THE HOCKEY COACH’S GUIDE TO
T H E H O C K E Y C O A C H . S G U I D E T O SMA L L - A R E A G AME S
WHAT ARE SMALL-AREA GAMES?
Before examining the reasons for using small-area games in practices and the benefits
these games provide, we must first define what a small area game is.
Small-area games are game-like competitive drills that utilize a playing surface
that has been reduced in size.
the ice and can be played cross-ice, between face-off dots, in one corner, below the faceoff
dots or in any other number of areas, including the neutral zone.
The area of the rink being used is dependant upon the skills being taught. Most games
are designed to teach a combination of individual skills and are most easily played in a
cross-ice format. However, some games will be moved into a much smaller section of
the rink to create a smaller playing surface while other games will take advantage of a
much larger area to teach team skills such as breakouts or power plays.
A typical small-area game will be played in one end of
The number of participants is lowered in small-area games.
players can be used. Again, it depends upon the situation, the level of play and the skills
being taught. Teams can have anywhere from one to four (or more) players and will
compete against other teams that may or may not have the same number of players.
Coaches can choose to add support players or station themselves in a position to become
part of the game to receive and give passes or create any number of potential odd-man
situations within a game.
Any combination of
Special rules and conditions are applied to small-area games.
dedicating a section to this topic later in this guide, it is important to mention here that
small-area games are created to mimic different situations that are seen in a regular
game. While games can be played without any special rules or conditions, it is usually
these small modifications that keep the games fresh and allow players to see many
different offensive and defensive situations.
Even though I am
Small-area games are designed to focus on multiple skills and situations, increasing
puck touches and situational repetition.
more puck touches because of the reduced size of the playing area, the reduced number
of players and the special conditions placed on each game. At any level of play, an
During a small-area game, players will have
average player may only have control of the puck for a few seconds during the course of
a game. Depending on the game being played, that same player may have over a minute
of competitive puck-possession time while taking six or seven shifts in just one tenminute
game. Within every small-area game, players are also placed in more tight
situations and have more attempts on net than in any traditional drill I.ve seen . all
while competing and having fun.
An often overlooked benefit of small-area games is the positive effect they have on
goaltenders. Goaltenders, arguably the most important part of any team, are often the
most neglected players in practice. Most drills provide shots that either don.t challenge
the goaltenders, come so quickly that the goaltender does not have time to recover
properly, or come at a pace that does not adequately duplicate conditions seen in a real
game. Goaltenders thrive in small-area games because they are seeing live competition
and . much like a skater getting quality puck touches . can face as many shots in one
ten minute small-area game as they will see in an entire regulation game.
So who uses small-area games, anyway?
Europeans. They.ve been successfully using competitive games in their practices for
years. Recently, small-area games have become more commonplace in North America
as well. They are used extensively in many professional organizations, colleges, junior
programs and USA Hockey.s National Team Development Program. Many successful
high school and youth programs have implemented small-area games as a major means
of teaching skills and team concepts as well.
Small-area games are nothing new to the
WHY USE SMALL-AREA GAMES?
The reasons for using small-area games as the main teaching tool in youth hockey
practices are numerous. We.ll spend some time in the following pages looking at a
number of great reasons to use small-area games.
Before looking at those reasons, though, we must take note of the fact that while using
small-area games in practices is a relatively new concept, small-area games are not a
new concept. Kids have been creating small-area games forever. Pick-up or shinny
games on outdoor rinks or ponds have rarely featured the nets set nearly 200 feet apart.
Street hockey games rarely cover half of a city block. These games, whether on ice or
land, have traditionally taken place in a small area.
Not coincidentally, when long-time hockey coaches or enthusiasts discuss what is
missing from today.s game, the discussion often centers around the lack of shinny or
street hockey that exists in today.s society. Kids have interests and options outside of
hockey and the world is a much different place than it was even twenty years ago.
With that in mind, coaches must find a way to bring the fun and skill development from
the outdoor rink indoors. Small-area games are the most effective way to accomplish
this important goal. Here.s why:
Small-area games promote creativity and experimentation.
use today are scripted and include a pre-determined outcome. Nothing in the game of
hockey is predetermined. Full-ice 1 on 1 drills, 2 on 0 or 3 on 0 drills done at half
speed and any number of other drills that are commonplace in our practices do not
replicate actual game conditions. Through the continued use of these drills, we
eliminate the thought process and decision making skills of our players. Small-area
games produce situations that our players will see time and again in competition.
Through trial and error, they will develop many different options to create plays and
Too may of the drills we
Small-area games create a more competitive practice environment.
fun. More than that, small-area games push players to work harder, compete at game
speed and learn to succeed against competition.
Small-area games eliminate the need for traditional conditioning drills.
game comprised of short, explosive bursts of power. Shifts are short . typically
anywhere from 30 to 50 seconds . and are followed by periods of rest two to three times
that long. Logic should tell us that we should train our players in the manner in which
they will play. Unfortunately, that.s rarely the case.
Many coaches insist on their players skating a variety of lengthy endurance drills . we
know them by many names . such as Herbies and sideboards that force players to
attempt to skate at top speed for up to two full minutes. Of course, we know it is
physiologically impossible to skate at top speed for this long. Without going into a
detailed discussion, what actually happens during these drills is that players will
gradually lose knee bend in the skating stride, bend their backs and lose the ability to
fully extend the stride leg at a proper angle. Thus, through the continued use of these
endurance drills, coaches are actually creating slower skaters by systematically
destroying skating mechanics.
Small-area games provide an intense environment in which to train while maintaining a
proper work-to-rest ratio for players. Coaches using small-area games in place of
traditional conditioning drills will find that their players are more willing to .work. in
practice because they are having fun and competing. Players will almost always ask for
one more shift in a small-area game. How many players are begging their coaches for a
chance to skate six sideboards one more time?
Hockey is a
Small-area games keep more players moving.
practice during which a drill is run with one player at a time skating through the drill
while fifteen other players stand in the corner and watch? What are these drills
accomplishing? The game of hockey is not played one player at a time. More than that,
hockey is a sport in which skills can only be gained through continuous proper
repetition. How many quality repetitions can a player gain in a twelve minute drill
when only one player at a time takes part in the drill? As we.ve already discussed, there
was a time when players could overcome this type of practice structure by going to the
outdoor rink to sharpen their skills. Players rarely visit the outdoor rink anymore.
Therefore, practices must be designed to allow players the quality repetitions they need
to improve. A twelve minute 3 on 3 game played with eighteen players can give each
Have you ever witnessed a hockey
player upwards of six competitive shifts in which they could have more than fifty puck
touches and perform every skating maneuver imaginable. This is all done within a
system that develops teamwork, camaraderie and hockey sense.
Small-area games develop and improve individual and team skills.
develop and improve every skill related to the game of hockey through the use of smallarea
games. The next chapter of this manual is dedicated to taking a look at a number of
the skills that small-area games can be use to teach.
Players learn to excel in tight situations.
small areas and in tight situations. As players continue to get bigger, stronger and
faster, the rink continues to shrink and there is less room to execute. Training to play in
these situations through the use of small-area games will strengthen players and teams
by practicing for these tight playing conditions on a daily basis. As players get more
comfortable playing and practicing in small areas, they are better able to execute skills
and systems in competition.
The modern game of hockey is played in
Your players will develop game strategies, make better decisions and have greater
enthusiasm for practice.
game that they have seen hundreds of times before, they.ll know how to handle it.
Players can.t be expected to make proper decisions and go to the right place on the ice
during a game if they have never been trained to do it. Where does hockey sense come
from? For some players it may be an inborn trait, but for most players hockey sense
comes through experience. If they.re not on the outdoor rinks playing pick-up hockey,
where is that experience going to come from? It has to be built into practices.
Another common complaint from coaches is that kids don.t want to practice; they just
want to play games. .Practice is boring and the kids just want to have fun. The kids
won.t work hard at practice, so nothing gets accomplished.. This may very well be true
for a number of coaches and teams. It.s true; if the kids aren.t having fun they won.t
work as hard. If your players want competition, give it to them. Give it to them on a
daily basis in the form of small-area games and watch as the attitude and the level of
play consistently improves.
The bottom line is, when players see a situation develop in a
Players of all ability levels improve.
level, that they feel they can.t run effective practices because of the diverse talent levels
within their team. Combined practices are another concern. How can coaches challenge
all players and keep practices flowing? By using small-area games and pairing players
of like abilities together, all players will be challenged, but not overwhelmed.
Small-area games are an outstanding option for both highly talented teams and in-house
youth teams. Why? Better players are able to flourish and improve more rapidly when
placed in competitive situations against other highly skilled players. They.re constantly
challenged to do more because of the small space in which the games are played. In
small-area games, weaker players are going to be involved in the play more often and
have an opportunity to develop their skills in a competitive situation. They.ll improve
over time while having fun and feeling more like a part of the team. Players of all skills
levels will be challenged, competing and having fun.
I hear from many coaches, mainly at the youth
Small-area games foster a love and enjoyment of the game because players and
enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Implementing small-area games in your
practices will raise the enthusiasm level of your players and give them something to
look forward to in each practice. Happy players fall in love with the game and will want
to continue coming back to the rink. It.s no different for coaches. You.re a better coach
if you.re having fun and enjoying yourself. Teams model themselves after their
coaches. A happy, hard-working coach with a great attitude will produce a team with
have fun! Hockey is the greatest game in the world and it should be an
T H E H O C K E Y C O A C H . S G U I D E T O SMA L L - A R E A G AME S
WHAT SKILLS CAN BE TAUGHT USING SMALL-AREA GAMES?
As coaches, we all have our tried-and-true methods of teaching specific individual
skills. In no way am I advocating that we dismiss traditional individual skill training
and the drills that are used to teach those skills. Rather, I would make the argument that
it.s what we do in addition to our traditional drills and teachings that will have the most
profound impact on our players. That.s where small-area games come into play.
Virtually any individual or team skill can be taught through the use of small-area games.
Of course, just as in a real game, virtually every skill imaginable is needed and will be
practiced in a small-area game. This is accomplished in a learning-friendly environment
in which the players are having fun. As a coach, have the courage to allow players to
figure things out for themselves and let the game teach the game. Here.s a very brief
look at some of the skills commonly taught through the use of small-area games:
stops and starts, tight turns, transitions, crossovers and the forward and backward stride
will all be practiced in virtually every game.
Every skating maneuver is needed in small-area games. Lateral movement,
can be applied to games requiring a number of passes prior to a shot on net or require
players to give and receive passes from support players.
Nearly every game incorporates passing as an integral part of the game. Rules
competitive playing conditions as a typical small-area game. Players are encouraged
and required to use a variety of different shots, including the nearly-ignored backhand,
and attack the net to capitalize on rebounds.
No traditional drill will allow players to attempt as many shots under
small-area games. More than simply handling the puck, they.re required to do it in tight
areas and under pressure. In my experience, this is the optimal way to become a better
Every player has the opportunity to handle the puck a great deal in
work the puck low in the offensive zone. Competitive games allow players to develop
Many small-area games can be designed to give players the opportunity to
the ability to work together to control the puck deep in the offensive zone while under
the same type of defensive pressure they would typically face in a real game.
players must make from offense to defense. Forwards and defensemen alike are put into
situations that they would rarely, if ever, see in a traditional drill; yet routinely have to
face during actual competition.
One of the trademarks of small-area games are the continual transitions
areas, they learn to close gaps and cut angles with a great deal of skill.
Because defenders are placed into a variety of real-game situations in small
creates an excellent opportunity for teams to practice specific plays during a live,
Games can be designed to incorporate breakouts and forechecks. This
typical power play alignments such as the overload and the umbrella. Conditions and
rules regarding the number of players on each team and their positioning can be
implemented to meet specific needs.
Many small-area games provide odd-man situations that closely replicate
properly support the puck carrier and position themselves to receive passes, anticipate
turnovers and run interference for teammates.
To achieve success in most any small-area game, players must learn to
hockey sense through experience and repetition. Over the course of a season, small-area
games can give players hundreds of quality repetitions in various situations that are
commonly seen in real games. Traditional drills are all too often scripted, eliminating
the thought process and decision making skills. Outcomes of small-area games, while
containing specific guidelines and rules, are never predetermined.
Remember, these are just a few of the numerous individual and team skills that may be
learned and practiced through the use of small-area games in your practices.
Hockey sense is a skill that a coach cannot teach. Players only gain