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Deflections: Today's Practice Things


There are times in coaching clinics when I get bewildered looks from participants about one particular point. And no, it has nothing to do with how I’m dressed or if I got those specks of broccoli from last night’s dinner out of my teeth .

It’s about things, as I call them, since I’m loathe to simply call them drills. A collection of drills kept handy doesn’t really address the issue I discuss with coaches. Their challenge is to have at the ready a bunch of activities—things—they could do in practice when a portion of the plan has gone dry.

How and why a practice hits the skids is another matter. What I suggest to coaches at any level is to have contingencies. This is especially challenging with younger, less skilled kids, which is where the quizzical looks come from. Usually, coaches will try to stick to their plans, deviating only slightly. If a drill—thing!—has been allotted 10 minutes, they may shorten it to five because it’s not going well, or even lengthen it because the kids love it. Both are viable options, but certainly not the only ones.

With less skilled kids, you can’t just run flow drills then stand back and watch, not that a coach should ever do that anyway. Nor can you have skill-based exercises with large numbers of reps in a short period of time that exhausts them. Coaches are often surprised to see that the wonderful puckhandling drill they devised gets pretty boring after a half dozen tries. Meanwhile, they’d set aside 10 minutes for it yet it was mostly done after only four.

This where “things” come in. They can be new drills, extensions of the current one, parallel activities that have a competitive component, or just a fun game or mini scrimmage. When I suggest to coaches in clinics they’d be wise to have a long list of these at hand for any practice, there’s a bit of worry. Where to get these? Or, how to create them? How to know when to use them? I’ll address those in a future blog.

What’s important now, at the outset of a season, is to realize that younger, less skilled players need a wide variety of ice experiences. As they get older and better, they learn to follow drawn diagrams, make better choices on how to do activities, and work more effectively with other players on a team. This is isn’t the case for everyone though. Even bantam house league players, for instance, would have difficulty doing a lot of flow drills simply because their skills don’t allow them to execute properly.

So even after describing all of this, I still get those looks. This explains why I brush my teeth before every clinic.

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