A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in USA Hockey Girls’ 14 and 15 Player Development Camp in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The camp brought together some of the nations best skaters and coaches for a week of practice and competition. I had once gone to these camps as a player and now have had the privilege of returning as an intern coach. As an intern coach I was fully involved with my designated team, working alongside Bob Deraney, head coach of Providence College, while also partaking in class and meeting time with other intern coaches and our mentor coach, Digit Murphy.
I have always felt lucky to have attended camp as a player, and now, having the chance to go as a coach ranks the same. My time spent with Digit, Coach Deraney, the other amazing college, prep, and youth coaches, other interns, and also the players was incredibly motivating and even after the first day I knew it was going to be a special week.
The amount of hockey knowledge we took in and also shared throughout the week could probably fill up a whole novel but I have picked out three lessons a coach (at any level) could take away from National Camp.
1. Live your mission. In one of our first intern classes we talked about having a mission and/or style as a coach. It could be as simple as a short phrase that sums up who you are as a coach and the goals you have for yourself. For example the goal or mission I have for myself is to be the coach I never had. Growing up I didn’t have a strong female coach to look up to, I had some good coaches yes, but also had some who maybe weren’t aware of the negative impact they were having not only on my game, but also on my life. Having gone through a lot of the same experiences that young female athletes are going through today, I hope to be a resource to them in anyway possible. By holding on to characteristics of my previous coaches that I as a player was able to identify with and keeping notes of what worked, and also didn’t work for me, I want to be able to help girls in all areas of their game and life. To do so, I invest in who they are as people, and as athletes. Some of the most memorable coaches I’ve had I felt truly cared about me as a person first, and secondly as a player. Those are the coaches who I sincerely enjoyed playing for, who created a positive atmosphere, and who I am still in contact with today.
2. Be an example. As coaches we constantly talk about our players being able to support each other, to be dependable, and also find away to hold themselves and others accountable for their actions…all concepts that we, as coaches, should remember to practice ourselves. It’s easy to say “do as I say,” but I personally feel life is more balanced if you remember no matter what your actions are, your players are looking up to you for guidance. Whether it’s by being able to demonstrate a drill, or selecting a healthy meal at a team dinner, show your team the right way, don’t always tell them. If you expect your teammates to be positive and encouraging with each other, then you too should be positive and encouraging. As a player I think it can be confusing when a coach says one thing yet does another, so for me I choose to not only be a coach a player can look up to, but I strive simply to be a person they can look up to as well (if this skill is mastered, you may find yourself not having to constantly coach them, and you’ll find yourself smiling at their actions). Along with that, if a mistake is made then own it, we are all human, your athletes know that, and they respect honesty, be an example even when you are wrong. Ultimately as coaches we should be constantly seeking to help build strong, positive, confident people, a great way to do that is to remember that as a coach people are following you, no matter what you are doing, work to be someone they can look up to, be an example.
3. Lead players to confidence. It’s one thing to congratulate a player after they score a goal, it’s another thing to be positive with them when they make a mistake. No player wants to make a mistake, especially girls. They seek to do everything perfect every time, something we know just can’t happen. I haven’t been a coach long, but I was a teammate and captain for quite sometime and I have seen the different outcomes associated with a coach breaking down a player after he/she made a mistake, or a coach letting that player know they believe in them and know they can do better, even though they made a mistake. As a teammate and captain I learned that it wasn’t my place to let a teammate know they messed up, more often then not they already knew. Just by being there for them in times when their confidence was shaken I was able to help them realize that one mistake didn’t mean they were going to make another one and helped them find the strength to believe in themselves. As coaches we can do that too, in my opinion, we aren’t there to let them know what they are doing wrong, we are there to lead them to personal and team success.
At national camp we were able to create that atmosphere quickly within our team and it only further enhanced the players experience. It was sort of silly but we did so by having a toy “Hulk Mask” as our hardest worker trophy. After every ice session (practice or game) I prompted the girls to nominate three players who deserved the mask and then they all put their heads down to vote without seeing who everyone else was voting for. It was impressive and motivating to see how many hands shot up wanting to nominate someone, and, even after the mask was handed out how the conversation kept flowing with words of encouragement from player to player. They were genuinely excited for themselves, each other, and the entire team throughout the whole week. The effectiveness was seen in their interactions with each other on and off the ice, and also expressed to the coaches in their individual player evaluation meetings at the end of the week. When asked about the camp the first words out of every players mouth was something along the lines of “I didn’t expect to like my team so much,” or, “I love how close our team was,” or, “I didn’t think we would actually play like a team.” I truly feel that creating a positive culture driven by the players themselves enabled them to have so much fun and success in a short amount of time, and it is something I won’t forget.
We’ve all heard this time and time again, “you learn life lessons in hockey.” However, I think some coaches lose sight of that trying to win or meet certain program goals. Especially in youth hockey, we aren’t just helping sculpt the next great athlete or team; we are shaping futures one person at a time. That is something we cannot forget. You have the potential to impact every single player you come in contact with, you are fortunate enough to have a group of people yearning to learn from you, don’t take that for granted. Live your mission. Be an example. Lead them to confidence.