The best youth hockey drills teach mental skills along with physical skills. All youth coaches face the challenge of commanding the attention of their young, energetic athletes during practices and games. Although you can get your players’ attention by yelling or blowing a whistle, teaching the mental skill of how to focus requires something more. Optimal focus means being able to shift your attention to the most important and relevant parts of your performance. For hockey, this means not only focusing on what you are doing but also on what other players are doing, where the puck is and where it is headed.
The following drill encourages clean passing and puck handling and will help your players learn to switch between different points of focus while having fun, building team bonds, and encouraging communication on the ice.
Youth Hockey Drill: “Please Pass the Focus”
The overall goal of the drill is to foster clean puck handling and clean tape-to-tape passes, with everyone touching the puck. It emphasizes the physical skills of passing and stick handling while mentally working to condition focus, team building and overall communication.
Participants: Whole team, including coaches
Materials: 10 pucks and a stick for each participant
Set-Up: Everyone forms a large circle at center ice with all the pucks next to one coach
1. Round One uses only one puck. The coach calls the name of a person in the circle and passes the puck to him. The player who receives the puck must say “thank you” to the passer, addressing him by name. He then handles the puck four times (backhand, forehand, backhand, forehand), calls the name of a new person and passes the puck. The process repeats until everyone has had the puck once, after which the puck is returned to the originating coach. Repeat this round, maintaining the same order, two more times.
2. Round Two is the same process, in the same order, but using three pucks. Each person will receive and pass three consecutive pucks from and to the same people. The passer must pay attention to his receiver’s state of readiness and pass the puck to avoid coming in contact with other pucks being passed in the circle. Increase the number of pucks by one each time you repeat this round, but don’t exceed more than six or seven pucks.
3. Round Three is the final round. Use the same number of pucks that were used in the last repeat of Round Two, only this time no talking is allowed, including calling people’s names and saying thank you. The passer and receiver must rely on non-verbal communication to know when they are ready. Once Round Three is successfully completed, everyone applauds and takes a knee for the drill “debrief.”
Talk to your players about what the activity was like. Ask them what challenged them, what was fun, and how the drill relates to game situations. Probe for any doubts the players had and, if the activity was not successful, ask them how they can improve it next time.
Keep your questions open, because your athletes will often think of new meanings for the drill which you may not have planned for. This is a great opportunity to learn more about your players. By having your players give explanations and answers, you are empowering them to use their knowledge, which can increase their confidence. After your athletes are done, offer a summary what was learned from the drill and how it will benefit the team.
Final Tip: When young athletes are having fun (as they should), their energy increases and sometimes focus is lost. Take a break if needed and have the group refocus with a circle breath.