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What It Takes to Lead Today’s Players

By Dan Pollard, 03/10/20, 4:15PM EDT


Building trust is one of the coach's responsibilities

Photo Credit: Justin Fisher Photography

Over his near 25 years as an NHL head coach, Ken Hitchcock has seen firsthand how every generation of players brings a new set of challenges to a staff. What players want from coaches, how they respond and how best to connect with them has all changed since his first time behind the bench.

Speaking at last year's Coaches Site Conference, Hitchcock explains that today’s players need to know coaches care about five things: trust, commitment, creativity, character and compete level.

Knowing that their voice is heard and counted on can go a long way in building trust.

“Allowing the players to make the decision at times, even in minor hockey, of ‘what do we want to do today’, is important for this generation,” said Hitchcock. “Even the little thing of ‘what game do we want to play today’ allows them to feel like they trust you. Everything is based on that circle of trust.”

For players it’s about knowing that coaches care more about just the game. The end result shouldn’t always matter, it’s what else players can learn or grow from during the hockey season.

“This generation, in order to get more from them, we need to make the cause more important. In other words, they need to feel like they’re playing for more than just the win and the loss. They want to see more. Whether it’s for a sick parent or they’re playing for some type of cause, if you can create a cause to play for with this generation, you’re going to get more out of your group than you’ve ever got. They want to see big picture things be a part of it.”

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Being able to build one on one connections with each player on the team is one of the things that makes a great coach. Knowing how each player learns new skills and takes feedback is part of a coach’s responsibility.

“When you sit down and analyze each player, you have to come up with a specific motivational mechanism for that player. Customize to what his needs are. Don’t use the same script for everybody, it doesn’t work. Understand who needs to the soft sell, who needs the hard sell, who needs the feedback sell.”


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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