By Jim Clare, Illinois Coach-In-Chief – COVID-19, Virtual School, Face Coverings, Social Distancing, Contact Tracing, Work from Home, Zoom…. all terms we have become all to intimately familiar with as parents and employees. Terms I hope will not become the norm much longer. Until that day, we must live with them and do our part to allow normalcy to return.
As hockey coaches, many of those same terms apply to how we must approach this current hockey season. The good news: we have been doing it for several months in a variety of ways on and off the ice. Let me share a few other terms with you: Fun, Development, Off-Ice Training, Coachable, Hockey IQ, ADM, LTAD, Teamwork, Puck Support, Game-Like, Decision Making, Speed and Quickness, Passion, etc. Terms I hope are and will always be the norm for our coaches and players. Pandemic or not, these terms (and many others) should be taught and encouraged always.
One thing this pandemic has elevated even more than usual is the role of the coach. Your value to these players and parents has never been greater. When they have minimal social interaction in their day-to-day life, that escape to the rink becomes vital for several reasons. It gives the kids a sense of normal; it is something they are used to doing at this time of the year. Practice gives them the physical activity they need and may not be getting otherwise. A trip to the rink provides social interaction that has become limited because of the virus. For parents, it gives them a break, gets their kids out of the house, and offers them a chance to reconnect with their hockey family. Finally, it is good for the kids’ mental health as well.
With all that being said, what are you doing to make that 60 minutes as fun and impactful as it can be? With in-state game play being prohibited, the amount of practice time a team has is vastly increased. This is your time to really shine as a coach, teacher, and mentor. We have an amazing opportunity to truly develop our players, to improve their skills, increase their hockey IQ, and move them to the next level…if we want. The other choice we have is to waste this opportunity, run the same practices over and over, not invest in all our players, and complain about not playing games.
Coaches, I ask you, how are you preparing for practice? Do you put yourself in the correct frame of mind before hitting the ice? Are you using the time to create a progression of development for your team? Are you planning out the next few months of practices to build on the last one? Are you utilizing your assistant coaches to help plan practice? Are you utilizing your assistant coaches on the ice? Have you identified areas of improvement for each player and then created a plan to help them succeed? Are your practices challenging and fun? Do you take time to reflect after each session to evaluate your performance?
I hope all those things are happening. The resource pool is endless to help you achieve all those things. Take advantage of the USA Hockey Mobil Coaching App, find a mentor coach within your association, The Coaches Site and many other online resources exist for assistance. For me, the most important thing you can do is be coachable yourself. Have a thirst for knowledge. Study your craft. Above all show you care, show your passion, have fun yourself and be the most excited skater on the ice…your players will see that and feel it. Do not underestimate the influence you have on them and their attitude. Have fun coaches, most likely you will not get this awesome of an opportunity again.