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Improving the Player-Coach Relationship

By Dan Pollard, 11/05/19, 1:15PM EST


The core of learning is a mutual respect between both

Photo Credit: Heather Pollock Photography

A minor hockey coach spends almost as much with the players as their parents do. They hold the keys for unlocking their skill development and teaching them important life lessons. The core of the player-coach relationship is a mutual respect between both, knowing that each has the best of intentions in mind.

Speaking at the Coaches Site Conference, NHL veteran and current TSN Hockey Analyst Ray Ferraro explained the importance of the relationship within the team and how it can make an impact in player performance.

Ferraro, a hockey parent himself, says that a coach can not only make them a better, more complete player and but better, more complete person as well.

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“Players have to know that there’s a road that you believe can help make them a better player. It involves communication, which is so critical. It involves encouraging a team view that the players know they can make mistakes and they’re not going to get shredded for it,” said Ferraro. “They can make a mistake and that’s okay. Nobody wants to be yelled at. Nobody wants to be scolded in front of their team. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. Once a player is embarrassed, they start to check out and then you have a real problem.”

What it comes down to, according to Ferraro, is for the coach to treat the players how they would want to be treated by their own superiors. The players are doing the best that they can – it’s up to the coach to find out how to connect to each player and let them know you have their back,

“Winning cannot be the only goal. It can’t be. That means every time you lose, you’re a failure… If winning is the only goal then development of the player gets left behind because some kids don’t play, some kids don’t get coached… So at the end of the year, it’s hard to say the season’s a success even if you’ve had a lot of wins if a lot of your players haven’t developed, if they’re not better players in April than they were in September.”

Coaches should work with players to identify and help to fix mistakes. There’s a difference between constructive criticism and embarrassing or focusing on the negative. By building a culture of confidence and support, players will then have more confidence to attempt something new. If they know the coach isn’t waiting to yell at them if they make a mistake they will feel less pressure.

“If a player is playing with the coach on his shoulder, that player can never be successful. If he’s listening to the coach while he plays, how can he react, how can he think he knows the answer because he’s got to hear the coach’s voice in his ear. What he hears is the negative. A coach often says ‘that guy can’t score, that guy can’t shoot, and that guy’s not physical enough.’ It’s always a focus on what he can’t do. How about find out what he can do and put him in the position to succeed so both of you get benefit from it.”

Ferraro recommends meeting each month for five minutes with each player and their parents. Tell the player what you like about them and what they can improve on and then give them the tools to work on those skills. Feedback is a great tool and gives players a road map of how they can improve.

Dan pollard element view


Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

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