We have all watched coaches over-coach. They spend far too long at the whiteboard during practice. They pull out a rink board to diagram plays on the bench. They shout at players where to be on the ice during the game. They are constantly correcting on the bench. They spend ten minutes in the dressing room before a game going over every system. And then they spend another ten minutes dissecting the entire game afterwards in the dressing room before players get undressed.
But I would suggest for every coach that over-coaches their athletes there is a coach that is under-coaching their players as well. Here are some things that coaches should do to avoid under-coaching:
1. Send players into a game with three things to concentrate on (for younger players it can be two things). It can be anything from skating fast all the time to shooting low on the goaltender to having good changes on the fly to being better on the power play. Just sending your players out to play each game without some sort of focus does your players a disservice.
2. Expect hard work every time your team steps on the ice. Hold your players accountable for not doing their best and not concentrating on the tasks at hand.
3. Vary your drills. Doing the same drills every practice is boring. Even if your players haven’t mastered a drill, it’s not the drill they haven’t mastered, it’s the skill. Do different drills to work on the same skill.
4. Make sure athletes are focused on something specific in each drill. If you are doing a drill to work on tape to tape passes, then explain that to your players and make sure they are concentrating on it. For older players it can be two focus points.
5. Correct mistakes on the bench. Make sure you speak to each player on the bench at least once during a game. It could be something as simple as “You weren’t right in front of the goalie on that screen. Make sure you are in the goalie’s line of sight”, or “You weren’t covering your man tightly enough, you can’t just be ‘in the neighbourhood’”.
6. Be a cheerleader! There should be lots of pats on the back. Coaches should always be saying “good job”, “nice play”, “great hustle” and “awesome goal”. Positivity on the bench becomes contagious and players will undoubtedly play with more confidence. Coaches who are stoic on the bench with little cheerleading miss out on a great opportunity to motivate their players.
Hockey Canada has some great resources on their website for coaches. I think a lot of coaches would be surprised at a list of tactics that is included in a document entitled “Hockey Canada Core Skills – Novice”. Here is a sample of what’s included: Attack Triangle, Escape moves, puck retrieval basics, cross & drop, pass & follow, give & go, headman, net drive, middle drive, high delay, active stick, DZ coverage- basic, DZ coverage – rotation. This is a list of tactics for eight year olds! This list, of course, is an add on to the Initiation core skills which are all skill based and have no tactics included. But, it is interesting to see how much is expected to be taught to a novice hockey team.
Obviously, depending on age and skill level of your team, what you introduce and teach will vary greatly. Here are two things to keep in mind. First, make sure you are not teaching to the bottom of your team’s skill level. You have to be able to challenge everyone – including your very top players. Second, players like to learn new things – even if it means being out of their comfort zone. Expect improvement in your players and push them to be their best, and you will see a happy, motivated group of athletes.