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A Coach’s Perspective

By USA Hockey, 12/24/15, 2:00PM MST


An official’s role in player development

Coaches and officials have a unique relationship. For most on the outside looking in, it might appear that the two are different as night in day. One party is always right and the other party is wrong.

But what brings these two groups together – and makes them similar – is that both officials and coaches should be working toward one common goal: developing players.

Scott Paluch, a USA Hockey ADM regional manager and former NCAA coach at Bowling Green and Boston College, recognizes the role that officials and coaches have in a player’s development. He sat down with USA Hockey to share his insight on ways that the two can work together for the better of every player.

USA Hockey: Coaches and officials – can’t we all just get along?

Scott Paluch:
(Laughs) Absolutely. It’s funny, we just had this conversation with a group of coaches not too long ago. I think the key point of emphasis in order to make this relationship work for a player’s development is communication. The more that coaches and officials can communicate, the better it is for each team and each player. I think by simply talking, it can really go a long way and can help make sure that both groups are focused on the right thing: development for players at all levels.

USAH: What types of things specifically should officials be communicating to coaches?

I think the rules of the game are really important to communicate to coaches and the points of emphasis in the game. Even just the different rule changes or the major focus of the rules in the game can really help coaches better understand those aspects of hockey. They can take that and better help their team understand, too.

USAH: I’m sure there are plenty of questions that come up in regard to body-checking and body contact at the 12U and 14U levels, right?

When the body-checking legislation was put into place (in 2010), I think there might have been a lot of confusion, primarily from the coaches’ end. The more we get officials and coaches understanding why rules like that were created – both for increased safety and skill development – I think it makes for an overall better outcome for everyone involved. I think the officials are doing an outstanding job implementing that rule change and are officiating games in a positive way. It’s really up to the coaches to understand that rule and help their players and parents understand it. That’s where officials can help clear the air.

USAH: In cases like that, especially as it relates to body-checking and body contact, how important is it for officials to explain to coaches what they are looking for in the game to make a penalty call?

I think it’s crucial. At the end of the day, we are going to have body contact. Everyone who plays, watches, coaches, or officiates hockey knows that. It’s just the nature of the sport and I think officials have done a tremendous job making the distinction between body-checking and body contact. Again, the more communication between coaches and officials on what an official is looking for in a game and what he or she establishes as the difference in body-checking and body contact, the better.

USAH: When is the best time for an official to approach a coach and talk to him or her about what they look for in a game?

That’s where it can get a bit tricky, because there are so many technical issues in youth hockey, especially when they are trying to start the games on time. A lot of times, you don’t always have the amount of time necessary to communicate before a game, but I do think there should be an effort made in warm-ups to find time for that conversation. When an official lets a coach know, “Hey, this is what I’m looking for in terms of body contact and playing the puck,” or,  “Here is when I am going to make a call,” it gets everyone on the same page. Having that open conversation with the coaches allows them to remind their team to play the puck and not just the body.

USAH: So really it’s about educating coaches and in turn educating players

Exactly. The education part of hockey is so important at the youth levels, and even beyond. It’s crucial. I think sometimes we lose sight of the education piece. The more coaches and officials can explain things and say, this is what we see and this is what we are looking for, the more we can teach our players. When we lose focus on that and instead base it on the outcome of a particular player or a particular game, the worse-off it will be for the players. For officials and coaches, teaching players should be first and foremost.

USAH: What’s your biggest piece of advice to help build that official-coach relationship, and help develop players to be their best?

There needs to be respect between coaches and officials. The more respect there is between coaches and officials, the more it will benefit the players. I think the more we can talk as a coaching body and an officials body, the more we will understand, and the more we will be able to teach the players. There’s a lot of rationale that goes into the rules, and how officials are taught that rationale. That information can help coaches understand, too. I think, with player development in mind, we should keep working together, communicate and respect one another – the benefit for the players will be tremendous.