When I played Atom minor hockey (under age 11 in Canada) I had this very interesting coach. He used to wack kids on the ass as they passed by while doing laps at the end of practice. If you didn’t skate hard enough, he followed you around the rink and kept wacking you. Not surprisingly, it was this coach who also smoked cigars on the bench during games, and when you made a mistake would call you over and blow smoke in your face as he chewed you out. Needless to say this was not one of the great coaches I had, and hockey for a period of time was not very fun for me.
Fast forward to 16 when I moved from hockey to the endurance sport of cross-country skiing I had a very different experience. My first coach Laurie Daniels was so much different. She took the time to ask me questions, and explain why things were done (complex topics like periodization and sport specificity in training). During practice sessions, it was more of the same. Things were explained, demonstrated and then after I executed skills or intervals we would have “after action talks”. This was awesome! I learned so much and improved as an athlete so much in those years it was ridiculous.
Later on in skiing, I had a great coach Rich Pettit who did similar things to what Laurie did, only on a grander scale and more often. Maybe an individual sport like skiing lends itself to more one on one coaching, but as I have worked with a number of teams and big groups in my 23+ years in sport I think it’s the coach who takes the time to talk with and get a feel for each of his or her athletes that makes the difference.
Many different qualities go into a great coach that it’s hard to pin down all the attributes that lead to success. Some coaches are shouters, others are “a players coach”, while others are just good at teaching. In my mind though a great coach has the following pieces of the puzzle that transcend them from good to great:
- Great coaches inspire and motivate players to be better in all areas of their life.
- A great coach is someone who never speaks out of malice, but rather tells the player the truth to the player. The truth can be hard to take, but it’s necessary to long term development.
- A great coach teaches a player more about life than about hockey. They just use the sport of hockey as the medium for teaching a player about life.
- A great coach learns as much as possible on the subject they teach, and continues to learn year to year. Development should not be limited to players, and great coaches strive to get better at what they do.
- Great coaches keep an open mind and change tactics when necessary.
- Great coaches communicate very well with other coaches, officials, administrators, parents, and especially players. Listening, asking questions, and answering a players direct questions are all part of this process.
I am constantly striving to be a better and better coach. I wrote the book DRYLAND so that other hockey coaches and players would be able to learn and implement strategies in the book with their players, thus making them better. My goal is to change the dryland training methods for hockey and this book, and all the work I do, is focused on that goal. In the process I hope I become a great coach…
What other qualities should great coaches have? How many great coaches have you had and who were they?