Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Small Area Games

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.

Read part II of Small Area Games

Filed under: coaching, General

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