skip navigation

Russo: Critical Coaching Activities

11/12/2021, 10:45am CST
By John Russo

 Pace and Intensity (Team/Player)

Recently, a youth coach asked me what I thought the critical (practice) activities were to create a really good team. I told him that the two most important activities for development and to best compete were:

• Running practices with great pace and intensity.

• Use of small area games and drills. However, I will deal with “small area games and drills” at a later time.



Playing and practicing at a very good pace and with great intensity is generally what separates good teams from bad ones at any given level, assuming that their skill levels are reasonably close together. In other words, some teams just play “faster’’ than others. That means that they forecheck and backcheck harder, they get to loose pucks quicker, and they transition (turn the puck around) quicker. A friend of mine, Bob O’Connor, who coached at the high school level but also coached at the national and pro levels, created a saying (from another context) that gets across his meaning of pace. He said that “speed kills.’’ What he meant was that as the pace of the game picks up it is too much for some players or even entire teams.

Pace and intensity are developed in practice. This is not necessarily an easy task, especially for teams where very little competition exists. It is a matter of forcing most drills to be performed at uncomfortably fast speeds. This was the basis of my Russo Hockey Training Programs. It created great results in that players learned in the same way speed reading is taught. The concept is as they skate and perform at these high levels then back down just a little, everything becomes easier to do. Using an analogy with auto racing drivers that commonly race at 150 to 200  mph, find 125 mph fairly easy to handle. To those drivers that have never driven 125 mph before, the speed would be paralyzing – for a while, until they got used to it.

Most teams at all levels practice at what I would call a lazy pace. They are learning to play games at the same lazy pace. This is not to say that every drill in practice has to be at high intensity. When new skills are being learned, especially at the younger age groups, they must be learned slowly for a while to allow the body and brain to pick up the right techniques. By the bantam and high school levels however, many to most practice drills should be very fast paced. That means, for example, that on 1-on-1’s. 2- on-2’s, or 3-on-2’s, the forwards must attack the defensemen – not only to develop their own skills and pace, but also to allow the defensemen to learn how to handle things better.

Many coaches allow their (mature) teams to lollygag through most of every practice, then do leg deadening condition drills the last l0 or 15 minutes. There are times when conditioning of the right variety is in order. However, practices run with mostly high paced drills have conditioning built into them. I spent very little time with my teams doing what would be the classic end of practice conditioning, but the teams were generally well conditioned and could play at a fast pace throughout their games.

When coaches first attempt to increase the pace of a team, it can be a little stressful. I say stressful because it is necessary to push the players individually and the team as a whole. A few players will naturally want to and be willing to play with great intensity. Coaches can help their teams become faster in a very substantial and impactive way. Having a good in-season and off-season workout program in place and monitored is important for individual players. It is critical that players understand that the legs are the most important item to increase pace. Also critical is making certain that players understand that leg squats (or hip sled work), as well as jumping,sprinting, and plyometrics are the most important workout items.

However, without downplaying any of the above muscle, strength, agility, speed and development items, there is one thing that coaches can do to provide the most impact. That is to teach their players to put out 100% all the time. I have said and written about this many times in the past and I will repeat it again here. An average speed team, if pushing at a 100% pace, will overwhelm more opponents.

As I have watched games as a coach and mentor/consultant over the past 50 plus years (since I quit playing competitive hockey), it is obvious to me that teams with the best pace (higher effort) generally win. Even two exceptional teams in the finals of their divisions will have one faster team (trying harder) than the other – and generally winning.

Next month I will continue the discussion on pace and intcnsity.

John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and former director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a two-time captain at the University of Wisconsin and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.

Tag(s): State Of Hockey  John Russo