For many coaches, the lessons don’t end when the final buzzer of the season reverberates through the rafters. As the Zamboni takes its last lap of the hockey year, many coaches take stock in the season and conduct player evaluations. For a coach, end-of-the-year evaluations cap a season, but they also provide an opportunity to give feedback aimed at individual improvement for next fall.
Bob Daniels has been the head coach at Ferris State University since 1992. The Bulldogs’ bench boss takes us through his team’s end-of-season player evaluations.
USA Hockey: What are the things you look at when conducting year-end player evaluations?
Bob Daniels: It’s actually a process. We’ll sit down at the end of the year with each player and spend about an hour with them. Part of our evaluation centers around academics and the classroom. We talk about any issues that might’ve cropped up during the season.
We break it down on a variety of levels. We talk about practice habits and how we felt their practice habits were. We talk about how they fit in with their teammates and how they fit in the team concepts. Some players you have to give a broader picture of the team and be less myopic.
We’ll cover the on-ice – things that we would like to see in terms of improvement of their play – and give them ideas on things they can do throughout the summer to improve.
USA Hockey: Do you talk about what type of training they need to do in the offseason?
Daniels: We don’t like to push them to be on the ice a lot. We believe the summer is a good time to get away from the game and the rink. While they all want to skate, we don’t want it to be too much each week. A lot of times, overuse injuries are brought on by too much training on the ice in the summer; that’s the time for strength and flexibility training to avoid injuries. We also want them hungry when the following year starts.
We break it down from, where are they at physically, in terms of conditioning, and what they need to do to achieve a better conditioning and strength level for the following year. Different players need different things. Some players need more size, some players need to get leaner.
USA Hockey: What role does your staff play in the process?
Daniels: For year-end evaluations we, as a staff, will make notes throughout the season on things that we may want to bring up. The staff comes together and has extensive notes for each player.
I always have at least one staff member, if not two, in the room during the evaluations. I give them ample opportunity to speak. We do meet prior to meeting with any player. We’re well prepared when that door opens.
USA Hockey: Do you get feedback from the player?
Daniels: We want to give the player an opportunity to speak as well and give us his thoughts. A lot of time we’ll start and ask, “Why don’t you walk us through your year and tell us how your season went?” And then we go from there. We like to go into it with the idea it’s a partnership with the player. Ultimately, we want the player to become better and it has to be a partnership and there has to be buy-in from the player. So it’s important we allow the communication to go both directions.
USA Hockey: How important is it to get that buy-in and allow them to feel like they have a voice in that development?
Daniels: Really important. We take notes during each meeting and keep them in a file and it allows us to refer to those next year, in case something’s not quite working right. Maybe in a follow-up meeting, we can say, “In the meeting last year, these were the things you thought were important and what you wanted to improve upon.” Without buy-in from the player, it’s an exercise in futility. It doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything during that meeting necessarily, but you’ve got to come to some sort of understanding. You don’t want to leave a meeting when there’s some kind of disagreement. You’ve got to find that common ground and you’ve got to have the buy-in.
Some people are more open and sometimes players, especially younger ones, they’re used to all the feedback flowing from the coach to them and they’re not necessarily comfortable giving the feedback to the coach. So, we really try to encourage it and we ask probing questions. We really want to know how they feel about what they’re hearing and sometimes you really have to coax it out of them. Other players are very willing to share their thoughts. We try to do it in an environment where it’s not us against them – where you have a desk in front of you – it’s more of a roundtable-type discussion. The setting is important so it doesn’t come across as lecturing by a coach.