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Establishing a Style of Play Through Practice

By Dan Pollard, 10/16/18, 2:30PM EDT


How to implement your coaching philosophy

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

A common topic amongst professional coaches is their team's ‘style of play’. Having a clear style of play from the beginning is an important foundation to have as a coach at the minor hockey level as it allows you to build practices that help achieve your ‘vision’ of how you want the game to be played.

No matter your style of play, you should have an idea of how you want to play. At the minor hockey level, a lot of the time a more ‘ad hoc’ approach it taken. This allows you to build your practices towards your team’s philosophy and culture, two buzzwords used often in hockey circles. It’s important to differentiate between the two.

Brendan Taylor, Assistant Coach of the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads says that both are necessary for a team and finding how to work the two together is important.

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“I think culture is who we are, how we act on and off the ice, what our work habits are, how we treat each other, what kind of teammates we are, how the players and staff interact, I think that’s how culture is – who we are and how we act,” said Taylor. “The difference would be philosophy or playing style is the belief in how we should play, how we’re trying to play. How you work on that, in my opinion, is you build it into every single practice. Everything you do comes into how we play. We don’t do a certain drill because that’s not how we play.”

Taylor, a fan of Bill Belichick, tries to look outside of hockey when learning from different coaches on how they implement a culture and philosophy. He suggests that minor hockey coaches don’t try to copy what’s being done at the NHL or OHL level but instead focus on systematically adapting as players grow older and the changes that come with it.

“I think as minor hockey coaches, everything should be based on how can we best develop our players within our system of play. I think the easiest way to do that, I think it starts with getting out of your defensive zone quick but you want to do with possession… You see eight or ten year old teams trying to play the way the Leafs do. They should have as many touches, you want them to have a couple of 10, 15 foot passes. Everybody touches it, everybody’s coming up together. It should be encouraged to be that way. We want our young kids with as many touches and the puck on their stick as much as possible.”

However coaches decide to play there needs to be a committed effort from all of the bench staff. Players will get on board if they know you believe in something. If coaches expect something to happen in a game they will need to have practiced it first.

“Regardless of age, we don’t ask anything of our players that we haven’t practiced… It would be ridiculous handing a kid a calculus test, they would say ‘I’ve never been taught this’. That would never happen in the education system, why would it happen in the sports world.”

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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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