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Coaching Insight from Mike Boyle

By, 05/26/15, 11:45AM MDT


One of the foremost authorities on strength and conditioning, particularly in the sport of hockey, is also the son of a coach. Mike Boyle’s father was a high school football coach and a physical education teacher.

Boyle is also father to a teenage daughter who committed to playing NCAA Division I hockey at Clarkson University and a 10-year-old son who, Boyle is convinced, will become a better hockey player by, like his sister, not playing much hockey this summer.

Boyle has worked with dozens of coaches throughout his 25 years in sports, including those with the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Bruins, USA Hockey at the Olympics and the Boston University Terriers.

We recently caught up Boyle in Nashville, where he had given a talk he based partly on Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. Boyle, who has a Twitter following north of 25,000, shared some of the strong feelings he gained through countless hours working with athletes, their parents and, of course, coaches.

USA Hockey: Having worked with youth coaches right up through the professional ranks, do you have some high-level pieces of advice that fit for all youth coaches?

Mike Boyle: Yes. Here they are:

Don’t require your kids to specialize.

Don’t set up situations where you make them have to give up other sports. I think that’s part of the problem that we run into with some of these club situations now – that we have a coach who suddenly says, “I don’t want you to play soccer anymore. I don’t want you to play lacrosse anymore.”

Realize that, at the end of this whole thing, character matters.

My father was a career teacher, a coach, a physical educator, a principal. He believed in this stuff. “It’s not how you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Trying to impart those lessons on kids at a young age is really, really important. I think coaches lose track of that. I think there are a lot of guys who get into the win-and-loss thing.

Don’t stack your team.

Coaches say, “We’re going to get the best kids, we’re going to go 40-0.” What does that develop? When you have kids coming from all over creation to play on the same team so you can beat up on somebody else? My daughter played on sort of an average girls’ team, and they’d have a game against a stacked team and they’d get smoked. They’d lose, 10-1. It’s good; I’m glad they lost. You need to learn to lose, 10-1. Losing is a lesson, probably a better lesson than winning.

Keep ice time equal at younger ages.

I have friends whose kids have left teams because they weren’t on the power play unit. At 12U, you can’t have a power play unit or penalty killers or taking kids off the ice. You just can’t do it. It’s not the purpose of why you’re there. Some of these guys are playing mini-NHL. They’re worried about getting their best five out there. Your job at that age is talent development, character development.

Part of my talk [in Nashville] was to start with why you’re here, why you’re coaching. The reason you’re coaching is, hopefully, that what you’re teaching them will make them better adults. And if you’re not doing that, in my mind, you’re failing.

USA Hockey: Often, the why for coaches may be that their son or daughter is just starting the sport, so it’s a matter of getting involved that way. What advice do you have in that case?

Boyle: I think it’s the same message. Know why you’re there. Realize that behavior matters. Making the kids accountable matters. Simple things. Don’t bang your stick, don’t swear, don’t talk back to the officials. If you said to me, “Mike, go coach girls softball,” we’re still going to have the same basic rules.

The kids need to be on time. They need to be attentive. And if you’re a first-year coach, be in the locker room. That’s where most of the problems happen, bullying, for instance. Understand social media. You’re going to have to understand how they think or how they communicate. And think about whether you want to collect phones so you don’t have kids looking at emails and watching YouTube when they should be getting dressed.

USA Hockey: How do we help kids get better when it’s in their nature to want to reach the next level, to play on the best teams, when they’re specifically motivated to be as good as they can be?

Boyle: You have to facilitate that. And that’s the job of parents, too. Sometimes, my kids will ask me, “Will you go out and shoot pucks with me?” Some days I really don’t want to, but, just by being involved, suddenly it makes it achievable for them. You have to create opportunities for them to do what they want to do.

USA Hockey: Is there enough of the right advice out there for coaches?

Boyle: No. It’s terrible. There aren’t enough good books. There’s a lot of macho stuff. You shouldn’t be reading about Bill Belichick. That’s not the kind of style you need to have in youth hockey. There’s a book called InSideOut Coaching by Joe Ehrmann that is outstanding. Otherwise, make it fun, keep it moving in practice. If you want kids to get faster, do relay races instead of doing 10 sprints.

USA Hockey: When a coach is looking toward the offseason, how invested should he or she be in their players’ offseasons?

Boyle: I think they should care a lot – as long as they’re caring about the right things. Part of it is knowing what development age the kids are at. I think coaches should be coming out and saying that they don’t want kids playing in all these tournaments. When is the kid going to train?

The players need to train in the summer. If you want to go to a camp, pick one that has the most coaches with the best chance of the kid being seen by the right level of coach … and train. It’s amazing when I hear someone went to eight hockey camps. Hockey camps, in my mind, are a waste of time. It’s like daycare for kids. They’re on the ice too much, twice a day. What was the point of this one-week boot camp?

If you really want to do something, find a skating or shooting type thing that will go on at night, or a small-area thing that’s going to go on one night a week through the summer. That’s what we’re going to do with our son this summer – as opposed to sending him to this camp or that camp. Another thing we’re going to do with him is send him to a combined soccer and lacrosse camp.

USA Hockey: What are some of the things that coaches are doing right?

Boyle: One, they’re there. That’s one of the biggest things. I couldn’t coach 10-year-old boys, so I really appreciate the guys who put in the time. The atta-boy is the commitment, making the time, taking the time. But maybe it’s that extra 10 or 20 percent – if you’re going to take the time to volunteer, learn how to do it right. Ask yourself about the why.

If your kid is just that age and they need somebody, that’s an okay why. But I think you can look at a bigger picture and say, “I’m hoping to help these young men and women become better adults.”

USA Hockey: At some point, when coaches return, what should they hope for when the players return?

Boyle: I think they should hope that the kid comes back a little bit better, that’s all. I don’t think it has to be drastic. I think you’d like to look and see that he’s improved in some way. And the good thing, a lot of the work is done for you. They’re growing mentally and physically. But the biggest thing to remember is that your first job is the character development piece.

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