skip navigation

Coach Corbett’s Tips for the New Season

By Steve Mann, 10/15/19, 10:15AM MDT


Mike Corbett has more than 20 years of experience behind the bench, including the last six at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He strongly believes in preparation, collaboration, long-term development, small-area games and more.

Corbett offered some tips for youth hockey coaches as they gear up for the new season.

Q: What advice do you have for coaches as the start of the season approaches?

A: The biggest thing is to be organized and try to understand the group you’re working with. As a coach, you’re going to ask a lot of the players so you need to be prepared. Regardless of level, you need to give them the best resources and the best of you at all times.

It’s the same thing for youth coaches. If you’re inexperienced, do some research and use the resources USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program provides you – clinics, practice plans, modules, the Mobile Coach App and so on. Whatever you need to be successful for your group. Don’t worry about the end result, and don’t coach to the scoreboard. Understand you’re there to help the kids get better and make sure they have fun every day.

Q: Do you have tips on working with assistant coaches?

A: I think it’s important to delegate. I like to trust that people will take pride in what they’re doing as I am. I recommend sitting down and talking about the things you want to accomplish as a group and what you think they would be best at. It should be a two-way street conversation, even though one person has to make the final decisions.

Even if you have an inexperienced coach as an assistant, everyone has strengths. Maybe those strengths aren’t technical, but maybe they’re a great communicator, or someone the players love being around. You need to get to know them, find out what they’re good at and put them in a position to be successful.

Q: Do you have any favorite drills?

A: We use small-ice games a lot at the college level. The biggest thing is to have a purpose and let them know the purpose. Help them understand how they are improving certain aspects of their game, with a lot of touches, pressure on you all the time and you have to make quick decisions.

Mike Corbett enters his seventh season as the head coach at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

One of the games we play is a 3-on-2 “rim the puck” game:

  • Position coaches on the blue line next to the boards.
  • I’ll rim the puck around the back of the net.
  • On offense, we’ll have one player at the puck working on wall play and a guy below the puck, typically the center or a guy coming through the middle on a breakout, then another player above the puck, typically the weak-side winger.
  • The defense will have one guy go after the puck on the first rim. The other player has to make the decision to play the player above or below the puck. There will always be someone open because it’s 3-on-2.
  • The offense tries to keep possession and get a shot. If they lose it, coach blows the whistle immediately. The two players who were on D become offense, along with the player next in line. The closest player goes to the wall and the coach rims the puck around from the other side. Two fresh players become the two-some on defense.

We use this game to work on supporting the puck, keeping possession in a 3-on-2 scenario, plus shot, rebound and recovery practice. It’s a great way to work on wall play without just sending them down the wall. It’s an easy drill once you get everyone to understand it.

Mobile Coach App

Q: How can coaches help teach and enforce a safe environment, eliminating dangerous hits?

A: I think it’s about giving them the awareness of what the rules are. A lot of kids really don’t even know, they just hear people screaming, “hit him.” It’s important to get players to understand and respect the game and their opponent. Let’s teach kids that we don’t want them to get hurt. A lot of it is about respect. As a coach, even if the best player isn’t playing with respect, take them out. Collisions will happen, but for the most part we can eliminate the bad stuff if we just educate them.

Read more about the USA Hockey’s Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect

Q: How much of an emphasis should youth coaches put on winning? What’s appropriate?

A: To me, the fun of hockey is the competition and the one-on-one battles. If you’re going to love the game you have to love that part of it on a daily basis. Coaches can emphasize healthy competition even with the little guys. That said, I don’t think in youth sports it’s ever a time to coach to the scoreboard. The job of coaches and parents is to support their development and help them take their game to another level.