As Youth Hockey Director of the Missoula (Mont.) Area Youth Hockey Association, Grace Hoene has led young players of all ages. She offered some coaching advice, team-bonding tips and more.
USA Hockey: What are some tips for youth coaches?
Grace Hoene: It doesn’t really matter what level player you’re coaching, whether it’s 8U or a higher-level team, one of the first things you need to do is determine your expectations for coaches and players. Make sure you’re communicating these expectations in meetings with players and with parents.
You have to have a bag of tricks. You might only get through a few variations of a drill, but you better plan for 10. They may not have the attention spans for even a 6-7 minute drill. You have to be able to level up or down based on what you have that day and have a backup plan in your mind all the time.
USA Hockey: What are your favorite drills or games to do at practice?
Grace Hoene: For 6U/8U, I like a good compete drill. Obstacle courses and races against their teammates for loose pucks helps a player’s competitive edge and a multitude of different individual skills. Really, at any age, compete games are great. Coaches may be surprised – some of the games you may expect a kid to not understand, like an outlet drill or recognizing a change of possession, they’ll get it. You just have to be patient.
For 10Us and 12Us, any small area game will help. I like to set up nets back to back and have two skaters on either side and a defenseman. In order for them to shoot on net, they first have to pass to the D and get a pass back. This helps them learn puck possession.
At the 14U level, we are looking at making sure they understand the four roles of hockey (player on the puck offense, player on the puck defense, players away from the puck offense and players away from the puck defense) and working in practice to develop their knowledge of these roles to help them understand how to play the game.
USA Hockey: What can coaches do to help build and improve team culture?
Grace Hoene: First of all, coaches have to lead by example and practice what they preach. So the behavior of the coaches at practice and on the bench is where it starts. Really, the most important thing is having a personal relationship with each kid. That kid needs to know you care about them.
USA Hockey: Any specific activities that can help bring a team together?
Grace Hoene: We did something called the Human Knot. Have the kids start in a circle, and they have to reach across the circle and hold hands with someone else and it can’t be the person right next to them. The challenge is that they then have to untangle themselves. The trick is for the coach to let them struggle a bit and not help them with the answer. Let them figure it out and you start to see who your natural leaders are, who gets overwhelmed and who likes a challenge. It’s a good way to evaluate what you have from a personality standpoint. They may get frustrated, but they’ll also have fun.
A couple of years ago, our high school girls’ team did some community service. We invited local non-profits to come to a public skate with our players and the players helped them learn how to skate and interacted with the participants. It was a really positive experience to give back and something they talked about in the locker room and reflected on together. We’ve also done lip sync battles and paired up groups of players that normally wouldn’t have paired up to be partners – freshmen with seniors, girls who weren’t necessarily close friends. It really helped get everyone’s guards down, relax and open up a bit.
USA Hockey: How should coaches weave team-building activities into their plan?
Grace Hoene: It’s generally good to focus on this throughout the entire season. Even an end of season banquet or something like that is important. You have to manage and weigh the fatigue of the season, where the team is at and how you’re performing. Sometimes your team just needs a break. Sometimes it’s good to take a day off from the ice but get together and talk as a group. They can share their highs and lows, things they’re working on, both on and off the ice, and bond that way. It’s good to make sure you know what’s going on with your athletes.
Grace Hoene serves as the Youth Hockey Director of the Missoula (Mont.) Area Youth Hockey Association