Individual VS Team Development – How To Structure A Practice

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My first year coaching U11 had a lot of hurdles to overcome. But in the end, it was a great learning experience for not only the kids, but it was very educational for me. 

I considered everyone on my team first-year players since they were coming off almost a two-year absence due to COVID. Even the second-year players only had three weeks of U11 the prior season.

I took my own approach to develop my team by focusing half my practice on defensive zone coverage and angling.

I wanted to emphasize how to play their positions inside and out, so it was simple to learn playing as a team will lead to bigger and better victories and break bad habits before they started.

I talked about how to approach bad habits in my article – How To Overcome Bad Hockey Habits!

Fast forward to the end of the season. 

We went three months without a win and were dead last in our league. 

I’ve always led to believe the heart of your problem starts with leadership. I take that mentality with me to work every day and bring it to the rink every night.

The worst part after each loss was I had myself on a pedestal and blamed myself for everything. And no matter how hard I tried to rev up the kids, they were programmed to lose. 

Practice VS Games 

Every year I like to schedule three or four tournaments with a minimum of two hotel trips throughout the season. 

Hotel tournaments allow time for the parents and players to bond and get to know each other on a different level. After a weekend, you can see a noticeable change in the team’s ability and interest in the sport. 

As parents, we tend to lock ourselves in the hospitality room with drinks, allowing the kids to have the freedom so they can play mini sticks, run around the halls, and swim. This time the kids have together builds a powerful environment that beats any practice or game.

Tournaments always seem to bring the intensity out in me. Which then filters to the players and gives us one heck of a game. 

Even though sometimes it comes off that I expect nothing but the best from my team. I do believe winning is everything! 

Sometimes the victories are not always on the scoreboard. I’ve seen teams come home from weekends away after losing every game by 15 goals but built new friendships. 

On the flip side, I’ve coached teams that won Championships. 

And no matter where they end up after the three days, players and coaches come out stronger. 

However, when it comes to skill development, one effective practice will give a player more skill than 11 games collectively.

At the U9 and U11 leagues, we should have one game for every third practice.

The truth is, the average player has the puck on their stick for only 8 seconds for the entire game. 

And if lucky, each player will get one to two shots per game. 

With so few puck touches and shots in goal, the chances of a noticeable improvement are much less from only playing games.

Five Skills Of Development

Each player’s skills are categorized into five developmental areas.

1. Technical Skills  

This is the skill it takes to play the basics of hockey like skating, shooting, passing, and checking. Technical skills should make up a majority of practices right from the timbit to U18 level hockey.

2. Individual Tactic

Combining two or more technical skills to create opportunities.

For example;

skating and stickhandling simultaneously to make a move around the opponent. Or following your shot for a rebound to create a scoring chance.

3. Team Tactic

Two or more players using one or both of the above skills tactics to create an advantage or reduce scoring opportunities for the opponent.

For example;

A two-on-one in the offensive zone, while the puck carry goes up the wall, the second forward drives the net for the rebound. 

4. Team Play System

Having a sequence that will lead to an offensive or defensive outcome.

For example; I would teach my kids while forechecking in the offensive zone. The first players on the attack would eliminate the opponent’s options by angling the defencemen with the puck behind his net, forcing them to skate out the other side. Meanwhile, the second attacker would stick check and angle the defencemen once he comes out from behind the net, causing a turnover.

5. Strategy

Is when your team has a structure or plan to create their own opportunities on the ice. 

For example; 

When I played U18, we had a penalty kill that would force the opponent to dump the puck in our zone, allowing our defensemen to retrieve and shoot the puck back down the ice. The outcome of this strategy was to limit the other team’s chances to set up in our zone. We called it a 3-1 penalty kill. Three of our players would be sitting at their blue line, waiting for them to attack. All three of our players would take away their options, forcing them to one side of the ice and cutting them off at the red line. Doing this would cause them to shoot the puck in our zone.

Player Pyramid

The player pyramid with designed to help coaches with a simple guideline of how much time should be spent at each age developing specific skills.

All the courses I have taken with Hockey Manitoba have this pyramid in the background. But not until I coached a team that couldn’t win a game for three-quarters of the season is when I started to pay attention to it. 

Even as your team ages and goes through the older levels, individual skill development is strongly recommended to make up a large part of your practices. Team tactics should never exceed 50 percent of practice, even at the Bantam and Midget levels.

Ideally, a U11 practice should consist of;

  • 50% technical Skills
  • 15% Individual Tactics
  • 10% Team Tactics
  • 5% Strategy 

Every team is different, and chances are you will have a mixture of talent on your team. Even though the above ratio is the recommended amount, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you and your team.

I love including stations for multiple reasons, but one specific reason is to keep kids practicing with similar skill levels.

Challenge your more skilled players, and focus on the small victories with players further behind. 


One good practice will give a player more skill than 11 games collectively.

At the U9 and U11 leagues, we should only be playing one game for every third practice.

The truth is, the average player has the puck on their stick for only 8 seconds for the duration of a game. 

And if they are lucky, each player will get one to two shots per game. 

Each player’s development will be split into five skill categories

  1. Technical Skills
  2. Individual Skills
  3. Team Tactic
  4. Team Play System
  5. Strategy 

The ideal practice structured at the U11 Level should include 50 percent focusing strictly on shooting, passing, and skating.

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