For coaches, one of the biggest benefits for a games-based approach is the ability to change the environment of the game. Minor changes can dramatically impact the way players approach the game. With this, the players will learn on their own, without the need to drill, constantly blow the whistle and slow down practices.
Nowak gives the example of a 3-on-3 cross-ice game.
“It’s pretty free flowing. There’s not a ton that they need to think about outside of traditional go and play.”
But what happens when at every shift change, a coach dumps the puck behind the net?
“Well now we’re going to influence their behavior,” Nowak said. “Now they went from just playing to breaking the puck out.”
Split the ice with a line down the middle and call offsides and the game will change again.
“Now they have to come lower to support each other because they can’t stretch the ice because of the offside line,” Nowak said.
Finally, give the forechecking team a bonus point for creating a turnover before the puck possession team gets the puck over the offsides line.
“Now they’ll change their behavior to be more aggressive to get a turnover before the other team enters the zone,” Nowak said. “Within that one game, we changed the constraints and environment they are working in so they are now adapting to what the game is presenting them.
“Ultimately, that’s what we want from our players in a real game. We want them to be able to adapt to the environment and game they’re playing in and come up with solutions as an individual and as a team.”
As coaches, sometimes it’s better to let go of the steering wheel. The games-based approach to practices allows for players to learn through adaptation. This will increase their hockey sense and feel for the game.
“The biggest thing to this whole approach is letting our players explore and let them come up with solutions,” Nowak said. “We always want to help them by giving them the answers, but they’re going to learn the most by being able to explore and becoming adaptable players by learning through problem solving. You’re there to set the environment and guide them if they seem lost.”
Download the USA Hockey Mobile Coach App for instant access to age-appropriate games and go to USAHockey.com/smallareagames and USAHockey.com/practiceplannerguides for more.