FALMOUTH, Mass. – The 2023 USA Hockey Level 5 Coaching Symposium took place over the weekend of May 4-7, with more than 450 coaches from across the country joining together for learning, presentations, panels, and breakout sessions – all for the purpose of continuing education, and working towards their Level 5 coaching certification, the highest offered by USA Hockey.
Typically held every other year, the Level 5 Coaches Symposium offers the opportunity for coaches to explore innovative approaches to coaching, connect with other coaches in-person, and engage in hands-on learning from some of the greatest hockey minds in the country.
Gary Thorne served as master of ceremonies, and the weekend saw coaches from all levels of hockey and all aspects of the game, including girls and women’s hockey, as well as sled and disabled hockey.
“When you get 450 coaches from around the country, celebrating our game, learning, talking to each other, meeting new friends, it’s super exciting,” said Mike MacMillan, who volunteers as USA Hockey’s national coach-in-chief. “Because when they leave, that’s going to transition back into their clubs, their associations, and it’s going to make all the players in our country better.”
The event was hosted by Massachusetts Hockey with the town of Falmouth serving as the backdrop.
“The energy was unbelievable, and to have Massachusetts do such a great job in helping us at USA hockey run the event, contribute to the event, be a part of the event, as one of our districts, has just been amazing for us and amazing for them,” MacMillian said.
Falmouth, MA native Colleen Coyne joined her teammates and fellow New England natives from the gold medal-winning 1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team at the symposium to talk about coaching and the state of the game. She was joined by Sara DeCosta-Hayes (Warwick, Rhode Island), Tara Mounsey (Concord, N.H.), and Vicki Movessian-Lamoriello (Concord, Mass.).
“It was most exciting because I grew up here in Falmouth, so the fact that this event came to Falmouth and Paul Moore brought it to Falmouth, I was really excited about that,” Coyne said. “And I’m obviously honored to be invited in to tell our story and share our experiences and ideas on where the game could go.”
“It’s encouraging to see that there’s all these coaches out there that still want to continue to learn and be better, and I think that being in this environment really helps us connect and share ideas and really bring it back to the simplicity of the game.”
Several college coaches and local coaches to the area also joined the symposium as panelists, including the four men’s ice hockey head coaches from the four schools that participate in the Beanpot tournament: Greg Brown (Scituate, Mass./Boston College), Ted Donato (Cambridge, Mass./Harvard University), Jerry Keefe (Saugus, Mass./Northeastern University), and Jay Pandolfo (Burlington, Mass./Boston University).
“I have been in and around the game for so long, so any chance that I have that I can help educate or raise the level of other coaches is an honor,” Brown said.
“The game is changing constantly. There is always the continuing education of that, which all of us are still doing at [the college] level,” Brown added. “And really, it is about how to best connect with today’s youth. We have to evolve with today’s kids. It is important for the coaches to do that and be ready for that so we can best connect with the players.”
Liz Keady Norton (Braintree, Mass.), head women’s ice hockey coach at Dartmouth College and head coach of the 2024 U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team, also spoke to the sea of nearly 500 coaches.
“[Continuing education] is everything,” Norton said. “[To have so many coaches attend] is a great reflection that we have coaches who want to get better, are willing to volunteer their time for it, and I think that’s a really good sign for the future of youth hockey and the game in general.”
Other presenters included Kim Brandvold, assistant coach with Boston University; Dan Muse, head coach at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program; and Jay Varady, assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings.
Muse was fresh off leading the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team to a gold medal at the 2023 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championships in Switzerland.
“I’ve been fortunate to work at basically every level of this game, and at every level, all the way through pro hockey, we’re at our best when we’re enjoying what we’re doing,” Muse said. “Some days it comes naturally and some days it can be harder, but it’s important for us to be excited, and motivated, and be at our best coming to the rink. So at every single level, players, coaches, everybody involved, when you walk through those doors of the rink, you’ve got to be excited and having fun with what you’re doing.”
Frank Serratore, men’s hockey head coach at Air Force Academy, and Steve Thompson, USA Hockey’s player development manager for goaltending, led a presentation on goaltending development.
“It is fun to feel their energy and fires you up that there are so many people out there who want to make their players and their goalies better and we want to try to help them do that,” Thompson said.
“The best teachers and coaches are curious,” Thompson added. “They are curious about what their kids are doing, how they feel; they are curious about the next step to evolving the game. That curiosity really helps them become better learners and better teachers.”
USA Hockey also invited minds from outside of hockey specifically, including Stuart Armstrong, who leads The Talent Equation Podcast on the exploration of human advancement and technology through the lens of sport and physical activity, and Christy Buck, founder and executive director of “be nice,” the mental health foundation of West Michigan, who led discussion with Derek Schaedig on the importance of mental health for athletes.
The Symposium ended with legendary college hockey head coaches coaches Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) and Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.) taking center stage for a panel discussion, followed by a presentation from Providence College head coach Nate Leaman (Providence, R.I).
The coaches all left the symposium feeling energized and excited to further dive into all of the information presented.
“A lot of information was thrown at them, and they had a lot of opportunities to engage and be active and play with the information, so it was a really positive weekend,” said Heather Mannix, USA Hockey manager of education and player development.
“I hope that they came in with open minds and we made them more curious than when they came into the room — curious to learn more, curious to ask more questions, curious to take a deeper dive into the information that we just introduced to them, so I hope we have sparked that curiosity.”
With all of the coaches who spoke throughout the weekend, we included quotes below…
On the continued growth of girls and women’s hockey…
“I think the most important part is asking what can we do to cultivate a culture that empowers our youth to become strong and confident adults? … It’s been amazing seeing the sport of women’s ice hockey grow. Women coaching in the sport, I would love to see it grow more, there aren’t that many in a room of 500. Our young girls benefit greatly from women that they can see as role models. We do have a lot more work to do with the young female athletes and coaches. But we, as the 1998 Olympic Team, and subsequent Olympic teams, are committed to continue to impact the growth.”
On the characteristics of a great coach….
“I think you have to care. Hockey’s a people business and you have to care about the players, carry about the staff, care about the other people around you and care about their well-being. Number one is to care about them as people.”
“The most important thing with developing player is to not think of the end as your means of getting there. You really have to evaluate where the kids are what the needs of the group are and have a mentality for your team and make sure that’s expressed. I think communication is very important.”
The best characteristic is probably just to live up to the way they are coaching. The guys who really have the most impact, it wasn’t just words. They lived the way they wanted us to act and be. You knew it wasn’t hollow. It was genuine. You appreciate that as a player and now I see it even more as I am the guy doing the coaching and hopefully imparting some wisdom and life lessons on our players.
“Somebody who is really intuitive. They are continuously sensing the mood and how the individuals are interacting together and with their opponents. They are using that information to design a practice, change a practice and make it a better practice. I would say that intuitiveness and being intentional about sensing. Listening and picking up what the vibes are because that can give you so much information.”
“I think the best coaches are able to tailor their own coaching to each individuals needs and understand that different players have different behaviors. You need to not only accept that, but embrace that.”
On the importance of continuing education for coaches…
“(Continuing education is) every day, looking back at how the day went, what went well, what didn’t go well, and also just continuing to learn. Learning from other coaches, not just from your own sport. I watch a lot of different sports to pick up different things and read a lot of different things. It can’t just be hockey there’s a lot of other ways to do it.”
“It is a little bit of practicing what we preach. We are always asking our players to continue to continue to learn and to be the best they can be and if sometimes we as coaches don’t continue to grow and look for the newest, nicest things and how to make those athletes stronger we are not practicing what we preach.”
RED GENDRON SCHOLARSHIP
Karl Norton received the first-ever Red Gendron Memorial Scholarship at the symposium, with an introduction provided by Dan Muse, head coach at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
Norton has been a hockey coach in Connecticut for 39 years, guiding players from 8U to 18U. Currently a member of the USA Hockey Connecticut Coaching Development staff, he spent the last 15 seasons as a coach with the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association, and prior to that, 24 seasons with the Eastern Connecticut Hockey Organization.
DIVERSTIY IN COACHING SCHOLARSHIP
Ryann Gelder and Robert Litwin were recipients of the Diversity in Coaching Level 5 Scholarship, which helped to cover all expenses for them to attend the event.
Geldner has been a volunteer at Ice Hockey in Harlem for 10 years, and is currently a technology teacher at P.S. 129 in Harlem where several of her students have become Ice Hockey in Harlem participants.
Litwin has been an Ice Hockey in Harlem volunteer coach for nine years and involved coaching kids from Learn to Skate to 18U. Litwin’s sons Raphael and Leon are Ice Hockey in Harlem graduates, and are now involved as coaches.
NEXT UP FOR COACHES
The next educational opportunity for hockey directors, hockey administrators, and youth hockey leaders is the North American Rink Conference & Expo (NARCE) in Buffalo, NY June 13-16, 2023.
Presented by the United States Ice Rink Association, NARCE is the premier annual professional development and networking event for the ice rink and ice sport industries. The 4-day event will bring together hundreds of ice rink professionals, ice sport national governing body representatives and leading vendors for world-class educational courses, unrivaled networking opportunities and the industry's largest trade show.
Registration closes on May 16, 2022. Click here to register.