The other day, I stopped in to watch the afternoon practice of a AAA Midget hockey team.
Their practice was high octane. The players started with wind sprints — also known as the suicide drill – made famous in the movie “Miracle” where the players race between the blue lines, punctuated with hard stops that made the ice fly.
That wasn’t the only thing that flew: the time flew by. Drill, drink, drill, drink, and on and on they went. While the breaks were taking place, the coaches set up the pylons they needed in the positions they needed to be in for the next drill. The entire rhythm was fast paced and something was always going on.
And that’s with good reason. Ice time is money, and depending on where you live, the cost of that time runs from moderate to super expensive. In St. Louis, ice hours are currently running at around $250/hour. Even for a 20-player elite team, that’s a good chunk of change. Which made me think about practice efficiencies.
Many minor hockey teams maintain a practice start time a half-hour to an hour before their ice time actually begins. It takes time to get dressed. This is especially true for younger players who may not be capable of tying their skates on their own and, in these cases, the coaches spend a great deal of their time tightening up the skates. As a player gets older, though, they become are self-sufficient. As they grow, so do their capabilities of skating, stopping, puck handling and deking and with those improving skills come advanced drills to develop their on-ice performance.
Since the ice time is so valuable, the locker room should be the place to explain to your players the drills they’ll be going through today. Similar to business meetings where all recipients are sent an agenda before the meeting begins, arming your players with a practice agenda – even if it isn’t on paper — before they hit the ice does a few things:
- It forces you, as a coach, to build a practice plan before you show up at the rink. This means you will be able to reflect on your team’s performance and target the weaknesses you would like them to improve based on the previous game or practice.
- It contributes to the discipline of the team. By you, the coach, leading the way in the locker room demanding from your players the attention needed to explain the drills and why, that leadership will naturally extend onto the practice ice and on to the next game.
- It diminishes time wasted on the ice. Of course, correcting incorrect behaviours and mistakes as the drill is being executed — like stopping only on one side and never practicing the other — while maintaining game speed, all needs to be continually monitored and reinforced. If your players continually mess up a drill, take a look at how it was presented to them. You should always skate through new drills before you get your players to perform them, or even have them skate it through with you as you explain the concept.
Since ice time is expensive, being prepared before you step onto the ice will make your on-ice job much easier. You’ll know what you’re team is going to be doing — and why — and so will your team.
And, like news shows, keep the fun for last. News shows throw a funny story to the end of their time slot to soften the hard, dire news they shared from the moment their program began. Same with sports, by saving the fun stuff, like shots on goalie, wrist shots, slap shots and shoot-out practices give your players the practices they love to do, letting them go away from the practice with a good feeling about how they’ve just spent their practice.