Coaching the younger generation of athletes has developed so much in recent years, due to further research into athletic development and the ever adapting sports they play. The game of hockey has changed so much meaning that the players need to adapt to the increased speed, strength and power of their opponents. One thing that I have also noticed is that the coaching hasn’t changed anywhere close to as much as the game. This is something that is needed to be addressed.
I love to work with the kids aged 6-10 as they are so much fun, but any coach who has been on a practice with the youngsters will know how hard and at the same time how rewarding working with the little animals can be. I have developed a set of rules which have worked for me on getting the best out of young athletes. I’m going to share them with you. Some of you may have other rules or adaptations, but it all comes down to what works for your style of coaching.
Rule #1- Energy
Energy is the key to success. If your energy can’t match the athletes energy then you are facing a hard task keeping focus. Keeping your practice upbeat and energetic will keep the players engaged in all drills. The athletes respond really well to high energy levels. Maintaining their own energy and concentration will minimize fooling around, injuries and time re-explaining the drill.
Rule # 2- Fun
Every skill or drill you teach should be fun and relevant. Young athletes tend to switch off when they start to get bored. We all know skating in lines is boring but mix it up with games specifically designed to involve the skill being performed.
Rule #3- Positive Reinforcement
Athletes have to know that they are performing well. Gone are the days where a coach would scream in the face of a player for making a bad pass. Having spoken to educators, as well as other coaches we all agree that no athlete likes to be called out, regardless of age, everyone has an ego. To get the best out of your athletes you have to massage their ego a little. The point here is athletes must know they are performing well and if they do something wrong you must reinforce what the correct way is rather than call out their flaws.
Rule #4- Connection
Within 3 seconds an athlete has made their mind up on whether they like you or don’t. It’s that black or white when you are only 7 years old. You only have 3 seconds to make a connection that can be everlasting. At the same time the athlete is figuring out whether or not they can push you. It’s a very difficult 3 seconds, the athlete may just not perform for you, they may really like you or they may decide you are a pushover and they can misbehave.
Rule #5- Specialization
This is a word that is being thrown around hockey circles from some of the best coaches in the world. The further research into specialization, the further we come away from it. Ok, specialization is basically concentrating on the one individual sport. Athletes under the age of 16 should not be playing only one sport! It affects their neuromuscular function, social skills and provides a real mental strain. The point here is promote your athletes to participate in as many sports as possible. It will aid their proprioception, basic motor skills, social skills and will relieve the mental strain of a long hockey season. Sports such as soccer, baseball, tennis, football, lacrosse and swimming can only help your athlete get closer to their genetic potential!
Rule #6- Parent/Coach Relationship
This for me is a very easy one, but for some coaches it may be harder. I like to remain as professional as possible but with the ability to be approachable and understanding.
Parents only want the best for their kids so keeping in constant communication helps keep the parent understand where there little guy better. Most importantly with parent communication, as as coach you must be 100% honest. This helps build a trusting relationship, and helps to keep reality in perspective regarding their kids. A good practice is to set up parent meetings once a month and give as well as receive feedback at the same time reinforcing your plans.
When you’re coaching, regardless whether you are being paid or just volunteering, you have a job to do. You must remain professional at all times. By professional I mean stay neutral and don’t have favorites, when you have favorites it leaves you open to allegations from other parents.
Rule #7- Teach Good Habits
Coaching hockey is all about creating good habits. Creating good habits is easy. Repetition and positive reinforcement. One example is Barcelona’s play style of soccer and how effective it is. One rule they have is when you lose the ball you have 2 seconds to win it back. Lets look at the numerous good habits this creates. Intensity and high energy, support, defensive awareness and the drive to always want to be in control.
Rule #8- Goal Setting
All coaches needs short, medium and long-term goals to make sure they get the best out of their athletes. Establish what your long-term goals are and then start making your medium and then short-term goals. At the same time when creating your goals, you will see how you can create a development plan that is easy to keep track of progress. This plan also gives you the opportunity to revisit areas that need further development.
Rule #9- Preparation, Analysis and Adaptability
It goes without saying that a coach should have a prepared a practice that is based on their short, medium and long-term goals. You also need to see where you’re players are at, and be creative in your planning of trainings so that you can keep developing the skills that are needed. Don’t rush along the development process just because your goal setting says so, if you need to revisit and hammer away at skill then do so, it will only benefit your athletes for the better.
Analysis, for me, is one of the most important parts of coaching and a lot of us coaches don’t do it! Take 10 minutes after practice and games to write down what went well and what needs more work. Trust me this simple exercise will change the way you coach for the better.
OMAHA OMAHA, Adaptability has to be one of your strong points. Running an audible at practice has to be done many times throughout your season especially with the young athletes. Skills and drills have to be adapted to suit the level of your athletes.
Rule #10- Continual Learning and Development
It’s an extremely obvious rule, but honestly how often do you attend seminars or read up on what is happening in the sport. There are so many resources out there at our disposal, we need to learn to use them. Books, Internet, seminars and other coaches!
When we are collecting information we have to understand why and when we should use the newfound information. Too many coaches are jumping on the Internet and using drills they have found that have no relevance to their practice or team. Put the research in and never use a drill until you can fully understand why it is used!
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