There’s nothing better than the start of practice. Smooth ice, crisp air, and the anticipation of an hour or so of pucks, competition, and fun!
And for me, nothing derails that excitement quicker than seeing the wrong colour socks step onto the ice.
Part of the reason I got a job as the head coach of the Junior A Winkler Flyers is my attention to detail and belief in being organized. Actually, it’s not just a belief — it’s the foundation upon which I’ve built my approach to coaching.
When I step onto the ice I want to deliver a rock solid practice plan that takes advantage of every available moment of ice time, even when I’ve got 20 minutes or so built in for individual or unstructured skill development. If I’m running the practice then I want to focus on the details of each drill. If my assistant coach is running practice then I want to devote my energy to one-on-one time — conversations with players in line, specific techniques I want them to try, simple corrections.
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If half the group is wearing orange and half is wearing black, and one player steps out with green socks, then they’re demonstrating that they’re not ready to go to work with their teammates.
Sure, you can still practice with the wrong colour socks, but it’s a slippery slope, and it’s a slope my brain can’t handle. Some mornings I spend more time debating the colour combinations than I do the actual practice plan. Seriously. Orange forwards and yellow defence on one side vs black forwards and blue defence on the other side? Two colours split right down the middle? We like to play a lot of small area games and use game scenarios to teach systems — sometimes the positions matter, sometimes they don’t, but the colours always matter. I will die on this hill.
The good news is that with most small habits like wearing the right socks, you only need to remind your players once. Or one player, more accurately. Boot them off the ice, and everyone will know the value of being prepared for practice.
Alright, like the importance of sock colour, here are a few more small habits that can have a big impact on your team’s process.
Be on time
A few years ago at The Coaches Site’s conference in Toronto I heard Portland Winterhawks head coach and general manager Mike Johnston talk about his process for training camp. Part of his early philosophy was keeping the amount of rules to a minimum, but one crucial rule that can’t be ignored is adherence to the schedule.
So far, time is undefeated, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. The sun will come up tomorrow, the Earth will rotate, and morning skate will start at 10:15 am sharp.
Trying to organize 20 hockey players is a challenging day-to-day task, but it’s near impossible if your team’s process doesn’t include simple buy-in when it comes to meetings and video sessions, not to mention games and practices. Like the sock obsession for me, keeping the schedule consistent is a huge help because it removes distraction.
We always run the power play meetings at the same time, the pre-scout at the same time, and morning skates and practice are mostly at the same time. In fact, when the schedule does change — say you had a road game and didn’t get home until 3 am — it’s actually exciting and it’s easy to remember.
A fun trick I learned from Kelowna Rockets head coach Kris Mallette: when the schedule does require a small tweak, set random meeting times. Power play: 9:32, defence: 9:38. The players always ask about the times, and it’s really nothing except a small exercise to keep them engaged during the grind of a long season.
And because this question seems to come up a lot at conferences and interviews, here’s the schedule I run on a typical game day:
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