In my last post, I wrote about the importance of making sure that pre-game warm-ups look like the hockey game that is about to be played. Whenever you are preparing for a game, you need to keep this in mind. Let’s take this concept one step further and apply it not only to our on-ice pre-game warm-up, but to our dryland pre-game warm-up.

I’ve written in the past about the importance of a purposeful, dynamic warm-up that follows the R.A.M.P principle. That is: Raise core temperature, Activate key muscles, Mobilize key joints, and Potentiate the nervous system to recruit large motor units and fast twitch muscle fibers for subsequent performance. I’ve also written about the deleterious effects of static stretching on immediate performance (i.e., reduced force production, sprint speed, jump height, etc.). I’m not saying you should never stretch, but I am saying that it’s a bad idea right before a hockey game. If you’re currently doing a R.A.M.P.-focused dynamic warm-up before games you are putting your players in a good position to perform. But, how can you take it to the next level?

The above video is a good place to start if you’re looking for a R.A.M.P.-focused dynamic warm-up for your team.

        By introducing small-sided soccer games! I know, I know. Hockey players already love to play “sewer ball” to finish off their warm-ups. For those who haven’t heard of the game, “sewer ball” involves the players standing in a circle and trying to volley a soccer ball from teammate to teammate. Whoever is responsible for the ball touching the ground is out. It’s a fun game, but it doesn’t involve much movement or decision-making and it doesn’t really replicate the demands of an actual hockey game. Playing small-sided soccer games accomplishes this goal and warms-up the most important “muscle” that players possess: their brains/decision-making muscles!

        With a few pieces of basic equipment and some foresight, you can start to introduce small-sided soccer games into your warm-ups. The players will be competing, making decisions, changing directions, and doing nearly everything they will be doing in the upcoming hockey game. They’re just in shoes instead of skates. So, what do you need?

  • PUGG Soccer Net: This is a “Pop-Up Goal” mini soccer net that folds up for easy storage (similar to how windshield sun shades work). I use the PUGG brand 6-foot net (no, they don’t pay me to say that), but there are plenty of great options on the market.
  • Soccer Ball: Get a youth size and keep it inflated.
  • Jersey Pennies: I have a set of red and yellow ones that I got at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Obviously, you can get them from many sporting goods stores. I usually just have the teams organized as “Pennies” vs “No-Pennies” so only one team has to take them on and off. The players aren’t crazy about wearing pennies, but they get used to it and pennies are definitely important for making the game run smoothly.
  • Game Ideas: We’ll discuss more below.
  • Location: Look around for an open field near the rink. You can even use an empty parking lot if necessary. Obviously, the safety and well-being of your players comes first. Never have them play a game in a location that will put them in danger.

This is what the PUGG Nets look like in their storage case. The case has a shoulder strap and is very easy to store in your car. 

The nets come with stakes/pegs which you can drive into the ground to keep them stable. This is especially useful in windy conditions. When playing on concrete I have found that duct tape, a 5 lb. weight plate, a rock, or a hockey bag work well to keep them in place. Be careful, though. The smaller the weight/rock, the more likely you are to tear the netting. 

This is what the PUGG Nets look like when they are broken down. They open and close in the exact same fashion as many windshield sun shades. 

The nets are secured with a simple Velcro tie to keep them from popping open in the car. 

When considering your game-plan, one easy solution is to have a group of players play 3v3 or 4v4 while another group runs through a R.A.M.P.-focused dynamic warm-up. After 10-minutes, switch the groups and repeat. You can also simply transpose a small area hockey game and play it as a soccer game. I’ve listed a few examples below of small area hockey games that work really well as soccer games. You might have a few of your own that would work just as well.

Levels + Neutral Player

  • Players can score on either of the nets.
  • On any change of possession, the ball must be passed to a neutral player/coach on the sideline (this can also be a designated player). The neutral player can only go up and down the sideline and no players are allowed to pressure the neutral player.
  • After a goal, the team that got scored on starts with possession and tries to work the ball out to the neutral player.
  • Change on coach’s command.
  • Click here for a video example. 

2v2 Quick Up

  • Set the nets up about 20-30 yards apart. Mark the center line by: using cones, spraying the field with marking paint, or using a line that was already painted on the field.  
  • Play 2v2 in one end with one team on offense and one team on defense. 
  • The defensive team has a couple teammates on the other half that they are trying to get the ball to. 
  • If they do this, they are out and the team that was on offense goes on defense. 
  • Rotation is: Wait for the ball > offense > defense > ball to teammates > out 
  • If one team kicks the ball far out of play, the other gets possession and the game continues.

Video example of the 2v2 Quick Up game as it would look on the ice. 

Nobles Transition Game

  • Play 3v3 with only one net.
  • One team is designated on offense and one is designated as defense. 
  • The defensive team is trying to steal the ball and get it to their support players on the sideline. If they do this, the original players are out and the support players attack the net while the opposing team which was just on offense is now on defense. 
  • The team that is on defense sends in 3 new players to wait on the other sideline. The team is trying to get the ball to these players. The game is continuous. 
  • If the offensive team scores a goal, the defensive team gets possession, but they still have to pass the ball to their waiting teammates. 
  • The game can also be manipulated by having the waiting players start in the equivalent of the “neutral zone” so the game is more about using rushes to create offense. This example is diagrammed below (the diagram shows a 2v2 game, but you can play it however you want).

Diagram of the Nobles Transition Game, with the point of entry changed to emphasize rushes. Click here for a video example of this variation. 

Video example of the Nobles Transition Game as it would look on the ice. 

        With small-sided soccer games for your dryland warm-up and small area hockey games for your on-ice warm-up, your players will be primed and ready for the demands of a real hockey game!

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.