The part of coaching that I really loved the most was practice. It is the time you can have the biggest impact on a team and the players individually.
Practice is the coach’s time to shine and the games are the players time to shine. That is the way coaches should look at it.
Whether you are coaching 7-year olds or 17-year olds or for that matter, 27-year olds, the results should be similar. The players get better and the team gets better.
Game preparation is started in how you practice and everyone feels good about themselves after a good practice. The things you focus on in practice will change as you get older but the results and the keys to a good practice pretty much will be the same.
So, that leads to the question of what makes a good practice.
There a lot of things that are key for me.
* Pace. Have to have a high pace! Try to get players out of their comfort zone and keep reminding them to execute but to play fast. There may be a part of practice where there is a teaching element that has to slow down but drills should force you to go at high pace.
* Skill development. It’s a must to focus on this first, for young players. But even the National Hockey League teams are hiring skill coaches now, so this should be a part of every practice!
* Competition. Don’t forget about this. All skill with no compete will be a mistake. Combine both.
* Keep them moving. There is nothing worse for a player than long periods of standing and waiting or having to listen to long speeches. Don’t waste time! Stations are a great way of doing this.
* Teaching and accountability. They go hand in hand. Players want to learn and need accountability.
* Fun drills to start and to end practice. Players will look forward to the next one!
* Enthusiasm and involvement in the practice by your staff. Recruit as many helpers as possible, especially for younger teams.
* Have a plan. Put some time and thought into your goals and focus for the practice . Prepare your team with a short meeting for practice before you go out. It helps with their focus.
There are a few other things to remember — more is not always better, quality over quantity is a key.
For some reason, some coaches think the more their team practices the better. Meanwhile, they let pace and execution slide. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent!
Another point is to never use practice as punishment for a sub-par game performance. Practice is to get better, not punish. Players will start to dread practice and not enjoy getting better if they feel they are being punished.
Don’t be afraid to try new drills as they will help you and the players get better.
Hope this helps. Remember, practice is the coach’s time to shine!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of columns written for Hockey News North by retired National Hockey League player and coach Craig Hartsburg. Hartsburg retired from the game in 2016 after an eventful 27-year coaching career that included 19 seasons in the NHL and successful stints in the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League. As a player, Hartsburg had a world-class career as an all-star defenseman with both the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL and the erstwhile Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He was captain of the Greyhounds for two of his three OHL seasons and was captain of the North Stars for seven of his 10 NHL seasons.