Coaching Minor Hockey Defensemen: 3 Questions to Ask After a Tough Shift
This was the summer of asking questions. From the red tide-ridden shores of Naples, Florida for the American Hockey Coaches Association’s convention to Humber College and The Coaches’ Site’s conference and everything in between, one coaching theme was repeated over and over again.
At first glance it might seem counter intuitive for presenters like Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft or Florida Panthers Associate Coach Jack Capuano to ask questions of their audience, but that’s exactly what they did. How do we build the fastest team ever assembled? asked Jay Woodcroft. How do we deal with talented young players like Josh Ho Sang? Jack Capuano wondered out loud during his 1on1 interview with Coaches Site Founder Aaron Wilbur.
That’s how coaches are wired these days: to ask questions first, and then do the work to find answers.
Empowering Young Hockey Players
Each summer I spend a few weeks coaching hockey camps in Port Alberni, BC, at the West Coast Prep Camp. For those of you who have worked at busy hockey schools in the past, you know what it’s like to try to teach something valuable to hundreds of new kids every week. It’s almost pointless, right? Well, what if those kids were teaching themselves. When there are 30 kids on the ice and 5 coaches, it doesn’t make sense to try to teach something to every player. One thing we did differently at Prep Camp this year was hold player-directed self evaluations, which means the players were answering our questions, instead of the coaches answering the players’ questions. What do you think you need to improve on? What’s not working well for you off the ice? These questions got the conversation started, and took the pressure off of coaches working with a large number of players.
Take it one step further, onto the ice to be precise. Coaching is a lot easier and more fun when you ask the players questions when they’re done a drill or a rep or a shift.
With that in mind, we’re focusing on defensemen this month at The Coaches Site, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the common questions we can ask our defensemen after a difficult shift.
1. What Did You See Out There?
This is a much more constructive way to ask a defenseman what the #$%& he or she was thinking when they served up that piping hot pizza into their own slot that resulted in a point blank shot and an angry goalie. Maybe the weak-side winger was open for a moment? Maybe someone was calling for the puck?
2. Who Were You Playing Against That Shift?
Building situational awareness is a slow and steady process with young defensemen. Every hockey league has players who terrify opposing coaches, so you can imagine what the D feel when they see those players hop over the boards. Unless they’re clueless about who they’re playing against. Sure, the defense should be airtight every single shift no matter who they’re playing against, but that’s just not realistic. Help them focus for big shifts by asking them to remember who they’re up against.
3. How Can We Get Better?
Every practice is a chance to get better. Every game, too, and every shift. This is a simple question, but again, it puts the responsibility on the player. Young hockey players want that responsibility these days (if you don’t believe me, check out Marc and Katie Crawford’s presentation at our conference this past summer). Your defense might give you a surprising answer, and that’s a good thing. Dealing with the unexpected is what makes you a good hockey coach.
So don’t try to teach too much to your defense this season. Ask them to teach themselves.