Alex Villarin fell in love with hockey shortly after arriving in Canada from the Philippines as a six-year-old. It took her a few years to convince her parents to let her play, but she’s never looked back. When a knee injury ended her competitive playing career at the Junior level, she turned to coaching, and today she’s in her third year with the Toronto Leaside Wildcats, serving as a High Performance Development Coach and as head coach with both the Peewee AA and Midget A teams.
What first attracted you to coaching? Looking back, I think I was really inspired by Tom Bouchard, my head coach when I played with the Markham Stouffville Stars as a Midget. He was a smart hockey guy for sure, but it was really his overall approach that resonated with me, his delivery, his presence, just all those intangibles. I feel like he really helped me not only as a player but as a person, and I want to do that.
What’s your personal approach to coaching? Well, we teach skills and teach the game, of course, but as a group, my coaching staff and I — we’re all women under the age of thirty — focus on environment and experience. We all want to help our young players grow as people and as leaders. We don’t want them to just do whatever they’re told to do, we want to empower them to make their own decisions as individuals in the context of being part of a team. We want them to grow into great players and great teammates. Great people. We know that takes patience and caring.
What first attracted you to PowerPlayer? I’d been looking for a smart way to provide meaningful feedback and discovered PowerPlayer at a coaching conference. Communication is so important. Players all want to improve, and parents all want what’s best for their kids. PowerPlayer data provides a clear lens for them all to understand what’s happening hockey-wise, and the data can help everyone — players, parents, and coaches — focus on what each individual might need in order to improve.
What’s your initial reaction to PowerPlayer as a coaching tool? We’re really ramping up our use of the platform now and I can see where the potential to help players better understand what we’re seeing as coaches will be beneficial over the long term. Just a simple thing like rating players in practice is huge. The players have never experienced that before, but it lets them and their parents know that we expect and value effort and focus in every practice, not just games, that we’re always paying attention, and that we’re here to help them with whatever they need help with. The girls who want to improve know exactly what to do with that information.
The PowerPlayer data is also starting to provide parents with a truer understanding of what’s going on, and over time they’ll be able to see the progress their kids make in a wide range of areas. It’s not just skills that matter, there are so many facets of this game that a player can improve on if they understand their own reality, and for parents who want to be supportive of their children, this information is gold. Parents who are informed and aware are really empowered to help their kids, and that really helps us as coaches.
What do you think you’d have done if you’d had access to PowerPlayer feedback when you were a player? Ha! Looking back now I can see that this kind of information would have been incredibly valuable to me as a player. One of the things we do at Leaside is something called the Fourth Line Initiative. It’s a program in which we invite players to practice with a team at the level above them. That really gives a player a sense of where they are relative to the players at the next level. It’s a reality check for sure, but players who want to excel and move up use the experience to focus on the things they’ll need in order to get there. I think PowerPlayer data does the same thing. It’s a way for each player to understand their personal strengths and challenges relative to their peers, and a way for us as coaches to help each individual player by reminding them of their strongest attributes and by providing them with the knowledge and support to improve where they want to. As a coach, that’s pretty much what I signed up to do.
We Any advice for your fellow coaches about communication with players and parents? Well, I’m always learning, that’s for sure. But communication is the most crucial thing in coaching, and honesty and clarity are important. 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. The kids we work with are there to have fun with hockey, to compete and improve as players and to grow as people. The players — and their parents — are looking to us as coaches to help them wherever and however we can, and all I can suggest is that coaches take advantage of tools like PowerPlayer that will help them move their players forward.
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