Like Players, Coaches Should Always Be Looking to Improve

Offseason is a great opportunity for coaches to examine what they can do better

By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – The offseason is a time to review, refocus, set goals and get prepared for the fall season.

Those areas of emphasis don’t just apply to hockey players, but also to coaches. Now is the time for coaches — whether they just wrapped up their first season or finished off their 15th year behind the bench — to figure out how to become better at their craft.

“The art of coaching is self-improvement,” USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Joe Bonnett said. “At any level, as soon as you stop improving or thinking or reflecting, you’re somewhat dead in the water in this profession. If you look at all the great coaches in any sport, it’s the word ‘kaizen.’ A lot of European clubs use it. It’s basically continual improvement. That is also tied in very strongly with good coaches, progressive coaches that have a growth mindset. 

“I think for our youth hockey coaches, the number one tip that I would give them is it’s OK to be open to new things. Doing things the way you’ve always done them, doing the things the way that you saw when your dad coached you 25 years ago, is stifling for not only you as a coach but really for the kids.”

Personal development is key for coaches. Teaching young athletes how to play the game is a journey, just like learning is for the players. 

“We have to think in the same terms of, if we’re asking our players to constantly get better and challenging them outside of their comfort zones a little bit, we’ve got to do the same for ourselves as far as coaches,” USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Dan Jablonic said. “It’s really taking a 360-degree look and having a reflection period, not just at the end of the season, but along the way to see how your coaching has progressed.” 

The easy part for coaches these days in the information age is knowing what to coach — Google some drills, log onto websites and read up. 

At the end of the season, coaches need to be able to reflect and ask questions: “How did you coach that?” Bonnett said. “What was your language with the players? What was your connection with the parents? How did you relay information to kids and then how do you know that information was sticking?” 

Bonnett, who coached at the collegiate level for 19 years prior to moving to USA Hockey, recommends a coach picking out two or three areas from the season in which they were weak, conduct some research and be more well-versed in those areas come fall.

“That’s the beauty of our game, you get humbled every day, you learn something new and you have to transfer it to your players to put them in a better situation,” Jablonic said. “That’s where you get into that focus where it’s player centered and that’s a big topic we use right now. My job [as a coach] is to really guide these players through their goals and have them reach them and solve problems and really enjoy that journey along the way. It’s the same thing with us as coaches. We have to enjoy it, so really taking a look at where are my strengths? Maybe I’m a really [strong] communicator and have great knowledge of the game or vice versa where I don’t have knowledge of the game yet but I’m really good with people and with kids. Then I have to look at other areas if I look at the 360 degree view. Am I actually communicating to the parents, the other ally, in this journey? What we’re doing on and off the ice, what are our team goals?”

CEP enhances its techniques

Knowing how instrumental coaches are to the development and success of young hockey players, USA Hockey has put forward endless resources to aid coaches. That’s proven with the Coaching Education Program (CEP).

The CEP requires both certification and registration to be eligible to coach. All coaches start at Level 1 and need to go through recertification when they move up to coach another age group. Coaches can only attend one clinic per season, which runs from April 1-Dec. 31. 

The next CEP clinic in Illinois for Level 1 certification will be a two-day virtual clinic June 1st and 3rd. There will be a virtual CEP clinic in Illinois for Level 2 coaches on June 15th and 17th. Both clinics run from 6:30-9:30 p.m. For more information on CEP or to sign up for clinics, check out

In the last 14 months since the pandemic hit, USA Hockey moved its CEP clinics to online only. Instead of coaches regionally located sitting in a conference room on a Saturday afternoon receiving information from USA Hockey representatives, coaches are now on a Zoom call and share stories with fellow coaches who are time zones apart. The coaches are able to break into smaller groups and have discussions. The online approach has been a silver lining for the pandemic for CEP. 

USA Hockey has also altered how it teaches its CEP clinics. The new approach is more of an interactive style where coaches aren’t just flooded with information from the USA Hockey representatives, but they are able to relate it to their own situations and participate in their own learning. 

“When you coach a youth hockey team, most of your decisions should be about the players, the individuals and their development — player centered,” Bonnett said. “It’s not about super coach running Colorado Avalanche drills, standing at the white board for 20 minutes and giving lectures — that’s coach centered. USA Hockey and ADM, we really try to change the mindset and we really want to be player centered, what’s best for the players. Ask yourself, what do the players need to improve? So, I think what the CEP did, they stepped back and they said, you know what, if we’re saying things should be player centered for players during practice, shouldn’t our CEP classes be coach centered? 

“Listening to Joe Bonnett or Danny Jablonic give a 60-minute PowerPoint presentation with jokes and slides and video is great and entertaining, but what we found is it’s not really sticking. What we’ve asked ourselves is, are the coaches getting better or are we just entertaining the coaches? What we want to do is supply the coaches with tools that when they leave our clinic, they feel more confident to be able to step on the ice and be able to coach.” 

Added Jablonic: “The coaches didn’t have a ton of time to let that sink in. Now, we’re really facilitating a discussion so they can take those pieces and actually apply it to their craft. They can say, OK, now I can add this and think about this and get them to think on their own and start to problem solve themselves in what areas that they can really be better in.” 

Jablonic highly encourages coaches to take CEP clinics every few years just so they are in tune with what’s being taught. Coaches should never get stagnant in their ways and should always be willing to evolve.

“The game’s changed so much even in the last 10 years,” Jablonic said. “Well, our coaching has to change as well.” 

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Categories: CEP Clinics, Coaches, Coaches Snapshot, Featured

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