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. Because of the format of the event — with various breakouts and on-ice sessions happening from time to time — it wasn’t possible to see every presentation, but as always, what I was able to take in was a wild ride. And as always, it’s taken me a few days of down time just to try to figure out what I might have learned. Here goes:
Teach your players to compete, compete, compete.
Right from the day one puck drop, Mike Kelly, assistant coach with the Vegas Golden Knights, set the tone for a theme that would be echoed by many other speakers: “Nobody holds a monopoly on competitiveness.” His talk centered on the need for coaches to understand the importance of their role in promoting the kinds of behaviors they want to see in players, not just in recognizing successful results. Using an ultimately unsuccessful but relentless Jason Spezza attempt at defending against Sidney Crosby as an example of a praise-worthy failing effort, Mike pointed out that “A positive effort is a different thing than a successful effort. It’s important for coaches to recognize and reward effort, not just the result.” And in a comment that was also reinforced by many others, and that definitely rang a loud bell for us as the creators of a coach-to-player feedback platform, Mike summed up his (and our) approach perfectly. “You want your kids to go home and say hey, coach liked my effort.” Recognize effort? Reward compete? We agree 100%!
Fun = pace.
Integral to the ‘teach them to compete’ concept, the idea of ‘practicing with pace’ was advocated by Derek Laxdal, head coach of the AHL Texas Stars and repeated by many others. How do leading coaches bring pace to practice? Mike Johnston, head coach of the Portland Winterhawks, suggested coaches remember to “Build fun into practices. We run periodic practices with all music, no instruction at all. We tell them the drills they’ll be running ahead of time so they just switch from one to the other at the sound of a horn. The players love it, but they also say it’s a really tough practice.” Mike Kelly pointed out that players need to have fun because they learn more effectively. “If you keep practices fun and challenging you’ll create a connection to competing naturally and they’ll get better almost by accident.” NCAA hockey analyst and coach Dave Starman took attendees through an on-ice small area games demo, reminding us all that for players at any age, touching the puck is always more fun than not touching it. And Greg Powers, head coach of Arizona State’s NCAA D1 men’s team knows his players benefit from fun. “If you’re having fun, you’re playing free.”
A.B.C. = Always. Be. Communicating.
Coaching is communication. Virtually every speaker at the conference touched on the importance of it, not just for teaching concepts, tactics, or techniques, but for creating positive relationships, building trust, and helping players gain confidence and resilience. Dave Starman pointed out the overall importance of being a good communicator: “When you hear people describe great coaches, communication skills are always at the forefront. Being a good x’s and o’s guy is somewhere down the list, but the ability to articulate the message is huge.”
Mike Johnston, Mike Kelly, and Mississauga Reps Midget AAA head coach Shawn Snider shared their thoughts on the topic during a panel discussion I was asked to moderate. Dovetailing into the idea of teaching kids to compete, Mike Johnston reminded coaches to always “Reward your players’ efforts, catch them doing something good,” and pointed out that if his players don’t understand the concepts he and his coaching staff are teaching, they change the way they’re communicating, because it’s on them as coaches to reach their players, not the other way around. Mike Kelly reinforced Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Todd Woodcroft’s thoughts about the importance of communication. Todd noted that “Players have to know why they’re doing a drill. Don’t just download a random drill from the internet. Have a purpose for it and share that purpose with your players,” and Mike noted that “The more information you can provide for a player, the better. When you explain your reasoning, you show that you care.”
Shawn Snider took the topic of communication all the way from coaches to players to parents. “When you’re coaching younger kids, you can’t ignore their parents. Some coaches think they can and it doesn’t work. Parents are paying a lot of money to have their kids play hockey and be coached by us, and ducking them leads to nothing but problems. And now communication doesn’t always have to be at the rink. New technology tools are there. Use them.” Don Granato, assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres, backed up Shawn’s approach, noting that “Parents are part of the equation. At the national team level I tried hard to involve parents in the program.” We agree 100% with all of these coaches when it comes to communication. Players thrive on it because it helps them improve, removes questions, and builds trust in coaches. And when coaches keep parents informed, show them that they’re seeing and teaching their kids as individuals, they’re extremely appreciative and more trusting in the teaching process.
Feedback is fuel.
As you might have guessed if you know anything about PowerPlayer, we’re all about the idea that when it comes to coaching, feedback is a tool, and positive feedback is a power tool.
So if I could have my kids go back in time and be coached by one coach, it would have to be University of New Brunswick head coach Gardiner Macdougall. He kicked off his energizing talk by challenging every coach in the room: “Sure, the number one skill you can teach your players is work ethic. But as a coach, are you yourself just involved? Are you committed? Or are you possessed?!”
Coach Macdougall throws a lot at you in forty-five minutes, but of course a few of my favorite takeaways from his session were related to positivity and communication in coaching. He reminded us all that “Praise is the number one thing you can use to motivate someone. But don’t just say ‘Hey good game.’ Be specific!” And a simple but huge point: “Four words that will make every player better. I. Believe. In. You. Write that down!!” Absolutely agree.
Peter deBoer, head coach of the San Jose Sharks, took us through that wild 2019 Stanley Cup playoff game seven vs Las Vegas. (Note: Mike Kelly had earlier commented that he’d “rather volunteer for a root canal than relive that event” but he still sat through Peter’s talk like a consummate pro!) A number of comments Peter made during that incredible talk (watch that video for sure) fit into the feedback bucket, but one came through especially loud and clear. Although he’d essentially sat the eventual overtime goal scorer, Barclay Goodrow, after a particularly rough patch earlier in the game, he pointed out that he always wants his players to trust him, and that he goes out of his way to communicate in ways that reinforce that. “Players always have to know they’ll get another chance after a mistake. Sometimes they just need a pat on the back.” Love it!
Don Granato shared a lot of incredible insights about his experiences with young players, not the least of which was his comment on the power of communication and positive feedback that perfectly echoed Pete deBoer. “Players need to know why they’re playing where they are. I had Kevin Labanc on the fourth line, but he knew I believed in him. Why shouldn’t a fourth line guy feel good about himself?” Yes!
Players are changing = the game is changing.
Former NHL General Manager of the Year Mike Gillis shared his thoughts about the game as it was, is, and could be. Like so many of the speakers at the conference, he touched on a ton of subjects, but from my perspective his comments on topics such as data-driven player development and positivity as a performance enhancer were particularly interesting. Mike talked about the fact that the tools are there now to help players, advocating that coaches “Collect the data then work backwards. The answer to the problem for each player is in there.” He talked about the pitfalls of what he feels is an outdated scouting model that doesn’t factor in enough of the right kinds of long-term prospect data (agree!) and, in discussing issues such as anxiety in professional athletes, he referenced the same professional rugby study that points to the performance-enhancing effects of positive feedback that I referenced in my brief talk at the 2018 conference. You can read a post-conference SportsNet interview with Mike here, but I definitely suggest you watch the video of his presentation when it’s released.
Don Granato also challenged all coaches to move forward, because the young players they’re working with already are. “Most hockey conventions are decades old. We do things the old way, but why? It’s all changing because the players today won’t tolerate the old. They’re changing the game and we as coaches need to change with them. I look at our game, it’s a race to see what’s next, what’s new, and how we can innovate. We have to keep up. Twenty years ago the players needed to get on the coach’s page. Not now. It’s the other way around.”
Pursuant to that, I was honored to be part of a panel on technology hosted by Ken McDonald of TeamSnap that also featured former NHL player Mike Weaver of CoachThem, and Ryan Smyth of Kinduct. Asked about the growing use of data in sports, Mike pointed out that “Back in my day, the money players in the NHL were pushing back against data, but today, stats bring visibility.” And Ryan noted that while “Some players think data is going to be used against them, we test and monitor athletes to help them optimize their performance.” My comments centered around the use of data in the form of feedback derived from a coaching staff’s ratings for things such as practice effort and attention level, and in-game demeanor and compete as a motivational force, especially for young, developing players. “Kids know instinctively that we measure what matters. So what does a game-centric goals and assists-driven data model tell a kid who’s a third or fourth line player whose name rarely shows up on the scoresheet? What does it tell kids about the importance of practice? We want to help coaches reward everyone through feedback. Why not show every player that you value their effort and contribution at practice, in games, on the bus?”
Mike Weaver also echoed an earlier comment by Don Granato noting that technology can help coaches extend their ability to connect with players. Don had commented that “Players are at the rink for two hours. There are twenty-two other hours in a day. Make it fun when they come to the rink but get them excited when they’re not there. Get them pumped for the next session.” Mike’s comment: “Like school, practice doesn’t end when it’s over. Give kids homework, share new drills, video clips, feedback, etc. Technology is there to help reach them and teach them.”
Asked about value vs cost, and the future of tech in sports, the panelists agreed that tech is here to stay, and that its value lies in its effectiveness. Ryan Smyth noted that “If technology saves you time, or makes you a better coach, or helps you help your players, the value should outweigh the cost.” Mike Weaver pointed out that he never dreamed he’d be spending thousands of dollars on a phone, for example, but that the value that tool provides makes it worth it. My comments on that subject centered around the reality of the contemporary world, echoing a little of Don Granato’s thoughts about kids changing the game. “I watch what kids are doing and follow their lead. They’re glued to their phones because we told them to be. So we as adults need to live in their world — the one we created before they got here.”
Coaches need coaching too.
There was so much more to learn at the event that it’s just not possible to summarize it here. But whether you attended the conference, or you subscribe to the Coaches Site to watch the videos, or you take advantage of other educational opportunities, Dave Starman was talking about coaches like you when he commended the attendees at the conference by reminding them that “You cannot do player development unless you do coaching development.” And Swedish National Team Coach Rikard Grönborg may have summed up the importance of coaching education best in the final session of the weekend. “The coaches make the difference in the players’ lives.”
Hope that was informative.
Now, nap time.
PS Kudos to the coaches who pushed forward with their on-ice demos during the unfortunately-timed power outage at Mattamy Center. Not the best scenario for teaching, but got to admit the candle-lit type atmosphere in the arena was memorable!
PPS High ratings for the entire team at The Coaches Site for putting together another incredible event.
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 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
“You can’t do player development without coach development. And that’s why it’s so important that you’re all here.” Dave Starman / NCAA Scout, Montreal Canadiens.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