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Coaching Youth Sports: Getting To The Heart Of The Matter

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The heart of every team and player experience is the coach. Coaches have a choice of going down one of two paths. One is a win-based approach. The other is often called developmental, but I prefer to call it "relationship- and experience-based coaching. "

Win-approach coaching is the most common by far (especially these days).  It involves short benches, and scheduling more and more games to build a winning record.  As a result, the dialogue between coach and players is one-sided and mostly counter-productive. It can result in brawls during the post-game handshake line, reckless play, lack of respect for the rules, opponents, officials, coaches and the game itself.

The relationship/experience based coaching approach is far better for players, coaches and parents alike. The use of the term "development" implies that it is an approach to coaching that takes time, that takes the long view, the outcome of which won't be known for a while and may not result in immediate success, if success is measured by wins and losses.  

Young hockey player watching the action

And who is doing the development? Most youth and even many high school coaches have little training in hockey skill development, and, in most instances every player on the team get the same "development' program. Since most boys are finished with the competitive level of hockey by age 16, the question becomes, what exactly are they developing to or for?

Kids came to the rink to play hockey. They came to the rink to be with their friends.  They came to the rink to experience all that hockey offers. And some will move on to bigger and better things in hockey.

Yes, skills have to be learned at every level. Yes, there needs to be team structure. Yes, the coach needs to be the leader. But the kids are the ones who play the game. Let them play. Let them create their experience, and let them enjoy what a great game hockey can be.

When in doubt a coach should step back and consider how she or he would want to be coached and then apply those approaches to their style. Still confused? Pick up a copy of the book, Double Goal Coach from the Positive Coaching Alliance, an easy-to-read book filled with lots of great advice about coaching.

This is not rocket science, gang. It is not Xs and Os. It is fundamental human relationships and common sense.

Hal Tearse is former Coach-in-Chief & Safety Director for Minnesota Hockey