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The Coach of the Month for January Is...

By The Coaches Site, 01/18/24, 11:30AM EST


Coach of the Month presented by The Coaches Site

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, Mark Orlecki or the Peterborough U14 A team was selected as the Coach of the Month for January.

Know someone who should be Coach of the Month? Click here to nominate them.

Here's his story as told by his nomination:

Mark has truly made a significant impact on my son's development both on and off the ice. He consistently goes above and beyond, showcasing not only his expertise in hockey but also his genuine concern for the well-being of the young athletes. He takes the time to understand each player's unique abilities and tailors his coaching approach accordingly, instilling confidence and a sense of belonging in my son, despite the challenges of his vision impairment.

In a world where some coaches might overlook the potential in a visually impaired player, Mark stands out as a beacon of inclusivity and empowerment. He has created an environment where my son feels supported and encouraged to showcase his skills and pursue his dreams within the realm of competitive hockey. Mark's dedication to mentoring him and nurturing his love for the sport is truly commendable.

Moreover, Mark's coaching style is a perfect blend of kindness and determination. He knows when to offer gentle guidance and when to challenge the kids to push their limits. This approach not only improves their performance on the ice but also helps shape their character and instills essential life skills.

Mark's impact goes beyond the rink, resonating with not just my son, but with all the families and players fortunate enough to be under his guidance. He embodies the essence of what a coach should be—inspirational, caring, and committed to helping young athletes reach their fullest potential.

Coach Mark grew up playing minor hockey in the Toronto area while also playing competitive baseball. He credits his coaches like Bruce Sturley, who pushed him to be better on and off the ice and is still a coach he talks about almost 15 years later. Sturley's coaching (both hockey and life) has influenced the way Mark coaches and communicates with athletes. Coaches like Sturley are the reason that Mark wanted to coach.

Mark began coaching with his son's team and learned a lot from when the team had its struggles. He found ways to keep the player development at the forefront while also finding ways to motivate them when results were tough on the scoreboard. He learned from them to enjoy the little things in the game, celebrate small victories and challenge yourself daily.

How do you create an inclusive and welcoming environment for your players?

First and foremost, admitting vulnerability is huge. As someone who struggled with anxiety throughout my playing career, I try to communicate to our athletes that we are human and although hockey players are tough by nature, we are also allowed too not be "ok". Openness with the players about mental health is a huge first step and communicating that the coaching staff is there to support players on and off the ice is paramount. No matter what is going on in an athlete's life, they should be able to come to the rink to feel safe, feel cared about and compete with their hockey family.

Family is a word that I use a lot- I am a big believer in building that family culture within a team and when that culture begins to develop, it's pretty special to see the environment the kids begin to build around themselves. I have never shieded away from sharing my story and it is something I hope I can continue to do because there are so many athletes, not just in hockey, that struggle silently every day- just know there are coaches who care and will do everything in their power to help. You are not alone.  

How do you keep practices fresh at this point of the season?

I plan. As soon as tryouts end, I begin constructing the yearly plan for the team which outlines the development program we will follow as a team. Blocks (groups of 8-10 practices) carry a development theme and within those blocks are core drills. It is important to shake up the flow every once in a while,  but always find a way for the athletes to compete. Whether it's a Battle Week or mixing in Defence vs Forward competition drills, it's a balancing act of keeping them engaged and challenging them. The most important part is planning, though.

Having a yearly development plan with tangible progressions keeps the development focus but also presents the players with new and more challenging drills. There is nothing worse than showing up after the holiday break to the coach running the same 5 drills, they have for the last 4 months.

I think another way to keep things fresh is to tap into your coaching network. I am always adding to my network of coaches and asking them questions, talking shop and sometimes they can say things that completely change your outlook on things. I go outside of hockey to build this network also, pulling from lacrosse, football, rugby coaches etc. The amount of coaching knowledge out there is endless.

What are some ways you work with each player of different skill levels?

Again, it goes back to planning, by putting together a development plan you are able to track the progression of development both from the team and the individual perspective. My development skates are a perfect example of the array of skill level that can be presented to a coach. It is important coaches spend time working on their individual plans just as much- if not more, than the overall team plan.

For me communication is the foundation for everything. Bi-weekly meetings with players are a great way to ensure each player is developing and more importantly plays a role in their own development. Tracking the development with a phased approach will ensure each athlete gets the right number of reps to scale the skill to where they (and you) want to get it. One of the proudest moments we can have as a coach is seeing that skill mature throughout a season and be applied during a game, it's pretty remarkable and rewarding to see that athlete come back to the bench smiling ear to ear.


Please note that all previous submissions are still eligible for upcoming Coach of the Month awards and do not need to be resubmitted.

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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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