Adapt your coaching to the team, not the other way around


Dustin Donathan

Dustin Donathan has his MS degree in Kinesiology. Dustin is currently a head ACHA coach @TCU as well as a skills development coach for NCAA and pro hockey athletes.

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An important reminder heading into a new season.

There are many ways that coaches prepare for the season.

For me as a coach personally I like to get myself mentally prepared. I work out, watch old game film, watch NHL hockey, watch college hockey, read journals and articles, and start communicating daily with my players. I start a line of communication so I can get to know the players coming in to the program.

When I talk to my players, especially the newer ones, I can start to understand how they view and see the game. This allows me to better understand which players are grinders, playmakers, who is conservative, and who is more aggressive. Because of this line of communication, this translates into how I pick systems. If I know my players, I know what they’ll be good at doing.

Also by communicating with players, this helps me form a team identity. By understanding each players psychological mindset of the game I can link commonalities between players and find out which players think and act the same. As a coach, we don’t always want to force a team identity. Instead it can be much easier to take those commonalities and traits that the players already have to help form an identity of the team. Once this process is underway and I start to understand a team identity then I can start forming practice plans.

One of the most common mistakes that many coaches make is making practice plans based on what drills look good, forcing the players to bag skate, and over-complicating things. A drill that works for one team does not mean it works for another team. One teams identity is not the same as another. One team’s system is not the same as another. A coach’s job is not to rewrite history, but to take great drills that work for the system that you are teaching.

As preseason starts, a coach may realize a system they had planned is not going to work. Some teams may not have the point show for a “low to high,” and some teams may not have a fast identity for dump and chase. So you have to be willing to accept this, and instead of forcing something that isn’t working, watch film of your team’s practice, pre-season camp, and go back to the drawing board and find something that’s going to work for your team.

It is ok for a coach to fail. As a coach you are always coaching and the coaching never stops.

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