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Coaching Parents Through the Offseason

05/13/2014, 5:30pm MDT
By Jessi Pierce

It’s an age-old question that coaches hear at the end of every season: “What should my son or daughter do this summer to be ready to play next year?”

It’s accompanied with a slew of other questions about next steps. Should they be going to camps? What skills need improvement? Will they fall behind if they don’t play?

“There’s no magic solution to what they should be doing in the offseason,” said Mike MacMillan, USA Hockey national coach-in-chief. “It just needs to be fun and age-appropriate.

“But coaches need to work with parents on developing their child. Meet with them, talk to them about it. Coaches should be more educated than a parent on the offseason development and development of players at a certain age. They are a valuable resource for parents to turn to.”

Whether it’s the child’s first year of mites or they are ascending the teen-aged hockey ranks, coaches should be able to steer parents in the direction that best suits their child.

Age-Specific Training

Mites shouldn’t use the offseason the same way a bantam does. In fact, for 8- to 12-year-olds, hockey should be kept to a minimum in the summer.

“At 8U, 10U and 12U, their bodies and brains are more receptive to muscle movement patterns,” said ADM Regional Manager Ty Hennes. “If they only continue to use the muscles used in hockey, they aren’t training to be a better athlete, and we want to see them develop their all-around athleticism.”

If they want to sprinkle in hockey training, short and simple drills that focus on shooting and stickhandling are beneficial. Grab a stick and work on going up and down the driveway. Toss random items around the garage and have kids dangle around them like Patrick Kane. Just make sure they are having fun and the parents aren’t pressuring the child. If they don’t want to practice anymore, don’t force them.

At 14U/16U, a large window of skill trainability remains. At these ages, players are going to focus more on hockey and train through the offseason. Recommend they do so in an unstructured way.

“By playing in an unstructured environment, they are gaining a big advantage in creativity and are allowed to make mistakes without the fear of getting benched,” Hennes said.

For older players, strength training comes more into play in the summer months. Rather than just hitting the gym or weight room, players can work on core and muscle strength through every-day activities. Jump rope, rollerblading or other sports help provide an entire-body workout, rather than just over-training certain muscle groups.

Increased game activity can also be on the rise at these ages. Make sure you tell parents to limit the amount of on-ice games played to between 12 and 14 to avoid burnout.

Play Anything – Except Hockey

One sound piece of advice for kids of any age: play another sport.

“You see NHL and college players – they take 3-4 months off and never come close to the rink,” said Hennes. “They aren’t in full hockey mode year-round.”

Taking a break from hockey avoids burnout. It keeps a player’s passion for the game alive. Even more importantly, it reduces the risk of injury.

“As a development coach for high school hockey, I saw more injuries from kids who were skating year-round, than any other kind,” said Matt Herr, ADM regional manager for the New York and Atlantic Districts. “When you’re doing that, there’s an overuse of those same training motions. Constantly using those will result in injury.”

Sports that translate best to hockey players include soccer, lacrosse and baseball. But individual sports such as tennis, gymnastics or track and field are equally as beneficial.

Outside of organized sports, coaches should also recommend that players simply get out and ride their bikes or play impromptu games at the park. Whatever it is, stress the importance of a break from hockey.

Let Players Decide

You’re going to have players who love the game too much to put the stick away for very long. That’s okay, but let parents know that the decision to play should be left up to the player, not the parent.

“It depends on your kid,” Herr said of playing summer hockey. “I have a 9-year-old son, Cam, who knows that he doesn’t want to touch the ice when it’s over. The same goes for when soccer and baseball are done. He just doesn’t want to see it after the season.

“I think we want to have our kids figure that out for themselves. We want them to figure where they are and to make sure it’s fun.”

However, parents should take the lead and direct kids to be active in non-hockey ways during the summer – even if it’s hockey they want. Make sure they keep a variety of activities going, athletic or not, throughout the summer months.

Do What’s Best For Your Player’s Development

Parents tend to have a “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” mentality. Coaches should remind parents to do what is best to develop their own player. The rest will take care of itself.

“It’s hard because hockey is competitive and we’re always worried about the kid next door getting ahead of us,” said Herr. “But in the end, improvement will happen if they’re good athletes, not necessarily because they played hockey year-round.

“Parents and coaches should be most concerned in the offseason with wanting their kids to have fun. That’s what the game’s about. That’s what the offseason is about.”

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08/25/2015, 3:30pm MDT
By USA Hockey

No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills necessary to be a successful official.  Some possess more of these skills and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.

The national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame the officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who do take pride in the integrity of their work.

Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.

An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.

Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”

That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”

The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.

Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between. But they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We have made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but only if supported by your actions.

USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.

In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.

The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.


08/27/2015, 9:00am MDT
By Kelly Erickson

When it comes to women’s hockey, there is no argument that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have the two premier programs in the world. Earlier this month, their young talent took to the ice in Lake Placid, New York, as a part of the U18 and U22 Select Series.

While there were several athletes on both teams who competed for their country in such an event for the first time, it also marked a special occasion for Melissa Szkola. An experienced official who has worked a handful of International Ice Hockey Federation events, Lake Placid marked her first USA-Canada affair. USA Hockey caught up with the Michigan native to talk about the amazing international experience and her evolving officiating career.

USA Hockey: What was it like to be a part of the U22 and U18 Select Series’

Melissa Szkola: The experience was wonderful. It was fantastic. We’ve essentially got the two best teams in the world competing against each other, so the learning experience, working with the officials that we have, is always amazing. You leave here a better person, a better official; that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I look forward to the most at these big-time events: the level of hockey and what you get out of it as a whole.

USAH: How did you first get into officiating?

Szkola: It’s been nine years since I got my start. I was a competitive figure skater and my older brother played hockey, so I’ve always been around the game, but it was my husband who actually got me into the officiating side of it. When we started dating, he was a roller and ice hockey official. He asked me to come with one time and I said ‘okay.’ That’s how I got started. It’s something he and I have in common and he is my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be here without him.

USAH: So nine years under your belt, how would you describe some of your past IIHF events?

Szkola: I’ve had a handful of experiences with international tournaments. Each one has brought a new set of skills to my plate. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot from your supervisors from different countries as well. To get out and work with other female officials and learn from them and your supervisors is amazing.

Being in another country, where sometimes there aren’t people who even speak English, is a really unique experience as well. The communication that you learn to speak with non-English speaking officials really makes you appreciate what you have in common – hockey.

USAH: How did the Select Series compare to those events?

Szkola: The level of play, it’s definitely much higher at the Select Series than any of the championships that I’ve been to. I wouldn’t say that the intensity is much different, because at each level they are competing for their highest achievement. The intensity is the same, the importance is the same, but the level of play is definitely much better; it’s faster, it’s crisper. Your awareness just has to be that much higher.

USAH: Did calling a game with high-caliber players like those at the Select Series shake up any nerves?

Szkola: I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before we got on the ice. I’ve watched Team USA and Team Canada compete before, so you know the level at which they intend to play. Being out there with it, you just know where the emotions can go sometimes. It was a little nerve-wracking before the start, but as soon as that puck drops, you have a job to do. USA Hockey does a fantastic job developing us; I feel like they wouldn’t put you out there if you weren’t ready. Once that puck drops, you’re kind of at home.

USAH: What’s next for your officiating future?

Szkola: The support that I have, not only from my hometown in Michigan, but also the support and development USA Hockey has given really sets you up for success if you want to take it in that direction. That is my goal. I do want to skate in the Olympics. Moving forward I am going to continue to improve upon each experience that I have, because you can always be better. Mistakes do get made, so you learn from those and improve yourself. 

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08/28/2015, 10:15am MDT

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Tag(s): Coaches