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Part 2: Practice Design

This section of the coaching guide goes over practical ways to incorporate skating skill development within your practice.

Practice makes perfect...                          but should practice look perfect?

Designing a Practice

Ever wonder how to get the most out of your athletes in practice?

Extensive research has been done on the topic of motor learning and control over the past 40 years which gives us coaches valuable information we can use in our practices to better serve our athletes. This aids in not only how to teach these skills, but helps us as coaches understand the best way to have these skills transfer to game performance... which is the ultimate end goal in terms of skill development for me as a coach.

Distributed Practice

What is it? Alternating between skills every 10 minutes or so versus working on one skill for first half the practice and another for the last half

* Time spent on each skill = Same

* Repetition of each skill = Same

Why to do it? Results in greater retention of the skills practiced (transfers to game-play)

How does it work? Allows athletes time to process skills and then challenges them to re-access that knowledge when they come back to that skill after time spent away from it

* This demand better replicates how they will need to access these skills in performance 

Many Skills > One Skill

  • In-depth practices focusing on one or two skills may seem like the best way to have our athletes master a skill. In a single practice session athletes WILL improve if you only focus on one skill. However, true skill acquisition (what you see in a game) happens through retaining skills over multiple sessions and using them in performance. 

  • Working on multiple skills in a practice session is superior to working on one or two skills in terms of transfer to performance (which is the ultimate goal of learning a skill).

Practice Variables

"Factors that make up different aspects of a drill/practice session"

Examples: # of players in the drill, # of defenders, # of attackers, using cones, using active players, responding to a stimulus (whistle, opponent, cue)

Blocked Practice Design

Repeating the same skill consecutively, only working on one skill at a time.
Ex: Focusing on forwards stride for one practice (30 minutes dedicated to this skill) then focusing on stopping for the remainder (30 minutes dedicated to this) ~ 1-2 skills

Random Practice design

Introducing variation and randomization when working on a skill, may alternate between multiple skills, variations. Includes constraints when learning a skill which can be related to the task, environment, or individual
Ex: working on forwards stride, stopping, and backwards skating (each for 10 minutes), then work on the same 3 skills but in a different order (each for 10 minutes) ~ 3+ skills

Constant Practice

Practicing a skill using the same or a constant method and strategy with the same or a similar goal
Ex: practicing shooting from the same location on the ice to score

Variable Practice

Practicing the same skill but using a method and strategy different than the previous one. Also has the same or similar goal.
Ex: practicing shooting from different locations on the ice to score a goal)

Which Variables Should I Use?

Generally speaking...
Random >  Blocked
Variable > Constant

However, athletes must be challenged appropriately just above the point they are comfortable with. Pushing too much can lead to giving up and not enough can lead to boredom. Once athletes are comfortable with a skill, it is time to challenge them on that skill by increasing the task difficulty

Examples: add opponents or additional skills, create a reactionary component, create decision making opportunities

Consider the age and skill level of the athlete. Start simple and move towards more complex.

Never expect perfection on the first attempt. Skills are learnt through exploration and positive feedback / outcome. Too much direction and explanation can be worse than not enough. 

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