Should the highest-level qualified coaches teach the older, elite levels of minor hockey or the fundamentals of the sport to its youngest players?
While newer coaches are sometimes left to teach the essential skills and knowledge of the sport to the entry level players, it is the highest qualified coaches in charge of guiding the oldest skaters.
Part of the questions is how we define what makes the ‘best’ coaches.
“Traditionally, we have put our least experienced coaches with our youngest players or our entry level players,” said Ian Taylor, OMHA Executive Director. “We tend to have our most experienced coaches and certainly coaches that require higher levels of qualification at the higher levels, the Bantam, Minor Midget AAA levels. That’s been how it’s been set up… but how do we qualify ‘best’?”
There is support needed across all levels of coaching including entry-level coaches. Taylor acknowledges that coaches of older age groups could have higher aspirations beyond minor hockey and may not be the best fit to coach the youngest players.
Entry level hockey means introducing kids to the sport and ensuring they have fun, make friends and learn new skills. As they grow older, their skill development can become a factor of enjoyment they take away from playing.
“That next window, that 8-12-year-old window, that’s often referred to as the ‘golden age of development’. That’s where we have to ensure kids are getting the most out of it. It still has to be fun, they have to enjoy it, they have to be engaged, that’s the way they’ll keep coming back. I think also by developing their skills, they’ll enjoy the game more.”
It comes down to what the appropriate fit is for each specific coach. It doesn’t do a service to either the coach or players if a teaching style doesn’t mesh with an age group.
“Some coaches are better suited working with older players. Some are better suited working with younger players… I think if we’re going to tackle that golden age of development, we’ve got to make sure our coaches are qualified and can meet the needs of those athletes.”
Taylor has previously brought up the idea of having a checklist for each age group that the organizations and parents can have so they know what age-appropriate skills need to be taught, just like a curriculum in school.
Applying theory to actual practices is when coaching becomes real. Being able to identify and correct mistakes in drills and talking to players and parents are all essential skills for coaches. It can be a challenging task for a volunteer coach, sometimes a parent to a player on the team themselves, to learn on the job. It’s why having a support network is so important for the coaches just beginning their time behind the bench.
“I think coaches that are supported, I think coaches that are given resources and once they leave the clinic, they have someone they can work with. I think that’s the key. If it’s not a matter of having your most experienced coaches with the younger age groups, perhaps you have someone like that working with a group of coaches at an association. You’ve got someone who can mentor them, work with them, someone they can go to and ask questions.”
A coaching success would be developing players and giving them all the tools they need to play at their best, no matter the age group.
“If the coach has the temperament and the personality to work with kids at the younger age groups, I think it would be beneficial for the kids and in some cases I think it would be beneficial for the coach. Going back and working on fundamentals as opposed to tactics and systems, I think there’s some benefits there.”
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