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Season Evaluations for Youth Hockey Coaches

By Michael Caples, 03/23/16, 10:30AM MDT

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Last season, Paul Moore gave a postseason evaluation to one of his high school players that landed him in the principal’s office.

Athletic director’s office, actually, but principal’s office sounds more dramatic.

Moore, the Massachusetts District’s coach-in-chief for USA Hockey, told the story of how he told his player all the good things he did during the hockey season. Said player only picked up on the constructive criticism portion of the postseason evaluation, however, and apparently informed his parents in a rather blunt fashion what coach Moore had told him.

“I went on about what a great team player this kid was, the role he played, etc., and at the end of it, I told him that he really needed to work on his skating and gave him a couple ideas and some things to do,” Moore said. “This parent wanted a parent meeting with the athletic director, and he screamed at me, ‘you told my kid he can’t skate.’

“’Well guess what, your kid can’t skate, but what are you getting at?’ Those experiences make you wonder what the kid brings home when you’re talking about end-of-season evaluations. You have to be careful. They’re valuable; it’s something you can use as a tool for your athletes, but I think you have to be very, very careful.”

Put It on Paper

The aforementioned story wasn’t told to warn coaches of potential hazards they could face if they conduct postseason evaluations. Far from it. Moore said that a postseason evaluation can be a strong teaching tool when done properly, but he urges fellow coaches to consider what the player will actually take away from the interaction.

“I think it’s important that you pick out the things they do well and reinforce that to them, especially at the end of the year, because you want to end on a positive note,” Moore said. “When you’re dealing with youth hockey players, you have to be careful with what you say and how you say it because, you know, you say ‘you need to work on your skating’ and he goes home and says, ‘the coach said I can’t skate, I need to work on my skating.’ That’s what they leave with, and I think that’s a natural, normal thought process for all of us at any age.”

To make sure the player picks up on the positive reinforcements as much as the summer work suggestions, Moore strongly recommends providing a written postseason evaluation.

“It’s tricky, and that’s why I think the best thing you can do is get it on paper,” Moore said. “When you verbalize it to a 10-year-old kid, not an adult, all he’s going to hear is the negative. It’s human nature. Is that a good thing? No, it’s not. How do you make it better? If you put it on paper, reinforce all those positive things on paper, along with a couple bullet points of things he could work on – I think doing it that way, it may sound like a touchy-feely way, but I think that’s the best message to get across to a kid. At the end of the day, the parents are going to be the ones that have all the questions after talking to the kid, so it can get tricky.”

Age-Appropriate Evaluations

Moore said that as players age, the evaluations should contain different materials, but the strategy behind the postseason evaluations and the delivery method should stay the same.

“When you’re dealing strictly with skill development, which in my mind is 12U down, it’s all about skill development,” Moore said. “When they get older, 14U, 16U, it’s the more technical, tactical part of the game. A kid might be a great skater, great hands, but defensively he can’t pick up some of the concepts or the tactics that you’re working on. It might be a breakout, it might be defensive-zone coverage – anything within your system that you’re teaching a 14U or a 16U kid.

“I think that’s how you move along the scale. You’re focusing more on the skills and the abilities for the 12U kids and under, not necessarily their hockey IQ or their technical part of the game. As they get older, you might focus a little more on that. High school, I just did it with my high school team; I had some kids who defensively needed to pick their game up, needed in certain situations, like picking up the weak-side winger, that’s when it gets technical and you tell them they need to work on it.”

Involve the Parents?

Moore said it doesn’t hurt to involve parents in the evaluation process – at least at the younger levels of play.

“Now there’s much more involvement,” Moore said. “You have helicopter parents everywhere, heavily involved, almost like a stakeholder in the game. That’s what we’re inheriting, so having a parent involved in it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. But I wouldn’t bring anyone into a room and just pound them on what they need to work on. If it’s just going to be verbal, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

“If you’re going to do a parent evaluation at the end of the year at the youth hockey level, it’s a great idea to have the parents in there, and reinforcing mostly, in any evaluation, the things the player does well. You can poke holes in any single player on the ice – the objective is not to beat the kid down.”

Self-Evaluations

And as far as evaluating yourself as a coach goes, Moore said that – besides checking your ego at the door – USA Hockey’s new player activity tracker should be utilized.

“It’s a fantastic tool,” Moore said of the downloadable program. “It tracks touches of the puck, it tracks how many times you were active, how many times you were moving, how many times you weren’t moving – that feedback alone can tell you what kind of job a coach is doing in practice. Some people don’t want to hear it, don’t want to know it, but the player activity tracker is phenomenal for getting an idea of how well the coach is coaching.”

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