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Question: I am a coach for Atom level players. As I'm sure you're aware, at this age they are sometimes growing quickly and not yet used to their new size. Can you suggest drills to help develop quick foot speed for acceleration and agility?

Pelino: Anything that involves competition and/or timing motivates the players to go hard. I suggest that you set up an obstacle course for each practice and have the players work on their quickness that way. This may involve stops and starts, quick turns, a forward stop followed by backwards skating, jumping over lines, falling down on their knees and getting back up quickly, spineramas, superman slides, etc. These are all fun speed drills that may involve pylons or pucks and races or teams being timed. An example of a good footwork drill is one that uses all four end circles of the rink with the team divided into four groups. The first player goes around the outside of the circle back to the start, stops, goes the other way and returns once again to the start. He/she then stops again, heads straight up to the top of the circle, stops and skates backwards to the dot, then performs crossovers to one set of hashmarks, then over to the other side of the circle before heading back to the middle dot, stopping and skating straight out.

You can make variations to this drill. Another effective footwork drill is the box. The players start on the goal line, two at a time with one in the middle of the ice and one on the left boards. On the whistle, they skate to the top of the circle and cross over to their right (player on left to the middle of the ice and player on right to the boards). They then stop, go backwards to the goal line, stop and crossover to the starting point, stop and sprint to the centre ice line, crossover to the boards, go backwards to the blueline, crossover across the blueline and sprint to the far goal line. They then perform the same box process at the far end of the ice using the goal line and top of the circle. Two new players can start as soon as the preceding two hit the neutral zone. More players can be utilized at the same time by making the boxes smaller (i.e. only five strides). There are many things that a coach can do, as long as they're always fun for the players and involve hard work. The quickness and agility will fall into place naturally.

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