Our modern game of ice hockey is played with such high levels of speed and chaos that it demands that we adjust our training methods to meet the challenge.
Use of small area modified games gives us the opportunity to have our players learn how to develop the skills and understanding needed for success. Combining short drill sessions with many game situations help to create the optimal practice.
The use of these games allow for players to become good decision makers, forcing them to think independently and creatively to solve the problems in their own game. Coaches and players get the opportunity for proper feedback while keeping a positive flow to practice sessions. This form of communication (questioning) allows the athlete to better understand all aspects of skills for playing the game.
When creating games for practice sessions, keep in mind how tactically complex the game appears to many of the players. Two of our goals are to try to simplify the game of hockey and help the players identify and improve the skills needed to be successful.
We simplify the game demands based on the level of ability of the learner and gradually increase the difficulty as they progress. For instance, we modify the game by:
• Constantly changing the shape of the play area by moving the net placement and restricting areas
• Changing rules and tasks that allow us to focus on specific aspects of the game
• Use of extra pucks, nets, and neutral players as well as odd numbers of players
Do not limit yourself to these options and let your own creativity be your guide (or that of your players … you will be amazed at their input). Continually introduce new skills to highlight and challenge in game situations.
It is exciting to share in the growth of the player execution of skills, improved decision making and awareness (many coaches believe that knowing what to do and when to do it is as valuable as knowing how to do it.)
Is this allowing the game to teach hockey sense? I do believe that we, as coaches, can help players decipher the game, but to me learning is achieved through the experience gained by playing the game. Allow the small area modified game to be the teacher and watch how smoothly it transfers to a full ice game. Replicate the game in practice and develop players who can make sense out of chaos.
I have included a few examples of the types of small area modified games that you might consider using with your team.
Always on the Power Play
Organization: The rink is split into 4 to 6 areas, with 6 players in each area. When your team is on offense, you use all three to work the puck between the cones. The defensive team uses two defenders with the third player behind the cones to receive any puck played through the cones. If there is a turnover, the transition occurs. Encourage defense to be aggressive.
Purpose: Find the open man, use specific moves or passes, smart movement off the puck. Works well as a warm up.
Warm-up 4 vs. 2 to Goal
(two touch, three touch, etc.)
Playing Area: Blue line to end boards
Objective: Create a game situation where players have multiple outlets. Defensively, we encourage players to be aggressive, block passing lanes, and take good angles. Offensive players try to score. Half the team is at one end and half at the other end.
Change of possession: If white starts with four and blue with two, on a change of possession or a goal, blue adds two players and two white players drop out. Coaches allow players to dictate who moves in and out.
Parameters: 1) number of touches and 2) skill parameters, i.e. takeover, give & go, etc.
Questions: What themes will this game cover? What adjustments would you make?
3 vs. 3 with Conditions
Organization: This is a cross-ice game of 3 on 3 played with the blue line and boards as boundaries. We have added conditions to include a center line (offensive line) using cones to help players get used to this idea. Each has 2 defenders and 1 attacker. Attackers stay in own half. Defenders can only cross the center line if the puck is passed by his partner (Puck can’t be carried across the line). If the attacker loses the puck, his defender must return to original end. We are creating game situations of 2 vs. 1 breakout, 2 vs. 2 in zone and offensive play. The defender becomes the 2nd wave of the attack, but a quick counter attack could leave his team defending a 2 vs. 1 situation. Change every 20-30 seconds. Be sure to have the goalies handle the puck and leave room behind the net for creative play. Put 2 in offensive end and work on down low offense.
Purpose: These conditions are only a few of what you can use. This is a great format for teaching concepts of play, good puck support and defending principles. One important point is how hard the attacker has to work to get open and see where his support is coming from.
Notes: Go to 4 vs. 4 or 5 vs. 5
Nets Back to Back
(3 vs. 3 or 4 vs. 4, 1 or 3 puck(s), and 1 or 2 goalies)
Playing Area: Blue line to end boards. Nets are placed back to back. Participants are in the neutral zone if they are not playing. Coach is in the neutral zone with pucks.
Rules: You can play with one puck and one goalie, three pucks and one goalie, or three pucks and two goalies. You can allow the players to score on one goal or they can score on both goals. Only allow certain number in offensive or defensive zones.
Questions: Why would you want the goalie to defend both goals? Why would we allow more than one puck? Why have we placed the nets in the middle of the zone? Do you want odd number situations? Are there skills the players must perform before they can shoot? What aspect of team play is covered in this game?
Bill Beaney, a pioneer in the small area games, has led Middlebury College to eight Div. III National Championships, including an NCAA record five in a row.