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Creating a Winning Coaching Curriculum is a Constantly Evolving Process

By Steve Drumwright, 10/21/20, 10:30AM MDT

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USA Hockey’s coaching clinics have shifted in recent years to be more interactive and more useful

No matter how successful something has been in the past, it’s always important to continue to evaluate and audit processes to stay up with the trends.

As one of the models worldwide for youth hockey coaching education, USA Hockey listened to participants from all levels and decided to overhaul its curriculum for coaching clinics.

Mark Tabrum, director of the Coaching Education Program, set up an 11-member committee to review and freshen up how USA Hockey informed coaches of best practices in how to develop young players.

“We've revamped our curriculum to the point where it's much more interactive,” said Tabrum, who has been in his current role for 20 years and last did a significant revise of the teaching plan 10 years ago. “Our in-person clinics, there were some challenges there. I mean, you'd go to a clinic on a weekend and for eight hours, you'd sit in a classroom, listen to a couple of speakers and those were long days. It was the old methodology.”

Previously, there were five modules covering 8U, 10U, 12U, 14U and 18-19U. Now, Tabrum said there are three modules for 8U, 12U and 13-and-over in order to be “more concise, more to the point” for the age groups of players. There are also four levels coaches can take, with a limit of one clinic per year, as well as continuing education classes.

“I think the biggest point is the transition to our new curriculum will further enhance our sport around the country,” said Kenny Rausch, USA Hockey’s director of youth hockey. “What we're hoping to see in years to come are better quality practices run by youth hockey coaches. When I say better quality practices, I mean making it a better experience, a player-centered experience, instead of a coach or adult-centered experience.”

Before USA Hockey was able to put the new curriculum into action, it was thrown a big curveball: COVID-19.

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As the crucial summer months for in-person clinics were approaching, suddenly, the new plan was stuck in the neutral zone, but thanks to the innovative thinking of people like Kristen Wright, an ADM regional manager of female hockey, who — like many during the pandemic — went virtual when conducting a clinic for interns.

The new coaching education regimen was quickly adapted in order to keep it on track as the length of the pandemic restrictions for in-person clinics was unknown.

It turned out to be a breakthrough, as well.

Already having been revamped to be more interactive, virtual coaching education clinics have been a better experience for the participants, who are now more involved, and they improve how coaches pass the information to players. Another advantage to the virtual clinics was bringing together coaches from various parts of the country instead of just from their district.

“I think where we might have been missing was helping coaches really improve at the process of teaching players — like information transfer,” said Flint Doungchak, the coach-in-chief for the Pacific District. “So, it's one thing as a player or coach to watch a YouTube video [on technique] ... I think where we were lacking in the past was this idea of how to coach skills and how to help coaches take information that's readily available — even from our own materials, the mobile coach app or our website or our books — and really help coaches learn how to integrate that information so they can become more effective. I think the bigger change in this series has been to help coaches make practices better.”

Especially for someone like Doungchak, who runs a rink in Eugene, Oregon, and is the general manager of the Eugene Generals junior team, time is always precious. Doing clinics virtually allows him to not always be on the move and also to save money, much like many of the volunteer coaches can do. Of course, the goal is to move to in-person clinics once various pandemic restrictions are lifted while also now integrating some of the material to virtual instruction.

Doungchak said one of the most important changes to the curriculum was establishing five “essential elements” for coaches being able effectively transfer information to players: 1) How to explain; 2) How to demonstrate; 3) How to observe; 4) How to analyze and make changes; and 5) How to give feedback. That process is to make sure players are comprehending the teaching of the coaches and making sure the coaches are communicating effectively.

With all of the changes, the virtual clinics have generated a lot of positive feedback and are events coaches eagerly look forward to.

“So far, the feedback has been unbelievably positive, tremendous,” Rausch said. “One gentleman went as far as saying to me personally, that in his whole life, it's the best learning experience he's ever gone through. So that's a huge piece of it there. We've had anywhere from former NCAA Division I players to NHL players that have been through these and they all say the same thing, that they really need to look at how they've done things in the past and change to adapt to the modern game. I think my other favorite thing that a coach said to me one time, he said, ‘I now have to rethink everything that I thought I've ever known.’”

Coaches can find a full list of coaching clinics (both in-person and virtually) and register to participate here.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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