If you are like me and are extremely competitive and want to win no matter the situation. Or perhaps you are a first year youth coach, young (I was 22-years-old), fresh out of the game of hockey and passionate. MY story is a little different than most, I was 22-years-old, I just finished playing my final year of college hockey. I was the captain of the team had my greatest year on the ice and one of the best years with the team since I could recall. I had an itch to stay in the game and play again but I made a terrible decision I forced a situation in my life, I forced events to happen. I unrealistic thought about my future and it ended up to bite me in the behind. While I wish I never left after my senior year and perused my Master's at my undergraduate college. The greatest thing that has ever happened to me came months after I made the worst decision of my life. Around July, I headed to Virginia for graduate school and a job, I immediately searched ice hockey rinks near me, found a rink, contacted the general manager. Long story short, I landed the head coaching job of a 14UAA Bantam tea, the Potomac Patriots out of Prince William Ice Center. I was nervous, anxious but most of all filled with excitement to be a head coach of a 14U team.
I met with the parents before the season started, in my eyes I believe I did a good job calming them down and easing any of there worries. For a 22-year-old, a young adult old enough to be some of these parents kids. I spoke calmly, confidently and passionately.
The season began and man oh man do I wish I knew these next five things before the season started.
1. Games are not the same at 14U, don't be so hard and expect so much. Yes you want to win, yes you want the guys to prepared but let the guys figure out how to prepare themselves. Teach the kids crucial skills in getting prepared for games, techniques for calming the nerves, visualization, etc. The game is just that a game who cares where you rank on my hockey rankings it's youth hockey. Challenge the kids each game, be positive, tell your players it is ok when they make mistakes just let them know what they did wrong and how they can improve. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, teach them sportsmanship and always keep it loose and fun. Definitely do not expect too much I remember my first few games I was like why can't our forwards know to chip it around the D standing still and go around him, why don't our forwards know that they can use their speed and go wide. Why don't our D know how to D to D pass and re-group in the neutral zone. I expected way too much from them from the start but as I eased up, taught them the right things they started to get it slowly.
2. They probably do not understand the hockey lingo or references you are using. I am not saying speak to them like they are 8 but definitely bring it down a little, some kids on my team did not know what weak side winger meant so I would winger on the other side of the ice. Some kids did not know what 50/50's meant so I would the battle for the puck no one had. Simple things like that go a long way, they are trying to show you they deserve to be in the line up, they are trying to please their parents, trying to please their teammates and also themselves. They are going through a lot the last thing they need to think about is "ok I need to get to the weak side, chip the puck in, chase it and stay in the soft area while my other forward goes hard on the forecheck". Just let the kids play, relax, let them enjoy the game and not think about a million things at once.
3. Practices should be time to work on skills. For me it was a little different I had a team that was a little smaller, new to hitting and needed a lot of work on puck control and shooting, plus a lot more. At first my practices were a little small-area based which is good teaches them to make decisions, use their teammates, battle, get open to areas but I do remember for almost like 3-4 practices I worked on a breakout, forecheck and systems. I wish I could go back and punch myself in the face. If you are a coach at the 8,10,12,14,16 age level never work on systems. Not even the older ages either honestly. I transitioned my practices to help the kids work on passing, shooting, following their pass/shot, just good habits and I can tell my team is catching on in many situations. Screw systems go with the skills, teach the basics and expand on that all year.
4. Use more positive encouragement. We live in a generation where the kids are getting a little less thick-skinned and take everything to heart. So learn to communicate with that. Be positive, be encouraging do not always be negative and never ever berate a kid in front of all his teammates. It may have worked 8-10 years ago but no anymore. If you want to talk to a kid pull him aside and talk to him in a respectful, calm manner.
5. The season fly's by, have fun, be a coach and a friend not a dictator. Get in the locker room with the kids and laugh. Talk to the parents. Emphasis on talk to the parents because sometimes and most of the time at this age the parents care more than the kid so talk to the parents about what you think little Tommy can do better on. Every situation, game practice, etc. is a learning experience always look to get a lesson out of every moment. Every encounter, everything so you do not make that mistakes twice and you can better yourself for the next group of kids.
I hope this helps these really apply to any age level. If I can emphasis two things it would be work on skills at practice and have fun with the kids. Make them want to come to the rink and practice and play. Make them laugh, make them enjoy hockey, the culture, the teammates and everything. Do not make it a job for them, you cannot force a kid to do anything, if he/she wants to do something they will show the desire to do it. It is your job to be patient, care, educate and push them in the right direction.