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Preseason Checklist: Preparing for a big year behind the bench

By Aaron Paitich, 08/29/13, 11:30AM MDT


The head coach is the leader of the team, and leaders should always be prepared. For most coaches, laying the groundwork for a successful hockey season begins now. Once the puck finally drops, the year will flow a lot smoother for all involved—assistants, players, parents—if the head coach has planned appropriately. To help get started, here are a few key areas to address as the season approaches.

Finding Your Assistants

Mike Taylor coaches the boys’ varsity team at Eagan High School in Eagan, Minnesota, and his daughter’s U12 team in nearby Apple Valley. He knows what to look for when bringing in assistant coaches.

After making sure the candidates are good, ethical people, it’s important to find assistants that are comfortable with their role and understand your (head coach) philosophies and goals.

“Is their philosophy appropriate for the age level?” asks Taylor. “Is their philosophy and demeanor appropriate for the gender?”

Finding different skill sets – power skating, off-ice training, nutrition, strength and conditioning, etc. – can help balance and round out a coaching staff’s abilities and effectiveness as well. Let your assistants  specialize and manage certain team aspects and make sure they are comfortable running the team in your absence.

Different personalities and communication styles can also benefit your team.

“Not that you need a good cop and a bad cop, but you need a balance on your staff,” says Taylor. “You need someone who’s going to be Peter Positive and you need someone who’s going to be a Dutch Uncle and tell the kids what they maybe don’t want to hear.”

Lastly, it’s not all about knowing the game, but a matter of teaching the game.

“Are they a good teacher of fundamentals and skills?” says Taylor. “It’s one thing to know it and one thing to be able to do it, but can you demonstrate it and explain it clearly to that age level?”


Tryouts can be extremely stressful for players, parents, and coaches. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips to make the tryout process and experience efficient and fair.

Tryouts need to be extremely organized. Make sure all details are communicated in advance. You don’t want to waste time on the ice.
Ensure every player has the same opportunities to perform.
Throw out preconceived notions of “John Doe” because of where he played last year, who his coach was, what you heard about his/her parents, etc.
Similarly, don’t write off a player because he or she has one bad session.
Tryouts, like everything we do, should be age-appropriate.
Be cognizant of the various other demands on kids—school, other sports, other activities.

Parents Meeting

There should be a preseason meeting with all parents to set expectations, ground rules, season goals, etc.

Taylor calls his preseason meetings “Face-off Dinners.” All the parents and players attend. They bring food, socialize, and then the head coach clearly lays out all the rules and expectations. Taylor uses a PowerPoint presentation for his high school team meetings, but advises youth coaches to just distribute handouts for parents.

“Make it clear what level of commitment you want,” says Taylor.

This is also the right time to establish rules for parents. In Taylor’s case, he lays it out the communication protocol clearly.

“The best advice I give coaches is the 24-hour rule,” says Taylor, referring to the cooling-off time window he institutes after games. “[Coaches] do not talk to anybody walking through the lobby. The parents are not allowed to approach you in the lobby. We do this for the high school team. You’re not allowed to email the coach. You’re not allowed to text the coach. Those two types of communication can be done impulsively. They can be misinterpreted. They can be emotional.”

Taylor informs the parents that they can call the coach’s voicemail and leave a message. But that message must include: Name of the caller, phone number and the specific issue they’d like to discuss.


Establishing these types of rules from the outset should help prevent conflict throughout the season. It should also be made clear that there is zero tolerance for parents who yell at players, coaches or officials during games or practices.

This could also be a good time to identify parents willing to help out in varying roles, which can make a coach’s life easier when done effectively. Maybe it’s tracking team stats or making travel arrangements. Utilize those skill sets and the parent’s willingness to help out.

Off-Ice Training

Incorporating off-ice training into the season is vital to improving your players’ hockey skills, too. Start thinking about how you want to set up dry-land training sessions that will work a variety of different skill sets. Create different stations and keep a rotation going so no one is standing around.

All off-ice training should be age-appropriate. Visit the Dryland Training Materials section on USA Hockey’s website for a variety of different drills you can apply at practice.

Season Plan

Taylor breaks his high school team’s season into five training periods/sessions. For his daughter’s U12 team, he would separate their season into three segments: Preseason/early season, midseason, and the home stretch.

As most coaches know, setting goals and objectives is crucial. What do you want to accomplish this season? What skill areas do certain players (or the entire team) need to work on? What do you want to improve on as a coach? Setting goals and identifying a path to achieve those goals are critical to development, for both players and coaches.

Take notes, brainstorm, kick ideas around—it’s time to get ready for the 2013-14 season. Remember to stay connected every month with The Coaching News and stay tuned for more tips and resources to help guide you through the year.