I often tell my teams at the start of the year that I want people who watch us play say "Wow! That is a well-coached team!" This is where I make it very clear that being "well coached" has nothing to do with me as a coach and everything to do with them as players.
To me, a coachable team is one that plays "as a team". From the stands, a coachable team looks like they know what they are doing positionally - together - and do the little things well: line changing, winning battles on the boards, making good decisions, etc. So, what it comes down to is how well a team can execute what a coach is teaching throughout the year.
There was a great quote on the internet the other day that I found interesting but a little scary too. Patrick Murphy, coach of the University of Alabama Softball team said "Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults, let your kids get use to someone being tough on them. It’s life - get over it." I have had a difficult year this year with a team that has not bought into our systems or, frankly, anything we have been teaching this season. I think there are a lot of reasons for this - some are my fault. Which brings me to another quote one of my twitter followers sent me last week: "Coaches are only as good as the team in front of him and parents behind him!"
So, here are five things that coaches should not overlook when they are trying to create a coachable team:
1) Talk about coachability and what that means. Talk about what a coachable team looks like. This message can be delivered to all age groups at all levels in an age appropriate way.
2) Share your vision. Make sure your team understands your expectations and where your season plan will take them. Make sure they know their responsibility in the success of the season plan. It doesn't just happen on its own.
3) If you are coaching minor hockey, make sure you have parental buy in. I don't think anything can be more damaging to a team than having parents not supporting what you as a coach are trying to accomplish. We have been running the Torpedo System this season and I have been in touch with a fellow coach in Calgary who is working at the same level as I am and running the same system. He told me that an early season optional parent meeting to explain the system brought everyone on board. (It also helped that he had two former pro players as parents who were immediately supportive too!) He said this was crucial to his team's success this season. (I created a series of videos for "parents to show their players" on YouTube. As such, parents were brought into the teaching of our system play and could help players understand better.)
4) Chunk all teaching into bite sized pieces. As example, when teaching offensive zone entry, I start with taking the puck wide, then add a player going hard to the net, then add a player driving the far dot line, finally, add a fourth player coming into the zone late for a drop pass. This all may take two or three weeks to get through but hopefully, the most important bits stick and the tactic is executed with some sort of regularity and competence.
5) Don't settle for "kind of" correct. Insist that players are executing properly. Sometimes players just don't have the skill level to execute some things well all of the time but players need to understand that there are parts of the game that can't just be going out and playing shinny type hockey. Players need to really understand that it is crucial to team success to play as a team.
The three most successful teams I have been involved with (in 27 years of coaching) were also what I would consider the most coachable. Players knew they had a responsibility to their teammates to execute tactics and systems as a team and not as individuals. Instilling that understanding and it will go a long way to team success and the future success of your players.