We just spent a couple of weekends at The Coaches Site / TeamSnap 2016 Hockey Coaches Conferences in Toronto and Vancouver. As sponsors, we were there to introduce PowerPlayer to the coaches in attendance, but along the way, we learned a thing or two about the state of hockey.
Each two-day event was attended by approximately 150-200 coaches—from the NHL and European pro leagues to College, Major Junior, Junior A, and all levels of minor hockey. The simple fact that so many people took time away from their families in the middle of summer in order to learn more about the game they so obviously love says a lot about their level of commitment.
As Bill Peters, Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach said, “We ask players to get better in the off-season. That’s what all of you coaches are doing here.”
Learning never ends.
Because hockey is constantly evolving, from strategy and tactics to fitness training, nutrition and hydration, and psychology, virtually every presenter touched on the need to continually stay up to speed with new thinking.
As the game is changing, so is the thinking around practice design. Dave Smith, Head Coach of D1 Canisius College, noted that “Players need passing and skating, but they really need hockey IQ. How do we teach it? For us, practice video is more valuable than game video.” University of New Brunswick Head Coach Gardiner MacDougall asked “What’s the theme and purpose of each practice? How does each drill relate to that theme?” and stressed practice pace: “Practice at the highest possible tempo. And add chaos!” Denver University’s Jim Montgomery noted: “We practice the way we play. Foot races, battles, body position drills. We like to finish every practice with a competition. All players want to compete: it makes it more fun!”
And Stan Butler, Head Coach for the OHL’s North Bay Battalion, pointed out: “We only work systems one day per week because without skills, systems don’t mean anything. And there’s nothing wrong with a little pond hockey in practice. It’s gotta be fun!”
On training and athleticism:
Anaheim Ducks strength and conditioning coach Mark Fitzgerald noted that old thinking has little relevance today. “Some things we do just because we’ve always done them that way. If you’re bag skating your players you’re actually helping them to become slower.” And he echoed the comments of many speakers who decried the year-round focus on hockey at the youth level. “The best way to develop all-round athleticism is ample free play and multi-sport participation, but the current training model in hockey is 12 months. Stop the insanity!”
On game strategy and tactics:
Five-time NCAA D1 Champion coach Shannon Miller pointed out, “Growth and comfort do not coexist,” and she invited us all to “Think outside the box” with a talk on ‘Torpedo Hockey’ that was not only illuminating but a lot of fun to watch.
On character and intangibles:
Virtually every coach touched on the importance of character. Gardiner MacDougall’s presentation focused on the power of ‘grit’. “Grit has nothing to do with physical strength. G = Guts. R = Resilience. I = Initiative. T = Tenacity. People with grit set more goals, practice with more focus, are more optimistic and more competitive. Take a 3-2 loss, add a little more grit, and you’ll create a win next time.”
Tyler Kuntz, WHL Vancouver Giants Assistant Coach, commented that when it comes to assessing character, he looks at simple things like daily habits: “Make your bed!” and stressed that “What makes a great person makes a great hockey player.”
Dallas Eakins, Head Coach of the AHL San Diego Gulls, shared his thoughts about player accountability: “For players you’re either 100% in or you’re 100% out. Nothing exists between. Players can’t have the excuse habit and the success habit at the same time. Excuses soften character, and serve as a sedative against your own conscience. Character is the accumulation of your thoughts, habits and priorities — what you think, do and value. So be early, carry your own gear, respect your opponents and the officials, and have a great work ethic. It’s contagious!”
Blake Nill, UBC Football Head Coach, summed up his thinking on character: “I recruit young men who will be on time. Who will try to outwork their teammates. Quality people.” And Chris DePiero, Director of Athletics at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College School and a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins, touched on an aspect of youth hockey that’s at the core of our own thinking: “How many kids fall through the cracks because we identify mostly by ‘talent’?”
On understanding yourself and your players:
One thing that was made clear by speakers at both conferences is that to be a great coach requires more than just knowledge of the game itself.
Barry Jansen, a leadership consultant who works with corporate executives and hockey coaches and players, gave a presentation on recognizing personality types and the impact of personal differences on coach / player interactions. He noted that many business leaders and head coaches tend to be people who don’t need a lot of direction or feedback themselves, and that consequently they tend to not provide it to others. “A lot of coaches know so much about the game but they have a hard time communicating it to athletes. Younger players tend to want feedback, and many coaches tend to not give it. That can create disconnect issues.”
And as Blake Nill pointed out, “Coaching is recognizing strengths and weaknesses and applying a strategic plan to achieve success. The old style leadership model was top down, coach-centric. Now it’s peer to peer. Athletes lead and influence teammates by being stronger, more dedicated, disciplined and competitive.”
On feedback and communication:
The importance of feedback (a topic near and dear to our hearts!) was a common theme.
A panel that included Utica Comets forward Brendan Gaunce, Natalie Spooner of Canada’s National Team, and Mike Duco of the ECHL Evansville Icemen stressed the importance of continuous feedback and honesty from coaches, a sentiment echoed by New York Rangers forward Tanner Glass: “Feedback from coaches is extremely important. Players are more educated and want it.” And Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins pointed out that “Players know when they have good game or a bad game, but coach guidance is very important.”
AHL Head Coach Roy Sommer of the San Jose Barracuda was specific: “Everyone needs feedback. Give your players ratings and comments at least 6 to 7 times per year. Tell them what to work on.” Ditto for Edmonton Oilers Assistant Coach Jay Woodcroft: “Meet with players every 5 to 10 games to show them where they did well or need focus.” And Stan Butler stressed that because kids are visual learners, we need to teach them in the ways that they learn now, and suggested providing feedback directly to players after every practice to let them know that practice matters.
But when it comes to feedback for players, Gardiner MacDougall might have summed it up best: “Positive feedback is the breakfast of champions.” We agree 1000% with all of these comments!
On coaching itself:
During his often hilarious and insightful keynote, TSN’s Bob McKenzie pointed out some of the biggest changes in the game according to NHL coaches he’d polled, notably the use of technology to gather metrics and statistics to guide coaching decisions, and the importance of communicating with players.
Many coaches spoke passionately about the impact they hope to make with the players they work with. Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Willie Desjardins: “The biggest thing you can give your athletes is believing in them. If every player feels better about themselves at the end of the year, you’ve done your job.” Brennan Sonne, Assistant Coach of the WHL Everett Silvertips: “There are few nobler pursuits than effecting positive change, growth, and development in the lives of young people.” And Dallas Eakins closed with a simple but powerful thought: “We want the young men and women we coach to be better people. Win or lose.”
Knowledge is power.
Helmets off to Aaron, Len, Angela, Ben, Jay and the whole team at The Coaches Site, who pulled together two first-class events back-to-back.
Our takeaway? Based on what we saw, heard and experienced, it seems pretty clear that the future of hockey is in good hands. The hundreds of coaches we met in Toronto and Vancouver were all energized and eager to take in the wisdom of a diverse set of accomplished and respected hockey thought leaders, and they all seemed to recognize the truth in one of presenter Chris DePiero’s statements—and one of our favorites, for sure!—“Knowledge is power.”
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
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