Coaching Hockey Tips

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Coaching is Teaching

Coaching young people in hockey or any other sport is primarily a teaching position.

Like any other teaching assignment, the instructor needs to possess the following qualities:

Competency in the subject matter

Organizational skills

Strong Communication Skills

Leadership Skills

Passion for the subject being taught

A desire to improve as a teacher/coach (commitment)

Hockey is a very dynamic game that requires a multitude of individual skills and team skills. Every coach needs to be able to assess all of the skills of each player and then decide how best to coach the team. Once the assessment is completed a coach can thendetermine where to focus the practice time so that all of the players have the opportunity to improve their individual skills and their team skills.

Each season will bring new challenges and wise coaches tailor their season plan to the talent they have. The saying,“We coach the team we have, not the one we wish we had” is quite true.

So this is all good in theory but what does it mean to you? Maybe I can bring it down to the ice level with some examples and suggestions.

Drills are used to teach specific skills either individual or team. Each drill has a primary objective and perhaps one or more secondary objectives. Most all drills have one or two teaching points that a coach needs to understand and then communicate to the players on a regular basis. Telling your players the objective of each drill is very important. Then they know where to focus their attention.

The teaching method is described as follows:

Tell-Demonstrate-Observe-Correct. This sequence covers the three dominate learning styles that individuals favor. It is important to utilize this process for all of your drills so that all of your players understand each drill.observe and correct” aspect of the process. This is where the rubber meets the road. First of all the coach needs to observe the player as the drill is performed. Does the skater do it correctly? If not, then the player needs to be stopped and shown the correct way to do the drill. Allowing skaters to continually do drills incorrectly is a disservice to the players and lazy on the part of the coach.

The area that is most difficult for many coaches is the “

If they are doing them incorrectly they will develop bad habits that will shorten their playing days. Players who have bad habits by the time they are 15 year old have only their coaches to thank (blame).

One example that is easy to observe is crossovers preformed on a circle. Many young players are uncomfortable on their outside edges and therefore do not cross over and finish with a push from the underneath leg. Instead they quickly switch to the outside skate and repeat the process over and over and then faster to increase speed. The problem with this is that never get comfortable with the outside edge and they have trouble handling the puck with such a choppy motion. Although they may go a bit faster with the quick steps there is a limit to their ability to accelerate as they are turning. The solution isto slow them down and make the skaters perform the skill correctly. This needs to be a consistent message from mites all the way through high school.

Correcting players is also a bit of an art. Players’ often times are a bit sensitive to constructive criticism. There are many ways to go about it and have success. Phrase like;

“I would like you to try doing that a slightly different way” or “Please watch how I do it”

or perhaps “ I think if you can improve this skill it will help you take your game to the

next level. Do you want to try to do that?”

Punishing players verbally or with activities like push ups when they do not do a skill drill correctly demonstrates weakness on the part of the coach. Patience and quality repetitions will make your players better.

In the academic world teachers are constantly learning new ways to teach. At the upper levels of the coaching profession, the coaches are also looking for new ways to teach their players. I am part of an informal network of coaches and development people who are dedicated to finding improved ways to teach the game. We attendsymposiums here and in Europe. We make presentations at coaching clinics , share videos and ideas with that will help us a coaches. It is really important that youth coaches continually improve their knowledge base and coaching skills. The USA Hockey CEP clinics are only a beginning to the process not the end.

To develop into a highly skilled player takes 10,000 hours of practice and playing.

Learning to coach well also takes many years of coaching and learning from experience and from other coaches. Considering the many lives we all touch the effort is worth the effort.


Off season is a time for coaches to improve

April is a great time to review the past season and evaluate what worked and what did not. Spend some time reading books from well known successful coaches from all sports. As you plan for the next season try to incorporate new ideas and your new coaching skills. Take the time to attend a USA Hockey level 4 clinc to hear great ideas and stategies for coaches of all age players.


Advanced Coaching Ideas and Suggestions

In the game of hockey the game performance is the summation of all the acquired skills of the individual players. The ability of the players is determined by their grouping of all the acquired skills and being able to use them as the situation requires. As coaches we try to simulate game situations in practice in the theory that this will improve the team’s performance. In order to become better coaches and to better prepare our players for games, it is important to understand the fundamental principals of skill acquisition and the relationship of skills to skating.

As with skating or other skills it is essential to break down the over all skill into smaller pieces and practice the elements in “game related’ scenarios. The game related skill structure expresses the technical/repeatability and game like continuity of f skills. The consistency of techniques in concatenated skills and the couplings of movements of bodysegments are performance indicators. The game related skill structure is an outcome of the specific neuro muscular endowment of the player, cognitive sensitivity and organization of practice sessions.

The neuro-muscular machinery of the body controls neuro-motorics. A repetition of different structured motoric stimuli brings about an enhancement and reinforcement of playing habits. Recording and storage of events and their retrieval in specific analogous situations takes place along connecting, central and peripheral neural routes of the body. The motorics of the game thus become automated.

In other words, practice must contain or be representative of sections or situations that occur in a game. Another way to think about this is to practice “common reoccurring situations”

The motorics of the game comprises two essential categories of movement;


Dynamic component- sources imparting movement (strength, speed) made possible by a metabolic nutrition of muscle labor; and


The motorics of the game requires acquiring a wide range of associated skills and linked movements. Practice sessions must focus on exercising primary muscle groups which initiate links between skills and skating. The goal is to achieve consistency in the technique of associated skills and skating. The association of game-related skills and skating (the main mover) results in standardized and linked motoric concatenations associated with a particular segment of the game.

The concept of the motorics of the game is based on the kinematic involvement of the segments (legs, arms, and torso) and coupling their movements. To achieve game related skills the player must link skating to other body parts (feinting, dodging, and shooting).

The interaction of the above elements regulates and controls somatic dynamic stability.The dynamic body balance implies a movement cooperation pattern and is the basis of technical skills (fast hand- calm footwork- slow hands). Body stability is determined by the following factors:

Motoric component- an outer kinematic component which can be objectively observed. This is brought about by the neuro-muscular machinery of the body, which initiates, associates and couples movements.


Load-bearing central motorics- SKATING


So what does all this mean for a youth hockey coach? Perhaps we need to re think a bit about how we practice if we want our players to develop to their fullest potential. So here are some thoughts about practice design.


Link game related skills to skating in order to develop standardized responses. Develop and strengthen the neuro-motoric mechanism of the game (skating).

Create and secure memory entries

Develop habits of game fluency insofar as puck control is concerned

Improve and enhance the overall condition of your players

The typical exercise to develop game-related skill structure should have the following components;

Develop creativity

Originality of advance routes and localized centers of skating mobility

Elements of skill skating (transitions, corners, changes of direction)

Effective individual training for game-related skill structure will focus on the individual or small group of players. The objective is to focus on in-game techniques in a kinematic flow of concatenated and linked skills. Therefore in plain English, practice should focus on the links between skating and puck handling skills. A practice that aims to improve defense related skills will focus on skating (agility and mobility), puck control, and puck turnover skills.

In the course of a game a player draws on the full range of acquired and ingrained skills.

Repetitive exercises bring about a step by step fixation and automation of the essential motoric habits. Skating and game-related skills assume a motoric consistency as a result of practicing game-related skill structures.

If you want to teach your players game-related skills you must be creative and be able to put together attractive and novel practice exercises. Your ability to teach means that you should be able to see details and correct mistakes and to communicate the importance and role of the individual player. Your ability to demonstrate, provide accurate comments and feedback, and change the drill on the spot if needed is also important to the learning process of your players.

The common theme is skating and the link to other skills. It is essential that your players learn to skate well. Youth coaches need to focus on these skills as most players receive very little practical skating development . Add other skills to the skating exercises (multitasking) and you will begin to address the needs of your players. Your practices may consist of 80 percent skill exercises and 20 percent small area games to allow your players to develop read and react skills.

The approach to practice has evolved over the past 25 years to a more game based type of structure involving many full ice flow drills. Perhaps it is time to break that down into smaller pieces and help your players get the instruction and repetition they need in the essential skill elements to achieve their maximum potential.

To implement this approach take a drill like the break out and analyze all of the segments. Then design exercises for each element and practice those separately.

This approach may feel strange to you at first but as the player’s skills improve so will their game play. It is no surprise that the team with the best skilled players usually wins in the course of a season.

As players improve and the game evolves so must our coaching techniques. Coaches must be receptive to new ideas and concepts that will benefit their players and team. As teachers and instructors we need to continue to learn our craft and be sure we are current in our coaching skills. Simply attending a few clinics is not sufficient if you want your players to achieve their potential. Keep an open mind, learn from others, and question the traditional methods.

The longer I coach the more intrigued I am about finding new ways to help my players develop. As coaches we hope our players have a passion for learning the game. If we have a passion it is a good start and model for our young players

Multiple skill parts (stick handling, fakes, fake shots, passes)


Changing the Dialogue

With the 10-11 season fast approaching it is a great time to think about how you are going to approach your team this fall and set up for the long season. One change that I encourage coaches to think about is to rethink how they talk to and communicate with their players.

As coaches we are charged with sharing valuable information with our players and inspiring them to reach their potential. Maybe it is time to take a different approach with our players and make them part of the process.

Coaching the kids of the ipod and video game generation takes different communication skills than we used in the past. This current generation of players and their parents are more attuned to the entertainment value of youth sports and sports is a family affair. Youth coaches need to recognize this generational shift and change along with them.

The change we need to make is to start shifting the responsibility for individual player development from the coaches to the players. This is done by changing the dialogue and encouraging players to increase their on ice awareness and game understanding.

If we want our players to be creative, and we say we do, then we must allow them the freedom to do so and a framework of dialogue that allows them to learn.

The process for changing the dialogue is to spend time talking with your players about the game, the decisions they make and the other options they could have chosen. You can begin by asking open ended questions rather than telling a player what he or she shouldhave done. For example:Instead of saying “ you should have passed to your teammate in that situation”you would say “ Tell me why you made that decision”. You could follow it up with“what other options did you have?” Then you need to listen to the answers.

The answers will be short until they get used to the new approach but eventually they will open up and start seeing and articulating what they are observing. Encourage your players to watch the game when they are on the bench and try to analyze what the opponents strengths and weaknesses might be. This will help them as they learn to observe what is happening on the ice which in turn will help them when they enter the game.

In order to shift to this approach you will need to restructure your practices to make them more game like and to put your players into situations where they have to make decisions, not just follow the lines on the white board. Continuous flow drills like 2 on 1, 3 on 2 and 4-3 are great for this type of training. Lots of movement, decisions and very game like. Small area games with odd man situations that are ever changing are also good for learning the game. Again, remember that your role is to encourage your players to see the options and understand what their choices might be before they execute.

It is also quite helpful to shoot some video of games (we know they love videos) and let the team watch how they play. Again, the dialogue should be open ended questions regarding choices and options. A video of a couple practices to be viewed would also be useful. Each team seems to have a self designated video parent so they could be enlisted to help with this part.

Your players will take some time to adjust to this type of coaching. They are conditioned to direct feedback, most of it negative or corrective. The team may be a bit chaotic for a few weeks but once they and you get the hang of it they will make much more progress inthe second half of the season.

Kids want to play hockey and have fun. If you change your dialogue your players will understand and enjoy the game more, play with more enthusiasm and energy, and likely win more games.

I would call that a winning strategy.

Is a good coach valuable to to the team?

Key to a Winning Team

A good coach is the key to a winning team. No matter how much skill and talent a team may have, a good coach is vital to bringing everything together by establishing structure and realistic expectations. It is no coincidence that you often see a team with a good coach, and less talent, defeat a team with all the talent in the world and an incompetent coach.

What is the best way to run practice?

Constructive Practices

Each team practice should have a specific purpose or skill-building goal. If your team played poor defense last game, then focus on defense. Likewise, if they couldn't score, be creative with drills. At the end of a practice, play a game so they can apply the skills. Give your players positive reinforcement if they show improvement in these areas.

How should I treat my young hockey playing child?


The most important element for children playing hockey is to have the support of their parents. Encourage participation in practices, good sportsmanship, and attend as many of the games as possible.

What kind of shots should you take when learning the game?


Coaches should never let young players take slapshots. Kids are often too young and underdeveloped to have an effective slapshot. Give them time to develop their snapshot, wristshot, and backhand first.

How can goalies stay involved in practice?

Don't Forget Goalies

Very often coaches are so focused on developing their team play they neglect their goalies. Every goalie will complain about this, so ask them what drills they enjoy most and which will help them improve their skills.

Why do players backcheck


Good hockey players should be willing to do anything to help their team. Backchecking is a skill that hockey players should master. By backchecking, a forward creates many more opportunities for the team, thereby helping out the defense by picking up a player from the neutral zone.

I hate playing goalie, is that okay?

Encourage Goalie Play

Not many kids want to play goalie. It's always been that way and is unlikely to change in the near future. Encourage children to try the position; goalies usually get the most credit for playing good games!

Can right handed shots play on the left side?


As a coach, make sure you don't limit your right-handed players to right wing and your left-handed players to left wing. Some players find it easier to play their off-wing because it allows them to cut across the middle and now be on their forehand. Let the players decide where they are most comfortable.

Who should speak to the officials?

Dealing with Referees

Not only should you never allow your players to speak to the referees (except for Captains), but you should never make a scene in front of your players. It distracts them from the game and they will lose their focus. There is plenty of time between periods and after a game to tell them what you really think.

What position should you play?

Experience All Positions

Never limit any young hockey player to one position at an early age. Let them experience all positions, even goalie, to find what they really enjoy. In addition, it is an asset to any team, at any age, to have a well-rounded player.

What do I need to be a coach?

Getting Started

So you want to be a coach? Not a problem. Coaching the game of hockey requires knowledge of the sport, involvement in hockey in previous years (either as a parent or player), the ability to work well with children, and a great deal of patience and understanding around your players.

When should my child play hockey?

Starting Age

The best age to begin skating is around 3 to 4 years old. As your child develops ice skating skills, they can start to learn hockey basics around the ages of 5 to 6 years old.

How should your skates fit?

Fitting Skates

One of the most important things for children beginning to skate is to make sure their skates fit. A popular complaint for kids is that their feet hurt which could be caused by skates that don't fit or muscles that need to be built. While standing, a child should be able to brush their big toe against the front of the boot. If the toe is jammed against the front, the boot is too small, and if they can't reach the front of the skate no matter how hard they try, the boot is too big. Both problems will hurt their balance and hinder their development.

Should the rules apply to every player?

Rule Application

EVERY RULE APPLIES TO EVERY PLAYER! The last thing you want is team dissension and for certain players to feel inferior. If your best player violates a rule, you may not want to establish a punishment, but who else is the best example to learn from?

Should practice be fun?

Make Learning Fun

All in all, if you want kids to learn, make it fun. Standing in front of them drawing a million lines on a chalkboard is not effective. Design games where they can compete and apply the skills you are teaching them.

How can I teach my child balance on the ice?

Learning Aids

Youngsters can easily learn to play hockey by using a chair or something else to lean on for balance. This is very effective because it helps the kids begin working on their stride. The chair is similar to training wheels!

What is the best way to condition players?

Establish Competition

The best way to condition your players AND have them improve their skills is to establish competition. Create games your players can play against each other and I guarantee they will skate much harder (than just going from goal to goal). Small zone, short and fast games are extremely beneficial and you will see a big difference in your team's longevity during third period play.

What kind of skates should I buy???

Skates for Beginners

The best skates for beginners are the ones where the entire shoe goes into the skate boot. Children maintain their sense of "walking" as they develop their ice skating skills.

My team sucks, what should I do?

Do Your Best

In the NHL, there is room for only one championship team. For young players, it is important to remember that even though your team may not be in the #1 position, it is always possible for you to shine and play well, earning credit from your teammates.

How often should your best players play?


Be sure to save your best players. Yes, it is nice to have your best players out all the time, but they will undoubtedly get burned out and become injury prone. Establish a solid third and fourth line that keep the other team off the scoreboard and give your top players a rest. If you find that your promising team often runs out of gas by the end of the season, establish a more well-rounded team and enjoy the results.

Where can I get information for a hockey project on coaches?

Research Reports on Hockey

One of the best places to begin a search for information on hockey is your local library. Start by looking up "hockey," "hockey coaches," or "National Hockey League (NHL)." The Internet also has several good sites - please visit the Resource Center at Hockey-tips!

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Guru Spotlight
Jerry Mayo