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Coaching Tips from Alaska Anchorage’s Matt Curley

By Steve Mann, 12/17/19, 11:30AM MST


Matt Curley, a native of Madrid, New York, uses ADM principles every day as the head coach of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Curley, who previously coached in Europe, in the USHL and with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, shared his thoughts on the ADM and how it can pay big dividends for coaches developing players of all ages. 

USA Hockey: Why are you such a believer in the ADM?

Curley: It’s the whole concept. It’s proven in science, it’s age-appropriate training and it puts kids in positions that are suited for them to have success. Most importantly, it provides the structure and fun that makes them want to come back to the rink the next day and the next day and the next day and fall in love with the sport. For the younger players, that’s paramount for continuing to grow our game.

USA Hockey: Are you able to translate the principles of the ADM to college-aged players? 

Curley: One hundred percent yes. Once a week we dedicate a day to station-based or small-area, goal-scoring situations. Our guys even at 21- to 23-years-old are still developing, so we put them in positions to have success and have fun. We put them in positions to get puck touches and reps and we mostly stay out of their way, let them do their thing. So, whether 8U, 10U, 12U or even at junior or college levels, those games and situations at practice translate directly to live-action games in the real world.

Matt Curley, head coach of the University of Alaska Anchorage

USA Hockey: What are some of those drills that you do at Alaska Anchorage that could be scaled for the younger players?

Curley: We do a ton of 1-on-1, 2-on-2 battles in tight areas and some odd-man situations. It’s nothing fancy, other than there’s a puck, go win it and take it to the net, creating and generating offense. The kids will figure out how to use their bodies and if they don’t get the puck will try another way to get it the next time. We do a lot of situations where we explain the parameters and then they have to figure things out on their own and go after it. As coaches, you’ll be amazed at how good they get at it.

USA Hockey: How good does it feel as a coach to see a practice drill come to life in a game?

Curley: It’s extremely gratifying. It’s even more gratifying seeing how excited the guys get when they see it happen. Not only have they done it but they recognize that it’s coming from practice. Coaches know in their own heads what they’re trying to get across and the value of it, but when the players get it, those moments help them believe in what you’re doing and build momentum for the next day at practice so you can continue to teach.

USA Hockey: For coaches of younger players, particularly newer coaches, how would you recommend they get organized at practice?

Curley: I would recommend that they check out the USA Hockey website and the Mobile Coach app, and use those as a resource. The site provides a template for youth coaches or those that want to help out a kid on the ice. They have modules and examples of how to run a practice. There’s great stuff there and I steal some of it for our team from time to time.

I would also caution that getting a practice planned out does take some time. So, they should try to find 15-20 minutes during the day, maybe d uring their lunch break at work, before they head to the rink, to plan. Every day when I go to the office I have a list of things I want to get done for the day. The cost of ice is at a premium so you don’t want to waste time, or have to figure things out once you’re already out there. Having a plan will help the kids be more engaged and have more confidence in the direction and your leadership. Make sure they’re moving, skating, getting touches and having fun so you can all take advantage of the ice time.

Mobile Coach App

USA Hockey: What can coaches do to enhance communication with their players and their parents?

Curley: In today’s age, there are many tools and resources to utilize. Technology is a great thing, but don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and have face-to-face conversations with people. As great as technology is, some things can get lost in translation. So, for bigger issues, having an in-person conversation or in front of a group can make sure things are clear. If you’re able to do that, it will make the difficult conversations a bit smoother and the good ones even more effective.

USA Hockey: What other tips would you have for coaches?

Curley: It’s extremely important to establish your expectations, so both kids and parents are on the same page and understand your common goals. It’s important for coaches, especially for those who volunteer their time, to communicate well so all understand that you’re there for the well-being and development of those kids, both on and off the ice, and want to make sure they have fun. It’s not all about wins and losses. 

It’s also important for coaches to learn from those that came before you and draw from their experiences. I often lean on those around me, whether they’re assistants or colleagues in the game, and I learn a ton. For a younger coach like myself, trying to establish an identity, I try to ask questions and utilize resources. Nobody has all the answers. Once you decide a direction, be honest from the get go and be transparent with your players and coaching staff. Let them know what you believe in and value, so there aren’t any surprises later. 

As a head coach, especially a new one, you also have to have confidence in the people you surround yourself with and entrust them with helping you do the job because you can’t do it yourself. This is true at any level. If you’re able to do that, you’ll set yourself up for an enjoyable season.

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