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What Makes a Good Coach?

By Dan Pollard, 01/16/18, 2:30PM EST


Breakaway Podcast presented by Dodge Caravan Kids

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Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

The differences between a good coach and a great one at the grassroots level may be subtle, but they can make a world of difference to players.

While knowledge of the game, ability to demonstrate drills and organizational skills are important, what actually separates the best from the rest?

Coaches who have the ability to relate to their players can help foster a mutual respect among players and the coaching staff. Anything that demonstrates that you’re trying to learn more about them can go a long way. Simple things like taking a knee when addressing younger players or, for older players, showing an interest in the music they listen to or what they are learning in school shows that coaches care not just about the hockey player but the person as well.

That’s the advice from Aaron Wilbur, President and Founder of The Coaches Site, which is a great destination for hockey coaches to share information. Since 2010, The Coaches Site has grown to include an online platform to continue reach a broader audience in the coaching community.

"I think confidence is directly related to your ability to allow somebody to make a mistake and then giving them another opportunity to correct it... I think that’s a process that instills confidence in young players."

Appearing on the Breakaway Podcast, Wilbur has plenty of tips for how coaches can healthily combine their passion for coaching with their competitive nature.

“You have to be able to remove the scoreboard from the measuring stick and how you grade yourself as a good or bad coach. I think that’s really challenging,” said Wilbur. “For most of us that are involved in youth coaching, we do it because we’re a) super passionate about the sport and we want to give back and b) we’re competitive by nature and it’s an outlet in our everyday lives to keep those competitive juices flowing.”

Answering these three questions is important in evaluating yourself as a coach:

  • Are my players getting better?
  • Do I sense they are having fun?
  • Have I created an atmosphere where players want to come and improve?

This starts with the coach emphasizing to players that this is the group we are working with for the season. There are no trades. Setting individual goals for players and telling them how they’ve been improving throughout the season is important in building a player’s confidence.

Take five minutes and go through the roster and identify one skillset or one area that you want to provide positive feedback to or give some instruction to each player. This is a responsibility that can be split amongst the coaching staff. Ensure one-on-one, constructive feedback with players. Constant feedback over the course of a year can make a big difference.

It’s easy to point out mistakes on the ice. How a coach goes about helping a player identify, correct and improve upon what happened so they can be prepared for the next occurrence on the ice is part of the feedback process.

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

“I think confidence is directly related to your ability to allow somebody to make a mistake and then giving them another opportunity to correct it. Anybody can tell a player when he comes to the bench what the mistake was. He already know what it is. He was there, he made it, he knows. I think that the way you approach providing feedback on how they can correct it and then allow them to go and correct it right away, I think that’s a process that instills confidence in young players.”

Communicating with parents throughout the year on an ongoing basis about the seasonal plan, what the team will be working on and how the coaches are measuring improvement shows that you care about the skill development of your players.

Coaches are also responsible for building the life skills of their players. Building it into the foundation of your program makes it become a norm. The following qualities are just some behaviours for coaches to take note of:

  • Being on time.
  • How well do players listen?
  • How do they conduct themselves in the locker room?
  • How do they treat each other and those around them?
  • How do they communicate with the coach?

“I think all those everyday things that we sometimes take for granted, especially when we’re dealing with young people, we forget that as coach we need to constantly reinforce that positive behavior. I believe that one of the areas that we really take for granted as coaches and hockey administrators is the development of leadership.”

Leadership has to be developed like any other hockey skill. Giving players options and then the freedom to make a decision can help build this. Letting players choose the game at the end of practice or where to eat post-game meal shows players that you care about their input and value their opinions.

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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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