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Coaches’ Curriculum Updates Focus on Better Understanding of Refs and Rules

By Mike Doyle, 10/18/22, 1:45PM MDT


A new emphasis on rules and the referee-coach relationship has been added to USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program (CEP) curriculum. The goal is to better inform coaches about rule changes - and the reasons behind those changes - and help coaches understand how difficult officiating can be. That mutual understanding will help improve relations between coaches and referees, which would be a net positive for everyone in hockey.

For example, during the 2021-22 season, USA Hockey’s CEP curriculum included information on three significant rule changes: updating language to emphasize the principles outlined in the “Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect”; the elimination of tag-up offsides; and not allowing for shorthanded icing. During coaching clinics, these rules were broken down and coaches were given the developmental reasons behind those rule changes.

“It was great to see because a lot of times you’d see coaches come in and they were not happy,” said Heather Mannix, USA Hockey ADM Manager of Female Hockey. “Once you have a conversation about the developmental reasons behind the rule changes, from a player development standpoint of what we were trying to accomplish, you started to see the tide change and their thoughts behind it change a little bit.”

Updates to this Year’s Curriculum
Mannix has the added responsibility as the manager of education with the intent of trying to bridge the gaps between the Coaching Education Program and the Officiating Education Program. This year, they have again updated the coaching curriculum, this time with the objectives to humanize officials and get coaches to recognize how difficult their job is.  

USA Hockey has taken 10 questions that officials have to take in their exams at various levels and placed them in the coaching curriculum.

“During the break, we have a QR code coaches will [scan] and take a 10-question survey and it’s all based on the rules,” Mannix said. They then put some of the questions on the Zoom call and ask coaches to anonymously respond to how well they felt they knew the rules.

“It’s not to get into the rules or discuss the rules, just to open up the coaches’ eyes to the fact that they may not know the rules as well as they think they do,” Mannix said. “By doing that, we humanize the officials and get coaches to think, ‘OK, maybe I should second guess myself before I yell at an official for not making a call that maybe I don’t know the rules as well as I thought I did.’”

Getting a Different Perspective
One of the biggest conflicts between coaches and officials comes from body contact – whether a penalty is called or not. However, a lot of times, it just depends on how you look at the hit.

USA Hockey is showing videos of different perspectives of the same body check. There is one view that looks like a major penalty, but slowed down and from a different perspective and you recognize that it wasn’t a major penalty at all.

“Again, get coaches to realize that at no point is their sightline going to be the exact same as a youth official,” Mannix said.

Communication is Key
Finally, this year the curriculum is also discussing different forms of communication – are you a hostile coach or a constructive coach?

Mannix wants coaches to think about how they conduct themselves when confronting a youth official.

“How do you communicate with officials? Is your foot on the dasher, have your finger in their face and yelling from above? Or have you jumped off the bench to have a conversation face-to-face? Just the little impacts of those communication strategies with officials,” Mannix said.

Setting Expectations
Mannix hopes these updates will set realistic expectations for coaches. Most coaches don’t realize that 60% of youth officials have less than three years of experience.

But then again, coaches often can use a refresher when it comes to the rules. For those coaches, USA Hockey has made the Mobile Rule Book free to download.

The new referee-centric segments have generated a ton of positive feedback.

“We’ve had several instances where a coach has said, ‘I’m going to sign up with my kid and we’re going to take a Level 1 course,’ which I thought was really cool,” Mannix said.

Is this official? Just want to get the title right.