Being 23-years-old and essentially giving up entirely on continuing pursue a masters degree. I still value learning and constantly challenging my views and thoughts to get myself to think outside the box. When I received one of the millions of emails USA Hockey sends out, I thought "oh boy is this going to be another email that does not pertain to me?". Luckily I was smart enough to click read more on this one. At around this time when I signed up for the coaches clinic, I was torn between pursuing higher education or going all in on coaching and my dreams. This past weekend was truly inspiring and an amazing learning experience.
Like I said I am an extremely young and inexperienced coach so I’m always looking for ways to get/think ahead. Before this I've attend the basic CEP Level 1 clinic, coached a 14UAA team for one season and have run and helped out for clinics. This High Performance coaches clinic in Buffalo, New York was exactly what I needed to not only challenge myself but more importantly challenge my players from here on out.
I'll be the first to admit I do not agree with some of the things USA Hockey and the ADM model pushes and there are plenty of things I can go into detail here about for now I'll save it for another time... I am not the type of person who likes to be told what to do or how to do anything. I am not a button pusher, or a yes sir/mam type of person, to my fault that hurts me in ways but helps me in others. Therefore while the ADM model I have noticed does try and get coaches doing and thinking the same way, the moment I started coaching I said to myself while the ADM is great, it is a guideline for me. I have to expand off this to better my players and challenge them. The moment I started coaching 14UAA at 22-years-old I was in for a rude awakening, there are so many challenges that you cannot even imagine and I had no idea would be a challenge. For example, the size difference, the speed difference, the numbers of players on a team and a list of many others I am sure you know about. I thought it was about being organized, having a plan, being positive, being a role model and giving my all. Now, while that way of thinking has definitely helped me, "get" through this season. The High Performance clinic not only is going to help me think even more outside the box but feel more confident to deal with the more serious issues.
Now, with all that said the clinic had a great panel of speakers, Tobias Johnsson who coaches the 16U/18U elite teams for Frolunda HC, if you do not know them that is where Rasmus Dahlin played before his draft year. Then it was Topher Scott someone I admire a lot for his honesty, work ethic and the waves he is making in the hockey world today. Scott played at Cornell University for four-years, played professional hockey in the CHL, became a Graduate Assistant coach then an assistant coach for Cornell and now hosts one of my favorite podcasts The Hockey Think Tank. Then Ken Martel spoke, I do not have a crazy background on him but if you know hockey you know Martel. Then Phil Osaer, Lightning (NHL) scout and goalie coach and Dave Starman (more known for his NCAA commentary) and finally Bob Mancini a massive name in USA hockey. As you can tell the speakers were loaded and if you did not walk away with at least 5+ pages of notes after this one than you wasted your time.
Some Takeaways From Each Speaker?
Tobias Johnsson: Really taught the importance of challenging my players and why systems do not win games, good players make a good system so develop the players first and you will have a good system. I especially liked how he said the game has changed, are you ready to change as a coach. Which is so important because a lot of coaches are so quick to blame the players for not being good enough but will never look in the mirror and blame themselves or take responsibility for failure. While I do not blame the players, ever he gave me a good gut check and a saying that will stick in my brain forever. He also emphasized the importance of game like situation drills in practice which I am a big believer in so I was happy to hear that. Going off of speaking about game like situation drills, he spoke a lot about intention in your practices and learning points along with "if you look too good, change the drill." Aside from his expansive knowledge on player development he gave me a plethora of drills that I will be trying out ASAP and those drills made me think "wow if he is doing this. I need to step the f*ck up!" so that alone was a good motivational boost. I also really liked his saying "FAIL HARDER".
Topher Scott: I was glued to Scott's talk, I loved his attention to not just hockey but developing good character players as well as taking care of yourself. He spoke about the five-ways to better yourself and your team. (1) Resilience (2) Relationships (3) Relentless Repetition (4) Relish the Moment (5) Reflection. I wrote my own definition and sayings for each of these points but Scott's talk was awesome for these five words alone! He helped put a lot into perspective and the importance of not taking everything so serious and dropping your ego as a coach. Scott spoke about having a gratitude journal, which is so woo-woo in the hockey world that the fact he had the courage to say that was really awesome. I won't go into full detail on all five words but here are some tid-bits/my favorite takeaways from each word. (1) Resilience "Where victims see adversity, achievers see opportunity" along with Scott I myself love the philosophy of failing and learning from failures and rising up when you fail which is what we should be teaching our players. Putting them in uncomfortable situations so they get comfortable being uncomfortable. (2) Relationships "show me your circle and I will show you your future." This is huge because in the world of social media it is so easy for our young players to go do the "cool" thing or get surrounded by the wrong crowd. Even worse, judge ourselves or be afraid to be ourselves because we are afraid of what others will say about us. (3) Relentless Repetition "everybody works hard. Are you everybody?" what I took away most from this, what are you going to do to be different? I like to think of Martin St. Louis in this situation. A player who was under-sized, undrafted, attended a small university and made his mark on the NHL from being one of the first under-sized successful NHL players. (4) Relish the moment "Successful teams and people are able to focus on the here and now but successful teams and people enjoy the here and now." Talking about enjoying the process and being grateful for what you have. (5) Reflection "everything that happens in your life is how you see it and how you think of yourself." You control your react to the situation, take time to reflect on all the good you have and not focus on what you wish you had. Stop comparing yourself to others, be yourself and be grateful.
Ken Martel: I liked how he posed questions to us like, (1) as a coach how do you view motor skills? (2) How do you define skill? (3) What is the least amount of information I need to give for the athlete to learn and practice the skill individually? Teaching the importance of body language. Creating a positive environment, "you cant adapt to an environment that you don't inhibit". Repetition without repetitiveness!!
Bob Mancini: This was a great one because it really challenged and made me think how I should talk to players of all ages and how I can simplify terms and phrases for them to better understand. Like we talked about how do you define ADM? To me it is taking one-age group and their individual and psychical skills to develop them for the next level therefore they are progressing and regressing as they move up. The ADM defines it as "age appropriate high performance path of development". Also we talked about and when I say we, we broke up into groups and sat we coaches that coach the same age as us. Which was what made this clinic also great! Sharing and learning new ideas and drills with other coaches. We spoke about, how do you define position? Great discussion what I walked away with was basically to make it really simple, if you are on offense defending the puck carrier and the other four are defending off the puck carrier or the players without the puck. How do you teach position at your age group? And much like how do you define position what I got from this was. There is no positions is what they were trying to teach, in short. Position less hockey, allowing the defenseman to join the rush, jump in the offensive zone and just teaching your players habit when they do and don't have the puck.
*Deep breathe* Obviously there was a wealth of knowledge here I have 11 pages of notes from the coaches clinic. More importantly this clinic really allowed me to step back and ask myself am I doing the best job for my kids/players? Am I being the best coach I can be and constantly challenging them, making them grow every practice and game whether it is mentally or skill wise. Therefore while some may call me crazy for driving 7+ hours to Buffalo from Virginia to attend this clinic, it was 1000% worth it. Due to the amount of motivation, knowledge and flat out self reflecting and questioning myself I got from sitting in that hotel conference room from 9-4 PM. Coaching has played such a profound impact on my life, and I never taught I would be where I am today and doing what I am today a year ago. Every single private lesson, group session, practice, game, workout I do with my players the only thing that plays in my head on a never ending tape recorder is "be the coach you never had". Not to knock the three great coaches I had, I never had GREAT coaching, or a coach that truly cared for me on and off the ice or a coach that pushed me to challenge myself every skate. Therefore this clinic opened my eyes and brain to so much, but also made me even more excited to continue my coaching journey and be the coach I never had.
I won't go into Phil Osaer and Dave Starman right now because the post is already lengthy. Save it for another time because they talked all about goal tending which was interesting and challenging to me.
Also some podcasts and books that the speakers recommended were:
Podcasts: The Talent Equation and Way of Champions by John O'Sullivan and of course The Hockey Think Tank!
Books: The Cubs Way about Theo Epstein and Brains Rule by John Medina