How to Approach Warmups

Warmups are often an over-looked aspect of games and practices. If you look at the amount of time you spend “warming up” each season, you’d quickly realize your total amount of ice time would add up quickly.  Coaches must thoughtfully plan each warmup session they’re involved with in order to utilize this time to continue developing the players.

When referring to warmups, many coaches and players immediately think of stretching. Coaches should not use ice time for static stretching – static meaning there is no other purpose to the drill other than stretching. In the Chicago area, ice time is currently hovering around the $300/hr mark.  If a team spends 5 minutes stretching, they’ve just wasted about $25.  Static stretches (most of the time) can be done prior to taking the ice. Players should not perform static stretches when cold – they should always warmup first.  This can be something as simple as: running a set of stairs, doing sprints, jumping jacks, etc.

A proper warmup should consist of a couple skill development drills to allow your players a few moments to acclimate themselves to the ice and get into the swing of things.  These skill drills don’t need to be overly complicated – most of the time, simple is better! The drills need to be performed at a high tempo.  Coaches should have a core set of warmup drills they use on a weekly basis – or daily depending on the schedule.  Having a few different “staple” drills allows players to enter the drill quickly since they should already know them.  It also allows players to focus on the skill instead of the drill pattern.  Coaches should use these drills to set the tempo of practice.  Since players aren’t forced to think about where they’re going, they should be able to execute it at a higher pace than a brand-new drill.

Once coaches have their favorites picked, they should pay close attention to what skills are being practiced with the drills.  If you know where your team struggles, it would be wise to use the warmup drills to focus on developing these skills.  If a coach used 10 minutes each practice, two times per week, over the course of 32 weeks (4 months) – they will have spent a total of 640 minutes (10.6 hours) developing these particular skills.  If a coach focuses on passing during this time and each player makes 25 passes in each warmup, they will have completed 1,600 passes by the end of the season over the same 32 week schedule!  Will a player improve his/her skills by executing an additional 1,600 reps?  Of course they will!

Warmups are also important before games.  Most youth coaches get only about 5 minutes to warmup before games, but these 5 minutes should be treated just like a practice.  A team playing 50 games with 5-minute warmups will spend 250 minutes (a little over 4 hours) warming up over the course of a season.  This is another tremendous opportunity to develop a player’s skills.  Again, there doesn’t need to be anything complicated, but the key is to maximize the short amount of time you have.  Find a way to use the ice and keep players moving – here are just a couple ideas:  Split the offense and defense, divide the ice into 3 lanes, have 2 shooters warming up the goalie and the rest doing a drill.  Find a way to get more than just one or two players moving at a time.  For example, the “horse-shoe” drill that many teams use is a terrible warmup drill since you only have one or two players in motion while the other 12 stand around.  Be creative and get players moving right away!

Warmups are essential to developing good hockey players and setting the tempo of practices and games.  As a coach, it is your responsibility to make sure you have a proper plan in place and don’t just “wing it” when you get to the rink.  Think about your team’s weaknesses and plan accordingly.  The time you spend warming up quickly adds up – maximize your ice time and develop skills!

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