There’s always room for improvement. That’s the mentality every coach should have following the season. In order for players to improve, you must believe that you can always improve, too.
University of Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin knows it well.
He guided the Bulldogs to the 2011 NCAA national championship and was both a head coach (2004 – gold medal) and assistant coach (2011 – bronze medal) of the United States National Junior Team.
But even after a successful season, it’s always back to the drawing board. Sandelin told us his postseason game plan and the steps that he recommends coaches take in order to prepare for next year.
USA Hockey: Once the season’s over, what are the next steps for you?
Scott Sandelin: I take a look at my season. I meet with my staff. We usually like to meet within a couple weeks after getting over the sting of being done. You look at your season as a whole. What did you accomplish? What can you get better at? We also have player meetings. It’s good to get feedback from the players, too. I think that’s healthy. Talk to them about their season and their experience. I think it’s important to get that feedback, good and bad, so it makes you a better staff. Some people don’t like to talk about it, but I think it’s good.
USA Hockey: For you, at the college level, it’s very results-driven. What advice do you have for youth hockey coaches around the country? What should they be thinking about as they look back at the season?
Scott Sandelin: I think No. 1 is what kind of environment are you putting the players in every day. Are you putting them in a positive environment for those players to develop as players and people? I have kids in youth hockey, so I know how much winning means to everybody, but at the end of the day, the environment you put those kids in certainly plays a factor in whether they get better or not. I’m a big guy for that.
USA Hockey: What fits your standards of a positive environment for youth hockey players?
Scott Sandelin: Make sure they’re having fun coming to the rink every day. Make sure you’re accomplishing what you want to accomplish every day as far as development. That’s what it’s about for these kids. It’s about development and it’s about having fun. It’s about these kids wanting to come to the rink every day. We want kids to want to come to the rink every day, want to work hard and want to get better. We try to create that experience for them to grow.
USA Hockey: There’s a lot of talk and information about how players can improve during the offseason. What are some things coaches can do to improve away from the rink?
Scott Sandelin: I think communication is a big thing. We all steal ideas. The more you can do to continue learning, whether it’s clinics or sitting down with other coaches, it’s all beneficial. Keep bettering yourself. As a coach, everybody has their own philosophies and core values. I think you have to identify those. In today’s world, I find you have to be a little more flexible with kids at times. It’s kind of a changing culture.
USA Hockey: You talked about creating a fun environment for the kids. Should it be fun for coaches as well? Should they ask, “Did I enjoy myself?”
Scott Sandelin: If you don’t enjoy yourself, you shouldn’t be doing it. Teams are a reflection of their coaches at times. If you have guys that are on the bench yelling and out of control, your team tends to be that way. If you’re more even keel, I think your team will play that way, too.
USA Hockey: Do you like getting new players to work with every year?
Scott Sandelin: It’s one of the reasons I love doing this. It changes every year. I get a different group of players. It’s a challenge of molding those players into a team. Sometimes that happens right away, sometimes it takes longer, sometimes it doesn’t happen over the course of the year, but that’s the challenge you have as a coach. Probably the most important thing for me is watching players come in as freshmen and hopefully leaving as seniors as better hockey players, ready for the next step. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing those kids mature and grow and be ready for the next step. That’s the fun part for me.
USA Hockey: Hopefully youth hockey coaches are seeing those rewards as well.
Scott Sandelin: I tip my hat to the coaches in youth hockey, because a lot of them are volunteers. They put a lot of time and effort into it that people don’t recognize or appreciate. It’s easy to criticize, but those people give a lot of time and effort to help kids and they should be commended for that, because that’s pretty neat.