The atmosphere is much different when players walk into a rink on a practice day rather than a gameday. Players are understandably more excited to play in a game. On a game day, there are fans watching and cheering teams on and players get excited when they score a goal or make a great play that contributes to their team’s success. Conversely, at practice, the arena is often empty and players are left to create their own excitement. Players love the competition of games and the energy it brings, but the best players can bring that level of competition and energy to practice to really push their development.
By the numbers:
A regular NHL game is 60 minutes. The best defencemen play around 25 minutes per game and the high-level forwards get around 20-23 minutes a game. The average shift length for most players is around 45 – 55 seconds. In that time they are on the ice, studies have shown the actual amount of time that the players have the puck is very minimal. Hockey USA published a study at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics that showed the best players only had the puck for around 60 seconds in a game. Meaning they play the game without the puck, support the puck to get it back, make quick decisions when they have it and look to make positive plays to advance the puck and not turn it over.
In minor hockey, the game time is shorter and shift length is longer. Therefore, the actual amount of time a player is on the ice with effective ice time is much different. Due to the varying levels of skill and confidence, some players won’t touch the puck as much as other players. Players who are constantly throwing the puck away in a game are likely in a situation where they are panicking with the puck or don’t know where they should move or where their support is. This awareness is difficult to develop in games when players are under pressure and should be an area of focus during practice to allow players to learn before having to apply the skills.
Individual skills and concepts with the puck can be worked on and developed in practice to allow players to have more success in games. The best part of practice is that players can dedicate time on things they need to work on. In practice, players get more time with the puck and drills can be set up to allow players to work on receiving passes and supporting the puck.
Coaches can also design drills to teach timing and spacing and team systems such as offensive zone entries. Players can be free to learn, which means making mistakes and being corrected by coaches. Players should complete enough repetitions of a drill in practice in order to develop confidence in the skill or concept that is being worked on. The goal in practice should be to build enough confidence in each player’s individual skills, that the skills start to show up in games.
Shooting is an example of an individual skill that needs to be developed in practice, as many players will go through a single game without taking a shot on goal. Effective shooting practice can allow players to work on basics including mechanics, velocity, and accuracy, as well as build more advanced concepts like quick release shooting and shooting in stride. Players who have confidence in their shooting from practice will be the ones who shoot more in games.
As each player gets better in practice, the overall level of the team goes up in games!
Practice should be a time where players come to the rink with one goal in mind: to get better. This is where they can address the skills and concepts they need to work on and learn about game situations before those situations actually happen in games. Coaches have the opportunity to spend more time talking to players and providing feedback without the pressure of the game and players will be excited and energized when they see their own development taking place. And that’s the best part of my job as a skills coach; hearing about a player’s success from using a skill in a game that we spent time on in practice.
Originally published in Game On Magazine, Year 7/Edition 4