Ultimate Guide to Coaching Youth Hockey

Two boys in ice hockey uniforms and gear.
The first step in coaching hockey is to make sure your players are comfortable on the ice. See more sport pictures.
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Previously restricted to iced-over ponds in tundra-like lands, hockey has quickly become a popular sport for many people, particularly youth. But even if you've played ice hockey before, when it comes to coaching a group of kids, you may feel like Emilio Estevez's character Gordon Bombay in "The Mighty Ducks" -- completely out of your element.

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of hockey skills, positions and equipment, decide on some basic coaching strategies and how you want to work on them with your team. Build team camaraderie by talking with your players in the locker room before games and then warming up on the ice together. Review good sportsmanship with your athletes and be sure they have an understanding of why it's important to respect their opponents. Also, review strategies and plans for the game with your players, but be prepared to change these depending on how the game unfolds [source: Lifetime Hockey].


Once you've laid a foundation for your team's strategies and goals, you can move on to coaching your players on the skills and rules of hockey. Hockey is a complex game, and your athletes will need to develop a variety of separate skills to play well. These include skating, handling the puck and using the hockey stick. Hockey can also be a high-contact, intensely physical game -- in some leagues, players check, or ram into one another, in order to gain control of the puck [source: Cunningham]. However, rules for youth leagues may vary for safety precautions, so be sure your players are aware of what is and isn't allowed.

While many hockey skills apply to all players, keep in mind that strategies can vary between offensive and defensive players. No matter the position, every hockey player's goal is to move the puck into the opposing team's net. However, the way each individual player contributes to this may vary.

The objective to score in hockey may seem simple, but some rules and infractions are more complicated. Keep reading to learn the basic rules of hockey.


Youth Hockey Rules

The basics of hockey are pretty straightforward. Players score points by hitting the puck into the opposing team's goal, and at the end of the game, the team with the most points wins. Each team has six players on the ice at one time, and the players from each team are divided into offense and defense. The center and wings are the offense, those players trying to score, and the goalie and defense players concentrate on keeping the other team from scoring [source: Winnetka Hockey Club].

The hockey rink is divided into three sections -- two end zones and a neutral zone in the middle -- that are marked by blue lines on the ice. Offensive players must stay behind the puck when they cross into the opposing team's end zone. If a player proceeds ahead of the puck, that player is offsides and the play is dead [source: Winnetka Hockey Club].


A hockey game has three periods, and each period is 20-minutes long. There's a break between periods, which gives the coach the opportunity to communicate with players and discuss strategy [source: Hockey Tribute].

Players receive penalties for various kinds of behavior against other players. When a player serves a penalty, he or she sits out and the team is down one player. A minor penalty lasts for two minutes, and a major penalty lasts for five minutes. When a player is the recipient of certain conduct while in possession of the puck, he or she may get to take a penalty shot. A penalty shot is essentially a "free" shot at the goal, with no players other than the goalie allowed to defend [source: Winnetka Hockey Club]. Additional rules or regulations are at the discretion of your particular league, so be sure to read any manuals you receive and pass the information on to your players.

Once you go over the rules of hockey with your team, you're ready to teach them essential skills of the game. For more information on hockey skills, read on.


Teaching Basic Hockey Skills

Before young hockey athletes master the competition, they'll need to master the individual skills that make up good hockey playing.

First, your players will need to practice their skating technique -- this includes starting, stopping, controlling speed and maneuvering comfortably on ice. If players aren't used to skating, have them take a few turns around the rink at their own pace without holding a hockey stick. As their balance improves and they gain confidence, have them skate while holding a stick correctly. After they're comfortable with these motions, they should move on to hitting the puck.


A player's next concern is controlling the puck. Players need to practice slowing and stopping a moving puck and learn how to apply these skills to dribbling, shooting and passing. Players also need to learn to guard the puck from the opposing team.

For both forehand and backhand passes, be sure players keep their eyes where they want the puck to go and follow through with both hands holding the stick. When players receive a pass from a teammate, they should move their stick to meet the puck and angle the stick to prevent the puck from merely bouncing off [source: Youth Hockey Forum].

You can use drills catered to various hockey skills to help your team fine-tune its abilities. Keep reading to learn some workouts you can use to teach these skills.


Youth Hockey Drills

Have your team warm up with drills at the beginning of practice and before a competition. Many drills are catered to offensive or defensive play, while others encompass basic hockey skills that benefit all players.

To work on your players' passing and shooting skills, have the offensive players line up on one side of the rink and defensive players on the other. Have the two sides pass the puck back and forth before an offensive player takes a shot at the goal. Drills like this require players to pay close attention to one another, as well as work on their general hockey skills, including skating, controlling the puck, guarding the goal and working with the stick [source: Ice Hockey Systems].


Drills such as this are also a great way for the team to practice working together because the center, wings, defense and goalie are all involved in their respective roles. However, coaching different positions on the hockey team may require slightly different strategies. Keep reading to learn about coaching offense in youth hockey.

Coaching Offense in Youth Hockey

An offensive hockey player's job is to shoot the puck and score a goal in the opposing team's net. You'll need to work with your offense on both shooting technique and strategy to move the puck to the opposing team's end zone.

Often, the best way to get the puck from your end zone, through the neutral zone and to your opponent's end zone is by passing. Offensive players, or forwards, should pay attention to the positioning of their teammates as well as the opposing team's defense. Forwards should concentrate on the angles they'll take to approach the net. Tell players that the opposing team's defense will try to anticipate where they'll move next. Forwards should consider skating toward the net at one angle, then shooting from another -- this makes it more difficult for the defense to determine where to block [source: Cunningham].


Some areas of the net have a higher rate of success than others do. The side of the net where the goalie holds his or her stick has a 55 percent higher success rate than the side where the goalie holds the glove. Forwards are also more likely to score close to the ground than higher in the net -- a puck flying through the air is easier for a goalie to see and block [source: Anderson].

In order for your offense to succeed, you'll need a good defense to back them up. Read on for tips on coaching defense in youth hockey.


Coaching Defense in Youth Hockey

The responsibility of the defensive players in hockey isn't merely to keep the opposing team from scoring, but to move the puck forward to your team's offense. A defensive player is constantly ready to move in hockey, depending on the location of the puck and the other players. Be sure your defense understands the importance of paying attention to multiple aspects of the game at once.

A defensive player must be agile on his or her skates so that he or she can change positions quickly. Your defense needs to be able to skate rapidly as well. The best way to get the puck moving up the rink to your offense is usually with a pass. However, when a pass isn't practical, your defense should be ready to skate the puck out of your end zone [source: DiRito].


When it comes to keeping the puck out of your net, positioning your defense is crucial. When six players per team are on the ice at once, you have two defensive players other than the goalie. One defensive player should go for the puck and be ready to either pass it to the offense or skate it into the neutral zone. The other should stay back and guard the area around the net. Your defensive players can switch roles depending on where the puck and other players are positioned. Communication between these two defensive players is crucial to ensure neither position is unattended [source: Raimondo].

Your other defensive player, the goalie, will need to learn his or her own particular strategies for keeping the puck out of the net. To learn about coaching goalies, read the next page.


Coaching Youth Hockey Goalies

Your goalie is your final line of defense against the puck entering your team's net. While the goalie may not cover as much ground on the rink as the other players do, goalies still need to master many of the same skills. Like the other defensive players, goalies must be able to change their position quickly depending on the positions of the puck and the other players, so they must be as good on their skates as anyone else is.

Focus is sometimes a challenge for goalies. During some parts of the game, the action will all take place in the opposing team's end zone, meaning the goalie has little more to do than watch. However, watching the game is crucial because the puck could be passed from zone to zone in no time [source: Hersh]. Talk with your goalies about the importance of keeping their minds on the game, and provide them with concentration techniques, such as using their breath as a means to stay in the present moment.


Where your goalie stands in the goal depends on the positions of the other players -- both your team's defense and the other team's offense -- and the position of the puck. Because the puck can be passed quickly, the goalie should assume that any opposing offensive player could score. The goalie should choose a position where he or she could easily react to a shot from any player [source: Heinz].

The goalie is also the player that uses the most equipment. Keep reading to learn about youth hockey equipment.


Youth Hockey Equipment

Some pieces of hockey equipment are fairly obvious, such as the puck and a player's skates and stick. However, other types of equipment may not be quite so noticeable.

Because hockey is a high-contact sport, players need to wear a lot of protective gear to prevent injuries. Your players will need shoulder pads, elbow pads and knee guards. To protect their heads, they'll wear helmets, as well as mouth and neck guards. Hockey players will wear gloves to keep their hands warm on the ice and to help grip the stick [source: Holden]. The goalie will have another glove, similar to a catcher's mitt in baseball, to help guard the goal.


Packing hockey equipment can be a challenge for players and parents simply because there's so much of it. Remind players that getting dressed and staying organized in the locker room will be easier if they pack the last things they put on at the bottom of their bag and pack the first things they put on at the top [source: Holden].

For more information on youth hockey equipment and other coaching tips, visit the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Anderson, Wayne. "Shoot to Score." Hockey Player Magazine. November 2001 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_425.shtml
  • Cunningham, Bob. "Back to Basics." Hockey Player Magazine. January 1995 (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_511.shtml
  • Cunningham, Bob. "Successful Play Up Front." Hockey Player Magazine. December 2004 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_468.shtml
  • DiRito, Tony. "Foot Speed and Quickness for Defensemen." Hockey Player Magazine. June 28, 2005 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_359.shtml
  • Heinz, Rick. "Mathematics and Goaltending." Youth Hockey Online. March 10, 2005 (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://www.youthhockeyonline.com/index.cfm?sector=coaches_corner&page=index&showSingle=45
  • Hersh, Darren. "The Secret to Success in Goal." Youth Hockey Online. February 11, 2005 (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://www.youthhockeyonline.com/index.cfm?sector=coaches_corner&page=index&showSingle=38
  • Hockey Tribute. "The Rules of Ice Hockey." 2009 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://hockeytribute.com/rules-of-ice-hockey.shtml
  • Holden, Bill. "It's All in the Bag." Hockey Player Magazine. February 1997 (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_445.shtml
  • Ice Hockey Systems. "Double Pass Drill." April 24, 2009 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.icehockeysystems.com/index.php/warm-up-hockey-drills/10-double-pass-drill
  • Lifetime Hockey. "Strategy." (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://www.lifetimehockey.com/Strategy.htm
  • Quinn, Elizabeth. "Proper Hydration." Hockey Skills Acceleration. (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.hockeyskillsacceleration.com/hsa2005/articles/properhydration.html
  • Raimondo, Gianni. "Defensive Zone Coverage." Hockey Player Magazine. September 2007 (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_560.shtml
  • Serowik, Jeff. "The Importance of Dry Land Training." Youth Hockey Online. December 21, 2004 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.youthhockeyonline.com/index.cfm?sector=coaches_corner&page=index&showSingle=26
  • Siller, Greg. "Breaking Out of Your End Zone." Hockey Player Magazine. March 1998 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_484.shtml
  • Siller, Greg. "Stopping the Unstoppable." Hockey Player Magazine. May 1998 (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://www.hockeyplayer.com/artman/publish/article_492.shtml
  • Winnetka Hockey Club. "Basic Hockey Rules." 2009 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://www.winnetkahockey.com/basic_hockey_rules.htm
  • Youth Hockey Forum. "Cleaning Ice Hockey Equipment." 2006 (Accessed 1/3/2010) http://youthhockeyforum.com/cleaning_hockey_equipment.html
  • Youth Hockey Forum. "Youth Hockey--Skill Progressions 16 and Under and 18 and Under." 2006 (Accessed 1/2/2010) http://youthhockeyforum.com/16_and_18_under.html