Establishing trust as a coach is essential to building a culture all players buy into.
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – Creating and maintaining a great culture is an essential element for any team.
Whether it’s a bunch of 6-year-olds playing on a team for the very first time or 18-year-olds trying to win a state title, fostering a good team culture starts from the top at the coach and trickles down to the players, who need to keep it going strong.
Lake Forest Academy boys’ hockey assistant coach Rob Klein believes there are three components that make up good team culture. The first, and most important, is trust. Secondly, it is support for teammates. And the final one is collaboration.
Coaches need to establish trust from the first meeting with the players and/or parents. That can even start at the season’s opening practice.
Trust is a main teaching point during USA Hockey’s Coaches Education Program sessions.
“Being prepared for those meetings, whether that’s with the team or the parents,” Klein said. “We think both of those have to occur. It lays the ground rules for the year, but it also sets the tone. Also, it’s communicating to those players saying, ‘Come to me when you have problems. I can be more than a coach to you beyond the X’s and O’s.’”
Telling a coach to build trust from the get-go sounds easy, but how does one actually achieve that?
“I think for me, it’s the theme of positivity — staying positive whatever the situation may be,” Klein said. “Leading by example, doing what you preach, being disciplined. Also, be a good listener. I think that’s becoming more necessary for coaches these days, especially with everything going on. People are going through a lot of different things outside the hockey rink. Being a sounding board and having an open-door policy, I think, is very crucial for a good coach to solidify that culture of the team. If the team knows that it can go to that coach and talk to them about anything — could be school, could be another sport they’re playing, personal issues, whatever it may be — that builds trust and support.”
Klein noted that building trust is almost a forgotten piece of coaching. He said some coaches are so focused on wins and losses that they forget who they represent. Being a leader and mentor to the players is a big responsibility for coaches. That means supporting players both on and off the ice.
“On ice, know your team’s capabilities,” Klein said. “Devise a practice plan that leaves some room for struggle and failure. Those things help in development. Being able to provide constructive criticism back to those players in a drill that they’re pretty stretched on ability-wise can go a long way. It starts to build confidence. You start to go through some repetition of drills and hope they understand it now. Now they have that and you’re really proving to them that they can do something.”
Off the ice, Klein believes it’s paramount to have frequent team meetings, where guidance, direction and positivity are stressed. That also applies to meeting with parents — telling them how they are keeping their kids engaged and what’s going on with the direction of the team.
It’s quite common for professional sports coaches to take a day off or cut practice early to go take part in a team bonding activity, such as go bowling. Klein said that is a great idea for coaches to do for kids of all ages.
Coaches can get creative, take off practice and bring the players outside. Throw down a soccer ball onto a field and let the kids play. Another idea is toss lacrosse sticks outside and let the players create a game.
“It starts to develop other aspects, not just in the rink,” Klein said. “It’s creating a good team bond. It’s developing other areas — maybe it’s footwork skills, maybe it’s awareness.”
The third element to fostering good team culture is collaboration, which is combining trust and support.
“When there’s the support and the trust factors, the team’s able to open up a little bit,” Klein said. “They’re able to open up and communicate. I think communication really provides the interaction that to me they get in the locker room or on the bench. I think when teams communicate or interact, it’s better, not only collaboration but bonding. And I think those factors really mesh and work well together to create a good team unity.”
Klein uses longtime Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as a prime example of a coach who leads by example and is a great mentor to his players.
“The energy that he brings to the field, whether it’s in practice or in games, it’s just electrifying,” Klein said. “You can see how the players feed off of that. He has created a culture with the Seahawks organization where it’s a culture surrounding fun, but also hard work. The players that he has brought in feed off of that, they thrive. The energy that he brings as a coach is a great example for what coaches of lesser levels can do to drive performance on the team.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.