Coaching coaches

Seminars held at Hockey Development Camp


Experts in coaching, officiating, and development are all attending the 2017 IIHF Hockey Development Camp. Photo: Toni Saarinen

VIERUMAKI – Aside from hosting young players and representatives from various member national associations around the world, the 2017 IIHF Hockey Development Camp also draws in coaches from different levels to get together, swap stories, and share knowledge of their experiences behind the bench.

The HDC also connects these coaches with leading researchers in fields like athletic development, nutrition, and training, to give them better insight into guiding today’s young athletes. 

Part technical presentations, part philosophical discussions, the coaches were informed on a variety of topics which included anti-doping, coaching education, and long-term athlete development. Former coaches were also brought in for informal Q&A sessions.  

Dr. Stephen Norris, a renowned sport scientist and self-described “performance conversationalist” to sport groups, has worked closely with high performance athletes for over 20 years. He discussed with coaches the pitfalls to long-term athlete development, which is frequently hampered by short-term goals: all too often especially by the “win-now” approach and the penchant for coaches to stick with established practice plans and refuse to innovate.

“Long-term athlete development: I call it a challenging process because it is,” said Norris. “It’s extremely complex because you’re thinking of the first two decades of life. The young kids playing hockey these days are doing things that we couldn’t even imagine growing up, and they’re doing it themselves creatively because no one is teaching them.”

“Is there one way to produce a great athlete? Of course not, however biology doesn’t give a damn about what we do, it just keeps ticking on and is governed by two major things: the underlying genetic matrix of that particular individual which goes back to their forebears, and the environment, which you do have some control over, in particular factors such as sleep at critical times and nutrition.”

Norris also touched on the traditional approaches taken to coaching and the growing gap this approach is causing with current and future generations of players.

“If you truly want to be a great coach, you need to always ask “why”? Why are we doing this? Why did we do this last year? Why should we do this now?”

This statement was also echoed by Tom Renney, IIHF Coaching Committee chairman and one of the other coaching seminar participants, who held an hour-long Q&A session.

“There was a point in time where you told them what to do and that was it, they did it,” said Renney. “I’ve always tried to be a coach that explains why a drill fit into the game, why this particular mundane puck drill fit into playing hockey.”

“It’s gotten much further than that now, players do have a tendency to want to know why they need to do what it is you ask them to do, how it connects the dots with their teammates and how it fits into the game.”

“They call it the Y generation for a reason, and we should not be afraid of that. Saying “because we’ve always done that” is a cop-out and an excuse for a different generation. I think it can show a coach to be Ill prepared, lacking confidence, and not having the trust of yourself of your players. You’ve got to be able to talk to your players and involve them as much as you can.”

Beyond the factors of genetics and environment, Renney offered insight into the intangibles of what separates an elite player from the rest.

“Those that are more accomplished have been able to master the craft of playing hockey. I would suggest that they’re confident, they work hard and put in the extra work, they deliver on action as opposed to talking, though that can change when the player takes on the captain role and is expected to be vocal and lead his team.”

For Renney, an athlete that takes responsibility for his performance as a player, along with the ability to makes others around him better, is a huge separator between him and his teammates when it comes to an upper-echelon player. These were traits he routinely identified while working in the NHL, especially when it came to his team captains.

“My captains in my career were Trevor Linden, Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Shawn Horcoff, and Henrik Zetterberg. They all seemed to define themselves like I’ve suggested. By far and away the best leadership, layer leadership that I’ve been around, and this is gonna surprise you, was Henrik Zetterberg, bar-none.”

“He was the best because he commanded respect by how he took care of himself, how he handled himself, and how people could watch him and just learn what being a pro was all about. The quiet way that he maneuvered a dressing room, his ability to say very little and mean an awful lot, and I don’t know if I’ve seen a captain work harder day-in and day-out in practice or in games. Those types of things I believe are what separate great players from others.”

Renney also advised his audience to take the time to listen to their teams, and craft an approach to coaching that emphasizes a two-way commitment between player and coach.

“If I had any advice for you today, when you go back to coaching your respective teams, address them and say 'listen, I’m going to listen to you and pay attention to what you have to tell me, I’m willing to make your hockey experience everything that it should be, but you need to give yourself up to me. You need to give yourself up to coaching'.” 

Click here to read more about the 2017 IIHF Hockey Development Camp

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