At the conclusion of most games, the final score dictates how players, parents and coaches feel about the performance of the team and individual players. When the team wins, everybody must have had a good game, and of course, the opposite is also true. Actually, the final score of the game tells us nothing about how individual players performed.
When winning is the primary focus, it results in a cascading series of decisions by coaches that can undermine the players' experience and development. At a minimum, complacency sets in for teams winning consistently, and panic takes over if the scores are disappointing.
Winning is only one measurement, and is quite often out of the control of coaches and players. Once the dialogue changes to things that actually matter (such as skills, decisionmaking and life lessons), then teams can be shown how to improve their performance. By changing the focus to things within their control, players are allowed room to grow and develop.
In youth hockey and high school hockey, the coaches should be focused on creating a high quality experience for all players on the team. This approach is not easy and takes time, but the rewards are numerous for all.
It is not about Xs and Os. It is about people, relationships, trust, respect, and a love for the game of hockey. It is about understanding the elements that lead to successful game play and teaching those concepts in the correct manner.
You cannot get this from lists of drills or clinics that focus on the technical side of hockey. It is a philosophy that comes from the heart. It comes from wanting to do the right thing for all of the players on the team, no matter the score. I have written for years about best practices and how to coach kids to have a positive impact on their lives.
As the season progresses, I recommend that coaches take a fresh look at how they coach their teams. Think about what matters to your players and how you can make them better. Think about adding some simple metrics to the feedback you provide to each individual so they can determine if they are improving game by game. There are at least eight game situations that you can track to determine progress.
The game is moving ahead and smart coaches will take advantage of these ideas and tools to better develop their players.