USA Hockey’s National Coaches Symposium offered a jam-packed agenda on Day 2, headlined by a pair of NHL head coaches: Detroit’s Jeff Blashill and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan.
Blashill focused on individual skill development as a means to improving team performance and he set the tone early by sharing one of his pet peeves about the youth hockey environment.
“What’s the youth hockey anthem?” asked Blashill. “That’s right. ‘Get it out!’ ‘Get it in!’ I hear it all the time and it drives me crazy. How do you learn to make skilled plays if you’re never allowed to do it? Trust me, they’ll be better in March if you allow them to handle the puck, and they’ll be way better in the long term.”
Blashill went on to explain the importance of clearly defining specific elements of performance that need improvement and then working on those elements with high-rep practice structures.
Sullivan’s presentation focused on team-building, culture creation and the leadership aspects of coaching. Using examples of how the Penguins marched to consecutive Stanley Cup victories in 2016 and 2017, Sullivan illustrated the important decisions and challenges that coaches encounter along the way. One of those, for him, was rekindling his team’s passion. Without it, it’s impossible to succeed. Sullivan challenged attendees to inspire their players.
“Passion is essential,” he said. “Coaches have to create environments in practice that fuel passion.”
Olympic Coaches Reflect on Korean Lessons and Youth Hockey
Following breakout sessions that covered everything from goaltenders’ lateral releases to off-ice training, Tony Granato, Paul Mara and Guy “Goose” Gosselin took the stage for a panel discussion of their Olympic experience in 2018. It was a wide-ranging conversation that also dipped into youth player development. One of the topics that arose was the challenge of coaching players who have an outstanding skill or two, but perhaps don’t have the total package or good habits or even a positive attitude. It’s a delicate situation, but something Granato believes in handling head-on with candor, communication and optimism. His advice?
“Find the positive in that kid and then help him develop the other parts into his game and into his personality,” he said. “You try to find ways that you can inspire them to change their habits.”
Seth Appert, head coach at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, counts himself among the ranks of youth hockey coaches – albeit at the highest level – and he delivered a notebook full of messages to his fellow youth coaches during a presentation on angling, gaps and transition. Not only did he emphasize the vital importance of joy in hockey, he also reminded attendees about how their tactics and priorities can influence a child’s entire hockey trajectory.
“I think dumping the puck in youth hockey should be looked at with the same distain as taking a retaliation penalty,” said Appert. “Dumping the puck might help you win a game, but it won’t help get our American players where they need to be in the long term.”
Using Off-Ice Time to Build Better Athletes
Not every form of hockey training needs ice. That message was the focus of an extensive array of off-ice games and activities during today's breakout sessions. There were stations for angling drills, body-contact drills and even an area for reaction and anticipation games.