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Deflections - Thinking About the Start


Dear Coach-to-be,

I understand you’re taking on a team of your own next year. Congratulations on a terrific decision. Now they become a lot more complicated – the decisions, I mean. The kids are another story altogether.

We all dream of that final moment, when the buzzer sounds and your squad has won it all. Sorry to disappoint, but odds are it won’t happen. It may though and if you coach long enough and well enough, you’re likely to have a few of those moments. But you’re not coaching for that reason, are you? You’re coaching to help the kids and develop them. Yes, this includes you, AAA coach person.

Where to start, right? How about we look first at what you’re going to teach and how much of it?

For years I’ve seen coaches struggle with this. I have, too. One of the best groups I ever coached was a pee wee team that won everything, including a de facto provincial title in Montreal. It was my first competitive team and I vividly recall having no clue what to teach or when. So I pretty much winged it the whole year. My luck, I had great assistants, supportive parents and wonderful kids. If only they knew how much was done on the fly…

These days, with all the resources available, I’d contend it’s more complicated to decide. You still need to begin with an overall vision of how much of your practice time should be devoted to which items. Hockey Canada provides a general idea by assigning a percentage to each of individual skills, individual tactics, team (or small group) tactics, and so on. If the suggestion then is that 40% of your time should be spent on skills, for example, there’s your starting point.

That’s 40% over the entire season. If you have 40 practices of 50 minutes each, that’s 2000 minutes. You’d be spending 800 minutes of it on skills. And, those 800 minutes could be spread over just the first half of the season, or weighted more in the first half than the second half, or any other way you devise. See what I mean about decisions?

The best advice would be that if you haven’t coached this level or age group before, you should ask those who have. Keep in mind, too, that what was appropriate for a group one year may not always be. You may have a group that’s particularly skilled and the 40% could be lowered. However, even skilled players need to be challenged by having those very same skills approached from a multi-tasking point of view. For instance, can they handle the puck and perform a give and go while under backcheck pressure?

Mid summer and your mind is starting to wander over to what you’ll do with them this season. I’ve suggested a starting point. You’ll be surprised at how far it will take you.

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