This may come as a surprise, but my overall coaching philosophy remains the same no matter what level the players are at; make sure the kids are having fun.
In addition to coaching the OHL’s Guelph Storm for the past three and a half seasons, I’ve also spent time coaching my son’s minor hockey team. With every player I have coached at any level and even during my playing career, it has always come back to fun and skill development as the keys to success.
As a coach, that doesn’t mean I let my players run free; it means that practices are up-tempo with a lot of discipline. This keeps their attention and focuses on developing skills. Our coaching staff in Guelph recently hosted an OMHA Coaching Clinic before a home game, and it was great to see coaches from different centres and different age groups attend. The main point we tried to get across to them is that our players never stop moving, and this starts in practice.
A good way to ensure this is to narrow your practices to about 20 key drills that you use for the entire season. In any given practice, we like to cycle through five or six of these drills and do them at high speed, which is more productive than trying something new each day. It helps a player’s confidence if they’re executing fun, disciplined drills at a high pace, and our cycle allows us to swap in drills to key in on specific areas for improvement.
Overall, it’s a good idea to keep things less complicated for kids in their early years of hockey. For parents, it’s fine to hire personal trainers that can do great things for your child, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is important to get the player onto the ice alone with the puck. They need to work on shooting, stickhandling, and even puck protection as important skills to develop as a hockey player.
We try to focus on continuing this type of skill development even at the OHL level. Coaching OHL hockey and minor hockey have very few differences, aside from the speed and of course the expectation the coach has for the players. Anyone who is coaching kids, from travel teams to house league, has a responsibility to be the adult in the situation and understand the appropriate levels of expectation for the team and players. A coach’s expectations should be high, but realistic. You want to win and get better as a team, but there is a responsibility to focus on skill development and fun as a way to properly develop young people for hockey and for life.