By Darren Eliot -
As we congratulate all of the coaches wrapping up the fall/winter hockey season, it is also the time of year to welcome the new coaches to the game. After all, the interest in coaching usually stems from a parent getting involved because their son or daughter has shown an interest in the game. Spring is a time for many that begins a shared hockey journey for a youth player and novice parent coach. With the spring hockey season upon us, there are many out there about to hit the ice as first-time coaches – and they may not even know it yet!
That dynamic has long been a part of the game – the parent turned coach out of necessity – and a sometimes unique way our game is passed on – up instead of down. Regardless of why you got into coaching, or how long you’ve been at it, remember that it is supposed to be a fun and satisfying experience for everyone involved. That means the players, parents and you – the coach.
Sometimes, though, coaching can seem like hard work with very little reward – especially when you’re just starting out. Part of it is the fear of making a mistake. It’s in our nature to worry when we make an error. No one likes to look silly and even if a mistake goes unnoticed we still cringe. You shouldn’t. After all, as John Wooden said: “If you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.”
With that, here is a list of some of the most common coaching errors:
1. Don’t be a PE instructor
Kids come to practice to have a bit of fun and play games with their friends – not to be bossed around by a coach who wants everyone to know that he (or she) is in charge.
Shouting, giving orders and imposing rigid discipline are the characteristics of a coach with no self-confidence and no real understanding of why they are coaching.
So try to be relaxed, smile a lot and don’t try to impress anyone.
2. Don’t talk too much
The quickest way to take the fun out of hockey is to make a child listen to a two or three-minute lecture. They will just switch off, get bored and you will get frustrated.
If you don’t think you will be able to explain what you want your players to do in less than 60 seconds, do something else.
3. Don’t impose drills on your players
Another way to bore the pants off young hockey players to make them stand in a line, wait to get a touch of the puck for a second or two then go back to the end of the line again.
Yet that’s what many coaches make their players do every week.
Kids learn how to play hockey by playing the game, being exposed to the challenges they will experience in games and finding solutions to those problems – with or without your help.
So don’t make young players stand in lines. Play games – preferably small area games instead.
4. Don’t try to pack too much in
Many new coaches try to include too much in their coaching sessions.
It’s much better to stick to one simple objective and don’t get sidetracked if you spot something else that needs improving. Just make a note to address the problem area in another session.
5. Don’t “wing it”
It is essential to plan your coaching sessions.
If you walk into the rink with a bag of pucks and some cones and try to make it up as you go along once on the ice, you will look unorganized, your players won’t learn anything and you will almost certainly have problems with discipline.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time working out what you are going to teach your players and how you’re going to teach it. USA Hockey has ready-made practice plans available (visit their official website to see them).
They might not be perfect but they can usually be tweaked to fit the age and ability of your players.
6. Don’t bang your head against a brick wall – it hurts!
Even the best practice plans don’t always work.
That’s when you need to have some go-to games handy – ones that you know your players love to play.
7. Children Want to compete
Games and drills that don’t involve competition are OK…for about 30 seconds.
If you make your players perform non-competitive drills for longer, they will get bored and they’ll soon start to compete among themselves in ways that you might find inappropriate.
Always try to satisfy the competitive instinct of your players. Even in 1-on-1 drills challenge your players to improve.
And the biggest mistake of all is…
New coaches are, understandably, keen to impress parents and colleagues and they can easily fall into the trap of equating success with wins, instead of by measuring success by the players’ growth in skill and confidence.
No matter how you define success, please don’t take hockey too seriously. It’s only a game.
If you get too intense and allow hockey to take on too much importance, you will only succeed in taking the fun out of it – for you and for your players.