Players love the Rondo Drill. Every hockey coach should use them when developing their team.
What is the Rondo
At its simplest form, the Rondo is a game of “monkey in the middle” where the players on the outside pass to keep possession while players in the middle attempt to create a turnover or deflect the puck outside of the game area. Once a player in the middle steals the puck or forces an errant pass, they switch with the former passer and become a player on the outside.
A basic Rondo can be 4×2, 5×2 or 5×3 and looks like this image:
"Everything that goes on in a match, except shooting, you can do in a rondo. The competitive aspect, fighting to make space, what to do when in possession and what to do when you haven’t got the ball, how to play ‘one touch’ soccer, how to counteract the tight marking and how to win the ball back." - Legendary Dutch soccer player Johan Cruyff
While we are starting at the basic level, you can increase complexity to include just about everything you could ever want. For example, at 4v2, it’s likely that the four players will start - and remain - on the perimeter of a circle. But if you try 5v3 in the neutral zone, you’ll likely find that a player innovates and skates between checks, serving as a decoy, or even as a bumper.
Elements of the Game
The Rondo is a perfect microcosm for so many important things within the full game:
Small area skills
Utilization of many types of passes
Awareness and quick decision making
A Rondo provides environmental cues for players to read and play. At first, players will often read/react. But eventually, players get to a point where they are able to dictate play how they want.
A Rondo is excellent at providing feedback to players due to the tight space, quick pace, and many repetitions.
Those short feedback loops help foster development in players’ skills and their levels of focus. Putting all of that in a competitive setting is a dream.
For example, every powerplay is effectively a Rondo! Whether at 5v4, or 5v3, or 4v3… it’s a form of Rondo. A breakout? Also a Rondo!
Personally, I start with a 4x2 Rondo on a faceoff circle and build up to the power play. Here is how I’ve progressed with my team this season:
4x2/5x2 in a circle
6x4 in the offensive zone with zonal constraints
5x3 in the offensive zone with zonal constraints
6x4 in the offensive zone with goal orientation
5x4 in the offensive zone with goal orientation (an actual power play!)
One of my all-time favorite Hockey IQ Podcast snippets comes via Kenny Rausch.
When working for USA Hockey in Colorado, Rausch also coached a high school team. They were always near the top of the state in terms of their power play. How often did they practice the power play? Almost never!
They practiced a ton of small area activities that were applicable to larger spaces. If you can do it in a small space, you can do it in a large space. Want a better power play? Use a Rondo.
Implement a Rondo
Give a simple rondo a try and see what you think. The first time is usually pretty rough as players get the hang of it. The more intensity from the defense in the middle, the better the Rondo. Encourage players to defend with the intention of stealing the puck.
Once players get the hang of it, add some more challenges (e.g. only 1-touch passes) or complexity (e.g. 5v3 in the NZ).