Through my combined 20 years of experience in the hockey and training sectors, I’ve come across a few great, several good, and several pretty bad coaches. Now that I’ve made a career out of a “coaching” position, I find that I rely back on my experiences with previous coaches to shape my current behavior. Moreover, I’m in a position to see how much poor coaching decisions affect the development (especially psychologically) of young athletes and think it’s instructive for athletes to be more proactive in seeking out good coaches, not just good programs. The below list is far from an exhaustive collection of all positive coaching qualities, only examples of those qualities that I feel are most representative of good coaches.
1) Their Athletes Experience Success
Success means different things to different people, and can include both individual (making a team, earning a spot on a top line/powerplay, achieving a certain body fat percentage, increasing broad jump distance, etc.) and team (beating a top team at any given level, making the playoffs, winning a championship, etc.) achievements. Inherent in this is the idea that “success” is HIGHLY specific to the individual or team. Sidney Crosby achieving success in his mind will certainly be different from the AHL player that is simply fighting for an NHL roster spot. On a more common scale, every team has goal scorers and role players; a single goal may be a huge success for a role player, whereas it would be an expected achievement for a player deemed a scorer. Similar things can be said regarding success in an off-ice training setting in terms of both relative and absolute improvements/achievements. I’ve had players come to Endeavor Sports Performance with lofty performance improvement aspirations; I’ve had others walk in (rather, limp in) with an exhausting list of past injuries that say they simply want to be able to enter the next season feeling healthy again. In all situations, coaches can have a significant impact on the successes of the player and quality coaches tend to generate a long list of successful athletes. In a nutshell, this just means that the coach gets results.
“If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.” – Vince Lombardi
2) They Give their Athletes Credit for Athletic Successes
When an athlete reaches a goal or otherwise experiences some personal or team success, that is for the athlete to own. It was their ability, hard work, and resolve that got them there. Nothing gets my goat more than coaches taking credit for an athlete’s accomplishments. You see this all the time in both hockey and training settings. Undoubtedly, coaches play a vital role in the athlete’s development and in guiding the athlete toward success, but if the athlete doesn’t exert the physical and mental effort to do their jobs (and to practice doing their jobs), then success will never be found. Most of the “credit stealing” is done in the name of marketing. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having an alumni list on a website, but when a coach says “I got them there” or “they would never be there without me”, I think it’s complete bullshit. Let the athlete give the coach credit if it’s that deserved. Even worse, many coaches get these absurdly talented athletes that come into the program successful, leave the program and continue to be successful, and the coach will take credit for that. It’s complete bullshit. Bottom line is that coaches can have career-overhaul influence on some players, but it’s far from the norm. If a player is on an NHL route, and then reaches the NHL level, that is what they were supposed to do. It wasn’t the coaches accomplishment to take credit for.
3) Different Language for Different Players
Every coach needs to know their athletes. Different athletes will have varying degrees of internal and external motivation, will respond to different forms of feedback, and generally rely on different past experiences to drive future behavior. Coaches that take a “one-size-fits-all” approach will inevitably lose some athletes. Great coaches find ways to relate to the athlete and convey constructive information in a way that suits the athlete’s learning style and overall personality.
Would you motivate this guy the same way as an 11-year-old?
4) Place Development as the #1 Priority
This doesn’t always apply at the professional level, as sport coaches are hired and fired based on their ability to win. However, at the youth levels, the goal is always to help the player develop. Sometimes this involves hard decisions. It could mean putting a less skilled player in the game in an important situation just to give them the experience. It may mean cutting a player that won’t thrive at a certain level or within a certain program, even if they’re talented enough. In fact, I’ve actually recommended that players train LESS with us at Endeavor (read: turned away business) if I thought it was in their best interest. Simply, it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture in the interest of short-term success (or what may be perceived as success).
5) Continuous Education
Over time new information in every field becomes available. When coaches get stuck in their system, they often get passed by those that can be considered more “innovative”. From a training standpoint, I think it’s comical when I get off-season hockey training programs for a team and I can pull the book published in the late ’80s from my bookshelf that the program was photocopied from. Being less cynical, I suppose I should just be happy that teams are starting to make an effort to provide their player’s with some sort of training structure, but as a professional in the field, it’s almost insulting that players get such a low quality manual to work from. From an on-ice perspective, do you remember when the Devils built a system around “The Trap”? This was a coaching change that completely changed the game (which made it SOOOO boring to watch). It forced every team to adapt. Keeping up with new information and maintaining a malleable mind will help ensure coaching success now and in the future.
See. Learning’s not so bad.
To your success,
Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.