When it comes to effectively running a hockey bench during games, it’s easy to picture respected NHL or NCAA coaches. After all, they’re the top coaches at the highest levels of the game for a reason.
However, the typical stoic looking coach who is focused on line matching and in-game adjustments isn’t necessarily the best fit for your daughter’s 10U game. There are certainly characteristics of great hockey benches that translate to youth hockey, but it’s important for coaches to understand their age group and adapt accordingly.
Here are five signs of good bench management in youth hockey.
Short, Sweet, Specific and Seek
One of the most challenging parts of coaching during games is providing feedback that can be easily processed and applied by young athletes. Four of the most effective strategies can be remembered as the “4 S’s”.
Short – Shorter messages increase kids’ ability to listen and grasp them.
Sweet – Focusing on things kids do right and using positive language boosts confidence and engagement.
Specific – Consistently using keywords can help kids connect feedback to specific skills and concepts that have been worked on in practice.
Seek - Asking young athletes questions can help them analyze the situation and figure out the answer themselves, which improves recall.
Coaches set the tone on how their team behaves toward referees. It’s the coaches’ responsibility to treat referees with respect even when addressing concerns and disputes. Minnesota Hockey Officials’ Association president Mike Mannin encourages coaches to step down off the bench to eye level and approach officials with questions, rather than confrontational statements. Those two simple tactics significantly increase the likelihood of a constructive exchange and show a positive example for players.
Good Line Changes
While the players are the ones performing line changes, it’s up to the coaches to make sure kids know who is up next, they’re ready to go and ensuring players understand the process of changing on the fly, especially when players are changing through the door.
Another key for coaches is monitoring shift length. Regardless of age, there are always certain kids who like to take marathon shifts, but keeping shifts around 35-45 seconds ensures everyone is involved with the game and keeps players’ energy level high.
Sitting? For what?
Coaches at every age level have the authority to decide which players receive more or less ice time. They key difference though is what players are sat for. In the NHL, players often see fewer shifts or are even removed from the game due to poor performance or mistakes. In youth hockey, kids shouldn’t be punished for making mistakes, but there are situations, often involving inappropriate behavior, language or attitude, coaches can and arguably should sit players to teach important lessons about teamwork, sportsmanship and respect.
If a player is sat for behavior issues, it's critical for coaches to communicate with him or her regarding why they’re being sat so they know which behavior they need to improve or eliminate.
Seen, Not Heard
An important component of player development is decision making and in order for players to learn, they must actually make the decisions themselves during the game. Therefore, it’s important for coaches to refrain from shouting instructions to players during the game.
Games are for the players. It’s their opportunity to play and apply what they’ve learned.