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10 coaching commitments for the upcoming season

By Mike Doyle, 09/11/17, 12:30PM MDT


This season, USA Hockey is looking for coaches to commit to 10 things for the entirety of the 2017-18 season.

“As coaches, we’re charged with lots of different things,” said Mark Tabrum, director of USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program. “In the end, all the things that people end up worrying about, primarily winning, that ends up being the byproduct of doing all these other things.”

Here’s a list of 10 commitments that will help coaches maximize their players’ potential and help create a lifelong passion for hockey.

Commit to age-appropriate training

The American Development Model follows the Windows of Trainability: “The point in the development of a specific capacity when training has an optimal effect.”

“The more coaches understand [Windows of Trainability] and they work on those types of things in their practices, the better, as opposed to, say, breakouts for young kids,” Tabrum continued. “In the end, the breakout system really doesn’t matter, because if you don’t have the skills to skate, pass and handle the puck, you really can’t do a breakout.”

The five Ss of training and performance are stamina (endurance), strength, speed, skill and suppleness (flexibility). Hitting those five Ss in the right window will enhance your team’s overall athleticism and development.

“When you look at those windows and the boxes on the chart, if you miss those windows, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s not optimal for development either,” said Tabrum. “Those are the windows of trainability you should definitely be taking advantage of because, within those windows, kids are especially receptive to those specific development areas.”

Commit to skills and station-based practices

Some station-based drills and practices can and should still be implemented at all levels.

“As much as there’s a need at 16U and above to have practices on a full sheet of ice, there’s still time where you can benefit from breaking things down and doing a lot of station-based practices too,” Tabrum said.

Keeping age-appropriate training in mind, drills and practices can still include individual skill work at all ages. It’s crucial for youngsters to develop these skills early, but adolescents should continue this skill work too.  

“It’s important when kids are going through puberty to work on skills,” said Tabrum. “Just because you’re a beautiful skater, prepubescent, when you’re going through it, you still need to work on skating skills and edge work, so when you come out of a growth spurt, even though your body has changed, you’ve been working on those things and it’s not like you have to start over again.”

Commit to small-area games

Small-area games aren’t just for the youngsters. On a smaller surface, players have to react quicker, see and read opponents and try to maneuver in tight spaces that they’ll find themselves in at various points of the season.

“Do things with small-area games, for the older kids, like working on regrouping and breakout or power play,” Tabrum said. “For younger age groups, small-area games can help them figure out how to create 2-on-1s. Also, playing the game straight up 3-on-3 can be beneficial.”

And if you feel like you’re always playing 2-on-2 in the corner and want to mix it up, USA Hockey has a number of small-area games available for coaches.

Commit to a culture change

Here’s what a typical practice schedule looks like: player arrives 20-30 minutes early to get dressed; on the ice for one hour of practice; undressed and out of the rink in 15 minutes after practice ends.

“Maybe the whole experience is maybe an hour and, if we’re lucky, an additional 45 minutes,” Tabrum said. “I think we need to take it upon ourselves and say the youth sport community, we need to extend that 1 hour, 45 minutes and maybe extend it to 2 hours and 15 minutes.”

This will give time for a dynamic warmup and a post-skate cool down. Along with players going onto the ice warm, which can help reduce injury risk, pre-practice preparation can help focus players when they hit the ice.

“I get that people are busy in the world we live in, but to make any kind of cultural change in that environment, I think we’re going to develop better athletes and better players,” Tabrum said. “Kids are going to be in better physical shape if they’re doing just a little bit more.”

Commit to off-ice training

“What we’re lacking, compared to other countries around the world, is our commitment to off-ice training,” said Tabrum. “You look around the world at other countries and federations and it’s amazing to see how far behind we are in those areas.”

For a child to reach his or her full athletic potential, they must become athletes, along with hockey players. Unfortunately, children today are not gaining the same physical literacy they once did in schools. 

“At the beginning of the year, the weather is still nice. Might have a barbecue and your team is throwing a football or baseball. You watch them and it’s very evident something is lacking because they might not be able to throw a ball because they haven’t done it as a child growing up. They weren’t involved in that type of activity,” Tabrum said. “We want to get back to two- and three-sport athletes in high school and get away from specialization.”    

Additional activity off-ice can do wonders as a team goes through the season. It’s not all about plyometrics and explosive speed work that college and pro players perform. Younger kids can build up their athletic acumen by doing things ranging from tumbling to balance and agility contests.

Commit to your goaltender

Goaltenders often end up being shooter tutors as coaches design practice plans without keeping arguably their most important position in mind. The old excuse was, “I didn’t play goalie. I don’t know how to coach them.”

USA Hockey is combatting this by ramping up the goaltender portions of the age-specific modules.

“Phil Osaer [ADM manager of goaltending programs] has really put together more materials for coaches,” Tabrum said. “We call it the Goalie Nation.”

“As much as we’d like someone goalie-centric out there working on the ice with our goaltenders, sometimes we all know that’s not a reality,” Tabrum added. “But the reality can and should be getting our coaches to do some basic things with our goaltenders that they just haven’t been getting.”

Visit for drills and resources to maximize goaltender development.

Commit to teaching body contact and body-checking

Hockey is a physical sport. Just because there might not be body-checking in the age or gender of the players you coach, it’s still important for players to learn how to receive and give contact effectively. It’s a game-changing skill.

At the 12U level, the season before body-checking is introduced, it’s crucial to teach body contact and contact confidence. In fact, USA Hockey recommends age-appropriate body-contract training beginning at the earliest stages.

“We have a whole off-ice training progression,” Tabrum said. “Doing things off ice with the 12U group, in particular, so they get used to the bumping part, the contact part and then actually doing drills in practice at that 12U level so that they are preparing them for when they get to 14U, then they’ve gone through some of that stuff and it’s not all brand new.”

Commit to download and use the USA Hockey Mobile App

The USA Hockey Mobile Coach App puts knowledge, drills, games and resources in the palm of your hand. It is easier than ever for coaches to get and share information.

“It has all our coaching materials, it has videos, practice plans – virtually everything a coach would need,” Tabrum said. “If a coach is running behind and coming straight from work on that day, he or she can go straight to the app, pull up a practice plan, execute it and it’s right there on the phone.

“There’s so much there, I don’t know why a coach would not have it. If you’re a new coach coming into hockey, to me that would be automatic.”

Oh, yeah, and it’s free.

Commit to equal playing time

The ADM encourages associations to go with smaller team sizes, especially at the younger ages, so playing time should not be an issue. However, sometimes, in the heat of tight games, a coach might want to shorten the bench. Commit to refrain from that thinking and play your entire team.

“First and foremost, we have to prioritize what’s important. To me, winning and losing is not the most important thing. To me, it’s a byproduct of all the other things – from skill development in practice on down,” Tabrum said. “There isn’t any one game that is that important someone can’t play. In the end, you chose them, they were selected to play on your team – they should play just like everyone else.”

Commit to emphasizing fun

“Bottom line: why do children play sports? They want to have fun,” Tabrum said. “Whether it’s our sport or another sport, they play because there’s a passion. There’s something they’re gravitating toward to play the game. So, as coaches, administrators and volunteers, it’s our job to create that fun environment that they’re going to play the game, enjoy the game and get the most out of the game.”

Creating a fun, joyful environment is up to the coach. There are highs and lows throughout the season, but coaches should never intentionally do anything that will suck the joy or passion out of a youngster.

“You never want to be a player’s last coach,” Tabrum said. “You want to create an environment where, when the season is over, the kids can’t wait to get back and play the following year.”

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