Being a youth hockey coach can be as stressful as it is rewarding. Just like teachers, coaches are looked up to by children who wish to succeed in the game. When you’re a coach to young kids, you’re not just teaching them the tricks of the trade, but you’re also mentoring them to develop the right attitude and mindset.
To be a good youth hockey coach, you need to know the rules of the game impeccably. Next, you need to have the leadership qualities of an excellent teacher to communicate and relate with your team. Finally, you need to have great personal ethics and values that make you a remarkable role model.
In this article, we will look at the primary skills and qualities that need to be cultivated for you to become the perfect coach for a youth hockey team. To make this easier to grasp, we’ll divide these qualities into three broad sections - technical skills, social/interpersonal skills, and personal values and qualities. Now let’s get going!
The technical skills include your expertise in the field of hockey, including your knowledge and experience in the sport. Anyone can learn the rules of the game, but it takes practical wisdom to make one an expert and a great teacher. Let’s look at the various aspects you’ll need to focus on in this section.
Let’s start at the very beginning. You can have fantastic coaching and leadership qualities, but you’re going to fail miserably as a youth ice hockey coach if you’re not really that sure about the rules of the game.
When being a coach to a group of young kids, they will expect you to know absolutely anything and everything about the game. You’re going to be their mentor who guides them along every step of the way, so it’s quite essential that you know what exactly you’re supposed to be teaching them.
Not being an expert in what you’re supposed to be teaching and training others to do can drastically reduce your level of confidence, which will naturally be reflected in all the other areas of your coaching. You may not have excellent interpersonal skills (yet), but having a working knowledge of the sport can help you get started on the right foot.
The kids on your team are going to assume you’re an expert at what you do right from day one, so don’t let them change their minds about it.
Having a great understanding of the sport but not being able to communicate it to the rest of your team is definitely going to be a huge setback. You need to realize that this team is made up of young kids who may or may not have had a coach before, so you need to be able to communicate the rules and ‘how to’s’ of the game in a way they’d understand.
Even if you’ve never really taught anyone anything before, you can still be a great coach if you know what you’re talking about and passionate about passing that knowledge onto someone else. The best way to figure out if your points are getting across is by communicating with them and understanding if there’s a better way to teach them things they don’t seem to be able to understand.
At the end of the day, no two coaches are alike, and they all follow their own teaching methodology, so be open to new and creative ways to communicate your thoughts with your team. You may also want to consider reading our article on developing a youth coaching philosophy for hockey.
This is what you’ll spend most of your time on as you mold your team and get them ready for their first official match under your guidance. Just as we saw how important knowing the rules and regulations of the game are, knowing the best way to implement your plan of action is just as important.
Also, remember that drills and practice sessions aren’t just routines that you’ve got to make your team go through every day. This is where you’ll get your team to the first practice and learn how to work together as an actual ‘team‘.
Here’s where they’ll develop a bond among themselves and with you as well. Drills are essential for them to practice getting along, as they’re all in their respective positions and roles on the field during the game.
Use these sessions to help them bond better and get closer as a team. In the long run, you’ll notice that these small drills before each practice session played a significant role in shaping those individuals into one cohesive team.
If you’re looking for different ideas surrounding the drills you teach your team, we have a few articles you may want to review. The first is five half-ice hockey drills ideal for mites and other youth players, and the other is seven great half-ice hockey drills for forwards you must try out.
As a coach, you already know that there are different positions that require different strategies on the ice. Knowing these slightly different strategies will help you train the individual players accordingly. Teaching them about the various responsibilities of an offensive and defensive player while also engaging them in individual practice sessions with varied methods will help them grasp their roles better.
Also, remember that the best way to teach young children is through improvisation and adaptation. You may know the rules and strategies required by heart, so might they. But teaching them what you know in innovative ways will definitely have a long-lasting impact.
Now that we’ve dealt with the technical side, it’s time to look at the real skills that make a good coach into a great one. Teaching your team the tips and tricks of the game is an integral part of being a coach, and there’s no doubt about that. But what you need to remember is that your job doesn’t end there.
Let’s have a look at the different ways you can really reach out to your team as a youth hockey coach.
Many teachers (and coaches) assume that their job is to deliver what’s required of them and bring nothing more or less to the table. While they aren’t technically wrong, it’s never been the best way to actually have a lasting impact on a child’s life and their way of thinking.
Your youth team consists of individuals who are at the most formative years of their life. As their coach, you need to make sure you teach them to have the right mindset and core values, which will, in fact, play a significant role in what kind of players they’ll be in the future.
Now, you don’t have to get your team together and give them value education classes on a daily basis; that would be absurd. Instead, you use opportunities that arise in the context of the game to teach them valuable life lessons. In fact, this will allow them to actually relate to what you’re saying when it’s told in connection with their sport.
For example, instead of focussing on how they lost their first game, you can use that as an opportunity to teach them about patience and perseverance. These two qualities are essential to make any sportsman into a champion.
As a coach, you need your team to have strong core values and beliefs. Just as one rotten apple can spoil the whole basket, you need to make sure that everyone on the team is on the same page as you when it comes to the ethics of good sportsmanship.
Your team isn’t going to aim for success if it’s only you who wants to win. In other words, you mustn’t look at victories as personal goals or achievements, but rather see it as the team’s success as a whole.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want to be known as the coach of the winning team. That’s completely natural, and you deserve the validation as well. The problem begins only when that becomes your primary objective, as it starts to reflect in all the areas of your relationship with your team.
When trying to gain success only on a personal level, you’d be more focused on winning than on coaching those kids for anything more than that. As mentioned earlier, the job of a good coach is not to simply train them to be great players but also to be great human beings, on and off the ice.
Instead of working on the team with the intention of personal glory and victory, work together with them as you make a plan of all the goals you want the team as a whole to achieve. This way, you’d be able to work towards goals together as a team, thereby making the process more effective and productive.
Just like any relationship, you aren’t going to get far ahead as a team if there’s only one person who does all the talking. Of course, you are the coach, and you’re going to be doing a significant part of the talking during practice sessions. Still, it’s essential to give your team members time and space to voice out their opinions once practice is over.
Listening to different perspectives and ideas can be educational, no matter how much of an expert you are. You might even get better insight when you decide to start listening to what the rest of the team has to say about the sport or your method of coaching.
Hence, it’s essential to create an environment where the players feel safe to share their opinions and feel heard. This does not mean that you never take firm decisions and leave it all in the hands of your team. It merely means that you’re open to other perspectives and aren’t set in your own ways, which is an excellent quality in a leader.
This may seem generic, but the best way to have a highly active and invested team is by building a stable relationship with them. Having a surface level relationship may work okay for some, but if you really want to be a great coach, you need to go the extra mile.
Once again, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get together and talk about how your day was and whatnot (unless you want to), but simply communicating with them on a personal level will automatically create a more powerful bond.
It may even be something as small as the first time you got a minor concussion from a fall during the game, or which hockey player you idolized as a kid. These details make them relate to you better by helping them know that you’ve been through the same experiences they might be dealing with right now.
At the end of the day, a good relationship between a coach and his team will always be reflected on the ice.
Let’s face it, none of us like to lose. No matter how old we are, the sting of losing something you’ve practiced hard for will always be the same. What we can change, however, is how we deal with it.
As a coach, you need to teach them how to lose and win with grace. You’ve definitely come across many instances where the winning or losing team could have behaved better as true sportsmen. Don’t let your team be one among them.
Teach your team that winning is important, but having the right attitude is what really matters. You might have won several games, but if your attitude towards the other team isn’t right, then you’re not really going to be remembered in a positive light. Hence, it is vital that you teach them to accept whatever may come their way with real dignity and sportsmanship. This will save you a lot of struggles in the future.
You’ll notice that a significant part of your career as a coach will involve one of these three actions, either in a verbal or non-verbal form. As a coach, you need to make sure that the entire team’s morale is always high, even if it’s just a practice session.
Keeping the fire alive within them is what’s going to make things count when you finally get into the rink for a match. Additionally, a team whose coach isn’t always encouraging them in the right direction will soon grow tired and disheartened.
And by encouragement, it doesn’t mean you keep filling the air with empty words that fall on deaf ears. Instead, cater to each member individually. If you see someone playing better than usual, be sure to make a note of it and mention it to him later. Small things like this are what motivate young kids to do and be better. Failing to notice their efforts or progress is not only sad but reflects poorly on you as a coach.
As far as positivity goes, it isn’t just hoping for the best but training for the best as well. You may be discouraged every once in a while when you see the performance of your team alongside another’s, but don’t let that hinder you from knowing that you’ll get there too with enough practice and dedication. Remember, your team is always watching you, so if they see you looking let down or disappointed in them, it’s not going to help keep their spirits high.
In addition to this, always remember to motivate them as much as you criticize them. As a coach, it’s your duty to tell them when something’s not being done right or isn’t up to the mark. But combined with a few words of motivation, you’ll be able to get better results than with just plain criticism.
And finally, our last and most crucial section is one that deals with you. There are certain qualities that make a leader, and they definitely will have to be developed (if not already) by someone who intends to be a good coach. Once again, none of these qualities are going to be brand new information to you. Still, it’s worth mentioning as most of these qualities are often overlooked.
These two attributes will take you further along in your career as a coach than most other qualities will. Being humble even when you’re blessed with success will not only be a beneficial skill to you but will also be a habit your team chooses to adopt as well.
If they see their coach being smug and full of pride, that’s precisely how they’re going to behave in the future too. Always remember that you’re more than just a coach to your youth hockey team; you’re potentially a role model.
Humility is another skill a good coach must develop. As mentioned in the previous section, the game nor the trophies are never about you or your personal success. It’s always about the team and all the effort that has been collectively spent.
Humility will teach you not to measure success by the number of trophies you have or have not collected, but by acknowledging how far your team and you have made it since day one.
Even if you didn’t win the trophy, there definitely were priceless lessons learned in the rink and memories created along the way. Success is fleeting, and that’s one proverb you’ll want to hold on to.
Your team will always be a reflection of how dedicated you are as a coach. You can’t expect all the members of your team to be on time every day if you’re going to be pulling up late more than twice a week. This not only reflects poorly on your work ethic but also gives your team members the impression that you don’t care much about punctuality. With that mindset, it’s going to be hard to lead a team to victory.
For this reason, always make sure to be the first person in the rink and the last person to leave it. Seeing you being on time and being a perfectionist will push your team members to think twice before coming up with excuses for their unpunctuality.
Being a coach is all about setting down an example of what a dedicated player’s lifestyle must resemble, so you want to make sure you leave a good example for them to follow well into the future. Additionally, punctuality will give you the boost of motivation and confidence you’ll need to handle your team as well.
Always remember that you can’t demand perfection from your team if you aren’t perfect yourself.
Being a coach, there’s no doubt that you are the leader of the team as well. However, acting like you aren’t can potentially ruin your reputation as a good coach. This includes being nervous, indecisive, moody, arrogant, stubborn, and unprofessional. Let me elaborate more.
If there’s an important decision to be made, the final call obviously lies with you. But if you act like you can’t deal with the stress of having to call the shots, your team is not only going to feel let down and unmotivated, but they’re also going to lose a little bit of the respect and regard they had for you as their leader.
No doubt, being a leader is hard. Calling the shots is hard. But being nervous and afraid while trying to lead a team can have catastrophic results.
Even if you’re afraid, work on overcoming it. Don’t let your nerves get the better of you on the ice. Any team will only be confident as long as they feel they’ve got a strong leader, so don’t let your team down where confidence and bravery is concerned.
Additionally, always be open to admitting you were wrong. Throwing a fit or a temper tantrum isn’t going to look good on you or your team. Handle situations (even the horrible ones) with as much grace and dignity you can muster because that’s what a professional coach would do.
Now, this isn’t something you can develop overnight, but it definitely is a skill worth having. Learning to communicate well with your team can save you a lot of misunderstandings and hard feelings in the future. Apart from this, having the ability to communicate with a group of youngsters in a way they’d understand is what being a good coach is all about.
You may have all the knowledge in the world when it comes to hockey, but it wouldn’t make any difference unless you know how to share that knowledge in a way that your audience will understand.
Apart from this, being a good communicator will help you convey exactly what you mean to your team. You may often find yourself in an unfortunate circumstance where someone may have wholly misunderstood a compliment or a word of well-intended advice. This may not exactly happen with your team, but it’s always good to know how to communicate praise and criticism in an effective way.
With this, we come to the last and final quality that will make you a great coach to any youth hockey team - passion. Your dedication may fizzle out and die after a few games or practice sessions that go wrong, but your passion is what’s going to keep you going in the long run.
It would be best if you remembered that coaching a youth hockey team is no joke. It’s going to require a lot of sacrifices, time, patience, and commitment. Things won’t always go the way you’d planned, and you may feel too demotivated to keep the spirits of your entire team-up. However, being passionate and dedicated to being a good coach will pull you through those days.
Additionally, your passion on and off the ice is what’s going to show your team what a real, passionate, and driven player needs to look like. If you’re sloppy and act like you couldn’t care less about the sport, your team is either going to resent you or develop hard feelings against you, both of which are not good. So be consistent with your passion and never lose a chance to be a great role model for your team!
This article gives a short summary of all the factors that make an excellent youth hockey coach. Here’s the coles notes version:
- Be thorough with the technical aspects of the game.
- Come up with innovative teaching methods.
- Use the drill and practice time to teach the team to work together.
- Use different strategies for different players.
- Use the game to teach your team about life.
- Always be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave the rink.
- Set goals with them as a team instead of focusing on individual victories.
- Be a good listener and be open to new ideas and strategies.
- Win or lose with grace.
- Be critical as well as encouraging.
- Build personal relationships with the team.
- Develop communication skills.
- Be passionate about the sport.
- How Stuff Works: Ultimate guide to coaching youth hockey
- Nays: Coaching youth ice hockey
- A Hockey World: Are you a good youth hockey coach? The 9 signs that will tell you how good you really are
- US Hockey Magazine: What makes a great coach?
- Cross Ice Hockey: The youth coach: the good and the bad
- Minnesota Hockey: Top 5 qualities of excellent hockey coaches
- Dummies: Coaching hockey for dummies cheat sheet
- Sport Plan: Hockey drill practices for junior coaching skills
- Pure Hockey: Hockey drills for beginners
- Mom Steam: Positions in ice hockey
- Tutorials Point: Hockey - players and their roles