A good practice design can take many shapes and forms, but in the end it comes down to these 5 elements below. Do your practices contain these essential basics, is development happening in your practices? How do you know?
FUN: This should go without saying at any age, the element of fun is critical. Fun comes in many forms, it does not mean “goofing off”. Fun can exist in hard work, sense of accomplishment, battle drills, etc. Fun takes on many forms, just ask your players.
Constant Decision Making: How many times do we see a coach describe a drill to a player; go to that cone, turn left, stop here, turn right, shoot from here, etc, etc. How much decision making goes into a drill with 4 lines and players skating up and down the ice…the answer, none. Hockey is a series of decisions that players must make in a split second, but if we never allow them to make those decisions in practice how can we expect them to make them in a game. Allow for creativity, encourage mistakes, this is how development happens.
Challenges The Player: Many of our kids enjoy video games, whether we like it or not! Designers of these games allow for mastery at a certain level and then challenge the player at the next level while testing their mastery of the previous. Same rules apply in practice, make your players uncomfortable on occasion, challenge their mastery of a concept even if it may be a level above their current skill set. This is how development happens, stretch them.
Looks Like a Game: It is understandable that not every task you have your players do will look like a game, but that should be the goal. Today’s player is sharper than we give them credit for sometimes. Help them understand the why behind a task. Let each task build on the previous one as it becomes more game like with each iteration. How does this translate to the game, how does it make me better, your skaters should be able to tell you this.
Lots of Puck Touches: This is key. The age old mantra No Lines, No Laps, No Lectures still applies. The more the kids have the puck on their stick the more comfortable they will be with it come game time. Maximize the number of touches, number of passes, number of shots each skater gets during your practices. This relates back to the first element, FUN. Your players will have much more fun at practice if they are active and participating in practice rather than watching in line.