Congratulations on your first hockey coaching job. It’s going to be a great 1988-89 season, and you are going to have a terrific coaching career. I know. I am your future self, writing to you today - 32 years in your future - with some advice that I think may come in handy as you navigate through this passion of yours.
Just an FYI, you are going to get the opportunity to coach all three of your kids at sports, travel fifteen time zones and compete in ten different countries, share athletic experiences with hundreds of players and create connections with them that, literally, will last a lifetime. Although you might be a little light on championships won, you will be richer for all the experiences along the way. You will learn that working hard and doing your very best is what truly satisfies and not the colour of the medal is around your neck at the end of the day.
Here are some things I wish I had known when I was your age and just starting out as a hockey coach. Don’t worry, you are going to navigate well, but here are a few pieces of advice moving forward:
1) You don’t know everything about coaching yet. Just because you played at a high level doesn’t mean you know how to coach. Sure you have a lot of knowledge about the game, you get the X’s and O’s and have been teaching skills for a number of years already, but there is a lot more to coaching than having a good power play.
2) Not every player you coach will play like you played. Everyone is different. Everyone will be motivated by different things, in different ways. Everyone will have different skill sets and bring something different and unique to the rink every day. Respect it and embrace it. It will be a positive thing.
3) Get your coaching certifications.
4) Become a master communicator. This will undoubtedly be the most important tool in your kit.
5) Be an assistant coach for a while. Learn from other coaches who have experience and who are good at what they do. Spend a few seasons observing. You will learn a lot.
6) Keep a journal. Write things down. Keep some little scratch papers with rinks on them handy so that you can diagram practice drills that you see and ideas that you have.
7) Go watch other coaches run practice. There is always something to be learned – even if it’s what not to do.
8) Make connections. Create a coaching network. Get to know the best in the game and ask them questions so that you can in turn become a better coach.
9) Have a professional development plan. After each season, map out how you are going to become a better coach: make a reading list, go to a conference, find a mentor, be a mentor.
10) The most skilled team will win at the end of the season, not the team with the best (or the most) X’s and O’s. Focus on making every player better and invariably your team will get better.
11) The best teams are confident and coachable. Make sure you foster those things in your players.
12) Conflict is inevitable. Don’t shy away from it. Work hard at being able to have tough conversations.
13) You are going to want to coach defensive zone coverage at the beginning of the season. Don’t do this! Foster an “offence first” mentality in your players. They will thank you later.
14) There are seventeen ways to “fillet a fish”. Your way isn’t always going to be the best way. Listen to others and keep an open mind.
15) You don’t have to win every battle to win the war.
16) Finally. Work hard. Have fun. Win games. Be kind and be brave.
Good luck, Coach!