29 August, 2018

Is our Message Being Received?: Communication Between Hockey Coaches and Hockey Players

As coaches, we are constantly sending messages to our players.  Are those messages being received? How we present that message will partially determine whether or not your players receive it. Sending it is not enough—we must ensure that our players are grasping that which we are trying to teach.

What I am talking about is communication. There are myriads of books on this topic with plenty of subtopics and I am far from the expert. However, today, I would like to highlight a few ways to make our seasons more successful.  This is for all coaches who coach at any level. Delivery will change based on your age level and the content of your message however, there are some universal truths I would like to discuss: specifically how we, as humans, learn.  If we understand how we learn, then we can best deliver our message and ensure that we have done all we can to reach our players.

I am both a physical therapist and hockey coach. When talking about learning styles in PT school, we discussed the Sensory Preference Inventory, which back then had mainly 3 categories. Since then, I found supportive information on this from https://teach.com/what/teachers-know/learning-styles/.

This theory breaks down learning styles into three main categories:

 Audible: They hear and can interpret and understand by listening.

2.     Visual: They need to see something to understand it.

3.     Kinesthetic: They need to do it to understand it.

Any of our players can be one or any combination of these types of learners.  So, when explaining a drill:

1.    Do we explain it verbally for your audible learners?

2.    Do we draw it out on a board AND/or demonstrate it for your visual learners?

3.    Do we give our kinesthetic learners a chance to do the drill 1-2x before we jump down their throats that they weren’t paying attention in line?

(Disclaimer: I am talking about the kid in line, 6 players back, who still doesn’t get it… not the two players having coffee talk while the others in front of them are going).

Let’s look at these a little more in depth.

1.    Audible: My own weakness lies in that I am a low talker. When coaching, I really have to practice and focus on the volume of my voice to ensure all my players can hear me.  One of the rinks we commonly use, has a terrible echo which makes ANY rink noise a distraction. Whether it is music playing or when another team’s dryland training is concurrent with my on-ice practice, I have obstacles to overcome. If I am not aware of this, these details can impede my audible learners from receiving my message.

Take away: Do you have strengths and/or weaknesses in this area? How can you improve this season?

2.    Visual: I break this down in two forms.

a.   Do we draw our drills or games out (whether on a board or on the ice)? Do we use different colored markers for clarity or more than just X's to explain the drill? You don’t have to be an artist for this… and, actually the worse you are, the more human you become. It’s ok to let the kids see that you’re not perfect. You are trying to communicate with them and that is what they will value. 

b.   The second part of this is demonstrating.  Maybe you are a parent coach and know the game but can’t demonstrate well. Maybe you’re a high school coach and your days of tip top stickhandling drills are long gone and you know your players can do it better than you. Don’t be insecure. Feel free to demonstrate at half speed.  Feel free to use one of your players (who gets it and feels comfortable being a leader) to demonstrate your drill for you.

Take away: What are your strengths/weaknesses in this area? How can you improve this season?

3. Kinesthetic: These are people who just need to actually do a task to understand it. That means letting them go through the drill once or twice before stopping them. If the mistakes are consistent, then stop them and help them. We don’t want to reinforce bad habits. Skate with them through the drill or have them mirror another player doing the drill. If, however, they are improving with each try, they may be a kinesthetic learner. Give your players space and time to learn. 

Disclaimer: This is for the learner who truly doesn’t understand, not the players that understand and wish to do their own thing anyway.

Note: I believe this kinesthetic learning style is true for a whole team as well. The first time you do a new drill, especially at the higher levels, it may be brutal to watch. But give them time to figure it out. As a coach, this is the most painful thing. Give it a few minutes to let the team get the feel of it. Then, bring them in, explain again, let them ask questions, and return to it. With time and with practice, we know they get better. A team with many moving parts and emphasis on timing for well executed strategy is one example of kinesthetic learning and proves the existence of a learning curve.

Take away:
 What are your strengths/weaknesses in this area? How can you improve this season?


We, as a coaches, have messages to send. There are many ways to communicate those messages. These are a few examples, but don't limit your creativity in any of these realms. I encourage you this season, when preparing your practices to think of your audience and consider your types of learners within it.

Last but certainly not least, if you are coaching girls, the WHY is very important. Some would say, if you are coaching millennials of any gender, the WHY is important. I hinted at this in my first WHL article, The Off Season for Coaches.  When you have a drill in mind or a game you want them to play, they will grasp it better if they know WHY.  Sometimes I communicate this before the drill, so we know why we are doing it and how it will help us succeed.  Sometimes I don’t communicate it until after and even pose the question to the team: WHY are we doing this? What does it teach? What makes us successful in this drill? How will this help us in our upcoming game? Make the players think and give them the opportunity to participate in the communication process. By doing so, you have now gone from the sender to the receiver of the message and can verify that your message has been grasped.

Communication is far too vast and exhaustive of a topic to breakdown in one brief article. However, I hope by highlighting the types of learners on our teams, I have been a catalyst for a new thought process as you plan your practices this year.

A new season is upon us and we have many messages to send. From life skills to hockey strategy, our verbal and non-verbal approach will send plenty of messages to our teams over the course of this next season.  As coaches, let’s up our game. Let’s focus on how we are presenting our message so that all of our players will receive it.

Good luck this season!

Live Your Dreams,

Coach Kim 


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