Ty Newberry has plenty of experience in planning a hockey season. USA Hockey’s Southeastern District coach-in-chief offers words of wisdom for coaches as they approach the start of the fall campaign, and it all begins with planning what they want to accomplish.
“I think probably the most important thing for a coach to do at this time of year is to sit down and create their coaching philosophy,” said Newberry, the executive director and general manager of Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Washington, D.C. “This is one of the most overlooked pieces in planning your season. It’s certainly important for you to sit down and write down why you’re here, what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to accomplish it, and be ready to let people know what you stand for and what you won’t stand for.
“I think it’s really important as the season goes on, because that’s your roadmap. It gets very, very challenging some seasons, and you can lose focus, so you need that to keep you grounded.”
After explaining the team’s philosophy to the rest of the coaching staff and getting everyone on board, it’s time to establish your setup for the season.
“I think the best way to attack the season, in my experience, is to actually work backwards,” Newberry said. “Start with the end of the season. Where do you want to be? What do you want to have accomplished at that stage? Obviously at the different age groups, it’s different how you get there, but if you’re coaching the older kids, do you want to have two forechecks by the end of the season? Do you want to have a breakout? What do you want to have at the end of the season? From there, you slowly work backwards through your season.”
One constant, of course, needs to be skill development.
“The beginning of the season, to me, really is September to about December 1, and for most coaches, a lot of times, that should be where you spend a lot of time on skill development, driving skills and getting everybody to start looking at individual tactics,” adds Newberry. “Right after Thanksgiving, you’re enforcing skills, but at this stage, this is where there should be a lot of focus on team tactics. Finally, the last part of the season, this is where you put the puzzle together – you have your skills and your tactics – and you’re still working on them – but then it becomes a lot easier to apply your systems.”
Newberry says that coaches need to avoid getting too caught up in teaching systems during the year, because without the proper skills and knowledge of the game, those tactics won’t be executed during games.
“Systems are kind of the easy things to work with, but what they fail to see is that if your players don’t have the skills, and don’t have the knowledge and understanding of how to apply a tactic, then even though their systems look good in practice, they’re going to fail in games,” says Newberry. “Kids in practice can figure out where to skate to and what points on the ice to skate to, but in a chaotic environment, they’re going to be lost and not be able to apply that approach to their systems, and that’s when it fails.”
Newberry wants coaches to kick the season off with plenty of small-area games, because they cram lots of skill development into a short timeframe.
“I think that, at the beginning of the season, the best thing to do is to incorporate as many small-area games as you possibly can,” says Newberry. “Small-area games are very skilled and intense. By using them, not only are you covering a number of your skills, but you’re doing it at game speed, up-tempo speed. Most of your flow drills, kids will not do at the speed that they would in a small-area game when there is competition.”
Start with a Bang
In terms of planning out a single practice, Newberry goes against the traditional model of building up to a scrimmage or fun activity at the end. Instead, he wants to start each skate off with a bang.
“Back when I first started coaching, I used to get my kids out on the ice, I used to do certain things, and if they were good and they weren’t annoying me, I would do a game at the end, and I would try to build it to a crescendo,” he adds. “But essentially, what I was telling the kids was, ‘Don’t tick me off, and do what I say, and then you get a reward.’ A number of years ago, I realized that if I do the most-fun drill first, the energy level is high, the excitement is high, the intensity is high, and now I try to ride that wave through practice.”
The most important part of all the planning, of course, is to make sure the players are developing their skills and having fun in the process.
“The most important thing is – at all levels – that they want to have fun and they want to compete,” says Newberry. “An 8-year-old kid shows up to the rink because it’s fun. When you start looking at 14-, 16-year-old kids, a lot of their friends have already quit the game. We have a significant drop-off after the peewee age group. So to keep those kids going and keep them engaged, we’ve got to make it fun. Even if you look at the NHL level and the college level and things like that, they’re all doing small-area games, they’re all making practices fun. There is work to be done, but nobody works hard when it’s not fun.
“For the younger kids, they’re working on it without even knowing it, which is almost even better. They’re building their skills, they’re enhancing their skills and they’re getting better while they just think they’re chasing the puck or playing a little game, which makes it a lot easier on the coach.”