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The art of correcting kids' mistakes

By Dave Pond, 11/18/16, 7:15AM MST

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Q&A with Robert Morris University men’s hockey head coach Derek Schooley

It’s no secret: youth hockey players make mistakes. A lot of them.

As coaches, part of our job is to correct these mistakes. But no matter what age group you’re coaching, one thing’s for sure: you can’t correct every player the same way, says Robert Morris University men’s hockey head coach Derek Schooley.

Schooley, who also currently coaches three youth teams, too, sat down with us to talk about youth player development, and ways coaches can correct mistakes while maintaining a fun, exciting environment for players and parents alike.

USA Hockey: How can youth coaches become skilled at correcting player mistakes?

Derek Schooley: First of all, you have to realize that every one of your players is different. They hear things differently, they see things differently, and they respond to correction differently. For example, some of your kids will be visual learners – meaning you’ll need to diagram things out for them – while others will respond to simple verbal commands.

So, you have to get to know your players in order to coach them. That’s done through talking to them, observing them and hearing the types of questions they ask after you explain something to them. Some people like to be challenged, while others like to challenge you. Learn how they respond to you.

It’s like school. If you take the time to learn how kids learn from you, it’ll make you a better teacher and coach.

USA Hockey: How does age factor into how coaches should correct player mistakes?

Schooley: I’ve got a 10U, a 12U and a 14U team, and I can tell you that my 14U girls listen on a different level than my 10U girls do. So, make sure you’re doing it in a constructive, positive, teaching way to be able to help each player because, again, each player is different.

Talk to them on their level, so your kids understand what you’re trying to help them accomplish. Sometimes that’s hard for adults – to talk to kids at their level – but the best youth coaches are the ones that can make kids understand, and make the kids realize that their coaches are just trying to help them get better.

USA Hockey: How important is positive reinforcement?

Schooley: You have to have it with younger kids – make everything you tell them enthusiastic and positive. When you’re correcting player mistakes, always, always, always include something the player did well along with your correction. For example, you might say “Hey, you skated really hard to get to the puck but, once you get there, you need to look for the option.”

Keep it positive. The last thing you want is kids getting discouraged. And, no matter how old your players are, or how skilled they are, make sure you’re not derogatory or talking down to them in any way.

USA Hockey: Is it better to correct your players one-on-one, or do it in front of their teammates?

Schooley: As a coach, there’s a balance of teaching to the team and teaching each player individually. Both can be a good ways for players to learn and get better.

Your whole team can benefit from hearing about a teammate’s mistakes as well as the good things they’ve done. So, if you talk to the team about how a particular player did something well, and praise him or her in front of their teammates, other players will want to emulate that.

USA Hockey: OK, but what about the parents?

Schooley: You have to have buy-in from your players’ parents. Parents have to be on board – you can’t have situations where you tell a player one thing, or teach them a certain way to do something, and then have their parents tell them something completely different.

As coaches, we’re not always right – and we will make mistakes – but, for the most part, parents have to believe that you’re doing what’s best for their sons and daughters.

USA Hockey: What’s the most important thing to remember when correcting player mistakes?

Schooley: It’s all about the kids, so make sure that everything you’re doing and saying is putting them first.

Secondly, most youth coaches I know are volunteers. No one coaches youth hockey to get rich or get into NHL player development – they’re in it because they love the game and want to help kids love it, too. So, as coaches, if you can remember that – and keep solid lines of communication open with your players and their parents – it’ll go a long way to making the game fun and enjoyable for everyone.

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