Note From Adam (12/8): The first blog I posted on my site was a nice introduction to the topic of hockey coaching at a very high level. While I’ve narrowed my focus a bit in subsequent posts, this one is worth reviewing for anyone new to the site. A lot has changed since the beginning of the year (which has been covered both here and on AdamFincik.org), which means some of my blog posts could use a light refresher.
Naturally, when you start a hockey and hockey coaching-centric blog, it makes a lot of sense to start broad and narrow down a bit as you go. So I figured a good starting point for my blog would be some hockey coaching 101, tips for people who haven’t coached but are considering giving it a go when it comes time for the kids’ sign ups next year.
For some background, in case you missed it on my homepage, I’ve been playing hockey since I was about 5 years old – just as long as I’ve known how to skate. When I decided to hang up the skates about 30 years later, I decided to jump into coaching, something that I’ve done and loved ever since.
So what are a few things worth knowing upfront when it comes to coaching youth hockey?
Understand the Age Group
While it probably should go without saying, you shouldn’t approach coaching a group of 5 year olds the same way you would, say, a group of 15 year olds. Beyond the obvious skill differences, the different levels of maturity and styles of gameplay at different ages means your core focus as a coach will change pretty drastically. USA Hockey has a nice pdf manual that guides readers through some common age progression steps as they apply to coaching and techniques – I’d highly recommend giving it a read.
Understand the Rules
This of course goes beyond the rules of hockey as a sport itself – though you should obviously know those through and through as well. But different levels of play and different leagues can feature different rules pertaining to penalties, enforcement, and of course checking, which isn’t typically allowed (in USA Hockey) until the 13-14 age group.
Understand that Coaching Isn’t Easy
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the blog should be the fact that, regardless of age group and regardless of the team, coaching isn’t easy. Things will fluctuate depending on where you are and your level of experience, but you can expect some steep learning curves, particularly early on, not to mention the nature of having to wrangle and instruct a group of kids. You’re forced to do quite a bit in your role as the team’s coach, so don’t expect everything to come naturally.
But That Doesn’t Mean You Have to Make it Easy…
Despite the above mentioned fact that coaching isn’t (and probably shouldn’t be) easy, that doesn’t mean you should do what you can to make it easy on them. As a coach, part of your job is to train and develop these kids into better hockey players, and that doesn’t get accomplished if you let them fool around on the ice all practice or get lazy during drills. No one likes the coach who takes his or her job too seriously (after all, they are kids), so striking a balance here can be difficult, but is very important to success.