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Same Game, New Approach at Coaching Symposium

By Harry Thompson - USA Hockey Magazine, 08/14/16, 4:45PM MDT

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New generation of players requires new style of coaching

ST. LOUIS -- There was a time, perhaps not even that long ago, when hockey coaches thought they needed to weave a tapestry of profanity, typically produced at high decibels, to get their point across to players.

The days of the cantankerous coach have gone the way of the wooden stick and leather skates. Today's bench boss needs to tweak the tone, tenor and temperament of their message if they want it to resonate with today's players.

That message came through loud and clear throughout the four days of the National Hockey Coaches Symposium, which wrapped up Sunday.

"This is the 'selfie generation,' as I like to call it," San Diego Gulls Head Coach Dallas Eakins said during his talk on Leadership and Character. "You have to explain how and why something benefits the team and the individual.

"These days you can't make them do things. You have to inspire them to do things. You can't use punishment to get your point across. Punishment is a terrible motivator. The coaches I remember most are the ones who inspired me."

Or as high performance athletic expert Dr. Steven Norris said, "Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don't be mean when you say it."

That message helped to reinforce what Amherst, N.Y., youth hockey coach Andy Tokasz has been trying to do with his teams. He used to think he needed to raise his voice and his blood pressure to get his point across. He now knows there's a better way.

"I'm a different coach than I was four years ago. I try to be more positive when I'm communicating not only with my players but also with parents," said Tokasz, who coaches a Peewee team.

It's not only what you say it that counts. In today's world of smartphones and social media, the way you deliver that message can make all the difference.

As USA Hockey President Jim Smith pointed out, the attention span of today's player is super short, and coaches need to tailor their message to fit their player's ever-shrinking attention span.

"Everything happens at warp speed," Smith said. "You need to get your point across in eight seconds."

Few coaches know that better than Don Granato. For the past five years he worked with some of the most talented 16 and 17-year-old players in the country in his role as a head coach with the National Team Development Program. He learned that in order to reach them, he had to do so on their level.

"A couple years ago I went out and bought two or three books on Generation Z and the teenaged brain to figure out how I could become better as a coach," said Granato, who is now coaching with his brother, Tony, at the University of Wisconsin.

"We all need to be better. If we want to stay in this industry we all need to get better. I'm trying to get better every day."

Capturing and keeping a player's attention on the ice also requires a creative approach. One of the most effective ways to do that is through station-based practices, which keep players engaged rather than standing watching teammates run through a drill.

"From my perspective it's about efficiency," said Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Jeff Blashill.

"The one thing at the NHL level is that players don't want to waste any time. They'll do anything for you as long as you're not wasting their time. If you run slow practices where there's lots of standing around they don't see where they're benefitting from it. They have to believe that they're getting better, for you to get the maximum effort out of them."

Communication is a two-way street, especially with today's players. At the NTDP, coaches seek feedback from players so they know their message is getting through.

"We're always asking the players themselves, do you understand this? What did you like here?" Granato said. "I ask them for evaluations on me, believe it or not. I don't think a coach would've done that 20 years ago. I think a lot more coaches are doing that today."

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