Developing a youth hockey coaching philosophy can be overwhelming. As a coach, you are a mentor, a motivator, and an authoritative figure. Creating the ideal youth hockey coaching philosophy plays a significant part in how successful you are in those roles.
Coaching comes from a place in your gut. Intuition and experience play a vital role in developing your coaching philosophy. Throughout history, there have been philosophies that have consistently worked in hockey. We have put those core philosophies into a list for you.
Nearly all coaching philosophies include these:
- Establish the player belief that they can do it
- Foster a solid work ethic and positive reinforcement
- Systematically promoting player trust in themselves and each other
- Strategic development of game and hockey skills
- Promote the social aspect of being on a team and working together
- Respect of self, team, coach, family, community (everything)
- Teaching how to lose as well as how to win
- Challenge your players
- Experience is the best teacher
Coaching a youth hockey team can be an incredibly overwhelming task. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to championing a coaching philosophy. If you don’t know where to start when you get on the ice and have all those eyes looking at you for guidance, this could be an ideal place to start.
Your coaching philosophy will be the cornerstone on which you build your training model. It does take years to develop, and there is a lot of trial and error, especially with new coaches. Ideally, you would take current philosophies that appeal to you and start developing your own. Build off these fundamentals to create your own ideal youth hockey coaching philosophy.
Once adopted, your philosophy should be practiced consistently so your players will know what to expect and how to behave. Remember that everything you teach with this philosophy will be paid forward in the way these players practice your philosophy, not only on the field but off as well. Your philosophy should incorporate life lessons and build social skills that the player will need to help themselves navigate through life’s circumstances. Coaching is so much more than a game or two.
Before you succeed at any task, you first must believe that you can do it. The belief starts with you believing in them. Players need to be able to see your unwavering confidence that you believe in them before they can start believing in their own potential to be great.
When a player sees that their coach has confidence in their abilities, they feel motivated to try harder to reach their goals. Belief is the core value of any successful hockey team. That belief will extend from belief in themselves to belief in their team. Belief is a necessary ingredient of trust and teamwork.
In order to fine-tune a coaching philosophy, a structured way to develop belief among players is essential. The structure of promoting belief is combined with core philosophy values.
Positivity Is Crucial. If a player makes a mistake, instead of cursing under your breath and benching them, feedback should be informative and positive. Your coaching philosophy should entail:
- Asking the player what they think they did wrong and give them the opportunity to be included in the constructive criticism
- Explaining what was wrong with the mistake that was made
- Explaining how to fix the error to prevent it in the future
- Giving the player a positive note on what part they were doing right
- Create a similar opportunity to allow the player to utilize the information that you just gave them
Negativity in coaching leads to self-doubt and team-doubt, which is the exact opposite of what you want to happen.
Positive reinforcement and constructive criticism allow players to take control of their actions through practice. It develops a belief system that you believe in them; they have practiced correcting mistakes and gained confidence, which fosters a great work ethic. They feel motivated to try harder because their work has earned them positive rewards and feedback. They will learn that working hard and setting goals gives them an inner desire to accomplish more. They will start working for themselves and their team.
Work ethics will serve them well throughout their lives. They will develop the ability to set their own goals and achieve them without relying on others or doing things simply to try and impress others. Success in all endeavours depends on a solid work ethic and the ability to navigate social situations. Team gameplay is where the experience with these situations start.
Once a player believes in himself, he looks towards placing that belief in others. It is a domino effect. The coach believes in me, I believe in my team, my team believes in me, we form a bond of trust. Trust allows for greater strategic maneuverability in a team. For example, players are less likely to try to control the puck all by themselves if they can trust their teammates will help them deliver the actual goal of winning the game.
If a player is unable to trust their teammates, it unravels the entire team. Doubt spreads fast through minds, so practicing positive reinforcement consistently and often will keep trust growing and benefit the whole team.
Players will recognize that other teammates may fail, but thanks to the coach that promotes positive feedback, players will provide positive feedback to other players in the same manner the coach does for them because that was the tone that was set. This serves a dual purpose of creating peer mentors and building confidence within a team. Each team member has a vested interest in reaching the same goal.
You know how to play, you love the game, that’s the reason why you wanted to become a coach. To form your legacy and share your knowledge with people who share the same love. This would be the easy part for you. Teaching hockey skills and the rules of engagement. There are several ways to teach, and it is suggested that you implement all three into your methodology. Kids learn by one or all of the following methods:
- Seeing - like writing the play on a blackboard
- Hearing - like explaining the instructions vocally
- Doing - by acting out the instructions
By not limiting yourself to one type of learning method, you are more likely to have a greater understanding from your hockey players and better-executed plays.
Teamwork is huge in any sport. Members in youth teams form relationships that they will hold dear for the rest of their lives. A team is often where youth learn to:
and gain valuable social skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
The important thing here is to create a positive environment so that these players will be able to grow and practice these skills. The main ingredient is not over-coaching. You want to empower your players to make their own decisions and allow for peer guidance. The more that they are able to persevere, the more cohesive and united they will become in facing adversity.
Keeping a creative, open environment allows them to come up with their own solutions and style of play. Since you can’t be out on the ice with them during a game, you must guide them to be individuals that work well together and have a team mindset. Show them how to stay focused on a goal and then let them decide how they are going to go about accomplishing that goal.
There is a common saying in sports to teach respect for ROOTS. It means to respect:
Coaches lead by example. The players watch your behaviour probably far more than you would like. If you adhere to these rules, your players will too.
Learning to show respect for others, even when you may not agree with them, is crucial to successful communication and being able to interact successfully with others. Imagine not being able to communicate effectively with your boss because you didn’t agree with him or her; that could be times than you’d like to admit. Tolerance is built on respect and good behaviour. Teaching respect in sports is the first encounter many players will have with respecting people outside the home.
Respect will play a key role in relationships with team parents. There will be times that you disagree, and some parents are ‘Super Fans’ and have a conflicting idea of what your philosophy is. Knowing how to interact with parents both on and off-field is vital in not causing tensions between the player, the parent, and the coach.
Winning is easy. Winning gracefully, not so much. The same can be said for losing. Learning how to take a loss and look at it as an opportunity to learn will prove to be a valuable lesson for several stages in life. Winning gracefully means don’t let it all go to your head and make fun of the other team.
A proper balance should be maintained between winning and losing graciously. No one is perfect, there is always room for improvement, and we all live to fight another day with what we have learned. Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Recognize what they did well, acknowledge what they didn’t do so well and what needs to be practiced and improved for future games.
Teaching your players that it isn’t about the outcome; it’s about how you got there that is crucial in this philosophy. We lost, but all the plays were executed well. Focus on how you played as a team.
If you find that your players are accomplishing several goals at practice, it is time to up the game. You want to make sure players have something to work towards, a new, more challenging goal. If the team can meet more challenging objectives consistently, it adds to self-confidence at both the individual and team levels. Always keep them on their toes, and you will avoid mechanical ruts. Keeping the challenge will keep it fun.
There is no replacement for learning through raw experience. Players should see each game, each practice, and each scrimmage as something to be learned from. Players will get far more out of engaging with their environment and you than reading any play manual cover to cover. Seeing experience as a lesson is vital in building confidence throughout your team.
We do things that we enjoy doing. Hockey is no different. If you find that the team is having an off day, kick the skates off and play dodge ball. You are still playing a sport, so the fundamentals can still be practiced, and it might be a nice mental break from the rigorous teaching platform. Spicing things up through unconventional activity that holds the fundamentals of hockey philosophy is sometimes the way to go.
Once you have a handle on the fundamental philosophies you want to teach, you should decide how exactly that message is going to be relayed to your players. There are three basic coaching styles in hockey, and you are encouraged to use a balanced hybrid of them in order to better engage with your players.
Autocratic coaching is the dictator coach of this trilogy. Coaches with this style make decisions without consulting their players, and the focus is on performance. The technique has had success in high-contact team sports. Nearly every football movie has an autocratic coach. Autocratic coaching works better on older players. Older players can relate to the goals and have a better understanding as to why they are asked to do things. They understand the philosophy behind it. This style seems to work well with the skill development end of things.
Democratic coaching puts player’s opinions into the mix with setting goals and objectives. The coach looks to player consultation on these decisions so that they feel part of the process and vested in the team. The players help create their own destiny, which gives them a sense of accountability for their wins and their losses, leading to autonomy. This kind of coaching is found more in individual sports rather than team sports. It is easier to discuss the trajectory of one person’s destination than it is with an entire team. This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to practice democratic coaching within a team sport. It just means you will have to demonstrate smaller democratic choices for the team to make decisions around.
Holistic coaching is better known as the “laissez-faire” style. In this style of coaching, there isn’t really a formulated, rugged lesson plan. Instead, the coach creates a positive environment where players are free to push themselves and each other and explore all ideas and options in a safe space. Teams are put together in more of an individual approach in that every individual reaches different goals at different times. The team has all the say in making their own game plan, and the coach acts as more of a guide or a post to bounce ideas off of. This style of coaching is better suited to seasoned players who have already developed skills and have experience in team play and the sport. The coach focuses more on relationships with team members than with developing skills.
Incorporating all three styles of coaching helps teams excel depending on where they are in terms of:
One thing is sure, whatever coaching philosophy you develop should be communicated with confidence to the team. Moulding young minds comes with great responsibility because what you teach them now will be used as they move forward in life. Finding a happy medium of these three styles is where you want to be.
A team should always finish a season in a better place than where they started. There should be some type of measurable success. That doesn’t necessarily mean winning games. It means growth and development as players in general as well as individuals.
Whatever coaching philosophy you choose, executing the philosophy takes a certain amount of personality and skill. There are some essential qualities that tend to be exhibited by good coaches that are consistent across the board. The philosophy you select will be entangled with your personality as a coach. To become a qualified coach, there are criteria that you will need to meet in order to pass tests administered by the national body governing hockey. So here are a few key quality traits that successful coaches demonstrate:
- All-inclusive- Good coaches make sure that that they are including every member of the team in activities and lesson plans. No player should be on permanent bench duty. Not only does it upset parents, but it also sends a message to the team that they shouldn’t believe or trust in that person. It is impossible for someone to grow if they are not provided with the opportunity to succeed or fail and learn from it.
- Physical Limitations of Mind & Body-It is essential to recognize when your players are physically or mentally exhausted. You want to continue to challenge them, but not to the point that leads to physical injury. The sport is also supposed to be fun. If a player is mentally and emotionally exhausted, it will affect their gameplay and the way that they view hockey. As a coach, you should be aware of these signs and adjust the coaching method you are using.
- Lead by Example-Players look to their coach on how to behave in situations. You must practice what you preach in order for the team to take it to heart. If you are saying one thing and doing another, that is a mixed message that shows the team that you do not believe in the philosophy you are trying to impress upon them. Hold steadfast to your philosophy: preach it, live it, love it.
- Always Be Positive-You have heard the old adage that you catch more flies with sugar? The same principle goes here. Youth learn best with positive reinforcement coupled with criticism that is meaningful. They did it wrong?
- Ask them what they did wrong
- Tell them what they did wrong
- Tell them how they can fix it; and
- Give them the opportunity to prove they can do it correctly.
It is a tested and true method in coaching any sport. The players will pick up on this vibe and use it with their peers. Positivity can spread through a team relatively quickly. This leads to a cohesive team.
- Experience & Knowledge-Coaching is where you are able to pass on knowledge and leave an impression of yourself on the next generations. When you are coaching, make sure that you have a solid, unwavering philosophy for what you are coaching. A coach’s ability to exude confidence and authority are the prerequisites to the respect that teams will give their coaches. It is rounded out by communicating a clear, positive message.
That is where the relationships start. Part of this knowledge and experience is demonstrating a skill that you are instructing the team to do. If they see you do it, they will know that it is possible and give them confidence that you know how to teach them to do it.
Having these qualities or working on obtaining these skills will be beneficial to both you and your team. Effective communication is the key to growing a great team. If you are concerned about not having these qualities but want desperately to coach youth hockey, there are resources and guidance sites out there.
Coaches are a tight bunch because no one understands the struggles they go through better than another coach. And as they are coaches, they happily share their knowledge with anyone that has need of it. One thing that you can do in order to hone your coaching skills is to get certified.
Before coaching begins, you should pass required certifications to work with a youth hockey team. It should be stated that not all leagues require certification; however, regulated leagues will require that certification has been completed. The certification requirements are:
- Membership to USA Hockey
- Pass Educational Modules
- Pay the Fees
Once you have completed certification, you will be a card holding coach extraordinaire. This must be completed before your first game, so completing it sooner rather than later would be ideal. There are several reasons why you want to consider becoming a certified coach, some of those which include:
- Parent peace of mind-Certification shows parents that you are knowledgeable and have passed necessary coaching credentials. They are more likely to sign the youth up for your team because they have the confidence that their child will be in safe hands.
- Credibility-Certification adds credibility to your already accomplished knowledge and experience. It is something to put on your resume that elevates your coaching ability.
- Access to training material-Being a member and going through certification means that you will have access to all of their training materials. This allows you to stay current **with training techniques and trends involved with youth education.
- Continuing education-You are able to enroll in coaching clinics to further your skills. Any new technique in coaching methods will be at your fingertips to help you coach more effectively.
- Practice plans-You will be able to have age-specific practice plans among several other resources that you can use and spin ideas from.
- Support system-Getting your certification gives you the support system and knowledge base to utilize if you are having trouble with your coaching philosophy and need to change your game.
- Be aware of regulation changes-Membership means that you are on the information highway and will be notified of any changes in regulation or rules that you will need to pass on to your team.
Coaching can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. There are challenges in getting started and throughout your career, but there are many resources to help you along the way. One of the most important things that you can do is develop your youth hockey coaching philosophy.
That philosophy will carry you through the season. Be prepared to adjust your coaching philosophy after each season and consider it a work in progress. There is always more to learn, and there are always more ways to learn them. Establish a strong bond with your team in a positive way, and you will have a successful season.