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Coaches Need Parents on Board to Help in Player Development

By Greg Bates, 01/21/21, 1:30PM CST


Helping parents understand the how and why of a coach’s plans keeps everyone on the same page


It doesn’t matter the age of an athlete: player development is always going to be one of the most important areas to work on for a coach.

That means teaching on and off the ice and getting the kid’s parents involved. Having the coach and parents of a player on the same page is paramount. That happens through good communication.

“Coaches need to over-communicate to their players’ parents, especially with what their philosophy is, what their plan is, what their goals are for the team, what their goals are for development, how it’s going to look when a parent comes to a practice or once they’re able to after COVID gets lifted,” Illinois Coach-in-Chief Jim Clare said. “Parents should be able to look out on the ice and see and understand what the coach is trying to do, because the coach has communicated that process.”

Coaches need to have a solid game plan and be prepared for practices and for the season.

“Have a plan and progression of, ‘What’s that practice going to look like?’” Clare said. “‘How am I going to stick to all the five essential elements of a good practice design and good development?’ That is making sure it is fun for the kids, making sure that it is challenging enough, making sure that it looks like a game. We’re teaching them the game as well and the drills/concepts in practices need to be game-like. Make sure there’s a lot of decision-making on the ice, because the game is very random, so they need to learn how to make decisions. Then make sure they’re getting a lot of puck touches, a lot of repetition without repetitiveness.

“Laying that kind of philosophy out to the parents, saying, hey, this is what our practices are going to look like, there’s the things we’re going to focus on and all of our drills and concepts and skills that we teach are going to revolve around these five key elements. That gives the parents something to say, OK, this coach gets it. They know what they are talking about and I think your kids are going to get  a good developmental experience.”

USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Dan Jablonic agrees that communication is an extremely important aspect when it comes to coaches and parents working to develop a player.

“The game has changed so much, we have to relay that information to the parents and let them know that, hey, you’re going to see some things out here that we’re working on that look different than what you watch on NHL, if you’re coaching youth hockey, because it’s not the NHL,” Jablonic said. “It’s things you’re going to see that are going to benefit your kid, where it’s full engagement. Kids are enjoying what’s going on, they’re learning new skills.”

Communication with parents needs to happen consistently throughout the season. Whether it’s in a group setting, individually or a hybrid, it is a must for every coach.

Clare said conducting in-person talks is his preferred method, but phone calls can be effective, too. Conversations via email, text or social media — in a typed message format — could come off not as intended.

Having in-person or phone dialogue might not be ideal for some parents. Jablonic noted, for example, that millennial parents may like to converse through social media or email.

“It’s finding that balance of different ways,” Jablonic said. “I know we’ve had coaches that send out three different forms. They’ll put something on the website, they’ll actually send an email and they’ll do the team app or whatever they have. It hits all those different areas depending on what somebody chooses. I think that’s important, because everybody’s a little bit different.”

Conversations between coaches and parents don’t necessarily need to be too in-depth. Be in touch once a month and update parents on how their kid is doing — here is what they need to work on, and this is how they can get better.

“Let’s pick one or two we can work on this month. Let’s get that down and let’s build off of that,” Clare said. “Very similar to a design for a team. You’re not going to go out on the first day of practice and throw in your power-play system and your breakout system, you’re going to work your way towards that, and you’ve got to get the foundation right first.”

Parents’ role in player development

Clare said the No. 1 goal for parents is to make it positive for their kids.

“Listen to them, but keep it positive,” Clare said. “Don’t be hammering them or, ‘Why can’t you do this?’ Or, ‘You can’t do that.’ Keep the conversation positive about their development. Then listen to what the coach is saying.”

Coaches try to create a fun atmosphere that’s conducive to learning, and parents should stay positive in their kid’s development and not coach from the stands, noted Jablonic.

“How are you supporting your kid on the car ride home? How are you a role model? How do you develop within that process and guide your child through their goals?” Jablonic said.

Clare added that when he was coaching, he would always ask the parents when he met them: What is your kid saying on the car ride home?

“Are they having fun? Are they not happy? Are they upset about something?’” Clare said. “What are they telling you on the car ride home, because I’m not with them, that’s you, the parent. Give me some of that feedback for the coach and I can adjust. I always tell my coaches, ‘You need to be coachable, too.’”

The most important thing? It is that each kid is having fun.

“You get a pretty good indication if the kid’s coming off the rink with a sweaty head and a smile,” Jablonic said. “Kids, that’s the thing, they’re so resilient. Even if they do lose a game, as soon as they walk out of the locker room, they’re going to be thinking about something else.

“I think that’s our job to make sure that we don’t take it too seriously. It is a game, but actually understand it’s there for the bigger picture of fun, learning things and set everybody up to be successful.”