Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Coaching Today’s Athlete Part II

In today’s post I want to talk about how to gain the players trust and keep that trust throughout the season. We all know that a player will play much harder for you if he trusts you as a coach.

The players have to see that the coach is the most committed person associated with the team. You need to be at the rink early so when the players show up they see that you are already there preparing for the game. When a coach tells his players to be at the rink an hour before game time but he doesn’t show up until 30 minutes before the game that shows a lack of commitment to the players. Some coaches may feel that the players know what the pre-game ritual is and they don’t need to be there but I disagree. I believe that the head coach needs to be there when the players arrive.

Players want the coach to be organized, so make sure you have a plan for every game. It can be simple or complex but show the players that you have a plan. One thing I like to do is have the forward and defensive line pairing up on the wall when the team arrives. This gives the players a chance to think about their role in the upcoming game. If you have ideas about strategy or systems that you want to get them thinking about it’s good to use the backside of the coach’s board to write down a few items that you want the team to think about.

Try to keep meetings after the game to a minimum. Too often the coach’s anger can come out after a game and you may say something that doesn’t really help the team, so keep the post game talk short and simple and focus on the bad stuff before the next practice when everyone has had a little time to think about the game.

Players want a coach who is very competitive, so make sure they know how important winning is to you and that you will do your very best to help the team win. Some coaches are afraid to sit the fourth line late in games because they don’t want to deal with parents, but as the coach you have to make the hard decisions and if you do you will earn the trust of the team because they know you are working just as hard as they are to win games.

The way you present yourself goes a long way in building trust with your players as well. I’m the type of coach that wears a tie and blazer while on the bench. Some coaches will wear a nice pair of khaki pants and a team jacket. There is no best way to dress but keep in mind that the players will judge you by how you present yourself to the team.

Another very important factor in gaining the trust of the players is to not break your promises to them. Whatever it is that you have promised it is up to you to hold that promise. Don’t tell a player that is obviously a fourth line player that he can work his way to the first line. Don’t tell a player that doesn’t skate that well that he will be a penalty killer. Let each player know their role on the team and work hard to help them improve but don’t promise things that you won’t follow through on.

Players hate when a coach is constantly changing systems on them, it makes them feel that they don’t have your confidence. Give them a chance to work on the system in question for some time before you start changing it. If the power play you want to run isn’t going right, take the time in practice to go over it in more detail and make sure each of your players understand what you expect. I can guarantee you that if you change the power play or forecheck each week the players will feel like you don’t trust them to run your systems.

One last thing. These new generation players need more immediate feedback then in the past. They live in the Twitter world and are used to getting information all the time. Make sure you take the time at practice or outside the locker room after practice to get some time with each player as often as possible to give feedback on their game.

Those are just some of my thoughts on how to build trust with your players and in turn have a more successful season on and off the ice.





Filed under: coaching

Coaching Today’s Athletes Part I

Times have changed and coaches need to change with the times. No longer is it likely that the Vince Lombardi method of coaching will work with younger players. Today’s players are raised in an entitled atmosphere where they are given more than they earn. Coaches need to learn how to motivate the new athlete because winning and losing isn’t the end all for these players.

Today’s athletes are always asking “What’s in it for me” and as a coach you have to work within those confines. Today’s athletes are smarter and more advanced than athletes from just ten years ago. These players have been raised in the technology age and they are very informed about lots of different things and need more instant feedback than ever before.

Years ago you could motivate a team to be successful by just telling them that winning is everything, but now you really need to give them a different motivation. I’m sure each of you has had this happen. The team has just lost a tough close game and as the coach you are torn up inside about the decisions you made and the outcome of the game, but when you walk into the locker room you see all the players laughing and moving on. Most of us want to scream and jump up and down and say how can you be so unconcerned about the loss, but today’s player moves on quickly, much more quickly than the coaches do. One way to motivate the new breed of player is to give them something more to strive for other than just a win, you still want to win but you need to make it more meaningful. For instance last year I had a team that our club thought would be weak and finish near the bottom of the pack. All year I used that as a motivational tool to get the players to work hard and excel at practice. By the time the season ended we were the first place team and had accomplished far more than thought probable for our team. Every player wants to win but having a deeper reason to win other than just to win will help you motivate these players to an even higher level.

Another thing that is helpful is to include the parents. Hockey is a sport that has a very large family influence in a player’s day-to-day activity. Parents need to drive their players to the rink and stay around until after the practice or game to drive them home. Parents want to be a part of the process so don’t fight it, embrace it and figure out the best way to include the parents as much as possible. Always keep an open line of communication with the parents. You can use a team website, or email correspondence or text messaging, whichever works best for you but keep them involved. I have a team website and on it I write a short summary of every game we play. This gives the parents the ability to hear what happens on the bench during the game from the guy who is there. Many times a parent may see a coach talking / arguing with an official but not know what is really going on. By having a written account of the game you can let them inside some of the things that go on during a game and it will make them feel more involved in the process. Remember our goal is to get these players ready for the next level and that includes every part of the player.

Another thing I have found extremely useful is texting the players. If I want to get in touch with the entire team or just a few players I know if I text them they will see the text within minutes if not seconds. Today’s players do everything via their cell phones and as a coach you need to be involved with that technology as well. Players will accept you far easier as the authority figure if they think you are aware of the technology and use it accordingly.

In the next article I will talk about commitment, trust and character issues a coach needs to be aware of to gain the confidence of today’s athletes.

Filed under: coaching

A New Season is on the Horizon

It’s that time of year again when summer passes to fall and hockey begins once again. I’ve been quiet for a while on the site so that I could for the first time in years sit back and enjoy summer with my wife and family. We took a cruise to the Bahamas for eight great days, with stops in Grand Turk, Nassau and the cruise lines private island. On Grand Turk we rented golf carts and just drove around the small island on our own and explored the beautiful beaches. One wild thing about that island was that they have livestock, you know, cows, chickens, roosters, horses and donkeys just walking around the island. I rode past the local college and there were a group of six donkeys just standing in the entrance under a tree. Bizarre.

We rented scooters in Nassau and buzzed around that island for a few hours. Pretty cool driving on the other side of the road, but after a few minutes it was no big deal. Actually in Grand Turk it was the same but that island only has a few thousand residents so the roads were pretty quiet.

I had a first happen to me this summer. I was FIRED from my high school team! What the heck! I’ve never been fired before and bang I’m out. So, I’m sure some of you are interested in the story. We were playing in what is called the Flyers Cup in our area and it is a pretty big deal. We were the #4 seed and expected to do well. Before the game I had seven players break a team rule and I had to discipline them for a part of that game. One assistant coach wanted me to scratch all seven for the game but I decided to just sit them for one period. Now, the majority of them were from our top two offensive lines and our top defenders, so I was taking a big chance but I felt I had to stick to the team rules or I would lose the respect of the younger players, so I sat the offending seven. To my great joy we came out of the first period 0-0 playing the third and fourth lines and defensemen 3 through 6. I was so proud of the reserve players for working so hard to keep us in the game. Unfortunately we lost the game 3-2 once my full team started playing.

That night the president of the club confronted me on my decision to sit the offending seven (that’s my name for them!) and demanded an explanation to my reasoning. I explained my reasoning and the team rule they broke but that didn’t seem to sway him. One of the “offending seven” was his son along with the son of the vice president, the son of the treasurer and the son of next year’s vice president. I guess I don’t do politics very well. After some back and forth the situation seemed to go away, but I was wrong. About six weeks later I got a call from the new president of the club and he fired me. I guess in this day and age of the “entitled” player a coach can no longer set the rules and dole out the punishment for breaking those rules. Not one parent of the “offending seven” said they were disappointed in their son for placing me in the position of having to discipline them. Very unfortunate.

I participated in a coaching clinic where Brent Peterson of the Nashville Predators was a speaker and he spoke at great length about how the Predators had the back of Barry Trotsky when he sat two premier players for Nashville in the playoffs this past season and how it is important that an organization stand behind the coach when such a decision is made. That speech really hit home for me. Oh well, I’ll take off a year from high school hockey and look for a new coaching spot next year. This year I will concentrate even more energy on my 16 AAA team and enjoy the extra free time to spend with my beautiful wife.

I plan to reach out to the college coaches I know and ask for new drills for the upcoming season, but I’ll also do my best to avoid overcrowding the site with too many drills. Even though many of us like to have a few new drills from time to time, one thing I never wanted the site to be was crowded with too many drills, so I’ll post the best of the best.

Two weeks from today my training camp opens and I really am looking forward to being with the team again. Most of the players took part in the summer camps that a buddy of mine was running and I stopped in twice during the camp to see how the boys were doing. It was a great relaxing summer but now it’s time to get back to work and hit the season hard.

I want to take just a minute to thank all the coaches who gave me ideas on how to equip the coaches / team room, it’s just about finished and ready for the upcoming season. Thanks for all the great ideas.

Many of you also follow WeissTech hockey and HockeyShare but if you don’t already give them a look. Jeremy Weiss has been running a terrific series of posts about coaching and HockeyShare always has great skill development information on their site. Both sites can be found in the “Hockey Sites” section of our site.

That’s it for now. I look forward to another year of meeting some of you in person at tournaments and clinics and the rest of you through email. Have a great remainder of the summer and successful upcoming seasons.

 Coach Nielsen



Filed under: coaching



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