Creating a top-notch training program is essential for taking your team to higher levels of performance and making more than the perfect pass. Cultivating a fun, positive, and focused environment will make your training center the one everyone wants to be a part of and your team the talk of the town.
A well-rounded program includes on-ice and off-ice practice and skills training as well as continued development in the off-season. Developing a winning system takes a commitment to fundamentals, age-specific training, intentionality, and strong leadership.
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Set Your Goals and Expectations
Before starting any training program, it’s essential to assess the needs, abilities, and goals of the team and the individuals. These assessments should include your hopes, expectations, and priorities not only for the team but also for yourself.
You should determine how many times per week you will be training, how long the seasons (off-season, pre-season, in-season) will last, and how much time you need to develop the skills and tactics you desire.
Time management on and off the ice will be especially helpful for staying on course. Create a team calendar and clarify expectations for your team. It can also be beneficial to give each player a list of things you expect from them, such as a positive attitude, outstanding work ethic, commitment to skills training, etc.
Always remember that in all training, safety should be first. A hockey player who isn’t suited up won’t be able to perform or develop. Keep up to date with the medical history of your players, be knowledgeable on equipment, facilities, and emergency protocols for practices and games.
Keeping the players healthy should be your top priority. You must be careful not to overtrain or cause burnout, mainly depending on the age of your team. You can also include guidelines about what they should be doing outside of training – sleep, nutrition, game study, etc.
Choose age-appropriate training methods and scale progression plans up or down based on feedback from their performance. The easiest way to categorize your players is Beginner (< 1-year experience), Intermediate (>1 year), and Advanced (multiple years playing).
You can find age-specific training guidelines here.
Skills and Movement Training
Your skills training should start with teaching and building on the fundamentals. Foundational skills include passing and receiving, skating, puck control and protection, stickhandling, shooting, and checking.
Quality movement should be a top priority – players who move well by default (skating especially) can then focus on more advanced tasks at hand. Strength training methods should focus on mobility, stability, and transfer of power, especially for the hips and core.
Strength, speed, and movement training will be developed mostly in the off-season. Movements like squats, deadlifts, lateral lunges, rows, push-ups and pull-ups, planks, and side planks should be the primary focus as you develop hockey-specific strength.
Once this is covered, it’s time to work on speed and power development, acceleration, first step, and conditioning specific to hockey.
It’s your job to continually monitor the development of your players and adjust the components of practice based on this feedback. Utilize both successes and failures; both can be great teachers.
Tactics and Drills
Preparation is key to building confidence and getting your team to perform and execute at high levels. A correctly implemented training plan, practice, and game schedule will help your players learn and grow in the ways you want them to.
Focusing on the same concepts for consecutive practices will help your team grasp the ideas you are teaching. Spend additional time on anything that is stalling development or creating issues, especially in games.
Drills might include small-sided games, working in the offensive and defensive zones, backchecking, forechecking, and creating offense. The penalty kill and power play units will also need your attention.
Some example focus areas:
- Forward and backward skating
- Skating with and without the puck
- Passing and receiving
- Shooting and creating shots
- Blocking shots
- Chasing loose pucks
- Winning 1-on-1 battles
- Working off the puck
Situational drills and position-specific (goalie, defense, center, forward) teaching will enhance the players individually and help them see how the team works together as a whole. Playing games is another way to teach teamwork concepts.
Races, relays, and other competitions can instill some fun into the practice. Even playing other sports like juggling a soccer ball or playing team handball can get your team’s creative energies flowing.
Culture and Leadership
Creating the right kind of environment starts with leadership. The values, expectations, and priorities that you instill in your players and larger organization will determine the levels of your success.
Communicating the what, how, and why will help create a winning culture. Determine what values, skills, and tactics you want to emulate, how the players will demonstrate them, and the bigger purpose behind your mission. A properly formulated “why” can help you get your players to “buy-in” to what you are asking of them.
Cultivating positive relationships with players and parents is imperative to building trust and confidence. Communication and honesty go along with maintaining a positive, learning-friendly environment. If your players feel that they can trust you, they are much more likely to listen to your advice and receive your coaching.
Make sure to also address life outside of hockey – emphasize open and honest communication about successes and frustrations, injuries, and other areas pertinent to their overall health. Open communication shows that you care about them just as much as an individual, not only as a hockey player.
Putting It All Together
Developing the best hockey training program takes intentionality and commitment. If you put safety first, focus on fundamentals, develop skills, and create an environment where your players can learn and grow, your program will stand out above the rest.