Coaching Q-and-A: Northeastern’s Berman praises small-area games, warns against early specialization
Lindsay Berman is back at her alma mater, serving as an assistant coach for the Northeastern women’s hockey team. In between her time at Northeastern as a player (she registered 62 points from 2007-10) and as an assistant, she played pro hockey for the Boston Blades, Connecticut Whale and Boston Pride before coaching at UMass Boston and Brown. From 2015-2018, she served as the head coach of UMass Boston, earning NEHC Coach of the Year honors in her final season.
She brings a unique perspective as a player and a coach, and often helps at USA Hockey National Player Development Camps. Here’s her advice for youth hockey coaches trying to help their players grow on and off the ice.
Q: What would be your advice for youth hockey coaches on developing young hockey players?
A: For me, I try to think back to what I liked and looked for in a coach as a player. I’ve had a lot of really awesome coaches along the way, so I’ve just tried to take what I’ve learned from them and implement that in what I do and the messages I try to pass along to the younger players. I just try to make it fun for them, because at the end of the day, we’re playing a game, and I think especially for the younger players, they’re taking it a bit too seriously sometimes. So whatever we’re teaching, I try to make it fun and worth their while.
Q: How crucial is it for coaches to think in terms of player development and not about the wins and loses?
A: Yeah, absolutely. If we’re talking youth hockey, they’re never going to remember those wins and loses. At 10U, at 12U, you can’t get mad at a kid for losing a game. It’s more about the lessons they are learning and how to be a good teammate and how to treat each other with respect. It’s also about building that passion for the game, because if the kid’s not loving it because they’re scared to get yelled at, they’re probably not going to last in the game, because they’ll lose the love for it. I think it’s really important to build that foundation of being a good teammate and also loving the game and appreciating the game, more so than focusing on winning and losing a game at the youth level.
Q: How important is patience for a youth hockey coach?
A: I think patience is probably the No. 1 attribute that a youth hockey coach needs, because there’s just so much that goes into it. I think the X’s and O’s make up 10 percent of the job, so to speak. It’s really about managing your players and their emotions and their expectations. Every kid, no matter what age, is going through something. Managing their emotions on a daily basis is really important. The skill level piece of teaching the game, how every kid is on a different level – every kid learns at a different pace and every kid is motivated by something a little bit different. I think you have to know all of your players individually; you can’t blanket the whole team. That, in itself, takes patience.
Q: How can coaches help foster creativity and build hockey IQ?
A: It is a creative game, and I think sometimes we get so involved in the X’s and O’s, that you must do this when the puck does that – it’s not basketball. We don’t have set plays. Encourage players to be creative and find the play that they think is the best one, and don’t harp on them if it’s not the right play. I think fostering an environment where mistakes are allowed and a constructive approach to correcting it, players will be more willing to use their creativity if they’re allowed to make mistakes and turn over pucks at the youth level.
Q: Do you use small-area games at the collegiate level?
A: The ADM is awesome, and we learn a lot of the drills and small-area games at national camps in the summer and we do bring them back and use them at the collegiate level. Especially for the younger players at the youth levels, growing up playing those small-area games, it’s so important for that creative side, for sharing the puck, for working in small areas. I think there’s a built-in conditioning aspect to a small-area game and it just works on everything – it works on the game as a whole, it works on small skills, keeping your head up, making quick decisions. My coach at the high school level, he was really big on small-area games. We played at least three every time we were on the ice, and I feel like I became a better player because of that, not so much the blue line to red line skating. It was the small-area games, the ADM concepts, breaking things down, and then playing games – you also get to have fun while you’re doing it.
Q: Do you think kids should specialize early and just play hockey year-round?
A: I’m so glad you asked. I can’t say enough about this. It’s so, so important to play multiple sports and be a well-rounded athlete. Once players get to the collegiate level, we’re looking for athletes. We want you to be able to throw a ball and catch a football, have some hand-eye coordination. It’s good for young kids because they have a different set of friends, a different coach, they’re using different muscles. If hockey is their No. 1 sport, I think it’s a really good break from that sport while you’re playing the other sports. I think the early specialization is happening too much, and I feel like I talk about it at every summer camp. Make sure you’re playing outside this summer. Don’t spend all your time in the rink and attending every camp, I think it’s so, so important, and I personally feel like I got a lot out of playing softball in the spring and getting out of the rink. I think that’s really awesome.