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What Coaches Look For: Effort, Energy, Attitude and More

By Steve Mann, 02/07/23, 10:00AM CST


From the youngest skaters to the most seasoned vets, hockey players share some universal goals: impressing their coaches, improving their game, and, ultimately, being a big part of their team’s success.   

But whether you’re a first year Minny Mite or a Division I standout, it’s important to know that getting on your coach’s good side isn’t all about the stat sheet. In many cases, it revolves around three foundational building blocks all athletes can control: effort, energy and attitude.

“It truly starts with being a good person,” said Ted Cheesebrough, assistant men’s hockey coach at Hamline University and also assistant coach of the Jamaican men’s national team. “If you’re doing something that your best friend’s mom would not approve of if she were watching, then you shouldn’t be doing it.

“The next thing is to be honest with yourself and give your best, honest effort. You owe a duty to your coaches, your teammates, your parents, your community and to the game of hockey to give an honest effort each time you come to the rink. Doing this will certainly get you on the good side of not just your coaches but the hockey gods, too.”

How to Get on the “Good Side”

Cheesebrough, who has coached more than 20 seasons of youth hockey for boys and girls at nearly every level, says there are a variety of little things players can do to make their coaches happy.

“I love those players who are going to move pucks, get the nets ready, or pick up pucks quickly at the end so that we can maximize practice time,” he said. “It shows maturity and responsibility, whether the kid is 12, 17 or 22 years old. Help without being asked and show a willingness to lend a hand when it isn’t expected or when you have nothing to gain personally. These are actions that are a hallmark of an invaluable teammate and a great person.”

As for the personal traits or characteristics that coaches appreciate the most, Cheesebrough suggests that, in addition to honesty, coaches value work ethic and reliability.

Coaches care less about a player’s skill and more about his or her effort, especially at younger age levels,” he said. “Can the player be relied upon to consistently give their best effort in games and in practice? Can the player be counted on to tackle tasks, drills, games and practices with an energy and attitude that will lead to immediate success and future success? If the answer to each of those questions is ‘yes,’ then that kid will be on the coaches’ good side, as well as their teachers’ good side, and their parents’ good side, and someday on the good side of their co-workers, bosses and friends.”

Off-Ice Behavior Matters (A Lot)

Players bringing their best effort and a positive attitude to the rink every day are certainly important to any hockey program, but how they carry themselves off the ice might even be more essential, according to Cheesebrough.

What the kid does off the ice shows who they really are, because that’s where a kid truly exhibits their personality, empathy, respect for others, reliability and work ethic,” Cheesebrough said. “And in the long run, those things will matter more than skill.”

As a college coach, Cheesebrough stresses that when recruiters evaluate candidates to complete their rosters, they’re looking at the whole person, not just the player.

“When we are looking at players for college roster spots, we’re frequently seeking only a handful of players from a sea of literally thousands in junior hockey,” he said. “What the kid is like off the ice is a primary question, if not the very first question that we consider. If a kid is a pain off the ice, is lazy, treats others poorly or has bad study habits, then we wouldn’t consider him any further, as there are hundreds of other players who will be similarly skilled but who will have better traits and attributes. Plus, there’s usually a direct correlation between the person you are off of the ice and the player you are on it.”

Parents Play a Big Role

Common sense would dictate that the younger the player, the more influence his or her parents can have on their behavior. According to Cheesebrough, there are specific things parents should – and should not – do to model the “right way” for their kids.

“It should be fairly obvious, but it’s things like not disrespecting referees, who are often children themselves; not disrespecting opposing players, teams or coaches; and not getting into shouting matches in the stands or parking lot,” he said. “It sounds elementary, but I see these things every year. We should be on the same team in Minnesota and take pride in what we have here. It’s important that you don’t lose that perspective as a parent.”

Parents can also get on the coach’s good side.

“It’s simple. Be affirmatively supportive, so not with silent support but with actual vocal support in the rink lobby, in the bleachers or even around the pool at the out-of-town tournament,” Cheesebrough said. “Even if you don’t see totally eye-to-eye with the coach, find one thing that you do like and lean into that one thing, as that could serve as an opening into a new understanding or an improved relationship.”

At the end of the day, it’s about respect. Respect for oneself, for one another, and for the game.

“Ultimately, the positive actions of an individual can end up making the fabric of the team, so that’s why being respectful matters,” Cheesebrough said. “If you are on the coach’s good side and respectful and give an honest effort each time, it will create a better atmosphere and a better team.”