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The art of correcting kids' mistakes

By Dave Pond, 11/18/16, 7:15AM MST

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Q&A with Robert Morris University men’s hockey head coach Derek Schooley

It’s no secret: youth hockey players make mistakes. A lot of them.

As coaches, part of our job is to correct these mistakes. But no matter what age group you’re coaching, one thing’s for sure: you can’t correct every player the same way, says Robert Morris University men’s hockey head coach Derek Schooley.

Schooley, who also currently coaches three youth teams, too, sat down with us to talk about youth player development, and ways coaches can correct mistakes while maintaining a fun, exciting environment for players and parents alike.

USA Hockey: How can youth coaches become skilled at correcting player mistakes?

Derek Schooley: First of all, you have to realize that every one of your players is different. They hear things differently, they see things differently, and they respond to correction differently. For example, some of your kids will be visual learners – meaning you’ll need to diagram things out for them – while others will respond to simple verbal commands.

So, you have to get to know your players in order to coach them. That’s done through talking to them, observing them and hearing the types of questions they ask after you explain something to them. Some people like to be challenged, while others like to challenge you. Learn how they respond to you.

It’s like school. If you take the time to learn how kids learn from you, it’ll make you a better teacher and coach.

USA Hockey: How does age factor into how coaches should correct player mistakes?

Schooley: I’ve got a 10U, a 12U and a 14U team, and I can tell you that my 14U girls listen on a different level than my 10U girls do. So, make sure you’re doing it in a constructive, positive, teaching way to be able to help each player because, again, each player is different.

Talk to them on their level, so your kids understand what you’re trying to help them accomplish. Sometimes that’s hard for adults – to talk to kids at their level – but the best youth coaches are the ones that can make kids understand, and make the kids realize that their coaches are just trying to help them get better.

USA Hockey: How important is positive reinforcement?

Schooley: You have to have it with younger kids – make everything you tell them enthusiastic and positive. When you’re correcting player mistakes, always, always, always include something the player did well along with your correction. For example, you might say “Hey, you skated really hard to get to the puck but, once you get there, you need to look for the option.”

Keep it positive. The last thing you want is kids getting discouraged. And, no matter how old your players are, or how skilled they are, make sure you’re not derogatory or talking down to them in any way.

USA Hockey: Is it better to correct your players one-on-one, or do it in front of their teammates?

Schooley: As a coach, there’s a balance of teaching to the team and teaching each player individually. Both can be a good ways for players to learn and get better.

Your whole team can benefit from hearing about a teammate’s mistakes as well as the good things they’ve done. So, if you talk to the team about how a particular player did something well, and praise him or her in front of their teammates, other players will want to emulate that.

USA Hockey: OK, but what about the parents?

Schooley: You have to have buy-in from your players’ parents. Parents have to be on board – you can’t have situations where you tell a player one thing, or teach them a certain way to do something, and then have their parents tell them something completely different.

As coaches, we’re not always right – and we will make mistakes – but, for the most part, parents have to believe that you’re doing what’s best for their sons and daughters.

USA Hockey: What’s the most important thing to remember when correcting player mistakes?

Schooley: It’s all about the kids, so make sure that everything you’re doing and saying is putting them first.

Secondly, most youth coaches I know are volunteers. No one coaches youth hockey to get rich or get into NHL player development – they’re in it because they love the game and want to help kids love it, too. So, as coaches, if you can remember that – and keep solid lines of communication open with your players and their parents – it’ll go a long way to making the game fun and enjoyable for everyone.

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By Matt Leaf 04/02/2020, 11:30am MDT

Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”

Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future. 

USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.

On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo. 

At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.

The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1. 

SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.

The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.

The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.

These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.

Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.

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All new screens submitted through the new NCSI national screening program after April 1, 2020 will be valid for two seasons.  For example, a screen submitted and approved on April 15, 2020 will be valid through the end of the 2021-22 season, which is August 31, 2022.

How can members complete their required background screen?
A link to submit for screening will be included in your membership registration confirmation email and posted in the drop-down menu under the OFFICIALS tab at USAHockey.com.

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Where can members go with questions about the national background screen program?
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