For those who do not know I have accepted a head coaching position for a High School Varsity Hockey program in Ames, Iowa. From what I have heard, perhaps a younger coach of my nature is a good fit for the organization. With that said I feel as if from what I heard from the old coach. Older coaches do not get the credit they deserve and or are often reprehended for the actions and or things they try and teach their players because the players just do not get them or see where they are coming from. I believe kids that are around 12-17 relate and or listen to a younger coach like myself a little more. Why? I am not sure. It could be because I just got out of playing the game and can translate relevant lessons into practices, perhaps it is because I can still skate fairly well, shoot well and compete against the kids. Perhaps it because I am more closely associated with the problems, struggles and or frustrations they are having on and off the ice because I too was a kid only five years ago. I am not sure why I have been able to relate to the younger hockey players in today's climate but I do want to try and help older coaches relate more to younger players. Because I know a lot of older coaches who have great intentions but perhaps come across the wrong way. Plus wisdom from older folks is invaluable and can help you so much later in life. So lets keep older coaches in today's sports environment!
Here are my five tips for older coaches who still coach in today's changing sports environment.
1. You have to be able to keep up. For some reason when kids see a coach that can barely skate and or instruct what is the lesson or point of the drill they immediately turn to their teammates, laugh and think "if coach can't do it, what makes him think we should listen to him". Therefore if you cannot skate anymore, find an assistant coach who can skate, instruct drills and do the drills the way you want them done. I even deal with this issue sometimes when I'll demonstrate a drill and mess up or something and the kids will all laugh. It is something about who they are that they really need an instructor who is the best skater in the world in front of them. But you do not need to be the best skater just have an assistant or two who can help you.
2. Stop saying "back in my day", to be honest with you. Not ONE kid cares what it was like back in your day. I know this will be challenging but, say "back in my day" after practice to your assistants or something. The last thing a player wants to hear is back in my day. To them that seems like 100-years ago even if it was only 20+ years ago realistically. Back in my day turns kids off and it makes them feel as if the coach is undermining them and comparing them to what it was like back then. Kids today do not like to be compared to old players you had or the success you had years ago or the players from the game 20+ years ago. They all want to be like Connor McDavid or Patrick Kane, that is relevant to them!
3. Explain what you mean. The BIGGEST issue I see is older coaches will say "no you can't do that" or "that is not what you are suppose to do" or something along these lines. When a kid hears "no, no, no, not like that" without any explanation to back up why you are telling them that is the wrong way. How can we except them to fix the mistakes if we ourselves cannot provide an explanation to them and give them concrete details on what they should be doing. Same thing goes when you want your players to do something. You cannot expect immediate buy in from everyone without explanation. You need to have a purpose, goal, vision, explanation and plan when you say you want the players to do something. Be clear and transparent with your players, do not think they cannot handle the truth and or are not smart enough to understand what you are saying! For example, say I tell the team "one player goes after the puck in the corner, 2nd guy supports off the puck and 3rd guy supports off the puck in the high slot." A player on your team says "what, why? I was taught 2 after the puck at all times?" And you come back with "well too bad I said this way!" Good luck getting buy in from him or anyone else.
Instead say to that player "ok why do you think 2 players on the puck at all times works?" They give an answer you hear them out and then you say "While I agree with your answer, in certain times 2 players defending on the puck is good but at times it can leave holes open in the high slot. Therefore to make sure we protect the front of the net, let's do 1 on the puck and 2 off the puck defending for now." COMMUNICATION and a clear explanation.
4. Find roles for each player. The biggest mistake I saw growing up was my coaches would focus on certain players more than others. Which is going to happen all the time. But lets' remember not every player is at the same skill level, not every kid loves hockey the same amount, not every kid wants to play hockey in college or professional. Therefore we need to make sure while we are giving our attention to whole team, the players who may fall under the radar, or not engaged in practices and meetings still have a voice, want to show up to the rink every time and can contribute. I think the best thing a kid can be told is what he does well and how what he does well contributes to team. A player may be the best goal scorer on the team and it won't be hard to motivate him but what about that player who is not scoring goals or on the score sheet a whole lot? Figure out what they do well, how they can contribute to team and SHOW/TELL them how they are contributing to the team. This gives a goal, some internal and external motivation and now they feel as if those little things like chipping pucks out, killing penalties, or blocking shots is not a waste anymore, instead it helps the team!
5. Learn to admit when you're wrong. A common mistake in older coaches is that in the moment, or even during the season they will not admit what they are trying to teach is not working or how they are speaking is not working. And will be stubborn in their old ways and continue to do the same things over and over again. Which in reality, it would be a lot more beneficial to the whole team and organization if you just came out and admitted you were wrong earlier, changed somethings sooner. Therefore, put your ego aside, admit you are wrong and refocus on a new outlook. As well this same thing goes for when you get a new group of players. What worked last year with your team will not work the same way with this new group. So, be ready to make changes on the fly, constantly be ready to try new things and be OPEN to change. Don't try and stay stuck in your old ways, be stubborn and never change anything even when it is clear that what you are trying to do is clearly not working.
There are plenty more I can list probably but five seems like a good number. A good starting point for now. And it is not too much information at once. Look, I am not saying I am perfect or the best coach but I see it becoming an issue that today's players are able to relate or play for these older coaches because these older coaches do not understand and or relate to their players which causes rifts in teams, distrust between the coach and players and eventually players tuning out coaches. Therefore I think these five ways can help you as I have seen them be helpful for me coaching 8 year olds to 16 year olds.
Look in the mirror. How are you making a difference in today's world?