The key to every single successful hockey season is communication.
Good hockey teams can only get so far on skill, effort and systems. Sure, an individual player might excel with exceptional physical skills or supreme dedication to the team, but without effective communication, all of that falls apart at some point.
When was the last time you heard of a player being confused about their role on the team? When was the last time you heard about a player having trouble learning a coach’s system?
It happens all the time, and it’s unfortunate. As a minor hockey coach, you are responsible for the team’s success. If you can get the most out of each individual, then the whole will become greater than the sum of its parts.
It doesn’t matter what level you’re coaching, effective communication early in the season will make the rest of your year much easier to deal with.
Here are the 3 meetings you should be holding in the first month of the season.
Your players’ parents want to know 3 things:
Getting out in front of these topics will help you get buy-in from your parent group and keep the comments in the crowd (and in the car ride home after games) positive and supportive.
Here’s a list of items to cover in your parent meeting:
Hockey parents at every level will appreciate your insights into these topics before the grind of the long season really kicks in.
Every coach wants coachable players.
The late Pat Burns, a former coach with the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, was famous for igniting a fire under his players. Burns’ players would skate through a wall for their coach, but this dedication wasn’t created overnight.
It’s important to sit in front of your players face to face in order to set them on the path you believe is best for their development. Learning about a hockey player’s life away from the rink goes a long way toward getting the buy-in you need to teach.
Individual meetings can include player-directed self assessments so you can learn about what the player believes are his weaknesses and strengths. Simply asking a player what they believe they need to work on will help you plan practices and track progress.
“See? Admitting you needed to work on your backwards skating was a good idea, because I can tell you’ve really been working on it.”
Players play better when they’re encouraged and engaged, particularly when it comes to aspects of their game in which they lack confidence.
Meeting with your entire team is an easy way to keep everyone on the same page. A common message is delivered and the players are then responsible for adhering to that message.
It’s in team meetings when the majority of systems and tactical play can be taught. Hockey players these days are thirsty for knowledge, so they’re more engaged in front of the whiteboard than ever.
Be careful, though. A wise coach once said that the measure of a hockey player’s attention span is equal to their age (in minutes). Once a player hits 18, though, that theory flies out the window.
Communication isn’t about the amount of talking you’re doing, but the effect your words are having. A focussed message for players and parents will create a pack mentality, a unified group striving for success for all your players.
This doesn’t free you from criticism, but it does allow for constructive feedback. As a coach, when you get everything out in the open, you remind your group that you’re human and you’re operating in the most effective way you believe to be possible.
Bonus tip: don’t be afraid to crack the occasional (age-appropriate) joke in meetings from time to time.
Hockey is supposed to be fun, after all.