Small area games that emphasize transitions are important pieces of training to help your players understand the urgency when the play transitions from offense to defense and defense to offense.
Below are two games that can help your players learn the concepts of transitional play by creating practice conditions that teach the physical and mental skills associated with quick transitions, and help them learn the importance of offensive and defensive body position.
Simple Transition Game
This game should be taught first as a 1-on-1, then 2-on-2, and finally 3-on-3. Once the parameters of the game are understood, coaches can use variations to teach the concepts of out-numbered attacks and defensive awareness.
SET UP: Draw a line down the middle of the ice signifying the offensive/defensive zones of play, then position players in two teams along the blue line as diagrammed.
PLAY: Coach passes the puck to a player on either side of the mid-line to start. The player with the puck attacks across the mid-line against an opposing player. As soon as the attacking player crosses over the mid-line, a new player fills in on his half of the ice. If the attacking player scores, the coach rewards him by spotting a puck in an area where he can gain control and attack again. If the defending player gains possession of the puck, he counter attacks against the new opponent who has gapped up to defend on his side of the ice. Defending players cannot cross the mid-line until they have control of the puck and are on the attack. Play is always live and the puck is in question until the counter attacking player reaches the top of the circle, then the player who has lost the puck must return to his line.
POINTS OF EMPHASIS: All elements of a regulation game are contained in a small area: transition to offense, attack, transition to defense, defensive play, offensive and defensive body position, puck protection, support, etc. The coach is involved in directing the play, teaching and encouraging players to compete and play at the desired tempo. Focus on quick counter attack and transition from offense to defense and defense to offense.
VARIATIONS: This game can be played 2-on-2 and 3-on-3, and the same rules apply. Or you can play 2-on-1, 3-on-2 or 4-on-3, with the emphasis changed to practicing out-numbered attacks by having an extra attacker join the rush when the offensive team moves the puck across the top of the circle.
The Backcheck game
SET UP: Coach draws two lines down the center of the zone to create a neutral zone, and positions players as diagrammed.
The drill begins with the coach passing the puck to an offensive player for attack.
PLAY: Two offensive players attack 2-on-0 with two opposing players backchecking. Two additional players on the backchecking team position themselves in the neutral zone.
If backcheckers gain possession of the puck, they pass to either teammate in the neutral zone for transition to offense and to counter-attack the other way. When the original offensive players lose the puck, they become the backcheckers.
***After the initial shift, players’ shifts consists of offense, backcheck to defense, breakout your team and change.
POINTS OF EMPHASIS: Many elements of a regulation game are contained in this cross-ice game: breakouts, line rushes, backchecking, line changes, transition to offense, attack, transition to defense, defensive play, offensive and defensive body position, puck protection, puck support, etc. The coach is involved in directing the play, teaching, encouraging players to compete and play at desired tempo.
VARIATIONS: This game can be played 3-on-3, or 4-on-4.
Small area games are not only a great way to teach different concepts of hockey at all ages, but will also help raise the level of competitiveness and the speed in which your team performs in games.
Coaches must remember to stay engaged with the players when practicing in a small area game format. While it is important to allow the game to do the bulk of the teaching, coaches must take more than just an observatory role.
Coaches must be involved enough to help players understand the concepts without telling them where to be, what to do and how to do it. Like a great teacher, we must provide the environment that encourages our pupils to find the answers on their own.