I recently spent two days trying to sip from a firehose of hockey intelligence at the 2018 Coaches Site Hockey Coaches Conference. The presentations were topically varied, thoughtful, insightful, technical, poignant, and at times, hilarious, but some common threads and themes definitely emerged for me. Here’s my take.
Evolution is not optional.
There’s one reason why events like this conference are so valuable: the game is always changing. As Winnipeg Jets Assistant Coach Todd Woodcroft pointed out, “I was first hired as a coach in 2000, and man, the game has evolved a lot in 18 years. Sometimes it changes within a single season!” His sentiments about the need for coaches to be continuously learning were echoed by virtually every other speaker at the conference. As coach, broadcaster, Montreal Canadiens NCAA scout, and USA Hockey Coaching Education Program member Dave Starman told the 300 or so coaches gathered in Toronto, “You can’t do player development without coach development. And that’s why it’s so important that you’re all here.”
And Paul Carson, VP of Hockey Development with Hockey Canada, touched on the inherent challenges in making positive programmatic changes in the game at the highest levels. He encouraged coaches to “take time to understand the challenges in the game, and understand why change is necessary.” He noted that “what we need in arenas every day are program champions. People who understand the ‘why’ behind the changes being implemented,” and acknowledged that while “some of the changes in youth hockey may not be perfect, they’re good. Perfect is the enemy of good.”
Evidence-based decisions are good decisions.
Related to the theme of intentional evolution, the subject of age-appropriate practices and games came up numerous times, most notably in the comments of Dave Starman. Dave pointed out the still not so obvious fact that “an eight year old is NOT half of a 16 year old,” and that programmatic changes implemented by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada aren’t made in a vacuum. For example, he noted that the decision to eliminate body checking for younger players was based on science. “Studies from the Mayo Clinic showed that 12 year olds could see ‘imminent danger’ but could not process what to do about it. It’s now proven that taking out full blown checking in peewee led to higher player retention rates and higher quality players. Just look at the World Junior Championships the last few years.”
Research also backs up the value of small ice games and practices, and a higher practice to game ratio. As Dave pointed out, “I’d rather see my nine year old in a 45 minute practice with the puck on his stick for 30 minutes than drive three hours to a game where he’ll play 15 minutes and touch the puck for less than a minute.” And 800+ NHL game veteran Jeff Brown echoed that sentiment in his talk about the things driving the notably improved player development in the St. Louis area. “I can’t believe people are pushing back on small area games. They’re a fantastic way to develop skills.” And Jeff commented that the way he sees it, “If a kid touches a puck for 17 seconds in a travel game that cost their parents $1,000 to get to, that’s $1,000 worth of development time that we could have better spent at home.”
Research and scientific evidence also factored into the comments of Mark Fitzgerald, strength and conditioning coach for the Anaheim Ducks, who was not alone in pointing out the physiological risks in single sport specialization. “We played handball with 24 pros yesterday. Why? Movement. Competitiveness. Fun!” And Mark’s response to the temptation to apply adult-level physical training techniques to young athletes: “Strength and conditioning for a team of eight year olds? No! Rent a gym and let them play basketball.”
Yes, the game is changing, but for the right reasons. So as virtually every presenter clearly advocated, for coaches and parents, dropping out of ‘old school’ is essential.
Fundamentals are fundamental.
OK, the game is changing, but the fundamentals are still the fundamentals. Skating, puck skills, and having fun are still the foundations for everything that follows.
Greg Cronin, Head Coach the Colorado Eagles, made it clear: “Never underestimate the importance of fundamentals. We practice them at the NHL level.” And Florida Panthers Assistant Coach Paul MacFarland backed that up, reiterating the continued focus on basics like passing, skating, and hand-eye coordination all the way to the NHL. Edmonton Oilers Assistant Coach Glen Gulutzan stressed the simple skills: “D: It’s ok to punt. If you’re under pressure lift a high one out of the zone. A high flip is a good offensive play when your forwards are flying up ice.” John Becanic of Pyramid Hockey talked about teaching kids to “play fast because they think fast” and the importance of basics like puck retrieval: “Try to incorporate read and react into your practice drills. Players without the puck need to work hardest.” And Hockey Canada’s Paul Carson reminded us that the way coaches teach “FUNdamentals” matters.
And of course, standing room only on-ice sessions with Todd Woodcroft, Brendan Taylor of the Mississauga Steelheads, Jon Goyens of the Lac St-Louis Lions, and former NHL-er Mike Weaver of Defence First Hockey School, offered some rich practical and tactical insights.
Data and analytics were mentioned by many presenters. A panel discussion with conference host Ryan Pinder, featuring James Mirtle and Justin Bourne of The Athletic, delved into the growing importance of on-ice/in-game analytics. Justin pointed out that analysts are finding new ways to prove the value of players beyond goals and assists, noting that, “A lot of guys I played with, I thought, “Boy he doesn’t get a lot of goals but he sure gets a lot of ice time.” We’re putting metrics to that now.” And the panelists noted that when it comes to evaluating potential draft picks, “Teams seem to be getting more efficient at finding players, but you’re looking at 16/17 year old kids, and data at that level is sparse.”
Part-time stand-up comedian and San Jose Sharks Assistant Coach Dave Barr noted that he’s “a big proponent of analytics. It buys you a lot of credence with players when you show them the facts.” And Greg Ford of TalentClick touched on the emerging field of analytics that can help coaches understand and adapt to the various personality types that make up a team. “Personalities matter. Take time to understand your players.”
In a nutshell, a wide range of data is much easier to obtain now, and smart coaches are using it not only to make more informed decisions, but to better understand, reach, and teach players at all levels.
Technology is a coaching tool.
It’s undeniable. Technology is literally everywhere in our lives, and hockey is no exception. Former pro Shayne Toporowski gave an informative talk on new techniques in skate blade profiling, noting that “skate blade profiles should help players with acceleration, agility, speed, and stability. Not impede them.” Shayne’s presentation may have focused on the technical, but he brought it right back to another common theme, when he noted that even the right skate blade matters when it comes to the mental aspects of the game. “Every bit of confidence a coach can give a player, the better off the player is going to be.” And technology, of course, featured heavily in one of the most discussed areas of coaching focus: reaching and teaching players.
“If you picked a player, remind them why you picked them. Boost them up. And always communicate with them, and with their parents.”
Coaching is communication.
The topic of communication was woven into virtually every talk.
Ottawa Senators Associate Coach Marc Crawford’s presentation on communicating with millennials was strengthened by the fact that he brought a couple of his own along with him. After he pointed out that millennials are “a group that wants constant feedback,” (absolutely!) and that more than ever before, coaches need to “connect with players, and be sure to talk with them, not at them,” Marc’s daughter Katie noted that “for the first time, a younger generation is more expert at something than the preceding generation: technology.” Marc’s son Dylan reinforced that fact by by encouraging coaches to take advantage of technology to reach their players. “Young players are always on their phones, so use screens to connect with them. Video your practices. Show them how they’re doing and why it matters. They’ll see it and they’ll get it.” We agree!
The importance of positive tone in communication with players — certainly something near and dear to us at PowerPlayer — was also a recurring theme. After Marc Crawford commented that he “was impressed with Gerard Gallant when he said he doesn’t need to call out player mistakes because the players already know they made them,” Katie noted that “young athletes do not respond to yelling. When coaches yell or lecture constantly, this generation of athletes only hears the emotion, they don’t hear the information. They want calm, cool communication. And they want to know that coaches care.”
Belleville Senators Assistant Coach Paul Boutilier backed up the need for emotional intelligence in coaching: “In teaching and coaching, ‘feel’ is a huge component. Emotional intelligence matters.” And he reminded us of the importance of positive feedback for players at all levels: “If you picked a player, remind them why you picked them. Boost them up. And always communicate with them, and with their parents.” We agree 1000%!
Erie Otters Head Coach Chris Hartsburg was brutally honest about his previous stumbles as a coach, noting that “when I was with the Lincoln Stars, we were doing well, then we started talking about winning, and we fell. Hard.” And he freely admitted that when it came to creating the conditions for his players to succeed, “I didn’t help, because I created a fear-based culture. I had to take a hard look at myself because I didn’t like who I was.” His current approach: “When players are treated with respect they can play to their full capabilities.”
Dave Barr mentioned that even at the NHL level, players need to hear positivity from their coaches. “I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement. I want my players feeling good about themselves! Show a player about eight video clips of themselves doing something good and they’ll be, like, ‘Damn, I’m good! I knew it!!’”
And Toronto Maple Leafs Goalie Coach Steve Briere also weighed in on the importance of supporting players emotionally as well as technically. “Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin: that’s the chemistry of happiness. People who are successful tend to be happy because they work hard, are purpose driven by their goals and achievements, and are in control of their lives. So give your players goals, praise them for working to achieve them, then raise the bar and repeat.” He also pointed out that sometimes “players think coaches don’t like them because they never hear from them. So talk to them! Coach them!”
Time well spent.
Combine all of that, and then add in Rogers Sportsnet hockey analyst Elliotte Friedman’s rich insights and anecdotes, and I’m positive that every coach in attendance headed home with more than a little new thinking and energy to power them into next season. For me, virtually every presentation and conversation at the conference reinforced the best attributes of the people I’ve bumped into in and around the game of hockey — a willingness to learn and to share knowledge, and a universal commitment to making the sport better for all who participate.
The game itself is simultaneously simple — just score more goals than your opponent — and incredibly complex — figure out how to get 20 or so wildly different people to come together as one, with a single focus that’s enhanced rather than impeded by their various personalities, abilities, and collective chemistry. I’m guessing that for anyone driven to meet those challenges, the 2018 Coaches Site Hockey Coaches Conference was a huge win.
PS In the spirit of positive feedback, huge props to the team at The Coaches Site for pulling together another incredible event.
PPS Remember, if you attended the conference, you qualify for a 50% discount on PowerPlayer subscriptions for your team or club. Give us a buzz.
Everyone involved was already following Bruce Boudreau’s advice for anyone who wants to succeed in the game of hockey — or the game of life: “If you don’t change, you don’t last.”Read Post
Brian Walsh and the Western Jr. Colonials are changing the coach-player-parent conversation for the better.Read Post
Looking for a fun new way to challenge your players, create team unity, and raise a few bucks? Look here.Read Post
The Covid 19 lockdown has been a challenge in many ways, but it’s also given us something that hockey people clearly value: time and space.Read Post
Small areas games just got huge.Read Post
Right now, we’re not Sabres or Jets or Blackhawks or Kings, we’re human beings. And we’re all on the same team.Read Post
Why not give kids and parents the same level of insight into the sport process that they get into the academic process?Read Post
Every player has personal strengths and positives that can be identified and encouraged and every player can improve somewhere if they’re given the knowledge and support they need.Read Post
If I coach the way I was coached, and my coaches were coached the way they were coached, and so on, then I’m coaching like someone from the 1800s.Read Post
There’s no question that baseball is a numbers game. So when we hear coaches and managers get excited about bringing PowerPlayer Baseball to their athletes, we know we’re onto something.Read Post
For the last 19 years, I was a competitive hockey player, so I haven’t really looked at the sport through a purely coaching lens too often. But I’ve seen a lot of coaches.Read Post
“We thought we couldn’t ask for anything more, but then the club really out-did themselves by adding PowerPlayer. We’re extremely excited that Pineville Ice House is implementing this. To me it really proves that they have the players’ best interests at heart.”Read Post
It was 92 degrees F / 33 degrees C in Toronto last weekend, so naturally hundreds of hockey coaches converged on Ryerson University to immerse themselves in three days of knowledge, insight, innovation, and storytelling at the 2019 TeamSnap Coaches Site Hockey Coaches Conference.Read Post
It must be that time of year. Hockey-centric social media is jammed with posts exhorting people to ‘do the work,’ ‘embrace the grind,’ and to be sure to take ‘no days off.’Read Post
Kids do best when they instinctively know that the adults they rely on to guide them through life are in alignment. A coach who is backed up by a parent is a more effective coach, and frequent communication goes a long way toward making that possible.Read Post
Video + PowerPlayer data and comments = power tools for coaching.Read Post
First, if you want to make your life better as a coach, focus on becoming a better communicator. PowerPlayer definitely helps with that. And second, PowerPlayer ignites kids. It just fires them up.Read Post
In case you haven’t noticed, we love feedback. So we asked a whole bunch of hockey parents — our users (parents of hockey players whose coaches use PowerPlayer) and non-users (hockey parents in general) — for their thoughts about feedback, as it pertains to them and their young athletes.Read Post
I recently posted an article to a Facebook group in which the author explores the highly divisive topic of ice time, arguing both for and against the idea that ‘shortening the bench’ is a net positive for young hockey players. As you might have guessed, the post generated a lot of comments.Read Post
In youth hockey, where development is (or should be) the focus, wins and losses only tell part of the story.Read Post
We’re excited about our numbers to date, because we know we can build on them. After all, that’s what long-term development is all about.Read Post
I want to do everything I can to get the kids I work with to the next level — whatever that means to them individually — and to give them every advantage possible.Read Post
If you’re coaching youth team sports, you’re coaching other people’s kids — which means you’re coaching parents too. In any successful relationship, communication is essential. The challenge in coaching, of course, is time.Read Post
As a player, I would have loved to get this kind of feedback. I always wanted to be first, to be the best. But how could I know what my coach was thinking about me? Not every player is ready to ask their coach questions — some people are just shy — and I’m talking about players from minor hockey all the way to pro.Read Post
I flipped on the NHL Network the other day. While I usually don’t pay too much attention to the panel discussion stuff they broadcast ahead of games, this time something got my attention.
Apparently Jamie Benn was in a bit of a slump.Read Post
I love the drills and metrics for sure, and so do the kids, but seriously, the most useful thing for me personally is the ability to coach from home.Read Post
Ever notice how people just seem to operate at higher levels when they perceive the thing they’re doing to be ‘fun’? That applies to sports, study, and whatever it is most of us do at our day jobs.Read Post
Kids who are positively reinforced by the people who surround them tend to be more confident, happy, and energetic, and are much more likely to succeed than those who may have similar skill sets, but who are less emotionally secure.Read Post
Anticipation is building as a new hockey season approaches. Maybe it’s the comfort of old gloves holding the promise of a new stick that does it? Maybe it’s the idea that a new season offers an opportunity to build on time-tested knowledge by applying new thinking? At PowerPlayer, we’re looking forward to the opportunity to build on what we learned in 2017-18 — our first full season offering a digital feedback platform for youth hockey.Read Post
For the organizations and coaches who are adopting our platform, positivity isn’t some new age ‘everyone gets a trophy because kids want to be coddled’ concept. It’s a teaching and coaching technique rooted in science.Read Post
Strong personal intangibles and team chemistry have a multiplier effect on talent. Poor personal intangibles and team chemistry have a diminishing effect.Read Post
Because positivity is contagious, it generates a galvanizing force that supercharges skill sets and work ethics. That force is called confidence.Read Post
When we share feedback through PowerPlayer we know we’re sharing the beginning of a conversation that might never take place otherwise. How cool is that?Read Post
For young athletes—and by ‘young’ I mean anyone who is not an adult—the answer to ‘Which wolf wins?’ could easily be ‘The one their coach feeds.’Read Post
Today more than ever, one of the biggest decisions a coach can make is how they choose to communicate with their players.Read Post
For millions of kids, parents and coaches, the season is winding down. And all over the hockey world, the thought of a standard one-on-one, end of season coach/player/parent meeting is a stress-inducing prospect for many on both sides of the table.Read Post
I think we need parents to be part of the teams we’re coaching. If parents understand what I’m seeing in their child and can help me motivate them or address something that needs to be addressed, that’s hugely beneficial to their child, to me, and to the team.Read Post
Consisting of three parts, the formula involves providing feedback to young athletes at every stage of the development process as a way to help build their confidence.Read Post
“When you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad. But you’ve still got to throw the ball.”Read Post
“We’re seeing huge improvements in our kids now and we’re excited to roll PowerPlayer out to more and more of our players in a big way in 2018.”Read Post
“PowerPlayer really helps bring clarity to coaching, and I’m a big believer in communicating with players.”Read Post
“We wouldn’t accept a teacher telling us that our child had failed a grade at the end of the year without any warning or aid in helping them succeed, so why would we allow our players to go through a season without continuous feedback?”Read Post
We’ve shared PowerPlayer with countless coaches, hockey directors, and parents, and we’re working with organizations from Anchorage to Philadelphia, from Syracuse to Sweden. No one has told us they think providing meaningful feedback to kids and their parents is a bad idea.Read Post
“The coach-player-parent dynamic is critical. Always tell players what you see and what to work on, because feedback is critical.” Ray Ferraro / Coaches Site Conference 2017Read Post
Team success largely depends on mutual respect, common purpose and uncommon selflessness. In other words, team success depends on intangibles.Read Post
Before your accountant became a professional accountant, before your dentist became a professional dentist, and before the leading scorer in the NHL became a professional hockey player, they were kids.Read Post
Anyone who’s ever been part of a team—either as a player or as a coach—where things have just clicked, or conversely, have never clicked at all no matter what you did, has been subject to the power of group dynamics.Read Post
For many hockey players, a tryout or showcase camp is essentially a snapshot taken from a long, long movie. It can’t tell enough of the story to be meaningful.Read Post
For coaches, a big part of the challenge is communicating in a meaningful way with kids and parents on a regular basis. We’ve adopted PowerPlayer as an organization because it provides opportunities for coaches to share comments, thoughts, video clips, ratings and real metrics with the players and their parents more frequently.Read Post
Even though I grew up in Buffalo, where winter totally rules, my sport growing up was baseball. Sure I watched the Sabres as a casual fan, but my knowledge of hockey was limited to hating Brett Hull. Google it!Read Post
If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, or maybe even if you haven’t, you might be familiar with the 10,000 hour concept, which postulates that it takes that minimum number of hours of ‘deliberate practice’ to become ‘expert’ at something. Like chess, piano, ballet. Or hockey.Read Post
Growing up with a father who’s been a highly respected member of the Rochester NY-area hockey community for more than 40 years, Chris Collins has led a hockey life.Read Post
A while back, I connected with a friend who’d spent part of his summer sitting in a hockey rink watching his 10 year-old run through some drills. And he was frustrated. Not because of what was happening on the ice during the camp, but because of what wasn’t happening.Read Post
For millions of kids (and their parents), September means two things: back to school and back to the rink.Read Post
We sat down with coach and skating / skills instructor Stan Kondrotas to get his impressions of PowerPlayer following his first season as a ‘power user.’Read Post
We just spent a couple of weekends at The Coaches Site / TeamSnap 2016 Hockey Coaches Conferences. As sponsors, we were there to introduce PowerPlayer to the coaches in attendance, but we also learned a thing or two about the state of hockey.Read Post
In 2015, a nine-year-old BC kid quit his team with two games left in the season. Seems he’d had enough of sitting on the bench game after game, crying while he watched his teammates play. Why was he denied the opportunity to play?Read Post
Essentially, our current youth hockey measurement system prioritizes games, where effort can produce wins, and virtually ignores practices, where effort can produce winners.Read Post
I grew up with sports. And, oh yeah, of course… school! One of those things was arguably more fun than the other, and the rewards they offered differed, but for any real chance of success, both required not just attention but commitment.Read Post