It’s getting to be that time of year – the best time of year. Hockey season. One way a coaching staff can position the team for success is by conducting a thorough preseason meeting.
Dave Starman is a masters-level instructor for USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program and college hockey scout for the Montreal Canadiens. For the past 20-plus years, he has coached at nearly every level of hockey.
Starman sat down with USA Hockey to talk about what specifics need to be addressed in the preseason parents meeting.
USA Hockey: Should players also be in attendance at a preseason parent meeting?
Dave Starman: There is no question you need to have a preseason meeting with the kids and with the parents. You can do it as one big group, but you also need to meet with each group individually so you can express some expectations on different levels. 12U players won't understand some of the things that you might want to get across to their parents, and I don't know if the parents need to sit in when you talk to your team. Plus, from 12U and up, they may want to sit there without mom and dad. It may make them feel a bit more mature, and have a little bit more ownership of what they're about to get into. But having a preseason meeting with both groups is a no-brainer.
USA Hockey: Is it good to pass out materials to let the parents know what expectations are for the season?
Starman: I think so. And you can do it by email, or have handouts and pamphlets at the beginning. Expectations are good, but the simpler you make it, the better it is. I'm one of those guys where, if you give people too many rules and too many expectations, then you may actually drive yourself crazy as a coach living up to each and every one of them. I would say to your parents that you have some very simple expectations along the lines of, 'We expect you to be on time. We expect some support from the parent group at home. We expect effort from our players. We expect our parents to be on-board, and ask questions, and be supportive of that, and if there are issues, then 24 hours after the issue, you come directly to the coach.' But it's vital that they understand what the theme of the coaches, and what the goals of the program are, and not to leave that room until everybody understands.
USA Hockey: Should assistant coaches also be present at this meeting? Should they be expected to speak?
Starman: I think so. Assistant coaches play a huge role, and sometimes they get a little bit forgotten. The one thing I'm noticing in youth hockey more than ever is how important assistant coaches have become, especially with the younger teams where you want to establish a much better coach-to-player ratio. The coaches and the assistants have a really active role. Also, in youth hockey, we all know that everyone works a regular job, so a lot of times a head coach can't make a weekend, so the assistants could be running the bench. It's really important that the assistants speak at this meeting to introduce who they are, what their background is, what their goals are for the players, and some of the methodology they hope their players will experience.
USA Hockey: How much can I delegate during this meeting?
Starman: It's a great time for a couple of things along those lines. Number one is, hopefully you have a team manager by then, but if you need one, that's a great time to get that out on the table. Secondly, you're going to have a couple of things to do with your team. You might need a fundraising committee, and sometimes you need a committee to help some of the day-to-day stuff, whether it's email blasts, or helping to prepare material for players. That's a great time to ask parents what the strengths are of the people in that room, and how can we translate those strengths to make the organizational part of your team that much better. The key thing in those meetings is to say to the parents, 'Listen, it's really easy to complain about this, that and the other thing, so before we get to that stage, who's willing to volunteer to help us head off some of the problems that will invariably happen?’ You get everybody on board with it, and then, also, how many tournaments do we want to go on? Are we looking at two, or are we looking at three? Do people want to travel Thanksgiving or not? Which weekends do people have major issues with? There are holidays that come up – who is going to be missing from certain practices or games based on religious observation? That's a really good time to get those things out for discussion so you don't get surprised midway through the season.
USA Hockey: What is an appropriate number of times for a parent to be interacting with the coach during the season? When and how should these interactions take place?
Starman: Put your office hours up there. The first rule will be the 24-hour rule. That's good for a weekend, and Monday or Tuesday night, we can address something that happened over the weekend. It's important that a coach gets it out there that his or her decisions are final, but be willing to talk about them. In terms of contact, if you hear from a parent every week, then those issues have to get nipped in the bud quickly. Parents have to understand that the coaches have kids, the coaches have a real job, the coaches have family, the coaches have other obligations, and not everything is going to be perfect, and not everything is going to be immediately solved. But it's also a good time for the coach to articulate what his or her philosophy is on communicating, and it's important for the coach to let the parents know – if you can – whether it be through using the USA Hockey Mobile Coach App, or anything along those lines, ‘This is what we're going to be doing at practice this week, so if you show up at the rink, here are some of the goals of our drills.’ There might be some parents in there, moms or dads, that have some playing experience. If they know what drills are coming, they could be able to sit down with junior and say, ‘Hey, you're going to be doing this drill this week, so one of the goals is going to be 'A,' 'B,' and 'C,' so be ready when it happens, and that will help you do better in that drill.’
USA Hockey: What's the best way to handle the overzealous parent who wants to know about playing time and roles and those specifics?
Starman: The serious answer to that is, in youth hockey, everybody plays. But the key is, if attendance is poor, if attitude is poor, if effort is poor, that for me directly affects playing time. I don't care how good you are; that for me is not a big issue. For me, the biggest issue, and I'm talking more from like 12U and down, the issue for me is effort and dedication. Skill level will develop at different ages; we all know that. The kid may not be the greatest player in the world, but if he's enthusiastic, and he's a good teammate, and he's at every practice, and he's really trying, he's asking good questions, there's no way I'm going to look down the bench and not play that kid unless I'm putting him in a position destined to fail. But I'll also say to the parents, listen, the bottom line is this: If your kid is showing effort on the ice, in practice, and doing all the right things in terms of what a hockey player should be, then he or she should playing more. And if he or she isn’t playing more, it probably has more to do with attitude than ability.