Small-area games are game-like competitive drills that utilize a playing surface that has been reduced in size. The number of participants is lowered in small-area games and teams in small-area games may or may not have the same number of players. Special rules and conditions are applied to small-area games that are designed to enhance the development of particular skills or mimic different situations that are seen in regular games. 

Small-area games focus on multiple skills and situations, increasing ball touches and situational repetition. While a player in a regular game might have the ball on his/her stick for 20 seconds, the number of ball touches and time when the player has the ball on stick goes up dramatically in small-area games. Goaltenders also benefit from small-area games. Unlike many drills, which often provide shots in unrealistic situations, goaltenders in small-area games have to catch more shots, with more traffic, and from more angles than in most traditional drills.

Why are small-area games beneficial:

  • Increase the pace of practice and eliminates the need for traditional “conditioning” drills
  • Promote creativity and experimentation
  • Encourage quick decision-making
  • Enhance skill development – both attacking and defending
  • Teach passing and ball-handling in tight situations
  • Creates competitive practice and thus accelerate development
  • Make practice fun

Areas of consideration for small-area games:

  • Be creative and use or alter the games in a way that they are most effective for your players
  • Each game must have a minimum of one coach to monitor the game and enforce rules, technique and player discipline
  • Know your players (games which are too easy can be boring and games that are too hard can be frustrating)
  • Some games can be run for a longer duration than others (but players must be able to focus and keep high intensity during the whole time of the game)
  • Keep the shifts short and allow for sufficient recovery time between shifts (work interval is usually around 30 seconds, work to rest ratio 1:2)
  • Make sure the games are fun and challenging

Games for young players:

Freeze Tag
Players spread out across one half of the rink surface. Denote either a coach or a player as “freezer.” All other players move within the designated area avoiding the tag. If they get tagged, they are frozen until another player unfreezes them by tagging them. The game is over when all players are frozen.
Designed for improving running skills and teamwork.

Forward/Backward Team Tag
Using one half of the rink, divide the area in two using cones. On one side, players can only run forward while on the other side they must run backward. One player is “tagger” and begins the game by tagging the other players. If any player, including “tagger”, crosses the line to the other side, they must run forward or backward depending on which side they are on. Once a player has been tagged, he/she must help tag everyone else.
Designed for improving running skills and keeping head up.


Cops and Robbers
Using one half of the rink (or whole rink if you have lot of players), place one player (“Cop”) on one end of the rink. The rest of the players (“Robbers”) begin on the other side of the rink. The “Robbers” try to get from one side of the rink to another without being tagged by the “Cop”. If the “Robber” gets tagged, he/she become a “Cop”. The game ends when there is only one “Robber” left and he/she is a winner.
Designed for improving running skills and encourages players to break out.

Cops and Robbers  with ball carrying
Same as Cops and Robbers but with sticks and balls. The Robbers are carrying balls and Cops are tagging them by poking the balls away from them.
Designed for improving ball carrying.

Musical Balls
Using one or two circles (depending on the number of players) players line up without sticks around the circle. Players run clockwise around the circle. If there are five players place four balls in the middle. On the coach’s signal, players dive in the middle to get a ball. If they don’t get one they are eliminated. Reduce the number of balls each round. The game is over when only one player is left.
Designed for improving reaction time and start speed.


Torpedo Alley
Using one end, players line up along the boards. The coach lines the players’ sticks in two rows across the center of the zone. On command, players run from board to board. Using balls the coaches try to hit the kids as they run across the ice. Players are safe once they pass the the other side. Once a player is hit, they are out and must come out. The game is over when there is only one player left and he/she is a winner.
Designed for improving agility with head up.


Star Wars
All players begin in the same area (Earth). Three cones are placed on the opposite side with a ball atop each cone. Coaches use their stick as their “light-saber.” To save planet Earth, players must retrieve the balls and return to Earth, which is their safe-zone, before they are tagged with the coaches “light-saber.” The game should last no more than one minute so the kids must leave the area and run. Once a player is tagged, he/she is out and must come out to after returning the ball to the cone. The game is over when all balls are retrieved, the coaches tag all of the players or time runs out.
Be creative. Call yourself Darth Vader or Darth Maul and let the players be Jedi Knights.


Chaos Drill
Divide the players into two groups. Players begin the drill in a specified area, each with a ball. The players can run in any direction, keeping their heads up and staying inside the circle. On coach signal they switch the areas or move to the center area and continue moving in the area.
Designed for improving ball handling.


Stick Jump Agility Drill
Players line up. Place all of the players’ sticks out in front of them. At the end of the sticks, two cones are set up with a stick across them. The players jump over the sticks, alternating feet, then jump over or dive under the stick placed on the cones.
Designed for improving agility and physical fitness.


3-on-2 Transition Game
Select two players from each team and place them in the zone. Select another player from each team and put them on the side boards. The players pass to their teammate on the boards and he/she now enters the play 3-on-2. If the opposing players gain possession of the puck, they pass to the side boards and the player on the other team must go back to the boards. The opposite team now plays 3-on-2.
Works on transition offense and defense.


Safehouse Drill
Divide the players into two teams with the coach in the middle. One player from each team is placed in opposing corners. These players are safe and can handle the ball without being checked. The coach calls out 1-on-1 or 2-on-2, etc. The players must pass to their corner teammate first, then receive a pass back to be able to play offense and score.
Works on transition offense.


Coach’s Call Drill
Divide the players into two teams. The coach shoots the ball in the corner and calls out 2-on-2 or 3-on-3. The coach can also call out two blues, one red to force a 2-on-1. Whatever the coach calls out, the players in line react to it. To change possession and score, the defensive team must create a turnover, pick-up the ball, pass it to the coach who then passes it back. Now the defensive team is on offense. Both teams are trying to score on the same net. Change players after 30 seconds.
Develops transition, 1-on-1 play and creating 2-on-1 situations.


2 Corner Drill
Set a net up in both corners. Sealing off the corner, the net is placed facing the board. Two teams are selected and they play a 1-on-1 or 2- on-2 in the corner. The other players who are not in the drill surround the area and continue to throw the ball back in the confined area. Change players after 30 seconds.
Develops ball protection and ball skills in a confined area.


Back-to-Back Net Scrimmage
Place the nets together back-to-back. Divide the players into two teams. Teams play 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3, etc., trying to score on the opposite net. Use 20-second shifts and play to 10. Make it competitive.
Increases anticipation at all positions.


Multi-Puck Game
The coach stands in the middle of two teams. The coach chooses 3-on-3, 2-on-2, etc. Players start play on the coach’s ball declaration and react to the play. The coach can declare: Black Ball and the players can score on the opponent’s net. Red Ball they can score on either net. Blue Ball they can only score on one net that is designated before the game starts.
Improves anticipation.


Coach’s Call
Using one half of the rink, the coach places two nets near the boards. The players can play 2-on-2, 3-on-3 or 4-on-4. The coach calls out the signals and the rules of the game as they change. For example: the coach will declare that only backhand passes and backhand shots are allowed. After awhile, the coach can declare only flip passes and wrist shots. The next time he might declare only backward running. Be creative and challenge your players.
Promotes fun and skills in practice.

Center Line Boundary Scrimmage
Using one half of the rink, the coach divides the players into two teams. Players are designated as forwards and defensemen and cannot cross the center line. This line can be marked on the side with cones. Start the game with two defensemen and four forwards. Alternate players and allow them to play both positions. Start the game with a 2-on-1 at each end. The defense, after a turn over, passes the puck to the forwards at the other end creating a continuous 2 on 1. Progress using more players and build the game into a 2-on-2, and eventually a 3-on-2.
Develops transition play and passing.


In the position 3-on-2 and 4-on-3
Place a net in each corner. A player from each team is placed in a specified position (as shown). The player in the position cannot move but can pass to a teammate or shoot. Each team has two other players in the game to create a 3-on-2, progress to a continuous 4-on-3 by adding another player to each team.
Develops quick transition with odd-man chances.


In the second part of this article we will present examples of small-area games for older players.

Vítězslav Carda

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