One of the key areas where it’s important to differentiate by age group is the balance between quantity of reps and the quality of them.
After nearly 20 years of coaching at the NCAA Division I level, one of the most astonishing discoveries Roger Grillo, an Apple Valley, Minnesota native, made during his transition to youth hockey as an ADM Regional Manager for USA Hockey was the number of players on the ice for youth practices.
“To run a practice with 15 kids is virtually impossible,” said Grillo. “If you’re going to do game-like situations, they’re going to get gassed fast, and then the quality of their repetitions and the quality of their work is not going to be sufficient for them to get better.”
Fast forward nine years and thanks to the implementation of American Development Model (“ADM”), two-team practices have become more the norm than the exception. For Grillo though, there is definitely still room for improvement when it comes to two-team practices.
“When coaches get split ice, they tend to go to their end of the rink and do their own team stuff,” said Grillo. “Our message is we want them to still focus on the individual athlete.”
“The reality of it is, as a youth sport coach, you have two goals in my opinion. One of them is to build passion in the sport so that kids want to continue to play. The second one is to help them get better. You don’t get better by doing team type of stuff.”
At Minnesota Hockey’s “Four Corners” event this past weekend, in which Pee wee teams from the four corners of Minnesota met in St. Paul for a weekend of games and development, Grillo had an opportunity to show coaches how they can better utilize the ice during two team practices.
Emphasizing Body Contact
On Friday before the teams took the ice for practice, Grillo said, “Today’s emphasis will be on some body contact, body checking. At that age, we want our coaches to encourage a lot of that in practice so when they do get to the full body checking the next year, or in two years, depending on where they’re at, it’s not foreign to them.”
The practice, which included 40 minutes of station-based action, included drills that focused on angling, gap control, forechecking, breakouts and more. All of the drills were designed to be in tight areas to force contact among players to happen more frequently.
“We would like coaches to do this every day,” said Grillo, referring to the emphasis on body contact and forcing players to compete for pucks. “It’s a real weakness our players have as they get older is the play off the puck and the play using their body.”
Managing Quality & Quantity
The main focus of the ADM is providing age-appropriate development recommendations. Mite/8U players shouldn’t be doing the same things at practice as Pee Wees and Bantams, and vice versa. One of the key areas where it’s important to differentiate by age group is the balance between quantity of reps and the quality of them.
“At this age, you want quality,” said Grillo referring to the Pee Wee/12U group and up. “Quantity is important, but as you get older, it’s about the quality of the work, holding them accountable for good habits. They’re not going to have good habits if they’re pacing themselves, and they’re tired. You’re cognizant of getting a lot of reps in, but you’re also cognizant of quality reps.”
That’s where it becomes critical to have enough players on the ice, often requiring at least two teams.
“If I can run a practice with 30-40 kids, I can create game-like situations and game-like tempo without completely frying them,” said Grillo.
Learning Through Play
One of best ways to create game-like situations and game-like tempo in practice is by playing a modified game and allowing the players to learn through their experiences.
“I often say that if I was going back to coach college hockey again, I would buy those hard ice dividers,” said Grillo. “I would put them up, maybe twice a week later in the year when the kids are a little emotionally gassed. I would play four on four half-ice. I would have rules. I would put certain parameters on the games to work on some habit or concept, but I would have them learn through play.”
“The beauty of four on four half-ice is you get the repetitions and the experience without having to go 200 feet. You only have to go 100 feet or 50 feet to get the repetition of decision making and conflict and game-like situations. You limit how tired they get, but they still get the number of reps they need to learn through the experience of the drill or game.”