This is an excerpt from Coaching Hockey With Small-Area Games by Dave Cameron.
Creating Games for Younger Athletes
By accurately identifying the skill level of the group, the coach can pick games that allow the players to continually develop in all areas. Managing a practice and picking or creating games that fit into your plan and work for your team is a skill that comes with experience and having some feel for your group. Here are some important areas to identify with your group:
- Keep games enjoyable by setting up an environment where players enjoy playing. Your enthusiasm when players make good passes or plays is important here.
- Focus on introductory skills with games that encourage passing and puck support. Focus on simple skills of puck possession through stickhandling and passing. Teach players about moving to available ice and working together to move down the ice.
- Choose a game that uses skills that you worked on in practice. Progressions in practice can really help develop skills. By using skills in a situation that simulates a game, players gain confidence in their abilities.
- Keep shifts short so that everyone is involved in the game and so that you can introduce the idea of changing lines. Players will learn to work hard for their time in the game and rest when they are not playing.
- Have coaches be continually interacting with the players who are waiting. Use this time to teach and show players things before they go out and play. Players will remain engaged in sessions without losing interest in the drills.
- Use the ice that is available by splitting up when you can.
As players become stronger, the games you choose to play can be specific to certain parts of the game. Using small-area games in practice helps players connect the dots from practice to games. The competitive aspect of the games will create some physicality that resembles a game, which will help prepare players to make decisions quicker and under pressure. By putting players in these situations more often, players can learn what they need to do to be more successful.
Creating Games for Older Athletes
As players get older, the games that you use in practice may become different because of the improvement of skills and the increase in rules. Older players may need to be challenged more than younger players who were starting with basic skill development. Older players can focus on game situations and the application of skills to those game situations. The following list identifies some topics to think about:
- Focus on the needs of the group from the games you have played and areas that you would like to see improvements in. These can be built up through practice and then used in a game to allow players to see the importance of the situation.
- Be specific in what you are hoping to see. For example, when I want to work on deflections, I put a value on deflection goals that is double the value of a regular goal. This rule encourages players to work on deflection situations in the small-area game. Extra excitement always results when a player scores in a way that has a higher point value.
- Re-create situations that you want to develop in your game. Think about situations like winning board battles or winning net-front battles and then add those situations into games so that they become the focus of the game. Board battles can be added to games by moving the nets to the boards and shrinking the area. As the coach, you can add dimensions to the game that include support players both offensively or defensively, or you can simply play the game straight up with the same number of players in the small zone. If you want to focus on creating offense in front of the net, games that are between the hash marks are great for creating net-front battles. Offensively, you want to encourage players to get to free pucks and think about position before possession. Defensively, having players box out and make it difficult for opponents to stand in front can be a focus. These drills always encourage battling for space and loose pucks. Playing below the goal line is a popular topic now for extending shifts in the offensive zone. This focus is a great concept for a small-area game, and it is helpful for the goaltender as well because it re-creates a situation that will come up in the game where the goalie must identify the options and scoring threats in a rapidly changing situation. Down low, players will have to handle pucks on the wall, battle, and make plays to the slot, while the offensive players in the slot must battle to find available ice and be available at the right time when the passer is ready to pass.