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The Final Coach of the Month for the Season Is...

By The Coaches Site, 03/25/23, 12:00PM EDT


Coach of the Month presented by The Coaches Site

We are excited to reveal the final Coach of the Month for this season! Coaches are an invaluable part of the minor hockey experience and help share a love of the game with thousands of players across the province.

This season marks the sixth year of the OMHA Coach of the Month presented by The Coaches Site. We asked for nominations of deserving coaches and after much deliberation, James Coatham of the Orono U9 Team 3 and U7 Team 8 teams was selected as the Coach of the Month for February.

Here's his story as told by his nomination:

James has gone above and beyond coaching duties again this year. He Head Coaches two teams the U7 and U9 out of Orono. He is always prepared with two different practice plans and game strategies a week, and is on the ice with the kids at least four days a week, sometimes six depending on ice time. As a coach he exemplifies what a good coach is: caring, positive, enthusiastic. He puts learning and development first and foremost with the kids and above all continually emphasizes "the number one rule of hockey? Have FUN".

But, just being a great coach on the ice for two teams isn't what makes him a stand out for coach of the month. His off ice contributions this year were well above and beyond. There are weekly email reminders to parents on ice-times and open communication on strategy and importance of development. He coordinated name-bars for all the players on both teams.

The U7 team had the opportunity to skate during the Oshawa Generals Game intermission, all because of James' initiative and coordination. The U9 team was able to attend the Oshawa Generals game at a reduced rate because of James too. Just last week the U9 team participated in a tournament in Cobourg, giving these young players their first exposure to tournaments and what a fantastic experience for them.

If that isn't enough James has been writing content all season for the Orono Amateur Athletic Association. Most recently, he's instilled a sense of responsibility with the U9s by inviting them to come and help coach the U7s during practice.

Coach James started his love of hockey as a kid playing ball hockey in the driveway in Orono. He never got to play organized hockey, but always wished he could. Hockey was a passion, from recording players in-game numbers as a kid, to playing hockey with his uncle in the driveway.

He started as a trainer with his first born, then progressed to coaching. His first year of coaching sealed the deal and he loved seeing the kids growth on ice and love of the game. When his oldest's skill put him towards the Representative end of hockey and above his skill level, James shifted towards coaching his other two children when they entered into U7. Fast forward to today and he still finds himself coaching both of their teams (U7 and U9) in the local league with Orono. 

What goes into your practice planning?

My practice planning begins in the summer, oddly enough. Since I have never played hockey myself, I needed to find resources where I could learn. There are a multitude of online options you can use to find drills from Hockey Canada's links, Youtube, to Instagram. Planning a practice for either the U7 or U9 teams requires that you invest some time and thought. I will spend the summer/beginning of the season mapping out a google drive with a load of drills I want to do through the year. From the beginning of the season I take part in the evaluations in whatever way possible, and once my team is sent to me I will run my own self evaluation. Identifying the players who need more skating help to those that are top tier who will need to be pushed so they don’t get bored. Incorporating drills that can do both is important. With the varying skill levels you also need to remember to have a back up plan, not every drill will work and you may need to audible into another. Always remember to follow the #1 rule of all my hockey teams “Have Fun”.

How do you create practice plans for U9 and U7 players that combine fun and development?

I started coaching at the beginning of the Half Ice program's inception. I dove head first into the program myself, I had seen from the previous year as a trainer that on full ice some kids don't touch the puck and I saw some quit because of it. Improving on the level of fun to make sure that I never lost a single kid from the hockey program was a goal of mine. When I make a practice plan I take full advantage of all available ice, using as many helpers as I can; be they older players or parents. With 3 drills going I can have anywhere from 3 - 6 kids doing something at once, meaning very little down time where the kids are sitting waiting. As an example one of the practices had: Cat and Mouse with a net in one circle, transition circle on the other circle while at center ice kids work on skating pulling coaches. Challenging them to pull bigger kids in horses and buggies or just simply being silly and having a fun tug of war. Using bigger kids allows the younger ones to be excited to participate and emulate them. 

Practice planning with the older kids in U9 can be more difficult incorporating fun as they become more engaged in the games and the process of wins and losses. But similarly to the U7s I will make sure to have 2-3 drills going. Older kids take happiness from acquiring skills and getting better and visually seeing their own improvements. Drills need to be unique and progress the kids through a series of skills. An example of a U9 set of drills: Goaltender training happening between icing line and boards working on his skating. 4-5 players Per group at three stations. Puck carry and pass around one circle, the other half of the zone has a mirror drill where players will work to copy movements of players skating towards them, lastly in the neutral zone has a race around nets 1v1. The kids stay engaged the whole time and work many different skills. 

Why is it important to create a love of the game in the game’s youngest players?

The love of the game for young kids is one of the most important things to me. I never wanted to lose any kids out of the program due to not having fun. I wanted them to enjoy hockey for what it is, a game. Hockey should never feel like work at this age, the kids are there to have fun. They spend their entire days at school learning and exhausting their brain power and patience; They just need to have a place to unwind and enjoy. During this season we had the opportunity to join our two teams for some fun practices where my U9 team came in to work with the U7s. Each kid on that U9 team was full of joy as they helped kids, and every little kid was full of smiles as they worked and played on ice. I know every single kid will end this season with memories which will increase their chances of returning to hockey next year.

You helped coordinate the team to play at a Generals intermission. Why did you feel that was important and how did they react?

Another opportunity the U7 kids had was to go on ice and play an intermission game at the Oshawa Generals OHL game. Intermission games are something I try to do with every team I coach, it’s about the memory the kids will always have. 99% of kids will never make the NHL/OHL or play anything other than house league. But to these U7 kids playing that intermission game it's as though they are playing an Olympic or NHL game when they are out there. When they walk into the dressing room and see their names on placards in the dressing room the smiles start. You can see their eyes go wide with awe as they step onto the ice, thousands of fans cheering them on. They came off that ice smiling ear to ear, and once they were in the dressing room they couldn't stop talking about it. It was something so simple for us as parents/coaches to do for them, and I was so happy I could organize it for them. If anyone out there is contemplating coaching or helping their child's coach I can't recommend it enough, just remember it's about them and let the fun happen! 

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The Coaches Site is comprised of individuals who have first hand experience in hockey as players, coaches, managers and parents from minor hockey, to junior hockey, international competition and all the way to the NHL. The Coaches Site offers a platform that supports coaches and a positive competitive culture at rinks around the world.

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