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Author: Barry Biegler Email: barry@resortdata.com Visits since 3/21/2010   Hit Counter

Barry's Philosophy of Youth Hockey

Please also see our home page, www.vailhockey.com     Also link to Edmonton article

Youth hockey should be a wonderful experience for all the players, every year.  It saddens me that many coaches have squeezed all the fun out of the sport, and I have dedicated this website to helping parents, coaches, and players bring back the joy of hockey.  

Hockey at all ages should be about having a great time, making friends that last a lifetime, and fulfilling the competitive fire that lies within us all.  Winning or losing is not critical.  Trying our best in an attempt to win, within the context of a team full of friends, should always be the goal.  The great road trips, filled with laser tag, roller coasters, swimming pools, and exploring new towns are all part of the experience.  If you stick with hockey throughout your life you will continue to meet great people wherever you go.  The faces change but the fun can remain for a lifetime. Always remember the good people you meet and forget the others. 

Many people believe that philosophy is an ancient art, relegated to the likes of Aristotle, with no value to modern life. Nothing could be farther than the truth. The fundamental beliefs and ideals of an individual have a profound effect on every decision made.  I have been coaching and playing hockey for over 40 years and have run into a wide variety of teammates, coaches, players, fans, referees, parents, etc. This article is a collection of some of the philosophies and lessons learned.  Hopefully one or more of the ideas within will help someone.   As with all philosophies, things need to be re-thought, challenged, and expanded on. Send Email comments to Barry Biegler, at barry@resortdata.com.   Many of these ideas came from somebody else originally. I'd love to add to my collection.

Index of Topics

Remember the good people and forget the bad 

Coaching and playing hockey has exposed me to a tremendous variety of people. Some have become lifelong friends, and others are angry, despicable individuals, with the rest in between. To stay involved in hockey for a long time it is critically important to remember the good people, and forget the bad.

I made a mistake 25 years ago by letting a parent drive me out of coaching with his constant harassment, badgering, bad language, screaming at kids, and general foul disposition. I was young at the time and because of this person I quit coaching for 8 years. There were 30 great parents on that team, but this one person was so bad I quit after the season. These ridiculous individuals are the ones who need to leave, not the good ones. This will never happen again to me, and don't let it happen to you.

I try to get along with everyone I meet as a coach, and explain my philosophy, and be reasonable.  I treat everyone with respect and expect the same respect in return.  However, if somebody insists on being a jerk, and my efforts to change them have failed, I will confront them head on.  I try not to punish the player for the sins of the parent, however, if the parent  continues harassing people I will ban the parent from the rink.  If this forces them to remove their player from the team, so be it.  The only other choice is to allow the jerk to become a cancer on the team and ruin a season.  

The good people in hockey have to drive the bad people out, not the other way around.  This is a critical lesson for all.  The jerks need to be confronted and removed.  There are so many nice people, but the jerks are so loud they often overwhelm them. Don't let the jerks win.  

To all of you out there who do so much for so many kids, I thank you.  Don't let the few bad people you encounter drive you out.   Focus on those great kids you find, the helpful parents, the sponsors who give so willingly.  Spend more time with these wonderful kids and adults, and deal with the bad people as quickly and efficiently as possible.  But beware - it seems that more often the jerks win and drive the good people out.  The jerks can be so intense, so irritating, so evil, that it requires an enormous effort to fend them off.  Hopefully if you remember those good kids and people you can use that as fuel to overcome the problems. There is nothing more important to youth hockey than to keep the good people involved. 

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Winning isn't the only goal

Almost every article about coaching talks about "winning shouldn't be the only goal". But what does that mean? It has been my experience that far too many coaches talk about "having fun", but they run their teams in such a way that almost all the life and fun has been squeezed out. This article is filled with various ideas on how to make sure that winning hasn't taken over your program.  Understanding and explaining where winning and losing fits in life and hockey is one of the most important parts of coaching, and indeed dominates the entire team.   A coach has to make it clear where winning fits in his philosophy at the opening team meeting.  My philosophy of winning can be summarized by a pep-talk I gave a team of Squirts before a championship game:

Barry: This is the championship game and if we win I am going to take the entire team to Laser Quest
Player: Coach, what is going to happen if we lose?
Barry: If we lose I'm going to take the entire team to Laser Quest
Player: With a puzzled look, "but, coach, that's the same thing.
Barry: Right.  And when you understand that you will understand where winning fits.
Player: About 8 years later, one of the players from that Squirt team came up to me and said, "I get it, I know what you were trying to tell me about winning all those years ago - you were telling me to try as hard as I possible can, but win, lose, or draw, make sure to leave it at the rink and go have a great time in life".   

However, it is important to understand that not all coaches agree with the philosophy above.  In fact, most do not.  In upper levels of hockey, if you lose, you have to “act like your mom died”.   IE, can’t talk, head down, etc.  No crying, but act miserable.   If  you act normal, these coaches think you are a “loser”.  They have the philosophy, “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”.   Which I believe is 100% wrong.  At the other extreme, it is not as if winning or losing doesn't matter at all - after all, we are competing.  What I’ve evolved, and I tell the kids:

  1. We are going to try as hard as possible to win the game.   All the kids are going to play equally until the last 2-3 minutes, and if it is a close game then “the best play, and any of you can be the best by the end of the year”.   If it is a blowout, one way or the other, then at the end the weaker kids play.   So time evens out.  The kids want it this way (the parents may not).  The kids know who is better than who, and if you are down 3-2 with a minute to play, they ALL want the good kids out there.   But only at the end, not the whole game.
     
  2. After a game, win or lose, we are going out someplace as a team.  Maybe dinner, or laser quest, or an amusement park.  These events are separate from the score and mandatory.   Kids always love these events – it is what helps make it memorable. 
     
  3. When we lose a tough one, I tell the kids in the locker room, “look, that was a tough one, and we all feel bad about it.  The best you can all do is sit there and “feel bad”.  Don’t tell yourself, “we played hard”, or “we will get them next time”, or “the refs screwed up”.  DON’T TRY TO CHEER THEM UP OR MAKE IT EASIER – that does not work and will only make it worse.  The key is to tell them, just “feel bad, its ok”.  That is the fastest way to “get through” the “feel bad part”.   And, we are going to laser quest in 30 minutes, and when we get there we are going to focus on the event.
     
  4. I tell them that while they are with ME as their coach, they don’t have to “act sad” to “prove” to me they are “winners”.  It is perfectly normal to feel bad for awhile after a lose, and then go have a great time at the next event in your life.  Not only is this “Ok”, it is PREFERRED.   It is very important to make it clear that you can be a “winner” and still lose a game and have a good time after.  They don't have to impress you by acting miserable. 
     
  5. As the kids get older, I tell them about all the idiots in upper hockey who actually believe, “if you are happy after a win, you are a loser, and I will cut you”.  And these idiots mean, ‘unhappy for at least 24 hours’.    And the “more unhappy the better."  No crying  allowed,  but kicking garbage cans, pouting, not talking etc.   I tell my kids they have to learn to act this way, or they can’t play upper level hockey.  So, at about 12-14 years (before they go to AAA or Juniors or College), we actually practice, “acting like your mother died”.  I have a kid sit in the locker room, I come in and yell at him, tell him he sucks, kick a garbage can, scream some more.   The kid is supposed to look at the floor and say, “yes, you are right coach”.   At first, they all just laugh.  They can’t believe this actually exists.  So, it takes about 10 training sessions before they can stop laughing at my screaming and yelling and garbage can throwing.  But, finally, they learn to act sad.  Now, the minute the coach is out of sight, they go back to normal.  

I’ve sent several kids on to the pro level, and all of them came back to me and said this lesson was the most valuable they learned.   One kid told me that after his first Junior game, the coach actually came in, yelled at him, and threw the trash can at the door.  He said without the training he would have started laughing (and would have got cut).   After a loss, any loss, he learned to act sad in the locker room, on the bus, and in the team meal.  Only when the coaches left and the players were alone did her revert to his “natural” way of being a happy person.

Should the Good Players get more ice time?

The allocation of ice time is directly related to how important winning is.  On all teams some kids are better than others.  If you play the good kids more, the probability of winning is increased.  It is critical to outline your view of ice time/winning at the opening meeting, and then stick too it.  I see coaches all the time who tell kids "winning isn't that important", but then certain kids hardly play at all in "big games".  This is hypocritical, and the kids know it.

I believe that "playing to win" should have a different emphasis on teams depending on the game and the age of the kids.  Something like the following:

Ice Time Philosophy

Description
Ice Time Equal

Winning De-emphasized

One team philosophy is the "play equal time", even if this means we don't win.  This is usually appropriate for little kids.  When I coach mini-mites we never keep score in games.   And all the kids play equally.

The "equal ice time" philosophy may also be appropriate for older kids, perhaps a "B" team.  However, if you elect this philosophy for older kids, be prepared.  It is very tough to execute.  For example, assume you have a Bantam team that is "play equal".  You will probably find when you get into a tournament, and it is the championship game, there will be an enormous temptation to play the good kids more, particularly at the end of the game.  In fact, the weaker kids will probably want the stronger ones to play in a critical time of a championship game.

I've noticed that some coaches tell kids that winning isn't that important...but then they play all the good kids more.  Be consistent - if you tell the kids that you are an "equal ice time" coach, then be "equal" - even if this means you lose.

I would not suggest the "equal ice time" philosophy for older kids - the kids really don't like it.  They want to win.

Ice time based only on talent

Play 100% to Win

One end of the "ice time" continuum is "play equal even if you lose".  The other end is to base ice time 100% on winning.  In a close game certain kids do not play at all.   Other kids play a little early in the game, and not at all in the third period.

This philosophy is appropriate for high school,  Division I college, or the NHL. It also may have a place in some games in youth hockey, depending on your philosophy.   But it has no place in youth hockey as a steady diet.   I believe in the "mixed approach" below.  

Mixed approach

Play to Win Games AND Developmental Games

 

I believe most older youth hockey teams should use a mixed approach to ice time/winning. Teams always have a mix of talent, and the coach should be concerned with winning, but also developing all the kids, and making sure they all have a great time.  I accomplish this goal by having a different philosophy for ice time/winning for different games, as follows:

Play to Win Games:

We have some games that are "play to win".  In these game the ice time is allocated based on winning.  The weaker kids do not play as much, unless we get ahead or behind a great deal.  If the game is close the "Best 5" will always play at the end.  I make it clear that any kid is eligible to be one of the "Best 5" who play at the end of the game.  The "best 5" are often different from game to game, or from the beginning of the year to the end.  

I expect all the players to have a good attitude during the game, even if they are not playing as much.  I make sure the kids who aren't playing as much understand that they have the opportunity to play more if they improve, and that there will be other games when they will play a great deal (see below).

Development games

I make sure to schedule many "development games" during the year.  These are extra games that are not league games.  During these games everybody plays.  In fact, some of the weaker players will play much more than the best players.  I look at these games as "making up" for the ice time lost by some players who didn't get to play much in "play to win" games.

Winning just isn't that important in these games.  All the kids are TRYING to win, but the ice time is not allocated based on winning.  Some tournament games are "developmental games".  For example, if we lost the first two games of a tournament and have no chance to get into the finals, the last 2 games would be "developmental".  We would still try to win, but the weaker players would get much more ice time.   

I make it very clear to the good players that I expect them to have a good attitude about "developmental games".  They have to understand they won't get as much ice time, and may not play in critical times as they usually do.  But they have an important role to encourage their teammates to play well.   Just as those same teammates have to encourage the "star" players during critical games.  It goes both ways.

Winning & Ice Time Summary

It is important to make it very clear what your ice time philosophy is before players commit to your team.  If you are always going to allocate ice time "to win", then tell the kids.  Give the weaker kids the chance to go play for somebody else.  If you tell them you are going to "play equally", then do it, even in a big game.

If you are going to try the mixed approach, which I suggest, then make sure you get enough extra games so the weaker kids can get "make up" ice time.  During the course of a year my kids all get about the same number of total minutes on the ice.  They may get 30 minutes in one game and 10 in another...but I'll make sure they all get about the same total over the course of the season.  I tell everybody this before the season starts, in a written hand out.  This way there are no surprises. 

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How do you pick and Evaluate a Coach?

How should an association select coaches?  How do you evaluate yourself as a coach?  Did you have a good year or a bad year?   Should you keep coaching?  Are you a good coach?

There are lots of different ways to evaluate a hockey coach.   In fact, choosing how to evaluate a coach goes a long way towards determining the type of program you will have.  For example, if a coach is evaluated mostly on win/loss percentage, you may end up creating coaches who know how to win games, but destroy kids in the process.   If you evaluate a coach based on how "organized, neat, and polite" his kids are, you may end up with little robots wearing ties who quit the sport.  How about looking at practices, and picking the coach who knows the most drills?    That may be great if we want Marine drill sergeants, but how about helping develop the love of hockey? 

Most hockey programs I've been associated with over the last 30 years tend to pick their coaches based on who was the best hockey player, or who plays hockey at all.  We have had people come to town who used to play in the NHL.  If they volunteer to coach they are always picked, without looking at any other criteria.  However, many of these people tend to be terrible coaches.  We had one ex-NHL player who screamed at the kids all the time and ended up suspended for hitting a player.  

Playing hockey in the NHL is very difficult. The path through the Junior leagues is extremely rough and physical.  To get to the NHL a player has to be very tough, perhaps a good fighter, and mean.  These are not the traits we want in a youth hockey coach.   Some ex-NHL players are great people and should be coaches.  Some are terrible people and have no business coaching.  It is important to look beyond the simple fact of "hockey playing experience" when picking the coaches.   

The coach is critical to the enjoyment of hockey.  There are so many benefits to youth hockey, and lessons that can be learned, but if a kid quits he won't learn any of them.  The coach needs to treat the kids with respect, limit the yelling, help them build the love of hockey.  Winning or losing just isn't that important.  

I believe it is very important for youth hockey associations to collect feedback from the kids about their coach.  A simple form a the end of the year with 2 questions:

My primary goal and method of self-evaluation is, "If all the kids on my team play hockey the next year, and love the game, I had a great year". 

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Make trips fun and Memorable

As the coach, make the road trips fun and memorable as the first priority. If you happen to win, it’s a bonus. For example, lets assume we are out of town in a new city for a tournament. If we have a morning game and an afternoon game, I encourage the kids to explore the town between games, or go swimming, or have fun. This may mean they are a little more tired for the afternoon game, but so what? What's the goal here? Many coaches try to force the team to "take a nap to get ready for the next game".   Now, I don't want the kids to run a marathon between games, but there is usually a compromise between "a nap" and "a marathon" that allows the kids to have a great time, and still compete at the highest level.

I remember a trip 20 years ago when I was an assistant coach. Our Junior team (ages 17-20) went from Los Angeles to Anchorage, Alaska for a tournament. The head coach at the time was so serious about winning that the kids were not allowed to go anyplace but the hotel and the rink. No exploring, no sight seeing, nothing. We flew to the airport, took a bus to the hotel, then back and forth to the rink, and, after four days, back to the airport and home. You know, I can't remember if we won or lost the games anymore, and I bet the kids can't either. What I do remember is I never saw Alaska, I've never been back, and I'll bet that none of those kids have been back either. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we blew it.

I took our Squirt team from Colorado to Florida one year for a series of games at the end of the season. We arranged the trip so that all the games were after 6:00 pm. Each day we went someplace fun, such as Disneyland, Universal Studios, the beach, go-cart racing, etc. And each night we played one or two games. Most of the kids told me it was the best hockey trip they had ever been on. I doubt they remember the names of the teams we played, or the scores. But they remember the trip. By the way, we also won all six games, so having fun doesn't mean you can't win. This is just an "order of events" issue. Make the trips fun and memorable as the first priority. If you happen to win, it’s a bonus.

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The Team Manager is a Critical Person 

Organizing a youth hockey team is a very difficult, frustrating job.  If you have a busy team, with lots of games, practices, and tournaments, the frustrations of the Team Manager are compounded.  I have often done the job of both coach and manager, and managing is about 10 times harder.  As an example, when I try to organize a tournament many of the parents would tell me they weren't sure if their player could go. Or they wouldn't call back at all.  Or they won't read their Email.   Or they will change their minds, etc.  The lessons I've learned include:

Use a Website Websites are great for posting schedules, etc.  The key is to make the website the ONLY PLACE where you post schedules, and put a "last date changed" prominently on the schedule.  If a parent or player needs current information they can go to the website and print it.  
Require Email  I used to try to call all the parents when we had to change a practice, add a game, schedule a tournament.  But calling is very time consuming, requires call backs, etc.  I now use Email. It is so simple to send out an Email to the entire team.  I make sure to get Email addresses for both parents AND the player.  Kids love to get hockey Emails!  

Some parents tell me "I don't have Email so can you please call me personally".  The answer is "no".  Anybody can get a free Email account at www.yahoo.com, or www.hotmail.com, or other sites.  Computers are available at school, in libraries, etc.  If the parents don't want to use email, get an email address for the kids.  

Parents Don't have to Attend all Events In today's world parents often think they have to attend every single game their child plays.  I think its important to let the parents and kids know that it is ok to miss a few events, particularly if the team travels a great deal.  Perhaps one weekend you take three kids, and the next weekend your kid goes with another parent.  

If parents are left to believe they have to attend everything, they will sometimes pull their kid out of hockey, because it is too much of a burden.  I want all the kids to play hockey their entire life - its important to make it easy for the parents to keep them in the sport.

Push through the frustration Whenever I manage the team I coach I feel like quitting at least 10 times during the season.  It is just so frustrating dealing with some of the parents.  I have to remind myself that I'm doing this for the kids, that tournaments are a great experience, and if I don't do it personally it just doesn't happen.  But managing wears me out.   I love coaching.  I hate managing.   A good manager is worth 100 times their weight in gold to the coach!  So, you managers out there - when you feel the frustration, just remind yourself of all the good you are doing for so many people!
Make it Fun

In our Association some teams have a great time and others do not.  Often it is the manager that makes the difference.  Make fun things happen for the kids - arrange for pizza parties after games, or laser quest, or bowling.  The game is only part of the overall hockey experience!

 

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Small teams so everyone plays a lot

Here is a statement to think about:

"When kids play a lot they are happier than when they sit on the bench much of the game"

Now, this would appear to me to be a self evident truth.  I don't think I've ever seen a kid sit on the bench for an entire game, or most of the game, and really be "happy" about the game, no matter if the team won or lost.  Yet, coaches constantly seem amazed that the kid who never played isn't "happy the team won".  The reality is, kids on a hockey team want to play a lot in the game, and if they don't they aren't happy and quit.  If you want all the kids to play hockey next year, then they all have to play a lot.  If you don't care if they quit, put them on the bench.

I was once at a tournament for our Squirt Division, and one of the teams showed up with 20 kids on the team.  During the course of the tournament, only about 10 kids played a regular shift.  Some of the kids didn't even get into the "big" games at all.  But even if all the kids had played equally, there just isn't enough ice time to go around for 20 kids when you are talking about 12 minute running time periods.   I'll bet anybody that some of the 20 kids from that team don't play next year, and I'm giving 10 to 1 odds.

It seems to me that some programs look at the NHL and think, "well, they have 20 on a team, so that must be right".  Well, its right for the NHL, but not for kids.  My philosophy is to always try to have a small team in numbers so that everyone plays.  For the Mite and Squirt divisions, with the short periods, I believe 10 and a goalie is perfect.  Two full lines, everybody plays half the game.  The last 2-3 minutes of a close game the best five skate.  If someone is sick or injured, we play 9, and everybody plays more and is even happier.  Kids would rather play with 8 or 9 skaters, and play a ton, than have 20 on a team and rarely see the ice.  If you don't believe me, just ask them. In the older divisions, with the longer periods and checking, 15 is a good number (9 forwards, 4 defense, 2 goalies).   However I've coached Peewees and Bantams with 10 and won AA tournaments.  I'd much rather have two teams of 10 than one of 20.

Our Vail Squirt program only had 20 kids try out one year.  We made two teams of 10 players each.  We practice with all 20 on the ice to share the expense.   There are plenty of tournaments to go to for ice time for games.  All the kids play a ton, and they love it. Sure the kids get tired sometimes.  But they are tired and happy.

Nobody likes to sit on the bench, and you don't improve watching the other kids play.   If at all possible, structure your program with more teams with fewer players per team.  You can still practice together to save money, and find tournaments for game ice.  Or play each other at practice.  

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Scrimmage as much as possible

Kid hockey is supposed to be fun. Do you think it is more fun to scrimmage, or skate the circles and do wind sprints all practice? When I was young I never played organized hockey, it was just a bunch of kids playing the game on a pond. We played for hours and hours and I loved it. I never did a drill in my life until I was on an organized team as a senior in High School. Yet, I was still able to play four years of college hockey.

Wayne Gretzky played hockey for hours in his back yard. The key word here is "played". He didn't "skate the circles" - he played, and played, and played.  Kids develop great moves when they can play and experiment. Wayne believes that North American hockey players are becoming "robots" because they always play organized hockey, with a coach yelling at them if they try any fancy moves.  And I agree.

I'm not suggesting that every practice become a scrimmage, or that we eliminate all drills.  Over the course of a season I probably spend 50% of the practice time in drills, and 50% in scrimmages.   60-40 one way or the other is fine too.   But I've seen coaches that are 99% drills, and seem to take pride in "never scrimmaging".  Yet these same coaches say, "hockey should be fun".  A great part of the fun is playing, not just skating the circles backwards, without a puck.  

Playing a lot is particularly important for young kids so they develop a love of the game early. However, the prevailing philosophy I run into seems to be "don't let the little kids play until they learn all the skills".  This is absolutely wrong.  They learn the skills by playing, or at least Wayne Gretzky did, and he was a pretty good. 

I frequently arrange extra ice time for the kids.  These extra sessions are always pure scrimmage.  I believe if a kid is going to show up for extra ice, he should be rewarded by playing.  And these scrimmages are "free form".  The kids are encouraged to try moves, play a different position.  I play with the kids, not coach them.  Parents come out and play.  It is really "pond hockey" on an indoor rink.  We have a wonderful time.  And, all the kids show up.  In fact, kids from other teams show up!  The kids always ask me, "Coach, when can we get some more ice and do this again".  

When I coach little kids (Mini-mites, mites), we would scrimmage without rules.  No offside, or icing.  Just let them play.  They love playing.  I worry about teaching the rules during regular practices.

Hockey should be fun, and it is fun, if you let the kids play.  We have over-organized kids to death.

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Play Lots of Games at a Mix of Competition Levels 

How many games is correct?  This is an interesting philosophical question that you will find much argument about.  While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I'd like to present some empirical evidence.  I've coached for over 30 years and my teams have always played a lot of games - about 60.  And I have never had a kid complain.  In fact, they love it.  The more the better.  The only people who complain are some adults, who tell me "your teams play too many games".   I think this is interesting - the kids love the games and never complain.  Adults complain about too many games. Now lets think about this - whose opinion do you think matters more? 

It is very important to play a mix of different competition levels.  For example, my Bantam "A" team may play 10 games at the "B" level, 30 at the "A" level, and 20 at the "AA" level.  Kids tend to play at the level of their competition.  When we play very strong teams we tend to play better.  We may lose, but we learn a great deal.  However a steady diet of "AA" for an "A" team will get discouraging, so we mix it up.  

When playing at the lower levels (an "A" team playing "B"), the kids tend to try some fancy moves. Also, the weaker kids on the team can gain a great deal of confidence, and more playing time, in these games.  

Since we play teams at vastly different talent levels, we may win some games 10-0 and lose others 10-0.  Losing a game 10-0 provides an opportunity to teach different lessons that when winning 10-0.  However, the mix of both is great.  A steady diet of winning all the games or losing all the games tends to make kids think they are either "really good" or "really bad".  A mix teaches a more important lesson - that the final score doesn't always indicate how you played.

I have also discovered that losing a few games 10-0 has helped make the kids treat the other team better when we win 10-0.  The kids have been on both sides.

There is a huge educational issue here for your parents.  Almost all parents think the kids "played well and looked good" when we win 7-0, and they all think the kids "played bad and didn't hustle" when we lose 7-0.  However, if we beat a bad "B" team 7-0 and lost to a great "AA" team 3-2, we may have actually played much better in the loss. 

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Control the Parents

Many parents don't know how to act with their kids, or at games. When I first started coaching I was very reluctant to "get involved" with the parent-kid relationship. As time has gone on I have learned that it is essential to establish how I expect parents to act. Lets look at some examples.

Often I'll hear a parent screaming at the ref, something like "you stupid so-and-so, how could you….". After the game I'll take that parent aside, where I'm sure no one can see or hear us, and explain that our team doesn't yell at the refs, and I'd sure appreciate his co-operation, etc. This first time I will be very polite, and nice. The parents often don't realize what they are doing, and this little reminder is all that is required. However, if they keep doing it, my second talk is a little more pointed, along the lines of, "look, if you keep yelling at the ref, I'm not going to let you in the rink". And I'll get more intense from this point if needed. My kids don't yell at the ref, I don't yell at the ref, and the parents aren't going to either.

I take the same approach if parents are yelling at their own kid. I can't control the fact that this poor kid probably gets yelled at all the time at home, but when they are on my team no parent is going to yell at any of my players if I'm around. I'll confront the parent (in private if possible), and tell them how I feel. If they scream at their kid after that point, I get between the parent and the kid and tell the parent to leave. I've had some angry parents who think this is none of my business, but I believe it is 100% the coaches business. If you want to scream and humiliate your kid at home, I can't stop you. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let a parent embarrass his child  in front of all his teammates.

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Kids have tremendous energy - get out of the way of it

I have found that most kids have tremendous energy and enthusiasm as a natural part of youth.  If left alone they will normally play the game very hard, with a tremendous amount of hustle. However, I have often seen coaches bring 15 kids into the locker room an hour before the game and force them to sit in absolute silence as the coach lectures about technical aspects of the upcoming game, or gives a pep talk.  By the end of the hour the kids are often comatose, and they then play an uninspired game.  Many coaches just like to hear themselves pontificate, which gets in the way of the natural enthusiasm and energy of the kids.  While these coaches have good intentions to motivate the kids with long talks, the actual result is often the opposite.

While I insist on a quiet locker room for our pre-game strategy session,  I keep these sessions to 2 to 4 minutes maximum.  I try to only go over a couple of critical issues in the group setting, and then get out of the locker room and let the natural energy of the kids take over.  I may talk to a couple of kids individually about specific topics, but when I address the entire team it is very short and direct.  The kids generally can only remember and employ one or two things in a given game, so why tell them 50?  As our team improves during the year I change the one or two points as needed.

There has been an interesting development as a result of my short lectures.  After all the adults leave the locker room, the team captain and other older kids usually takes control, and the kids start talking hockey.  It tends to get a bit wild in there, but the kids almost always come out ready to play.  As a coach, all I had to do was get out of the way of the energy. 

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If you don't pass, you don't play, even if you score a lot

Hockey is a team game, and passing is critical.  When coaching younger kids, particularly Mites and Squirts, it is very difficult to get the kids to pass.  There are many reasons for this:

It is a continuing battle to get the kids to look up, find their teammates, and pass when appropriate.  However, if you fight the battle, and get your team to pass, not only do you improve each kid, but you can beat teams with much more talent.  Here is a strategy that works for me:

I have found that you can talk to kids about passing, and do drills forever, and some kids just aren't going to pass until you take away the ice time.   I learned this lesson 20 years ago.   I was only 24 and coaching Junior AAA (17-20 years old).  We were a good team, not great, but with some natural talent.  The best player was a puck hog, and I couldn't get him to pass.  There was another coach in our organization who took over the team towards the end of the year, as I was in way over my head.  This fellow was an old time hockey player, about 65, no teeth, lots of scars, etc.  I stayed on as an assistant coach.

The first game this old guy coached, the great player (the puck hog) scored a goal on his first shift. He went around several players, and had a teammate wide open at the goal mouth, weak side.  However, the player didn't pass, and made an almost impossible shot to score anyway.   When the player got back to the bench after the goal, the old coach looked him in the eye and said, "if you don't pass, you can't play for me.  Go to the locker room, take off your uniform, and go home".

The puck hog player, as well as the entire team and the young assistant coach (me) were all flabbergasted.  How could this old geezer throw the best player off the team right after scoring a goal?  The bench was dead silent, and the puck hog looked this old guy in the eye, and we could all tell the old guy meant every word.  Twas a moment I'll never forget.  The puck hog left the ice in a big huff, telling us all he quit, dressed, and left the rink.  To make a long story a little shorter, we ended up with the best passing team in the history of kid hockey, and won the national championship.   The puck hog came back to the team after missing one game, and became the consummate team player, as well as getting tons of goals and assists. After the season the old coach ended up taking the puck hog to his home town in Canada to play for a local junior team, staying in the coaches house.

I learned a lesson that year, which is, "if you don't pass, you can't play for me, no matter how many goals you score". This is one of the toughest philosophies to enforce.  We all love it when our good players skate around everybody and score. Some coaches may even think that "the end justifies the means", and since we scored, how could it be bad?  Puck hog players only go so far in hockey, and puck hog teams can't win at the highest levels.  You can talk about passing until you are blue in the face, and do every passing drill known to man, but I have always found actions speak louder than words. If you bench a kid who didn't pass but just scored, all the other kids get the message.  It usually only takes a shift or two to fix the problem.

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Build from strength not weakness, and be Positive

When I started coaching I often found myself very aware of each players weaknesses, and working on drills and other techniques to eliminate these weaknesses.  And there is certainly value in working on the weaknesses.  However, there is also great value in identifying, improving, and using each players strengths.  Nobody likes to constantly be told about, and work on, weaknesses. 

As an example, one of the teams I coached had a player who wasn't very good. He was a forward who couldn't handle the puck and wasn't particularly fast, and never scored a goal.  He would stand around the ice and not help out very much, but he loved the game, came to every practice, and wanted to be a contributing member of the team. 

What had happened to this player was so many coaches and players had yelled at him for mistakes and his weaknesses that he had learned that the best solution was to do nothing.   He had concluded that there was simply less chance to get yelled at if he stood around.  He had virtually no confidence.  On top of this, the players gave him no respect.  He was labeled "bad" by  the players and other coaches.   He now had become convinced that he was "just a bad player".   

I remember this player so well because it was the first time I thought to ask myself, "ok, you know what this kid can't do, but what does he do well?  How can he help and contribute?"  So I started watching this player in a new light, as a detective on a mission to find the hidden strength.  In the past I only knew what he couldn't do.   Now I noticed that whenever this player was in a collision he usually emerged standing, and with a smile on his face.  He liked the physical part of the game, and was good at it.  So I changed him from forward to defense and told him to "keep the crease clear".  I also told him it didn't matter to me if he ever scored a goal.  And I didn't care if he couldn't rush the puck or keep up with the other players.  On my team he was going to play a lot, and he was going to clear out the crease.

In practice we started working on his strength with checking drills, "moving out of the crease" drills, etc.  It turned out that lots of the other kids weren't very good at these drills, while this guy thrived.  He had finally found something in hockey that he was good at, and he got better and better as we worked on it.    By the end of the year several things happened:

So, make sure you tell each player what they are good at, and emphasize the good qualities.  There is something that every player can do to help the team.  From that little spark great things can follow.

When players come back from a shift many coaches will tell them what they did wrong on that shift.  This is an easy trap to fall into as a coach because we coaches can easily see all the mistakes.   However, to always hear "advice" and (usually criticism) after ever shift just wears you out.  

A good rule of thumb is to "say 5 positive things to each player for each negative remark".   I think you will be amazed how hard this is to do.  Ask an assistance coach to monitor you during a game.  I did, and found that I was about 1 to 1.  Some coaches are about 10 negatives for each positive.   

After most shifts I will say nothing to the players.  I believe that you can only talk to each player 1-2 times a game or they tune you out.  When I do talk to them I  will often tell a player what he did correctly, and nothing else.  For example, a player may have put a nice check on another player, with good form, stick and elbows down, etc.  Not a huge check, just a nice clean bump.  After the shift I'll go up to the player and say, "that check was perfect, great form, stick down.  Just perfect".  I like to reinforce the positive.  It seems to work better.

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Hesitation is the enemy

Hockey is a game of movement and instant decisions.  Generally speaking, if a player has two choices, and hesitates, he will fail no matter which choice he selects.   On the other hand, if a player chooses either course of action quickly, he will often have a good result either way.  Let's look at an example of this principal.

Assume the opponent is breaking out, and the defenseman can't decide if he should rush in (holding the point), or go back and play defense.  If the defenseman hesitates too long, all is lost with either option.  The opponent will be around him and on the way to a breakaway.  Contrarily, if the defenseman immediately does either, he would probably have prevented the breakaway.  Hesitation and indecision is the enemy.  How can we teach the players to make a quick decision?  Some ideas:

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If you give up a goal, it isn't always a mistake

When you are scored on, or lose, its tempting to think that the team or coach must have done something wrong.  But this is not always true.   Lets look at a few examples

I believe the defenseman have to be a major part of the offense.  The game has changed, and it is no longer possible to think of the forwards as "offense" and the defense as "defense".  On my teams, the defense are very aggressive.  Our D-men will join the rush, hold the point, etc.  Over the course of the year we may score an extra 50 goals as a result of the philosophy of attacking with our defense. However, it may also cost us 20 goals against.  Lets do the math.  This is 50-20=+30.  

Now, suppose a D-Man holds the point and is caught in the offensive zone, and a breakaway goal against us is the result.  I understand this is going to happen 20 times this year!  I don't view this as a mistake - the player was just following team philosophy to crash in from the point.  When the D-man who gave up the breakaway gets back to the bench, I will tell him its ok.  In fact, I will tell him I want him (or her) to keep crashing in from the point, and even do it MORE, because we need to get the goal back.  This keeps the player aggressive.  It keeps the entire team aggressive.  They see the coach isn't chewing out the D-Man...he is encouraging the kid.  Its contagious...all the kids stay aggressive, and we frequently will come back and win.

Yet, many coaches will get upset with the breakaway, and view it as a "mistake".  They will chew out the D-Man, and change the philosophy to "defense first".  Well, this change just cost your team +30 for the year.  And, you just took all the aggressiveness out of that D-Man.  The breakaway, in this case, was not a mistake, it was just a normal part of an aggressive philosophy for the defensemen. 

It is tempting to assume if you lose, you must have done lots of things wrong.  This is just not the case.  As an example, about 15 years ago I was coaching Juniors and we played a tournament with great teams.  They were all just a lot better than we were.  We lost the first 2 games.  So, I changed all the lines around, changed my coaching philosophy about "being aggressive", yelled at all the kids, benched a few kids.  The result was a disaster.  We lost the next 2 games by a lot more.  The lesson here is this:  we weren't doing anything wrong in the first two games.  I had the correct lines and coaching philosophy.  We were just playing great teams.    Just because we lost did not mean we did anything wrong, or that any changes were required.  

So, don't assume just because you lost you need to wrack your brain to figure out what to change.  You may be doing everything correctly!   Conversely, just because you win doesn't mean that changes are not required.    The quality of the other team is critical to judging what changes are needed.

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Statistics can be Dangerous

In my experience statistics often cause more harm than good on most youth hockey teams, particularly with younger kids.  The most frequent statistics are usually goals, assists and total points, because they are easy to track.  Here is what tends to happen:

I don't track scoring on my teams. I will, however, create some statistics to accomplish specific goals.  For example, one year I had a team that didn't hit very often.  We were always getting pushed around in games and outhit.  So I started tracking "hits".  I would give 1 point for a bump, 2 for a big hit, etc.  I also took away 5 points for a stupid penalty. The kids all got into it and starting hitting all over the ice.  They would come back from a shift and ask, "did you see that hit - was that a 1 or 2 pointer?".  This kind of statistic accomplished a very specific goal.  It got the kids to hit, and not take penalties.   I only count hits once in awhile - not every game, as it loses its effectiveness.  

So, beware of statistics.  Make sure they are accomplishing what you want. 

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It's not what you say, it's what you Emphasize 

Someone once told me, "It's not what you say, it's what you Emphasize that matters".  Unfortunately, I can't remember who!  Another way to think of this is "pick your battles".  As coaches, we often see 50 things we want to change about our team or players.  Its so tempting to tell the kids all 50 things.  We may tell kids to pass more, hit more, play position, be aggressive, wear a tie, show up on time, etc. etc. etc.  

If you have 50 "important items" to cover, you really have no "important items".  As a coach you have to select one or two things to work on in a given game, or week, and emphasize these.  If you see 8 things wrong in a given game, you have to select one, or at the most two, and then work on it at practice until you fix it.    

For example, if my team just got smoked in a few games, and we didn't pass well, hit enough, play good defensive position, and our power play was awful.  I will pick ONE of these and work on it the next practice.   I may decide that we are going to fix "defensive position in our zone" first.   This is all I work on at practice. I tell the kids once we get it down, we will scrimmage. During the scrimmage I blow the whistle when the defensive positioning is bad.   It's tempting to cancel the scrimmage and work on something else, maybe 4 other things.   But then we are working on five things, not one.  And we seem to learn none of the five.  

If our defensive positioning is no better the next game, we go back and work on it again.  I just don't move on until we get it.  After awhile the kids get tired of the same drills on defensive positioning, so they do them correctly so we CAN move on!

So, its not what you say, its what you emphasize that matters.

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Great Memories 1

I wrote earlier that you had to "remember to good and forget the bad", so here are a few things I remember about various teams.

I was coaching a Mite team one year, and we were in the championship game of a tournament on the road.  The game ended up tied, and we had to go into overtime. During the overtime action, one of the Mites waiting for his shift had a very distressed look on his face.  Naturally I assumed the pressure of this critical game was getting to him.  So I asked him what was the matter, and could I help.  The seven year old looked at me and asked, "Does this overtime mean we can't swim at the hotel pool before we go home?"

Great Memories 2

I always try to prepare the kids on my team for the future.  One of my little speeches refers to the fact that, sooner or later, they will probably end up with a coach they don't like, someone who tries to take the fun out of the game.  I tell the kids if they ever end up in this situation, they can't let the coach drive them out of hockey.   I tell them that when the coach is screaming at them, just look him in the eye and agree with everything he says, with "yes sir, no sir".   But let every single word go in the left ear and out the right. Then go enjoy the game and your teammates.  Don't let him get to you, ever.

So a Squirt I used to coach moved out of town to another program, and had the misfortune to end up on a team with a coach who screamed and yelled all the time.  I didn't see the player for a couple of years, and then at some tournament someplace this kid is playing on another team, and he came up to me before a game and said, "Hi coach Barry, I just wanted to say, thanks, it really works".   I looked at the kid and had no idea what he was talking about, so I said, "what works".   My ex-player and still friend responded something like, "you know, that thing about 'in the left ear, out the right' it works - my coach is a jerk, but I'm having a great time".

Great Memories 3

A squirt team I coached had a party at the end of the season.   We were at a facility with a gymnasium and pool, and we had arranged to spend the night in sleeping bags on the floor.  The party started about 7:00 pm, and many parents and siblings were there for pizza, games, etc.   About 11:00pm the party broke up, and just the players and I were left.  But we were all having a good time, so we played a little more floor hockey, took another swim, had a late snack, reminisced about games, etc.    The entire team was still talking in their sleeping bags in a big circle about 1:00 am, and one of the kids looked right at me and said, "gee, isn't it  great not to have any adults around".

I'm not quite sure how to take that, but it sure made me laugh.

If you stay involved with Hockey you will meet Great People

I tell all the kids I coach that if they stick with hockey throughout their lives they will meet many wonderful people.  I'd like to share a little of my own experiences.

When I went to college I didn't know anybody and was intimidated and unhappy with all the changes. The first few months were pretty lonely, and I even thought about leaving school. It was a rough period for me.   Hockey practice started in late November, and it was the one thing I looked forward to, and it kept me in school.  The first week practice started I made twenty friends.  I was the worst player of the 20, but I didn't care, and they didn't seem to care.  Everyone treated me as a teammate, and a friend. Many of these 20 teammates are still my friends today. My four years in college were filled with tremendous memories, and many were hockey related.

I selected the MIT Sloan graduate school in business because it was not only a great school, but it had a hockey club where graduate school students could play.  I am probably the only person in history who selected the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan school of business to play hockey.  Most of the students at Business school were there to graduate and get a job making the most money possible.  I can't remember much about them, but I can tell you the first and last names of every player on our hockey team.  We had some great times. 

After graduate school at MIT (Boston), I moved to Los Angeles, where again I didn't know a soul.  But I wasn't worried about making friends this time.  I knew my ace in the hole.  The first day I got to town I went to the local rink and signed up for a men's league team.  We played a game the next day and I met 15 people.   Then I signed up to coach a Bantam team, and made a bunch more friends, both players and parents.  I felt like I belonged in that town, and I hadn't been there a week yet.

I moved to Vail with my family in 1987 and the story is the same.  Many of my best friends in this town are hockey players on my men's league team, or kids I've coached, or their parents. My non-hockey friends are always amazed when some 10 year old comes up to me on the street and wants to reminisce about a trip we took to Florida, or some other hockey stop.  The non-hockey friend will ask, "how do you know that kid so well?".  The answer is simple, "we're hockey players". 

Links for all Pictures on Vailhockey.com

Description

Year Division
1975-2005 - Teams Barry has coached or played on 1975 Various
Barry Hockey Resume 2010 Various
2009 Saint Olaf College Alumni Tournament 2009 Over 50
1982 Marina Cities Junior AAA National Championship  1982 Junior AAA

1997 Squirt "AA" home page

1997 Squirt AA
Pictures from Albuquerque, January, 1997 1997 Squirt AA

1998 Squirt "A" home page

1998 Squirt A
Aspen Tournament, October, 1998 1998 Squirt A
Las Vegas, January, 1999 General Pictures 1998 Squirt A
Las Vegas, Hockey Action Pictures 1998 Squirt A
Las Vegas, Happy Parent Pictures 1998 Squirt A
Ft Collins Tournament, January, 1999 1998 Squirt A
Florida, April, 1999 1998 Squirt A

1999 PeeWee AA  Home Page

1999 Peewee AA

2000 PeeWee A Home Page

2000 Pewee A
2001 Taos Mountain Dragons Bantam A Home Page 2001 Bantam A
Pictures from Colorado Springs Tournament, February, 2002 2001 Bantam A
Additional Pictures from Colorado Springs 2001 Bantam A
And some more pictures from Colorado Springs 2001 Bantam A
2002 Vail Bantam "A" home Page 2002 Bantam A
Pictures Nov. 2002 (Taos Tournament) 2002 Bantam A
Pictures Dec 2002 2002 Bantam A
Pictures Feb. 2003 (Colorado Springs Presidents Day Tournament) 2002 Bantam A
2003 Bantam "A" home page 2003 Bantam A
Pictures from State Championship Weekend in Laramie 2003 Bantam A
Pictures from locker room Celebration from Championship  2003 Bantam A
Pictures from Post Championship Game Party  2003 Bantam A
Other Hockey Pictures from Barry's Past 1975 Various
Senior Night, Vail, 1/29/2005 2005 High School
Vail Hockey Home Page    
Vail Eagle Hockey Association (VEHA) Home Page (www.VailEagleHockey.com)    
Hockey Philosophy    
Aviator Sunglasses - 100% authentic sunglasses for men & women at discount prices.    
Article in Edmonton Paper ? ?

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