It’s no secret in coaching circles: coaches love coachable players. But what are some traits that define coachable kids?
“A coachable kid is one that will try new things and different positions,” said Chris Lonke, a Minnesota Hockey ADM coaching instructor. “You tell them to embrace failure, that it's not always going to go exactly the way you draw it out.”
Lonke has been behind the bench at the youth, high school and college levels in Minnesota for over 25 years and knows the traits that define coachable players. But raising coachable kids takes more than just the coach and player interactions.
“It’s a trifecta between coaches, players and parents,” Lonke said. “The parents need to understand how important it is for them to support how the coach is going to run their team. If they don't, it's going to be detrimental for their player no matter what, because a player is going to look at if their parent is saying one thing and the coach is saying another.”
Here are eight traits of coachable kids.
When a coach is speaking or drawing up a drill on the white board, there’s nothing worse than looking at his team and seeing players gazing into the stands or down at their skates. Coaches like it when players make eye contact, whether they are addressing a group or speaking to them individually.
“I think they can see the words and they can get a vision of what you're asking them to do,” Lonke said. “You know they're not going to get distracted, they're focused on one thing.”
For younger players who are more likely to drift off when a coach is speaking to the group, physical cues can lead to eye contact and focus.
“Sometimes I'll have them put their hands on their knees, so you're asking for eye contact and sometimes you have to give them something to do that allows them to focus on that – especially depending on their age,” said Lonke, who is currently coaching his son’s Squirt team in Rosemount. “At 10 and under, it might be hands on the lap, it might be different things that gives them a cue, ‘OK, we're going to talk about something.’”
Front and Center
When a coach is outlining a drill, the kids who are right in front can see the board and hear what the coach is saying. It’s more likely they’ll receive the message.
“It gives you a sign that they're there with some purpose. They’re focused,” Lonke said. “They're taking each session seriously to get better.”
Before and after games, coaches address the team. Players who sit still and take in the talk without fiddling with their sticks or tape are more likely to receive the message.
“If one or two are distracting themselves, they're going to be distracting others,” Lonke said. “You have to have the system in place in, so you just put an expectation that all players will do that.”
However, especially for younger kids, there comes a point where the message will not sink in and distractions are inevitable.
“The number one mistake youth coaches make in my opinion is that they talk too long,” he said. “Have three focus points and get them to focus on three things. Some of it might be in the pregame where things are written out so it's in front of them before you even talk about them. Postgame should be really short and sweet.”
Good coaches will create an environment where players feel comfortable asking questions. Players who don’t understand a drill or situation and want to get it right should be able to ask about it.
“It shows they’re engaged and it gives them ownership,” Lonke said. “It shows the other players questions are good, and we can take ownership in what we're doing here together, because it’s really their experience, not ours.”
Sometimes kids can see an angle that a coach actually didn’t think about. A good question can add to whatever the coach is trying to get across.
“Sometimes their question will lead to something that we all, as coaches, forget and you can prop them up and say, ‘Hey, good point I forgot that.’”
Asking for Advice
Youth coaches are giving their time because they want to see players improving. Coaches love it when players seek out advice.
“It shows that they want to improve a weakness and they want to improve,” Lonke said. “It shows self-awareness. And for a young boy or girl, that's not always easy to do. Hopefully you create a culture and environment that you're not going do everything perfect but it's OK, don't worry about it.”
Station-based practices can also lead to more interpersonal interactions between coaches and players.
“Sometimes kids are more apt to ask questions in small groups rather than in front of the whole team,” Lonke added.
Leadership, like coachability, is a trait that can also be developed. But players who help correct teammates or lead by example are usually very coachable.
“They're paying attention to the small details,” Lonke said. “It also shows a willingness to buy into what the coach is trying to sell.”
A way for coaches to develop this leadership trait is by rotating captains throughout the year, giving different pregame warmup leaders or various assignments like picking up trash in the locker room.
Being a Good Teammate
Acting unselfish and pumping up teammates are signs of a coachable player.
“You’re not focused on yourself. You're focused on everybody's success together as a group,” said Lonke, who also serves as the assistant general manager of an NAHL team. “That might be the one most important trait, a good teammate, someone who is positive with someone else’s success.”
It’s a trait that is desired by coaches at any age level.
“It could be one of the most coachable things because that means they're not a selfish player,” Lonke said. “It's a good sign that they're going to have a team-first mentality and it shows the attitude that the most important success is the group success.”
Be Early, Be Prepared
A major pet peeve of all coaches is when a player is late or forgets a piece of equipment. Being early and prepared for a practice or game is critical, not just in hockey, but in school and in life.
“Being there early, helping with little things pre-and post-game, I think those are very coachable things and makes everything run smooth,” Lonke said. “Taking care of your personal business – and as kids get older, not relying on parents or coaches. Are you there on time, is your bag prepared? Do you have what you need?”