Getting extra training outside of team practice is important to reaching your goals. But training at home can often be repetitive, solitary and frustrating. You put in lots of hours, but don’t see that much improvement in real games. Below are 10 simple and effective ways that you can make your at-home skills training more game-realistic and more likely to result in improved in-game performance.

1. Rotate the Net

Most players practice their shooting skills by setting up a pile of pucks 15-20 feet away from and directly in front of a net. This set-up replicates an uncontested shot from directly in front of the goal in the mid to high slot area. How often does that situation come up in games? Not that often. The obvious solution to make this practice more game-realistic is to move around and shoot from different angles just as you would have to do in a game. Unfortunately, if you’re practicing in a garage, basement, backyard, driveway, etc. you probably don’t have enough space to move yourself off to the side to practice bad angle shots. So, what should you do? Stay where you are and rotate that net you’re shooting at. By rotating the net 45 degrees one way or the other, you will recreate the off-angle shot that occurs in a real game.

2. Set Your Targets in Locations That Make Sense

Many players use magnetic targets that attach to the posts to improve their accuracy. You can also make your own target by buying a cowbell at somewhere like Murdoch’s and hanging it from the net using a carabiner. This is a great way to start making your practice more purposeful than the old cliché of just hucking 100 pucks into an empty net. However, there is a way to make it even more realistic: set those targets in the same spots that would be open in a real game. When a goalie is in a butterfly position, the most difficult areas for him or her to defend are 12-18 inches off the ice and just inside the posts (IE, the areas just above the leg pads) and 5-6 inches on either side of the center of the cross bar (IE, the areas on either side of the goalie’s helmet…shooting for these spots is sometimes called “shooting for the ears”). If you’re shooting from straight out or just off angle, set the targets in these spots.

The image above shows where to place your targets. You might be tempted to place the upper targets in the corners where the post meets the cross bar. For full-size goalies, however, these areas are easy to cover with the glove and blocker compared to the areas on either side of the ears. 

If you are shooting from further off angle (see tip #1), consider what position the goalie is likely to be in in this situation: the reverse-vertical-horizontal (or RVH). When a goalie is in this position, the most likely gaps are going to be (1) the near-side upper corner where the post and cross bar meet (just over the goalie’s shoulder) if the goalie gets lazy with his/her head (2) the far side upper corner, especially if you’re on your off-hand (IE, a righty on the left side of the ice) or (3) the space just above the goalie’s post side pad between the hip and the post. If you are shooting from way off-angle (as though you were below and outside of the faceoff dot), then set your target in the right position(s) to replicate the space you would have available to shoot at in a real game.

Basic explanation of the reverse-vertical-horizontal goaltending position (RVH). 

This video shows a couple examples of Pekka Rinne giving up some short-angle goals while in the RVH. Pay attention to the gaps that the puck finds on its way into the net. This is where your targets should be set when practicing short-angle shots.

This photo of Jonathan Quick in the RVH shows some holes to shoot for and where you should place your targets when practicing short-angle shots. The lower target is just an outline in order to illustrate the gap between the hip and post. 

This image illustrates the open net on the far-side when a goalie is in the RVH. In the picture, this would potentially be a good shot choice for a right-handed shooter who is moving toward the slot. Remember, though, just because your eyes can see the opening, doesn’t mean the puck can see it. 

3. Use Realistic Obstacles 

Some players take their training a step beyond mindlessly firing a puck into an empty net by using obstacles. They use things like tires or broken sticks to create obstacles that they have to pull the puck around before shooting. This is a great first step. However, you need to consider the obstacles that are faced in a real game. Tires and broken sticks make you shoot “around” or “over” an obstacle, but in a real game you have to shoot around, over, under, through and between obstacles to get the puck on net.

Try setting that tire up on edge and shooting through the hole in the center. Try setting up an old folding chair and shooting under it and through the legs, just like it’s a shot blocker. Set up a couple of mini nets to create a narrow “alley” that you have to shoot through in order to get the puck on net.

4. Get Pucks “Off the Wall”

Joey Hishon, former Avs player and current skills coach has a quote that I love: “Spend more time practicing things that actually happen in games.” Watch a hockey game sometime and ask yourself how often players have to dig a puck off the wall and get it to a teammate or into a shooting position. I would say it happens ALL. THE. TIME. Get good at getting pucks off the wall and you will get good at one of the most high-percentage (IE, commonly occurring) plays in hockey.

Part of making your training more realistic is creating a realistic “chain of events.” How often do players pick a puck out of a pile and shoot in a real game? Never, that’s not a realistic chain of events. How often do players dig a puck off the wall, pass to a teammate and sprint to the net to bury a rebound? All the time; that’s a realistic chain of events.

How can you do this at home? Start by setting up your synthetic ice pad near a wall in your basement. Place the puck next to the wall, start 10 feet away, run and get it and move it into a better position for a shot on net. If you don’t have a wall, try tilting a coffee table on its side to create a mini wall. You can even build a miniature “kick plate” (IE, the strip at the bottom of the boards) by screwing some 2x4s together in an L-shape.

A few more simple ways to incorporate this into your training: Have a partner bank pucks off the wall to you before shooting. Use your forehand and your backhand. Play keep-away against the wall with your partner. Tilt your net against the wall and stickhandle the puck under it like in the video at this link.

Try this: watch a real game, watch the situations in which players are forced to dig pucks off the wall. Go recreate those situations in your training area. 

5. Warm Up First

You play a real game with your heart rate elevated. You’re sweating, your sympathetic nervous system (IE, “fight or flight”) is active. That’s what happens in a real game, but oftentimes players practice at home in a manner that is sluggish and disengaged.

A simple way to overcome this is to start any at-home training session with a 5-10 minute DYNAMIC (IE, NOT static stretching) warm up.

Try this simple warm-up to get your heart rate up, your nervous system activated and your mind dialed in for the training you’re about to do:

6. Move Your Feet

One of the problems with most at-home training is that it is completely static. Players set up a pile of pucks, set their feet and fire those pucks into the net. How often do you stand still and shoot or stickhandle in a game? Not very often, and that’s a big reason why this kind of training doesn’t have a ton of transfer to real games.

Whenever possible, get your feet moving before you shoot the puck. Move toward the net, away from the net, side to side. The more kinds of movement you can incorporate into your skills training, the more likely it is to transfer to a real game.

If you have roller blades or Marsblades and can find a roller rink to practice at, this another way to make your shooting and stickhandling training more like what happens in a real game. Obviously, that’s not realistic in most home basements.

Get your feet moving when you work on your stickhandling too. Try to incorporate some level of competition by having a partner challenge you. Remember, stickhandling in games is not done for the sake of just touching the puck as many times as possible. It’s done for the purpose of putting the puck into an advantageous position to either keep it away from an opponent, move it to a teammate or take it to the net. That’s not usually accomplished by keeping the puck in one place for long periods at a time. If you want your stickhandling practice at home to actually make you better in a real game, get your feet moving when you handle the puck.

Notice how McDavid is practicing game-realistic foot-movement while stickhandling in this video. 

7. Incorporate Decision Making

The real game environment is full of stimuli and skillful players are able to parse through this flood of information, disregard irrelevant stimuli, process the relevant stimuli and then make the right decision. This is tough to work on at home because, unless you have a real rink and a bunch of friends to play a game with, you can’t recreate all of these stimuli in your basement. But there are things you can do to incorporate decision making into your training and make it MORE game-realistic even if it isn’t AS game-realistic as a game.

Here’s a super simple drill to incorporate some decision making: Draw numbers on your shooting targets. Have a partner shout out a number and then shoot for that target. To practice disregarding irrelevant stimuli (IE, “inhibition”) have your partner say the numbers of 3 targets and then you have to shoot for the target he/she DIDN’T say. This is a fun drill and it does involve decision-making, but one weakness is that the stimuli are largely auditory while the stimuli experienced in a real game are a combination of visual, auditory, proprioceptive/kinesthetic (IE, perceptions of body’s position/velocity/orientation in space) and haptic (IE, the sensation of touch).

This is another simple decision-making drill that involves a visual (and more game-realistic) stimulus: Set up three cones in a line in front of the net, effectively creating two gates that you have to go through before you can shoot. Have a partner stand behind the center cone. Start the drill by digging a puck off the wall (see tip #4) then attack the center cone. Your partner will step into one of the “gates” and you have to attack the open gate. View the video below for an example without pucks. 

8. Make Every Solitary “Drill” A Game Against Yourself

If you’re training by yourself, it’s easy to fall into rote, isolated repetition. When you do this, you can become disengaged from your training. While you may not be able to create the same stimuli as a real game when practicing all by yourself, you can make the training more engaging and more interesting (and something you’ll want to do more often) by finding ways to turn every activity into a mini game.

Don’t just shoot at targets. Time yourself to see how long it takes you to hit all of them. Then rest and repeat and try to beat your score.

Try to hit a target from a certain number of feet back, then take another step back and see if you can still hit it.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: “If you can count it, you can make a game out of it.” Basically, if you can measure how many targets you hit, how long it took, what distance you were at, etc., you can compare those measurements against a future performance and turn any “drill” into a more engaging game.

9. Practice in High Intensity Intervals

You play the game in intervals. You go hard for about 45 seconds (with maybe a couple short breaks due to whistles in between) then you go back to the bench and rest for 2-4 minutes. This is important to understand not just for training energy systems (IE, conditioning), but also for training motor skills and the nervous system.

Too much at-home training is characterized by slow, low-intensity, repetition of the same drill over and over for an hour. That’s not how you play the game, however.

Whatever skills training you do at home, do it at a high or maximal intensity for a short period of time (set a timer for 45 seconds) then take a 2-minute break and have a drink of water. Then go again at a high intensity for 45 seconds, then rest. Repeat for the duration of your training.

10. Use Your “Wrong” Hand

This one might, at first, sound completely non-game-realistic. After all, if you’re a lefty, you play that way in games so why would you practice as though you’re a righty?

I would make the argument that some degree of “wrong hand” training is beneficial because: (1) it overloads your motor skills and keeps you highly present and engaged in your training (IE, “deep practice”) and does not allow you to revert to mindless repetition. (2) It forces you to think about the mechanics of a skill and feel the mechanics as though you’re feeling them for the first time. I think this can help you gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how you execute skills with your “strong” hand. Even the most boring and repetitive drill becomes fresh and challenging when done with the opposite hand. (3) It increases the stress of the practice environment, hopefully making it more game realistic and, when you go back to using your “strong” hand in a real game, it will seem that much easier.

You don’t have to do this all the time. However, if you have a sibling who is a different hand than you, try using his/her stick for a training session. If necessary, pick up a cheap wooden or street hockey stick that’s the opposite hand from your usual and try some “wrong” hand training.

Brandon Reich-Sweet

Brandon Reich-Sweet is a former AAA hockey player from Colorado, currently a coach for the historic Littleton Hockey Association south of Denver, a lead instructor with the Ice Ranch’s Learn to Play Hockey Program and a private instructor offering lessons and small group camps. He is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with Distinction (CSCS*D), a Level 4 USA Hockey Certified Coach, a Level 2 USA Weightlifting Certified Coach and a strength & conditioning coach with the Colorado Rampage AAA Hockey Club. He is the founder of BRS High Performance Hockey, a hockey skills and training company dedicated to comprehensive and long-term player development through the 4-pillar approach of fundamental skills coaching, game-representative problem solving training, strength & conditioning, and athletic development. Brandon is currently pursuing an M.S. degree in Applied Exercise Science (Sports Performance Concentration) at Concordia University Chicago.