USA Hockey has an ever-evolving approach to maximizing practice time
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – USA Hockey has solid relationships with a number of European countries, including Sweden.
Recently, USA Hockey representatives — ADM Regional Manager Dan Jablonic being one of them — were on a call with some Swedish hockey representatives. The Swedes mentioned they get their players on the ice an average of six to seven times per week. When asked how many times the Swedish skaters have off-ice practices each week, they stated that every on-ice practice is matched by one off-ice practice. The USA Hockey officials were blown away by the fact that the Swedish players are getting up to 14 hockey-related sessions per week.
Since coaches in the United States aren’t able to get their players practicing anything close to over a dozen times a week, utilizing practice time is paramount.
“We’re looking at it from our angle like, how can we maximize development in our practice design sessions so every time they’re going to the rink, they’re getting the best, not only experience, but just the best that’s appropriate for that age group to really maximize that good practice design,” Jablonic said.
USA Hockey has laid out a plan for five elements of a good practice design.
“The days of throwing them on the goal line and skating them up and down the ice in five lines, we’ve been moving away from that,” said Illinois Coach-in-Chief Jim Clare. “The American Development Model, long-term development has really shown us that that’s not the best way to train.”
The five elements of a good practice design are:
“Fun is the number one thing when you look at any type of learning,” Jablonic said. “It’s a determinant of making sure that kids are trying hard, working hard and competing with their friends. Those are all determinants of fun and that transcends not only 8 years old but all the way through 18 — we could actually say through the lifespan of a player. That’s why we play in the adult leagues, too. That’s crucial to understand.”
But Clare noted that what’s considered fun for an 8-year-old is different for a kid who is 18. This is where a coach needs to realize that and make the necessary adjustments.
Constant Decision Making
“Gone are the days where you skate to this cone, take a left, skate to that cone, take a right and then shoot,” Clare said. “There’s no decision making there, it’s a very robotic type of a drill. We’re trying to create these drills and concepts that we’re teaching that require the kids — even at the youngest ages — to be forced to make decisions, because that’s what the game is. The game isn’t skate to a cone and take a left and skate to this cone and right; the game is just constant decision making. It’s chaotic.”
Much like what constitutes fun is not equal for all players, challenging a player who is 8 is going to be different than an 18-year-old.
“We first want them to master a skill — master the skill of passing — but we want to challenge them at the next level, at 8U for instance,” Clare said. “Passing while standing still is one thing, that’s nice, but you’ve got to be able to pass while you’re skating, and you have to be able to pass while there’s pressure. And you have to be able to pass in a tight area. The pass from the goal line to the far blue line doesn’t happen that often, so why are we practicing it? Again, we want to challenge that player along the way. So, make sure they are mastering the skills and get them out of their comfort zone.”
The key here is to create repetition without repetitiveness, Clare said. To use passing as an example, don’t continually use the same drill to work on passing (repetitiveness), rather work on passing in several ways (repetition). Pass standing still, pass while moving, pass in small areas with pressure, etc. All those drills work on the skill of passing but in different ways.
“You want to make sure you have high activity, with lots of puck touches,” Jablonic said. “As Jim talked about, it’s not just standing stationary, you want to incorporate chaotic drills with those kids, so the kids get a lot of repetitions and building the skills in where, once again, it’s not repetitive. It’s maybe throwing players into a station and letting eight, nine kids go at a time and really put in those certain constraints with those players, so they’re forced to touch the puck and as the coach, build those skills in he/she wants to work on.”
Does it Look Like a Game?
“If I’m doing a 2-on-0 up the ice from the red line to the goalie and shooting, does that look like a game?” Clare said. “Well, no. Very rarely will you have two of you skating up the ice unopposed on a goalie taking a shot — that doesn’t happen. How do I make the drills and concepts I’m teaching look more like a game?”
That’s what a coach needs to decide. Running 5-on-5 drills isn’t the answer, small groups are. Maybe run a 2-on-1 break, 2-on-2 or even a 3-on-1.
During Levels 3 and 4 of USA Hockey Coaching Clinics, coaches are instructed on the 5 Elements of a Good Practice Design. The coaches are guided through each step and then they just need to implement them.
“We’re trying to get them to look at the structure of their practices and their progressions of practices,” Clare said. “You might not get all five of them in every drill or concept you teach, but in general, in the course of your practices, these are the things we should be working on.”
Focusing on a good practice design is so important, said Jablonic.
“One quality practice equals seven games of development, so think about that in terms for our coaches to really understand the importance of that,” Jablonic said. “If you’re really putting the time in and you’re actually thinking about this isn’t just a random collection of activities we’re asking our players to do, these are things that we’re going to see in the game. We’re going to force them to make decisions and that the whole purpose of practice again is setting them up for successful situations in the game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.