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Coaching Tips for a Safe & Successful Season

By Mike Doyle, 09/18/20, 8:30AM MDT

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Coaches must lead the way back to the ice with actions, preparedness and attention to detail

Through these uncharted times of the COVID-19 pandemic, every industry has changed in the name of safety and precaution.

USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program is no different.

“We have to adapt,” said Mark Tabrum, USA Hockey’s Director of the Coaching Education Program. “We’re delivering coach education through a virtual setting, where we used to do them in person. Everybody needs to adapt.”

However, kids can’t go to hockey practices and games through their internet broadband. They need to get on the ice, play with their friends, socialize, compete and score some goals (or stop them). 

To get everyone back on the ice, we must lead the way as coaches, with our actions, preparedness and attention to detail.

Know Your City and State Guidelines

USA Hockey is following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines when it comes to minimizing risks. Those COVID-19 guidelines and protocols can vary greatly throughout the nation and they can change rapidly.

“Some areas have very strict protocols for how many people are allowed in a rink for proper social distancing,” said Tabrum. “Some are moving forward as somewhat normal.”

Wearing a face covering/mask during on-ice practice or games is a personal choice. However, participants must wear a face covering/mask for on-ice practices and games where they are required by local and state government order and/or your ice rink facility.

“When it comes to safety, as coaches, as parents and as players, we all have to do our due diligence and follow the protocols of each state,” Tabrum said. 

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Practice Plans & Time on Task

With those state, local and ice rink guidelines in hand, coaches should plan their practices accordingly. We must be even more deliberate in how we use our time on ice to maximize fun and skill development while also mitigating risk.

“As a coach, you need to prepare for what is allowed, such as number of players on the ice at a time, and make sure that all the coaches on the ice know what you’re doing throughout your time at practice,” Tabrum said.

By using station-based drills and small-area games, coaches can keep players distanced while still participating in high-intensity and competitive practices. To optimize the amount of time on the ice doing drills and less time explaining to large groups, well-thought-out practice plans are going to be crucial.

USA Hockey’s Mobile Coach App is a readymade tool at your disposal.

“Using the Mobile Coach App, you can put a practice plan together, send it to the coaches and players in advance,” said Tabrum. “So, when they do arrive at the rink they’re prepared and understand what the drills are, what we’re going to do today and the outline of practice.”

“Getting them that information beforehand limits the amount of time that you have to talk and call them all in to prepare for the next drill. The more time we spend on task and away from larger groups explaining, the better.”

Mobile Coach App

Mitigation Strategies

There are steps coaches can take to help reduce risk of viral transmission, according to USA Hockey Chief Medical Officer and Mayo Clinic Professor Dr. Michael Stuart.

First and foremost, coaches and parents should keep kids who are sick off the ice and away from the rink – even if it is a common cold.

Coaches can encourage players to:

  • Wash their hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Not touch their faces.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your elbow, dispose of the tissue and wash/sanitize hands immediately.
  • Not share water bottles, towels or other equipment. Mark them clearly so they know which one is theirs. 
  • Clean/disinfect equipment after each use.

Coaches can also have team guidelines. Some examples to help minimize unnecessary contact include:

  • Maintain social distancing measures (6 ft. apart) whenever possible off the ice.
  • Consider dressing at home to avoid locker rooms; only use locker rooms if social distancing can be maintained.
  • Limit group discussions so players are not in close proximity for extended periods of time.
  • Do not use benches unless social distancing can be maintained.
  • Coaches, parents and spectators should follow social distancing measures.
  • Discourage unnecessary physical contact, such as high fives, handshakes, fist bumps, or hugs.

FAQs for 2020-21

USA Hockey also created a list of Commonly Asked Questions For 2020-21 Season to help coaches, parents, players, administrators and officials navigate the season. With new information coming out every day, it’s important for coaches to stay informed with accurate information and together we can enjoy a safe and healthy hockey season. 

For example, a study released in May analyzing body contact over 15,000 player sessions at all ages found that players come into contact in immediate proximity with one another in less than three seconds or less throughout the course of play. Full information on this study can be found here.

Report: Immediate Proximity with Body Contact

“Safety has to be first and foremost,” Tabrum said, but he also sees an opportunity to become better coaches.  

“Probably more than ever before, here’s a great opportunity. In the business world, we’re all living on video conference calls and we’re moving forward. I think the same thing can be said for youth sports and our sport in particular. The more that you can get information to your parents and players through emails or whatever it might be, that will limit face-to-face time in the rink. We can continue to social distance, continue to play the game, practice and follow protocols. 

“We have to find ways to adapt. We can still play our great game. Maybe there are some adjustments that need to be made, but we can still move forward.”


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