Friday, January 20, 2012

Practice, We're Talking About Practice!

Yes young hockey players, I am talking about practice.  PRACTICE!  Not the game that you give your all for, I am talking about practice.  I know what you're thinking and I can probably see that head roll with a shoulder shrug when you think about heading to the rink for practice.  Well, I guess you kind of have to deal with it because practice is a HUGE part of the game.  And, to me, arguably, the most crucial part of it.  You'll spend more time at practice than you'll ever spend in a game...guaranteed!  Teams that practice hard - play hard.  Teams that practice with no organization and not at game speed - well, they get beat.  Practice as you play, play as you practice.  It works both ways.  I, as a coach, LOVE practice.  I love being on the ice.  I love watching that look on my players face when they all of a suddenly get something and they see how it makes them better.  I also love to see my players in a line with their hands on their knees trying desperately to breathe because they just worked their tails off in a skating drill.  (FYI, if you can't breathe, get your hands off your knees and stand straight up.  Your body is like a straw, bend it, nothing gets through.)  Welcome, young hockey players, to PRACTICE!

A good coach is one that will spend days at a time planning practice.  If you only have one practice a week, those sixty minutes are that much more important.  If the kids spend too much time taking a knee while you are drawing a drill on a white board - you're wasting everyone's time.  Ice is precious (and rather expensive).  Use it for skating, skills and positioning...not drawing!  When you make it to college or the pros, you have time for that stuff.  In youth hockey, not so much.  With that being said, players, practice is for YOU.  It's not for the coach to get better at coaching (even though that's part of it as well).  It's for you to get better as a hockey player.  When a Coach sees you in a game, he begins to learn your game-speed.  When you're at practice and you're going 99%, I guarantee you, your Coach knows it.  Do yourself a favor, use practice for what it's there for - to get better.  If you're not going all out, getting outside of your comfort zone, you're simply not getting better.  Get on your edges, don't be afraid to fall, don't be afraid to send a pass a bit too hard and off the mark - it's PRACTICE.  If you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough.  If you're not losing an edge on a corner, you're not skating fast enough.  If you're not out of breath after a skating drill, well, I will see that and will take care of that with some of my favorite drills.   If you practice lazy hockey, you'll play lazy hockey.  That's what this all boils down to.  Coaches expect you to go into every single game, every single shift and give it 110%.  Take that 110% and make it 200% and that's what I expect at practice.  You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him/her drink.  I will have a practice plan.  I will have good drills for you to learn more about the game and sometimes we will have a practice that is 100% fun just to keep your legs and mind fresh.  I've done my part before we even touch the ice.  When your skates hit the ice, it's time for you to do YOUR part.  Work hard.  Skate hard.  Test your limits.  Get better.  It's on you.

When I think of practice, I think of opportunity.   I don't think about - oh gee what can I do to have more fun.  For me, it's an opportunity to help my players sharpen their skills, not sharpen their whining about their skates being dull or the ice being less-than perfect (and really, what is perfect ice?  Is it frozen?  Good, we're all set).  It's an opportunity for us, as a team, to work on a passing drill so we can effectively get out of the zone, not to do a twirl because it's cool.   I yell and scream and about 99% of the time, it's not because I am yelling at a's because I need to be heard and players, you need to LISTEN.  Communication is one of the most important details of the game of hockey (and at every single stage in life.  If you can't master the art of listening, you can't effectively communicate).  One that can easily be worked on and perfected...where boys?  Practice!  Very good, now I know you're paying attention.  As a Coach, there are few things worse then taking a minute to explain a drill in the locker room and then asking a player, "what's your responsibility?"  Only to be welcomed by that blank stare because, well, they simply weren't paying attention.  You chose to play the game of hockey (wise decision by the way).  You chose to get to this point.  You chose to be at practice tonight (another wise decision).  Now, pay attention.  Take note of the picture of Team Canada at practice just above.  These are some of the best hockey players in the world...without question.  For all you Crosby haters out there, yes, he is in there with it.  They are all paying very CLOSE attention to Coach Mike Babcock.  Why do you think that is?  Even at that level, you certainly don't want to forget your responsibility during a drill.  ESPECIALLY if the Coach just went over the details.  Pay attention hockey players.  It's good for the Coach's health (but great for your endurance if you're not).

Sidney Crosby doing puck control drills around cones at practice.  Yes hockey players, even the best in the world still have to practice the basic skills.  Why?  To stay sharp.  The second you become complacent is the exact moment in time is when the competition leaves you in the dust.
So kids, do yourself a favor.  You want to be a better hockey player?  Then practice at a speed at which you think you cannot handle.  Get outside of your comfort zone.  If you take your foot off the gas in practice, you just won't get better.  The Coach will (should) do his/her part to be prepared for practice for you to learn.  Once you hit the's on you.  Read the quote below from former NHL Superstar Eric Lindros.  Honestly, I could have left this entire blog at that, but, then what's the point?.  Well said, Eric.  Well said!


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