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5 Way to be More Personable in your Approach with your Ice Hockey Players

In Leadership by JasonYee

Coaches are not afraid to say that their players are unfocused, but how often have you been criticized for being unfocused? I informally asked several athletes that I train in the summer, “what is one thing you wish your coach knew?” Most players first looked around a little nervously before answering. What I took from it was that players respond negatively to coaches who are not focused on the right things. And it may not be what you think…

The players I asked were Midget to Pro, with everything in between. My sample of players were coached by coaches who were almost volunteers, and who were paid over $1 million, also, with everything in between. So, most likely, this feedback somehow relates to your coaching. I know it certainly rings true for me in many situations. Here’s what they what they had to say (with my commentary underneath). Players wish that their coaches:

  • Acknowledged their improvement
    • Players, especially those who are not the top scorers may not receive any praise for their improvements. Players in this bracket don’t necessarily want the attention lauded on them that the stars do, but they want to know that their hard work didn’t go unnoticed.
  • Knew when to tone it down mentally
    • Coaches have an incredible amount of power over an athlete. Coaches should be cognizant that it is very very easy to step over ethical boundaries with the amount of power that they wield. Coaches know that they can also crank up the mental stress of a player with a simple comment, look, or action. So coaches need to consider this and be careful not to keep piling on pressure. It takes only a small action, word, or smile to alleviate the psychological pressure that a player is under, and at the end of the day, as a coach you’re interested in getting your players to perform at their best…not interested in making them feel like crap.
  • Recognized individual contribution
    • One player I talked to mentioned that he would get grouped in with his line when his linemates made a fault. I feel that this is both laziness and hubris on behalf of the coach. If a coach isn’t being a cognitive miser, they might not think too hard about what actually happened and just blame an entire group. The coach also might not be inquisitive enough into the reason behind the mistake and assume that their version of what happened is correct. How many times have you, as a coach asked a player/line what went wrong with pure curiosity? How many times do you ask a player what went wrong from a judgmental standpoint – to try and prove that you know more than they do?
  • Treated different players differently
    • This one is pretty obvious. Apparently coaches, even at the highest levels forget it however. While some of the comments came from players who were currently lower down on their team’s depth chart, this one came from a highly skilled player, used to playing on the top line. 
  • Didn’t over focus on their star players
    • Similar to the above. It appears that players at all levels feel that too much emphasis is placed on the star players. My thought is that coaches can maintain their emphasis on their star players, but if they spend a tiny extra bit of effort, they can ensure that the players lower down the totem pole feel that they are contributing. That little bit of extra effort might include process-related goal setting or spending a little bit of time giving them feedback.

Inspire Connect Lead

If you’re a coach reading this, you might be thinking, “there’s no way I can win! The star players want to be treated differently, and the role players don’t think they get enough attention! No one is happy!” I’d like to suggest that coaches need to redefine their objectives as a coach, and ensure that they are focused on them. Just like a player can play horribly if they are focused on non-task relevant cues (fans, referees, their last mistake, the coach)…coaches can do a poor job if they don’t focus on the right things. This informal survey of players suggests that coaches are not focusing on acknowledging how the individual integrates with and contributes to the whole. Here are some basic suggestions to improve your focus on this area:

  • Ensure that each player gets at least one piece of coachable feedback per game and practice
  • Ensure that you recognize and praise a player’s effort and improvement after you’ve given them that feedback
  • Outline and discuss exactly how players who are lower down on the totem pole are contributing to the team. Come up with and communicate to them concrete ways that they are contributing, or expected to contribute…hits, possession time, puck retrievals, battles. Make sure to build in a framework for how they can continue to improve and move up. Ensure that their improvements are rewarded.
  • Tailor your feedback and instruction to each player. This doesn’t take extra time, just a bit more effort.

Coaches may be focused more on the mechanics of what they’re trying to teach than how they’re going about doing so. Not a single player said “I wish my coach could draw up a better power play”. I can think of coaches who could use improvement in that area, but overwhelmingly, for players, it’s how the coach makes them feel that matters. Where is your focus and how are you making your players feel?

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About the Author


Hi, I'm Jason Yee. I'm a professional hockey player, kinesiologist, and the founder of Train 2.0. My goal is to make instructions for hockey players simple, trustworthy, and measurable by leveraging science, technology, and psychology. My method is to research NHLers through video, instruct others and myself, then gather feedback to refine my knowledge. I love documenting the journey publicly and online. I'd love to hear from you and let me know what you think - Your feedback is my oxygen. Thanks for reading my article today. Hit me up on email: or follow my Instagram account: @train2point0


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