques can be taught within any small-area game, the coach must choose a small number of teaching points for each game and stick to those points. While it is natural for a coach to want to critique any and all areas where he or she sees a deficiency, it is important to keep players focused and the lessons each small-area game is designed to teach and not burden players with extra thoughts that will restrict creativity.

Enforcing rules, technique and discipline. The key to enforcing small-area game rules, as well as monitoring technique and discipline, is having a minimum of one coach assigned to each game. It is the responsibility of the head coach to make sure that each member of his or her staff completely understands each game and is on the same page.

Know your players. In creating any practice plan and considering which drills are appropriate for a team, the most important factor for any coach is an absolute knowledge of his or her players. Small-area games that are too easy for players will get boring and games that are too hard and require players to perform tasks that are too advanced will lead to frustration and decreased effort.

Know yourself and your coaching style. To be an effective leader, a coach must have a true understanding of himself or herself. You can’t improve on something you don’t understand. As coaches, we are (hopefully) always seeking to improve. Many times improvement comes through mistakes that are made and recognized. Hockey players are no different. Players make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

Small-area games are designed to allow players to make – and learn from – mistakes. Coaches can certainly coach and point things out during small-area games, but should be careful not to overdo it. This is why coaches need to know themselves and have an understanding of their coaching styles. A coach that tends to over-coach or has a tendency to be very vocal will need to scale back on that behavior. Constantly barking orders during the games will only serve to distract players and reduce creativity and the learning process. Let the game teach the game!

CONDITIONS AND RULES OF SMALL-AREA GAMES

Every small-area game is governed by a number of conditions and rules that dictate how the game will be played and which skills and concepts will be highlighted. Conditions and rules must be closely followed; otherwise the game may not help players accomplish the predetermined goals.

Conditions and rules are what separate and distinguish one small-area game from another. Coaches must feel free to use their imagination and understand the needs of their team when designing a game. The only limit on the number or type of games is the coach’s creativity. Here are just a few of the important considerations to make when applying conditions and rules to small-area games:

The placement and number of nets. Where the nets are placed and how many nets are used may the most important consideration a coach can make when implementing a small-area game in a practice. The most common mistake made by coaches when placing nets in small-area game is to simply place the nets against the boards when playing cross-ice. Small-area games are used as a means of replicating real game situations and the nets are not placed against the boards during a real game. Unless there is a purpose for placing the nets against the boards, move them out and give players space to operate behind the net.

Another consideration revolves around the number of goaltenders that will be involved in the practice session. Many youth teams may only have one goaltender available at any given practice session. In these situations, implementing drills that only require one goaltender and/or having a quality net cover available for the second net would be advisable. Many high school or college programs, as well as youth teams sharing practice ice, may have three or more goaltenders on the ice at any given time. Again, the coach must plan ahead to ensure that each goaltender receives and adequate amount of work.

Increase or decrease the area of play. Expanding or reducing the area of play will have a tremendous impact on any small-area game. Reducing the area of play will require players to focus on puck protection, lateral movement, stops and starts and puck support in addition to many other skills. Increasing the area of play will free up the ice, allowing players to carry the puck more, make and receive more passes and reach higher skating speeds while still having to function in a limited space.

Add support players. Many of the games illustrated in this manual allow for the addition of support players. Support players are typically added to create odd-man situations and opportunities in an even strength game. Support players can play for one or both teams and are typically confined to specific spots on the rink. Coaches can choose to have support players perform certain functions and may also choose to limit what support players may do, such as not allowing them to shoot the puck.

Increase or decrease the number of participants. A simple way to change the look and feel of a small-area game is to increase or decrease the number of participants. Adding players to a game will immediately decrease the amount of available space on the ice. Conversely, decreasing the number of players will open up the ice and allow for more free-flowing movement.

Confine players to specific areas. Restricting players to a certain area on the ice is an easy way to create mandatory odd-man situations for the offensive team. Players can be confined to one end of the ice, be forced to stay above the face-off circles or below the goal line, behind the net, in a corner or placed in a stationary position at any given location. Different rules and conditions may be applied to these players than are placed on other players in order to affect the flow of the game and target specific skills.

Require a certain number of passes or puck touches. Requiring each team or player to make a certain number of passes or touch the puck a number of times before attempting a shot on net is an easy way to work a number of skills including passing, receiving a pass, puck support, creating time and space and a better ability to read the ice. Placing these types of conditions into a small-area games force offensive players to work harder than usual to find open ice as defensive players are aware that a shot cannot be taken until the requisite numbers of passes or puck touches are made. Defensive players are more likely to play the man aggressively in these situations.

CONCLUSION

In the opening section of this guide to small-area games, we took at look at the current paradigm of American hockey practices. Hopefully, as you’ve begun to study small-area games and what they can do for your players and teams, you’ve experienced the beginnings of a paradigm shift.

As you introduce small-area games into your practices, I ask that you stick with them for a while. In the initial few practices in which you use small-area games, the games are sure to look like organized chaos. Most players, due to their lack of overall hockey sense and decision-making skills, will not know how to react to the play taking place around them. However, when given a chance to develop, these same players will begin to make plays, get themselves into position and display skills that were not visible only days or weeks earlier.

I encourage you to create your own games and implement them into your practices. Know your team, know your players, be responsive to their needs and have fun!

One area that I have not addressed in this guide is the amount of practice time that should be devoted to small-area games. I intentionally ignored this subject because I believe that it is unique to each coach and his or her team. Some coaches use one game per practice while others practice almost exclusively with small-area games.

I truly believe that small-area games should be the cornerstone of your practice plans. At this point, if you still haven’t experienced a true “paradigm shift”, begin slowly by implementing one small-area game per practice in place of your traditional conditioning drills. Experience tells me that you’ll soon be using this wonderful teaching tool as a much larger part of your daily practice regimen.

Beyond that, I wish the best of luck to all hockey coaches. Have fun teaching this great game and enjoy the young men and women you have the privilege to work with. You are a part of their lives and they will remember you. Make those memories special.

Filed under: coaching, Small Area Games

Top 10 Most Viewed Drills from 2013

I thought it would be interesting to see what the top viewed drills were in 2013 and share that with everyone. I was surprised a little by one or two, but the others seem to make sense. Many can be run on half ice, which so many organizations are doing now to get more teams on the ice each week. Here is the list of the top 10 in order of most views.

  1. Breakout Options
  2. Right Up Breakout
  3. 4 Corners Warm-Up
  4. 3 Pass Breakout Drill
  5. Forwards v Defensemen Game
  6. Drive Drill
  7. 2 Man Drive Passing
  8. Behind The Net Forecheck 2 on 1
  9. 4 Dot Skate And Shoot
  10. NZ Regroup Dump And Chase
Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drills

Filed under: coaching, Drills, HalfIce

@DerekSchooley Shares With Us a Defensive Zone Coverage Drill

Robert Morris University head ice hockey coach Derek Schooley sent over a defensive zone coverage drill that works on 1×1, 2×2 and 5×5 skills. This drill is excellent for use on half ice practices as well as full ice practice slots. Every coach needs to work on his teams defensive zone coverage throughout the year and this drill gives us a way to accomplish that goal while working on other defensive skills and keeping the tempo high.

Defensive Zone Coverage Drill

DZC123

Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drill

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Drills, Practice, Systems, , , ,

ACHA Select Team Practice Part II

The other day I posted a few drills the select team used in the warm-up phase of their practice. Here are a few of the drills they used during the skill assessment portion of the practice over the three days. As I said in the earlier post, the coaches also ran a number of 3×3 small area games and standard 2×1 or 3×2 type of drills that I will not include because they are similar to drills already included on the site. I did get the chance to run a few of these at my practice on Monday night and they work really well.

ACHA-Continuous 1v1 With Support Or Backcheck

ACHA-Continuous 2v0

ACHA-Continuous 2v1 And 3v2

ACHA-Four Part Transition

ACHA-Strongside Turn-Up

ACHA-Transition Strongside Weakside

Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drills

Filed under: coaching, Defensemen, Drills, Forwards, Goaltender, Practice

ACHA Select Team Practice

On December 26th and 27th I had the opportunity to watch the ACHA Select team practice in Albany, NY in preparation for their trip to Europe to play in the ACHA Challenge. My 22 year old son was fortunate enough to be selected to be a part of this team as one of the defensemen and I had to drive him to the facility in NY and decided to stay the night and watch all three practices. The team is coached by Mike Forbes a former NHL player and currently the head coach at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Coach Forbes has won a national championship and been selected as Coach of the year in his five seasons at GVSU. I was really interested to see how he would structure his practice sessions since he had just three sessions to get the team on the same page before they went off to Europe to begin play on December 29th.

The first session was mostly standard practice drills to get the team skating and to give him a chance to see what his team looked like. He also spent time walking through the defensive systems he would use. The second and third practice sessions had more detailed drills for specific areas of the team as well as 3 on 3 play. The practices were up-tempo and he kept things moving along at a very nice pace. The team looked good even as they were trying to find their way as a team.

In this first installment I’ll post the drills that were used in the warm-up section of the three practices. Drills that just had the team skating and getting the goaltenders ready. In part two I’ll post the other drills that I saw him run to develop specific portions of the team game. In all I picked up ten drills to post on the site and I also watched him run drills that are pretty standard type of 2v1 or 3v2 structured drills that I won’t post. Normally I don’t post anything that I haven’t run with my team first but since I was able to watch the Select team run through these drills I have a good feel for them and think they are solid drills for any of us to run with our teams.

ACHA Continuous Line Passing

ACHA-Cross-Ice With 7 Passes And Shot

ACHA-Drive The Net WarmUp

ACHA-Goaltender WarmUp

Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drills

Filed under: coaching, Drills, Warm-Up

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