Standing on the bench during what would become a regular season-ending loss to rival Lakeville North High School in Minnesota, Lakeville South head coach Natalie Darwitz knew it wasn't her team's best effort. She also knew the loss could become a teaching moment through the power of video. Eventually. Like any set of tools, video has its time, place and appropriate application.
Lakeville South responded with two convincing wins that led to a rematch against Lakeville North in the section final. To prepare, Darwitz reviewed video clips of the loss along with clips of what they had done so well afterward.
“I asked, ‘See a difference?’” Darwitz recalled recently. "It fired them up to see how good we could play."
Lakeville South went on to advance with a win.
For Darwitz, coaching through video has been a way of life for more than a decade, dating back to her days with the U.S. Women's National Team. Now well into her second act as a coach, one who this spring took over Hamline University’s program in St. Paul, Minn., Darwitz remains a proponent of video – with its appropriate time, place and application.
“I think it has to be all about a learning environment,” Darwitz said. “If you're showing all negative clips, like in everyday life, what are you going to think? For me, it's a learning tool. If you can get kids excited about being better, they're most likely going to do it. If it's coming from a negative place, no one's going to be excited about going in there.”
U.S. National Team Development Program head coach Don Granato echoes that sentiment, and he’s even devised a rough formula for just how positive he keeps his video sessions.
“I would discourage showing any video to a kid of what they do wrong,” said Granato, who began coaching at the NTDP in 2011 after successful stints in both the amateur and professional ranks. “I have kind of a rule that I live by: If I'm going to show one clip of a player doing something wrong, I have to show supplementary clips of them doing things right – like a 3-to-1 ratio. I just don't think it's healthy to show players what they did wrong.”
Video has changed a great deal since Granato asked as an early teen for a VCR just so he could record games and play them back as a coach-in-training.
“It's been so natural for me,” he said. “I've always found the game of hockey fascinating. There's so much read-and-react that I enjoy watching film just to try to figure out the patterns and consistencies.”
Still, for as much video as he watches, Granato wouldn’t suggest drowning players in it. Moderation is key.
“I use video to make myself a better coach,” said Granato. “For every 10 hours of video I watch, I probably show the players 15 minutes. I want them to study the film as little as they have to – I want them to play.”
In terms of content, Granato would suggest creating a positive environment.
“The more fun and less threatening, the better,” he said. “If you're going to show video, my biggest piece of advice would be to not show players making mistakes. Show video of positives. Show video that energizes them, that inspires them to do something again.”
And if that means showing clips of Patrick Kane stick-handling gracefully through traffic instead of, say, a young player stick-handling less gracefully through traffic, so be it.
“I think video at the younger ages should be more geared toward players either watching the excitement of the game or the fun aspects of the game – basically, the highlights," Granato said. "As players progress age-wise, they can learn the game more. But, let's face it, our best athletes are the ones who idolized someone in the sport. Access to watching athletes historically has been great for aspiring players. I think the video really should be inspirational and geared toward their aspirations.”
Technology has also made it easier than ever to watch those highlights on phones or tablets that are merely a search away from "Patrick Kane shootout" bliss. In other words, there will come a time for systems.
Darwitz, who joked about a time “back in the day” of stopping, rewinding and fast-forwarding tape as much as actually watching that tape, says coaches can appreciate and embrace how much more tactical coaches can be these days.
“Now, you can take video and, 10 seconds later, you can go slow-motion to show kids what they're doing right,” she said. “Now, you can show three clips of the power play, then the penalty kill. And the 4-on-4 plays. You can make them sequential. If you're shuffling through and you don't know what clip is next, you're going to lose that audience and interest.”
Like Granato, Darwitz also preached moderation in video sessions. The former University of Minnesota star (she recorded 248 points in 99 career games) recommends keeping sessions under 30 minutes, and her commitment to video, by design, lacks structure.
“In the early part of the season, we're working on skill development and getting better as a team,” said Darwitz. “In the second half of the season, I'm a little bit bigger on video because you're getting in to playing teams the second time around and playoffs are just around the corner. But, last year, no more than seven [sessions] and I tried to keep it under 25 minutes. I find anything longer than a half-hour you start to lose attention spans.”
Play to the crowd, Darwitz insists.
“I don’t think, at 12- or 14-years-old, that video has to be introduced on a routine basis – maybe three or four times a season,” she said. “If you're doing video once a week and it's not to the point where it's knowledge-sharing and the kids aren't learning, why do it? Like anything, you have to read the audience. If they're not engaged, stop.”
And don't play down to the crowd, either.
“I like dialogue," Darwitz said. "If a kid sees something, they're speaking up. But I do think it's good to point out, ‘Hey, here's an example of us forechecking well. Now, here's an example of us later in the game where we stopped moving our feet. You guys see the difference?’ If you don't have anything positive, you might throw in some NHL clips or some college clips. They have to be able to differentiate what you're looking for and what they did. To say, 'We have to do this better,' and you don't show them how, it's just sort of wasting time."