ST. LOUIS -- There was a time, perhaps not even that long ago, when hockey coaches thought they needed to weave a tapestry of profanity, typically produced at high decibels, to get their point across to players.
The days of the cantankerous coach have gone the way of the wooden stick and leather skates. Today's bench boss needs to tweak the tone, tenor and temperament of their message if they want it to resonate with today's players.
That message came through loud and clear throughout the four days of the National Hockey Coaches Symposium, which wrapped up Sunday.
"This is the 'selfie generation,' as I like to call it," San Diego Gulls Head Coach Dallas Eakins said during his talk on Leadership and Character. "You have to explain how and why something benefits the team and the individual.
"These days you can't make them do things. You have to inspire them to do things. You can't use punishment to get your point across. Punishment is a terrible motivator. The coaches I remember most are the ones who inspired me."
Or as high performance athletic expert Dr. Steven Norris said, "Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don't be mean when you say it."
That message helped to reinforce what Amherst, N.Y., youth hockey coach Andy Tokasz has been trying to do with his teams. He used to think he needed to raise his voice and his blood pressure to get his point across. He now knows there's a better way.
"I'm a different coach than I was four years ago. I try to be more positive when I'm communicating not only with my players but also with parents," said Tokasz, who coaches a Peewee team.
It's not only what you say it that counts. In today's world of smartphones and social media, the way you deliver that message can make all the difference.
As USA Hockey President Jim Smith pointed out, the attention span of today's player is super short, and coaches need to tailor their message to fit their player's ever-shrinking attention span.
"Everything happens at warp speed," Smith said. "You need to get your point across in eight seconds."
Few coaches know that better than Don Granato. For the past five years he worked with some of the most talented 16 and 17-year-old players in the country in his role as a head coach with the National Team Development Program. He learned that in order to reach them, he had to do so on their level.
"A couple years ago I went out and bought two or three books on Generation Z and the teenaged brain to figure out how I could become better as a coach," said Granato, who is now coaching with his brother, Tony, at the University of Wisconsin.
"We all need to be better. If we want to stay in this industry we all need to get better. I'm trying to get better every day."
Capturing and keeping a player's attention on the ice also requires a creative approach. One of the most effective ways to do that is through station-based practices, which keep players engaged rather than standing watching teammates run through a drill.
"From my perspective it's about efficiency," said Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Jeff Blashill.
"The one thing at the NHL level is that players don't want to waste any time. They'll do anything for you as long as you're not wasting their time. If you run slow practices where there's lots of standing around they don't see where they're benefitting from it. They have to believe that they're getting better, for you to get the maximum effort out of them."
Communication is a two-way street, especially with today's players. At the NTDP, coaches seek feedback from players so they know their message is getting through.
"We're always asking the players themselves, do you understand this? What did you like here?" Granato said. "I ask them for evaluations on me, believe it or not. I don't think a coach would've done that 20 years ago. I think a lot more coaches are doing that today."
The Referee Section of USA Hockey recently met during Annual Congress and discussed a variety of issues that will have an impact in the success of the officiating program. Many of those issues relate back to the successful completion of the registration requirements and the retention of officials.
Streamlining the registration process and maximizing the efficiency of our educational platforms are always a priority and the following Q-and-A will highlight those changes that every official should be aware of heading into the new season.
USA Hockey: What is the biggest change made to the registration requirements for this season?
Matt Leaf: With more and more seminars transitioning to a virtual format, the Referees-in-Chief (RIC) have determined that there really is no need for the closed book exams. So, level 2, 3 and 4 officials this season will no longer be required to submit a closed book (or modified online closed book exam) upon completion of the seminar requirement. Instead, the open book exams have been expanded to 75 questions for level 2 and 100 questions each for level 3 and level 4.
The RICs acknowledged that the purpose of the exams has always been as a means to encourage rule knowledge, so more effort was made to put together open book exam questions that will encourage the officials to open the Rules/Casebook in an effort to not only learn the rule, but more importantly, understand the spirit and intent of the rule.
USAH: Are there any other changes to the exam process
ML: The only other change to the exams deal with those who do not pass the original exam. Level 2, 3 and 4 officials will now be able to complete their retake exam 24 hours after failing their original exam. Level 1 officials will still need to wait seven days as we want them to slow down and take some time reviewing the rules so they can gain a better understanding and improve their chances for success on the ice.
USAH: What changes, if any, have been made to the seminars? Are all officials still required to attend a seminar each season?
ML: Yes, except for Tenured Officials, all officials are required to attend a seminar for the level that they apply for each season. So, a Level 1 official must attend a Level 1 seminar, Level 2 attends a Level 2 and then Level 3 and 4 seminars will be combined as one seminar in many cases.
Level 1 officials are strongly encouraged to attend a seminar in their own area and most areas will mainly conduct in-person Level 1 seminars. Although there will be some hybrid Level 1 seminars with both a virtual and in-person component, the key here is that every Level 1 official is required to attend a Level 1 seminar ice session. This may require some additional coordination of scheduling for these new officials, but the reality is this on-ice practice is so critical to any future success they may have on the ice that the RICs feel it is critical that the ice session is part of their educational experience.
Level 2 seminars will also include an on-ice component that Level 2 officials need to be aware of when they plan their seminar attendance. The vast majority of Level 3 and Level 4 seminars will be virtual and officials are encouraged to attend a seminar at a date and time that is convenient for them.
USAH: Have there been any changes to the curriculum for the various levels?
ML: The curriculum for each level was standardized prior to last season and is something that will continue to be updated on an annual basis. The specific presentations, along with the video examples, have all been developed in a manner that provides valuable information specific to each level with new presentations and updated video examples being used to keep things fresh and relevant. In addition, the seminar curriculum has been coordinated with the online modules to minimize duplication and to diversify the required education for each level.
USAH: How about SafeSport and Screening – any changes to those requirements?
ML: The background screening process will remain the same as USA Hockey is required to conduct a national screen every two years on any official who is 18 years of age as of June 1 of the registration year (in this case 2022). Both the background screen and the SafeSport training are mandated by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) per the Amateur Sports Act initiated by Congress.
For SafeSport, any official who was born in 2005, or earlier, is required to complete SafeSport training on a yearly basis. This may include the full training or refresher training that is managed by the US Center for SafeSport. Although it will not have an impact on registration for this season, there was a change in SafeSport that has been made where the training will only be valid for a 12-month period of time and it not consistent with an overlapping season. This will be addressed during the summer of 2023.
USAH: Are there any other changes or areas of emphasis that you want officials to be aware of?
ML: A significant part of the discussions that took place with the RICs focused on the importance mentoring plays in the success and, ultimately, the retention of brand-new officials. USA Hockey loses 50% of our new officials every season and improving that retention rate by just 15% will result in 1,000 additional experienced officials joining our ranks each year. We need to do a better job of bringing new officials into the fold and then supporting them in ways that sets them up for a successful and rewarding experience. The RICs feel strongly the best way to positively impact this issue is through mentoring.
Experienced officials should expect to receive information later this summer that outlines expectations of a formal Mentor Program and asking them to volunteer their time and expertise to become involved as a mentor. Once we have established a pool of officials that are willing to contribute in this way to the next generation of officials, they will be assigned a group of new officials they can reach out to and guide them through the registration process, seminar attendance, assistance in completing the open book exam and reaching out to prospective assignors when the time has come they are ready to work games. Once they have stepped on the ice, that mentor can continue to be a valuable resource for the new official and provide the necessary support needed to be successful. We will also be encouraging local clubs, assignors and officials’ groups to implement Shadow Programs that will complement the Mentor Program and positively enhance the officials’ experience even more.
With everyone working together towards a common goal, USA Hockey can become a leader in addressing the officiating crisis while providing a positive experience to our next generation of officials.