As a youth hockey coach, I’m not concerned with game results in terms of wins and losses. My primary focus areas are safety, fun, and athletic development, in that order. Our rules make the game safe. Hockey is the most fun game on the planet. Ice time is development. My volunteer career as a youth hockey coach is pretty easy. Except for when someone puts game results or individual practice results above the development process. I like to call it results pressure.
It can come from players, coaches, and parents or other family members. I know, our mites players will often talk about how they were keeping score. As parents and coaches we should acknowledge that success or failure but redirect to something good we saw our players show on the ice. Compliments like, ‘great passing today’; ‘great move to the middle of the ice to score that goal’; or a simple ‘I love watching you play hockey’; are the best ways to focus on the process.
The results pressure can come from outside of the organization your kid plays in. Young players are very observant of opposing team’s behavior. Many of our kids remarked after losing to a more experienced team at a recent tournament that the opposing players were getting yelled at and were crying after our team broke their shut out. Make sure that you continue to praise the good things your players did in those situations and not acknowledge poor behavior from external sources.
Too often from coaches I hear more about game results and the things they did as coaches and not about the kids they coach. When I do hear about a kid they coach it’s usually a negative story about how the kid made a mistake and was upset about ice time being taken away. The primary focus of many hockey organizations and their coaching staffs is making league playoffs, winning tournaments, and winning trophies. They will sacrifice practice ice times in deference to scheduling more games or tournaments. They will limit less-developed players’ ice time or even not dress them to win. Don’t get me wrong, winning is fun. I’m a player too and you can ask anyone I’ve skated with, I do not like losing. But in youth hockey, it should not be the primary focus and if it is, it’s harmful to development. I’m not saying competitive hockey is a bad thing. Most kids will have a blast with it. I just want everyone to take positives from losses or individual mistakes.
Youth hockey should be focused on development of ALL kids at ALL age levels.
ADM Process Puts Emphasis Back on the Player – A good synopsis of the American Development Model and it’s emphasis on skill development and fun to keep kids playing hockey and not being discouraged by emphasis on game results.
I know many people cringe when my fellow coaches and I let our mites hockey players have a free skate at the beginning of ice slots. They probably shake their heads when we yell “free play” at the end. Here’s the thing; the kids don’t need coaches to figure out the game.
Austin skating on the only good pond day in Maryland this year
Think about kids up north who get to skate on the ponds and outdoor rinks before, during, and after school with no adults telling them where to skate to next. Hockey hotbeds like Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and New England produce some of the most talented and smartest skaters in the world. At young ages, they aren’t over-coached. Those kids are able to play together without adults imposing rules and structure which allows them to experiment, fail, and learn on the ice. They develop amazing game awareness and hockey sense.
Now, we all pay to play and be taught game fundamentals. Ice time is expensive. However, I say 7-10 minutes of unstructured play on the ice is just as valuable to the kids’ hockey development as the remaining 40 minutes of drills working on specific skills in a mites practice. If we can give our kids the opportunity to play hockey as kids without adult rules (but with adult supervision for safety), we will greatly enhance their development opportunities. Encourage the kids to do their own thing. Buy some street hockey gear and let them figure out the game on their own in the driveway. Take them to stick and shoot ice times and do not coach them. Let them play hockey and not work on hockey.
Since this is my first hockey coaching focused post, I want to explain a little about my background. I started coaching youth hockey when Austin started the learn-to-play and skills development classes in 2013. I have continued to coach as Austin moved to mites (8-and-under) hockey. To be eligible to coach, I started going through the USA Hockey coaching education and certification program. I have achieved Level 4 certification and completed the requisite mites age-specific module. I believe in the American Development Model (ADM) as a process to support long-term athlete development. Through the ADM, USA Hockey has provided the American hockey community with some great tools to keep kids in hockey and excelling in their hockey development. USA Hockey also provides a large amount of great resources to help youth hockey organizations, coaches, and parents implement the ADM. At the end of these coaching posts, I will include a couple of links to resources that I found interesting or useful.
No spring/summer hockey; Not even camps
As we get closer to the end of the mites season and start looking forward to spring sports and the next fall hockey season, I get a ton of questions about what the next steps should be for our mites in their hockey development.
Baseball is great but maybe leave the hockey gear at home
Many parents have asked what Austin’s plans are for spring sports. Our family rule is hockey is a fall and winter sport. That’s 6 months of the year. That’s a long season. In the spring we offer alternative sports for Austin. We let him choose with the only constraint being, no hockey. Last year he wanted to play soccer. This year he wants to play tennis. I could not be more thrilled. We should all be focusing on total athlete development for our kids that are younger than 14 (and likely younger than 16-18); not hockey specific development. I’m a big advocate for kids sampling 2-3 different sports throughout the year. It keeps them active and if you’re truly concerned about their hockey development, it’s the way to go. Other invasion sports like soccer and basketball work on speed, transition, and game awareness. Baseball, golf, and tennis do wonders for hand-eye coordination. Swimming is great for overall health and fitness. Participating in a variety of activities prevents hockey burn out and results in a well-rounded athlete who will have fun finding success in any activity; not just hockey.
To answer the question, Austin decided he wants to play tennis in the spring. When summer rolls around, he plays outside and goes to the pool. He doesn’t go to any summer hockey camps. He doesn’t get back on the ice until August at the earliest. Even as a 7-year-old, Austin will sometimes complain about busy parts of the hockey season schedule. Giving him options away from the rink in the spring has kept him very interested in hockey and coming back to the ice in the fall.
We haven’t posted any updates here in a very long time. All earlier posts were archived (see the monthly archive links at the bottom of the page).
I’m planning to reboot the beer reviews since some people have asked what I’ve tried lately and what new brews I liked.
Since my hockey life now includes coaching, I plan to share my coaching philosophy, analysis, and experiences. I will try to post collections of links to articles on coaching and youth sports that I have normally posted to social media. This should help me build an online reference and share this information with others.