Video gamers use controllers to dictate the action on the screen. In youth hockey, joystick coaches try to control all the action on the ice with their voices, shouting directions from the bench.
“You see it a lot in games at the youth level,” USA Hockey Coach-in-Chief for the Minnesota District Christian Koelling said. “You see a lot of coaches shouting instructions from the bench during the game. The odd thing is you don't see any NHL coaches doing that. Even NHL players make mistakes but coaches don't yell the entire game and try to tell them what to do every second.”
Hockey is a fluid, quick-thinking sport full of twists and turns. Players need to learn how to make decisions for themselves in real-time.
“Yelling doesn’t really provide any benefit because the players on the ice can't even hear you most of the time,” Koelling said. “Even if they could, they won’t be able to make that play based on you yelling what to do.”
Additionally, it can have a negative impact for the kids that are closest to the bench boss.
“All the players that are on the bench are probably not too excited if coach is yelling play-by-play,” said Koelling, who is the director of hockey operations for the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
Good coaches can fall into this impulse during the heat of the moment. Koelling said that coaches need to consciously step back and remember kids need to learn on their own.
“There are ways coaches can help that process along but shouting instructions throughout the game doesn't help produce results,” Koelling said.
Shouting out instructions throughout the game, or even practice, certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. Many coaches’ coaches used the push method: always telling players what to do and where to be.
“I think a lot of our coaches grew up with the traditional learning method that everything was push. The push method is centered around the coach,” Koelling said. “The pull method is centered around the player and it requires more patience and it requires more time, but ultimately there's a better outcome. With the push method, you might have more immediate outcomes but it's not good for long-term development of that player.”
Rather than always telling a player where to go or what to do, getting players think for themselves is the ultimate goal of a coach.
“Asking questions is really important as a coach because it opens the door for players to reflect and studies show that learning occurs with reflection,” Koelling said. “So just asking players what they did well and what they might improve in the future are really good ways to open that door up and allow players to learn.”
Self-reflection can also be a good way for players to recognize mistakes without having to feel the criticism of the coach.
“Pulling the feedback from the players instead of telling them what they did wrong is more powerful. If, as a coach, you can get them to realize what they did wrong or what they may need to improve on without giving them negative feedback, then it creates a more positive environment for players to learn.” Koelling said.
It might be difficult for some coaches to loosen their grip. Often, coaches might feel pressure from parents, administrators and even other coaches watching from the stands.
“I think coaches need to be confident enough in themselves if a practice, game or even a particular drill looks unorganized or unstructured. Sometimes that's when some of the best learning can occur,” Koelling said. “I think coaches may feel pressure at times that they look like they don't know what they're doing if there isn't that structure in place.”
Controlling every aspect of every game and practice by constantly shouting directions doesn’t allow for learning. Koelling said that coaches need to realize they are teachers and they need to focus on long-term development over short-term results. Asking questions, using the pull method and not vocalizing directions from the bench are ways coaches can get the most out of their players.
“It allows a player to figure out how to learn on their own. It allows them to truly understand something – a concept – rather than just doing something because they're told to do it,” he said. “Not only does it help them understand a concept or learn something in a more thorough manner but it also sets them up to learn more efficiently down the road as well.”
The Annual Dearborn Thanksgiving Tournament was a chance for the DHA's four house programs to play other local teams over the holiday weekend and have an opportunity to see how the teams are developing.
One of the most common compliments offered to parents and coaches by visiting teams was the skating ability and skill development of all of the Dearborn teams. One coached offered that last year when their team played against Dearborn it was a good matchup but after this year's tournament they wanted to "steal our practice plans."
There were highlights in every division, and while the Dearborn Belle Tire teams didn't surrender many loses, the trophies that were won were just a portion of the accomplishments.
The 6U & 8U teams played in a "Jamboree" style schedule. That meant they played all of the teams, but there were no finals. That said, both teams played exceptionally well and were at the top of their divisions.
The 6U players have quite a few "new to hockey" players but you wouldn't know it by their performance. Many of the new players are scoring, defending, and smiling a lot! The small, tight-knit team is enjoying their year, and had a great weekend.
The 8U team is fun to watch! During the weekend, the team split into two units. The "Majors" side consisted of mostly 2011-born players and showed great promise. These kids have now been playing together a full year and their game has progressed from basic puck movement, to more goal scoring, and now this year to full transition-based shifts. They kids are talking more on the bench, "designing plays," and developing a style of playing together that comes from the freedom to be creative. The "Minors" was mostly the 2012-year kids and those newer to hockey. It gave them a chance to hone their skills and "score some goals" in a more development-based setting.
Dearborn Ducks 10U - Squirt:
The Ducks have had another strong year surrendering few goals, and even fewer losses. They definitely came into the tournament a favorite, and didn't disappoint. Coaches on the Squirt team were pleased with their wins, but even more happy how well some of the younger players have been developing.
On strong teams it is easy for the new players, especially those coming up from Mites, to get a little intimidated and sit back. Not so for the Ducks. Even the new players (The 2010 class) has grasped the rules, the penalties, and the full ice game. While the Ducks certainly have some very skilled stand-out players, they often play on the same lines with the younger and more inexperienced players helping them learn the game and develop their skills.
The Ducks have 3 dedicated goaltenders, and a few folks who like to dabble in practice. While many coaches would cringe at juggling this, the Ducks have learned to use it as an opportunity to develop all aspects of their goalies' play, including having them skate out during a rotation of games. All 3 had a chance to play both in and out of net during the tournament.
Dearborn Outlaws - 12U PeeWee:
The Outlaws had a real coming-out party at this tournament. The team is a combination of several groups of players from various teams prior to this season. While their early tournament was a chance for them to learn one another, this tournament was a chance for them to gel and develop into a true team.
The Outlaws were able to get to the finals with strong pool play, and won the Final with an exciting goal in the last minute of regulation. What gave the Outlaws the advantage throughout the tournament was their depth and training. Best evidenced in the finals, the Outlaws clearly had the skating advantage in the final minutes as they were able to continue to put fresh legs out on the ice against the other teams best players.
Overall it was a great weekend! Lots of friends and family spending time together at the rink. Fundraisers were well received and raised a good amount of money for the teams.
But the biggest and most important takeaway were the compliments repeatedly bestowed upon DHA coaches. "Your team skates so well!" "Every line is capable of playing well!" "These kids have come so far in a year." Those are the measures of success, especially in the house program and specifically at the 12U and below divisions. The DHA is committed to the ADM and will continue to pursue player development as its goal for the 6U-12U age groups. The goal is to continue to develop well-rounded kids both on and off the ice. The goal is to have the players who choose to stay playing hockey into their competitive teen years from Dearborn be selected by teams knowing that every DHA players comes to them well-rounded and exceptionally prepared to play at any level of youth hockey.