For most coaches and teams, there’s a formula to running practice: warm-ups, stretches and then your basic hockey drills. Practice is where players develop the necessary skating and puck skills to enhance their play, but players need breaks from even the best stickhandling or shooting drills.
Adding non-hockey games into the practice mix not only gives kids a break from the usual practice routine, they can be incredibly beneficial, too. Games embrace creativity, fun and help develop basic movements and motion that can be applied to any field, court or rink.
In fact, some of the best games to teach on-ice techniques actually require no hockey at all.
“Non-hockey games and activities are a great way to break up the monotony of practices,” said Matt Cunningham, USA Hockey’s coaching education coordinator. “They get kids out of their comfort zones and present skill development in a unique fashion.
“Kids are developing skills and they don’t even know it – through competition and fun.”
Most hockey players enjoy watching and playing other sports too, so swap out the pucks for tennis balls and leave your sticks on the bench. Sprinkle in these five non-hockey games into some of your practices this season for a break from the mundane skills and drills.
Freeze Tag: Being on the ice gives even more meaning to this classic twist on tag. One person is “it” while the rest skate and try to avoid being tagged. A player that’s tagged must “freeze” until a teammate comes by to “unfreeze” them. The game ends when all players are “frozen.”
This game is ideal for beginners (8U and 10U) who are learning to harness their speed and skating skills.
“What’s important in tag-type of games is that kids are having fun and competing,” said Cunningham. “It’s perfect for all ages.”
Tennis Ball Relay: Split the team into two relay teams and set up 10-12 cones along the blue line, placing a tennis ball on top of each cone. Place two nets between the teams, designating one to each group. Line players up behind the goal line. On the signal, the first player skates to the blue line, stops and grabs one tennis ball.
After they skate back with ball in hand, have them place it in the net and let the next player go. Continue the game until all balls are claimed.
Speed is a big factor in this game, perfect for players of all ages.
Soccer: No cleats or grass required. Just like the field-version, players will play a game of soccer. Split the ice into three separate zones and play 4-on-4 cross-ice, rotating in as you would a shift.
“Soccer has countless benefits such as agility, balance and coordination,” said Cunningham. “Soccer reinforces the knee bend necessary to develop a proper skating stride.”
Aside from employing the same type of physical mechanics, soccer utilizes similar hockey concepts. Players must learn to create time and space. They will also work on taking advantage of odd man situations by utilizing teamwork and communication.
Dodge Ball: Who doesn’t love a game of dodge ball? This one is particularly geared toward our 10U and 12U players who are a bit more stable on their skates.
Just like in the traditional gym game, players are split into two teams on either side of the ice (if using a full sheet use the center line, if not, create your own). Place soft dodge balls on the line. Once the whistle blows, let the players loose. Once hit with the ball, that player is out.
“Players have to keep their heads up as this game will have them multi-tasking,” Cunningham said. “Players can also utilize deceptive skating techniques in dodgeball.”
While ducking and dodging balls, players will learn edges, pivots and speed.
Football: Just like soccer can be moved off the field, football is another sport easily translated to the ice. Split the squad into two teams and enforce a two-hand touch game.
“(Football) will facilitate body contact skills,” said Cunningham. “Players will be bumping into each other.”
Players will learn how to cover an opponent while making quick cuts to mirror the receiver. Receivers will also learn how to use deception or sharp turns to create space so they can get the ball on offense and toward the endzone. All the while, the quarterback will be learning to read the play and make decisions.
So get creative. These are just five ideas, but surely you can think of more. What about versions of whiffle ball, tennis or kickball? Most importantly – in any game – players are learning by having fun.
Most importantly – in any game – players are learning by having fun.
“Playing these games and activities present a different challenge and encourage (players) out of their comfort zone,” Cunningham said. “Players at all ages need to have fun and compete while refining fundamental skills.”