A common refrain among parents and even most coaches used to be that a practice was worthwhile if the kids left the ice sweating. In fact, in all that equipment and even with a modicum of effort, a kid can’t help but sweat.
How then do we gauge the fitness component of a practice? Let me put it this way: if you workout at a gym, when you’re done, are you so exhausted that returning to the car is more a crawl than a walk? Yes, you’ve been sweating. Perspiration is hardly a gauge for effort in practice.
Kids do want to be challenged physically and mentally as long as the challenges are consistent with their skills. In practice, it means conducting activities that don’t just challenge them but also have varying levels of intensity. In training parlance, we refer to it as a work:rest ratio (w:r). A drill where 10 kids are waiting their turn while two others work has a poor w:r of 1:5. In a minor hockey game where a team has three lines and six defencemen, when rolling the lines, the w:r is 1:3. So having the kids work in practice at an intensity much lower than a game is hardly helpful.
But practice drills can’t only be described in terms of their w:r. The coach also needs to be mindful of each drill’s overall intensity. For instance, when teaching puck handling, a coach has all the kids going at once, slowly weaving through pylons. The w:r is excellent because they’re all involved, The drill’s intensity though is low. That’s likely a good thing for poorly skilled kids learning something new.
If you’re teaching power play options to forwards at a higher and older competitive level, again the w:r may be terrific. But the intensity is deliberately low – and it needs to be, too, because the players are learning something new. Speed and technique are mutually exclusive terms in almost all minor hockey practice situations.
One AAA coach asked me about how to increase practice intensity. He didn’t know about w:r. He also had been going by the old time habit of hard skating drills for a few minutes in the middle or at the end of practice. I explained that, from a conditioning standpoint, these have no merit and are a complete turnoff. However, if the practice drills are mentally engaging, with 1:2 or 1:3 ratios at varying intensities, the conditioning is built into the practice. It’s got to replicate a shift where, in 45 seconds, there may be only 10-15 seconds of actual hard work. In other words, the pace of his drills and of the entire practice needs to be picked up.
One drill will never do it, no more than one set of 10 arm curls will get you in shape.
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