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Behind The Bench

Keys to successful practice
By Shawn Killian

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As developing players and coaches, we all have an obligation to maximize each and every ice session. If we expect our players to improve, to perform at their highest level, and to grow in their love for the game, we as educators must be well–equipped to meet the challenge. Consider the following terms: Involvement, organization, flow, conditioning, game-like drills, creativity, energy and skills training. Following are some thoughts to help you incorporate these crucial elements into every practice.


Having realistic “year-end” goals, continually assessing individual and team skills levels and organizing fun, logical practices will provide the ground-work necessary to run winning practices. What are each players’ individual strengths and weaknesses? What are the team strengths and weaknesses? From here you can begin to bridge the gap between where you are and where you need to go. Here are ideas on how to get there.


Flow can mean everything from a well-planned practice that logically progresses to a specific drill that combines skilled skating with puck control. Think of flow as covering a lot of ice. Track stars refer to training by “putting miles under their shoes”; flow involves “miles under your skates.” Players should remain spread out with frequent “weaving,” crossing and exchanging lanes. Flow requires you to keep your head up and to read the ice. Consequently, flow encourages teamwork and great on-ice vision and awareness.


Every player must be involved and challenged each moment they are on the ice. Develop drills that utilize the entire ice surface and that keep all players moving (see drill diagram for example). Each player must know their role and must feel they are contributing to the team.


Conditioning shouldn’t contrive illusions of boring, militant, vomit-filled, hard–skating sessions without pucks, and should rarely be used as punishment. The last thing we want is for players to develop a dislike for skating. Rather, make conditioning fun and creative, and always reward a hard skate in some way. Encourage players to condition themselves through your creative training ideas. You won’t be with your group of players a year or two from now, so it should be your goal to make conditioning and its results a positive experience that your players will continue even without hearing your whistle. The work ethic that will result is crucial to every player and their development both on and off the ice.

Game-like Drills

Drills should be “game-like” or “game-realistic.” Try to simulate game situations whenever possible to familiarize your players with situations to come. Emphasize skills development, then incorporate them into game-like drills and controlled scrimmages. Be sure to explain every drill and why they are doing them. Let your players know where they can expect to see them in a game and the importance of practicing the way they play—with complete focus.



Possibly the most important skill any coach can have is to encourage growth through creativity. Take drills and make them fun, yet challenging. Add additional pylons, or add passes to enhance the current drills you use. Always be on the lookout for new drills and know that every drill can be altered to yield several different drills. Inject your own personal flavor into drills to create a vast arsenal of teaching tools. Players need to be challenged both physically and mentally. It is up to you to organize practices that foster individual and team growth.


Your energy, mood, and attitude as a coach has a direct effect on that of your team. Consider yourself an actor or actress, and when you are on the ice, you are on stage. It’s show time! Again, encourage both physical and mental alertness and reinforce the fact that when the skates are on, it is time to perform.

Skills training

A good portion of every practice should involve work on specific skills. Working on systems is the fun part of hockey. On the other hand, allocating sufficient time and energy to developing perfect skating strides and puck control skills is often difficult, boring and sometimes confusing. Maintaining the interest and energy levels of your team while working on specific hockey techniques may be the most challenging task of any coach. Incorporating the previous coaching ideas should help you to reach your team goals. l

Flow Drill

This is an example of a game-like flow drill that uses the entire ice surface and incorporates multiple players. The entire drill should be done at game tempo. It also has a conditioning benefit when done with speed, can be altered as you see fit and will be a hit with your team.


Phases 1 and 2

Phase I

Three forwards take off and stay together. All three skate behind net, one player picks up a puck (or a coach can pass one) to create a 3-on-0. Execute the offensive attack of choice. Take a shot on net.


Phase II

The player who shoots the puck peels back, immediately, up the ice (at full speed) along the same boards. The single player continues alone, behind the net, picks up a puck and turns up ice with speed. A defenseman will step out at the near blue line to play the shooter 1-on-1.


Phase III

Simultaneously, the other two forwards trail the first forward (the shooter) by about 50 feet and at the same speed. Follow the same path as the forward in front, continue around the net, together, and pick up one puck. Another defenseman steps out to play a 2-on-1. As the two forwards pick up their puck, the drill begins again with the next three forwards leaving for their 3-on-0.

Phase 3



This first appeared in the 06/1997 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Nov 10, 2001, 17:46
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