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Offseason Reflection Unlocks Your Coaching Potential

04/30/2014, 5:00pm MDT
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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For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials. 

USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?

Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.  

USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season? 

Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that. 

The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.

USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?

Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.

USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official? 

Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.

USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career? 

Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.

USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?  

Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.

USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?

Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.

USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career? 

Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.

Tag(s): Coaches