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Offseason Reflection Unlocks Your Coaching Potential

04/30/2014, 5:00pm EDT
By Jessi Pierce

After months of hard work and team bonding, the hockey season is complete. By now, you’ve collected the team jerseys and parked your skates behind the golf clubs, or maybe the lawnmower.

So now what?

It’s the perfect time for reflection and self-examination.

Most coaches send their players into the offseason with an evaluation, ideally one that suggests how they can improve for next year. But what about the coach who is looking to improve? How can he or she use the offseason to elevate their own performance?

“It’s important that each coach looks back and evaluates his or her season,” said Mark Tabrum, USA Hockey’s director of the coaching education program. “That includes everything from the pre-planning stages in the beginning of the year to the end-of-year activities.”

Coaches should look back at the accomplishments, but not necessarily at the trophy case. Player development is paramount – particularly in youth hockey – and the most important question coaches should ask themselves is, “did my players improve?” After that, coaches should think in broad strokes. “Did I improve as a coach?” “Was my overall management of the season and the schedule as good as I wanted it to be?” “Were there specific situations that I handled particularly well? How about situations I wish I would have handled differently?”

Taking the time to evaluate questions like these will help coaches bring out their own full potential in addition to their players’ potential.

Evaluate Your Players

What a player learned throughout the season can be the biggest measure of a coach’s success.

“You have to look at it from skill development standpoints,” said Tabrum. “Are the players better in the areas they need to be in order to play at that next level? You want them to be prepared. By doing that, you’ve accomplished your goal as a coach for the season.”

If a player struggled skating backwards at the beginning of the year, they should be more confident in doing it at the end. If it’s their first year of playing, they should have learned the fundamentals and improved on their execution of those fundamentals by that last game or practice.

Meeting with players to discuss what they learned will also help. While end-of-the-year player evaluations are meant to help players improve, Michigan State University men’s hockey coach Tom Anastos uses them to improve himself and his coaching staff.

“As a part of our end-of-the-year player meetings, I gather feedback from them,” said Anastos. “It not only helps me see how invested they are in the team and how they feel they progressed this season, but it helps us as coaches get better, too.

“Sometimes through their input we learn things that maybe we didn’t think about and gives us the idea to work on that for next season.”

Evaluate Your Team

Whether your team skated to the conference championship or experienced a year with only one win, the final score isn’t necessarily the best measure of long-term player development.

“At the beginning of each season, we set goals,” Anastos said. “Once we lay out the team objectives and the expectations, I want to make sure those goals are met to the best of our ability.

“That doesn’t always mean we have to win the NCAA championship or the conference. But what goals should be met are the ones where we grow as a unit.”

Both Tabrum and Anastos agree that a primary goal of any team and coach should be to learn, improve and have fun. If you reach those marks, it makes the experience enjoyable for all players – the biggest goal of all.

“When all is said and done, you want to know if all of them want to come back and play next year,” said Tabrum. “As a coach, you want to make sure you created that environment where the players had fun and enjoyed their experience. Those are the players that are going to keep coming back to play. And those are the players that are going to love the game.”

Make It a Habit

Evaluating yourself and the team should be an ongoing process, not just an end-of-the-season exercise.

“It’s my tendency to constantly be in evaluation and re-evaluation,” said Anastos. “I believe that’s the only way you’re going to get better. That doesn’t always mean you are changing things, but I think gathering lots of input and educating yourself throughout the course of the year can be incredibly beneficial.”

The more time you take to step back and evaluate yourself, the more opportunities you have to improve upon your successes and learn from your mistakes.

Preparing for Next Season – and the Next Level

The season’s end can also mean the end of coaching at that level. If you want to follow your team up from peewees to bantams or 8U to 10U, it’s important to make sure you’re ready for the changes.

Utilize coaching clinics, the USA Hockey coaching website and the USA Hockey Mobile Coach App to educate and ready yourself for that next step.

There’s always room for improvement. Take the time to strive for it. It will help you be the best coach you can be – at any level.

“Just like you want the kids to be prepared for that next level, you need to be prepared for that, too,” Tabrum said. “Know what goes with each level of play. Know what rules change at each level and know your progression.”

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