Post #120 – 8/9/23 – Coaching Over Winning? You Bet.

At The End of The Day, Coaching Matters Most

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Pay Attention To Development

Monday’s post about the Fun vs. Rewarding argument yielded some great feedback. One comment in particular got me thinking about next year’s youth/minor hockey season. Which is pretty much already here even though it’s only mid-August.

The comment was primarily – can you have a rewarding experience without winning. Said another way… if your team loses more than wins, how can that be rewarding?

My answer would be a resounding YES YOU CAN!

As I began to think about the comment more… it got me thinking about the mindset of players and parents regarding what a lot of them think is really important about their hockey experience – i.e. winning or at least having a chance to more often than not.

But then I began to ponder – where does development fit in on that list of desires? Especially when we’re talking about the ages of u10/12/14/16. How come we never hear parents say, “I want my kid to LEARN the most”… instead of I want them to be on a winning team?

Those parents are out there – but they are few and far between.

However… you do hear parents say… go to school, get your education, pay attention in class. Seek extra help if you need it. Do your homework, study for that exam – I want you to LEARN something! May be if there was a championship academic trophy for being a part of the best grade 6 class section in school, things would change?

Your child’s’ ‘hockey education’ shouldn’t be looked at any different.

In the US at the U14, U16, U19 age levels, there seems this… I have to play tier I and MUST make it to US Nationals and National Development Camp… mentality. Before moving to a new team, most parents and players evaluate the likelihood of that team going to USA Hockey Nationals. In Canada, it’s a slightly different model, but they same issues apply there too. What team has the best chance to win?

College coaches often get asked by parents, what should my daughter do? Play with the boys again or make the jump to girls? Should we move to that new association/team that has the best girls playing on it? Next years team isn’t going to be very good, we won’t win much, we have no chance at making it to nationals. If I don’t make it to USA Hockey Nationals or National Camp, my college hockey dreams are crushed.

Sound familiar?

Simply put folks, there is no substitute for coaching and development (the hockey education)… and by that I mean – a coaching staff that is focussed on the process of improvement.

My answer to those questions above about where should my daughter play – boys vs. girls or a new team, has always been this:

Go where the coaching going to be the best — plain and simple.

Go where your daughter is going to learn the most and have the opportunity to EARN ample playing time.

I’m not going to say winning doesn’t matter, it does, but to a very small degree. What should matter, is do her coaches have a development plan to teach her the technical and tactical skills necessary to improve her game and make sure she’s ready for the next level of play.

Any coach can sound smart with hockey-lingo… “oh, we play a 1-2-2 this and we got a 1-3-1 that. Your daughter will fit right in on our top 2 lines! Which is all well and good – AS LONG AS THEY KNOW HOW TO TEACH IT! To know is great… but to know how to teach is the greatest.

So the next time you are confronted with making a change in your daughters hockey education plan… be it a new club, prep school, academy, high school, boys/girls, college… make sure there is a player development plan. Ask how they teach the game and what your daughter will LEARN. Anyone can stand behind a bench, open a door and yell about compete level & working hard. Find the best teacher!

When speaking about youth/minor hockey, a colleague of mine put it best this way, and I couldn’t agree more… The best coaches and programs:

  • Value your development as a player OVER winning (they are out there but maybe not as numerous as we would like)
  • Uses ALL players in multiple situations regularly: PP PK starters for games/periods etc. at least the first half of each season
  • Doesn’t “pigeon hole” anyone as a checker, grinder etc. at the age of 13, 14, 15 thereby stunting development
  • Coach/Staff is honest, upfront and provides “useful” honest feedback in a positive manner
  • Coach/Staff prioritizes fun/enjoyment thru the process of pushing you toward improvement
  • Academic success is valued and prioritized

Find a program with coaches who can do this… and you’ll be well on your way to reaching your goals on the ice!

Until Next Time Everyone… Be Well and take Care,

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Grant Kimball is founder and contributing writer at Women’s College and beginning his 4th season as an Assistant Coach with the Yale University women’s hockey program. Grant has developed an experienced perspective in the world of women’s ice hockey, having coached and recruited players from across the globe during his 25+ year amateur and NCAA coaching career. He has coached at 6 NCAA DIII and DI programs in the NCHA (D3), the CHA, WCHA, Hockey East, ECAC, and the Ivy League (DI). Beyond coaching, Grant served as a site representative for the 2019 NCAA quarterfinal of the D-I NCAA Tournament. He also currently serves as an Officer with the American Hockey Coaches Association as Vice President of Membership and sits on the AHCA’s Women’s Hockey Executive Committee.

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