Coaches love hard workers and good teammates. But what other traits and behaviors do coaches really value in their players?
Ted Cheesebrough, who’s in his 20th season as the assistant coach for boys' varsity at Centennial High School and a Minnesota Hockey ADM instructor, gives his insights on 10 things players do that coaches absolutely love.
1. When No One Is Looking
Make the most of free time. Work on creative passing with a teammate, play keep-away or try new stickhandling moves.
“We lament how kids don’t skate outside like they used to, so if you have three or four minutes before practice, and you’re grabbing a puck and you’re trying to put it in your feet and kick it back or trying little drags one direction and then the other,” Cheesebrough said. “I like it because that kid is trying to do something to make himself better. And he might not even realize it.”
2. Many Hands Make Light Work
Coaches are ecstatic when players do things without asking – pick up pucks, put away cones, post the nets before practice, or grab the nets after practice.
“I love those players who are going to move pucks or get the nets ready so we can maximize the limited amount of practice time,” Cheesebrough said. “It shows maturity and responsibility, whether they’re 10 or 18. … Good way to get on the coach’s good side is help without asking.”
3. Center of Attention
When the coach blows the whistle to call a huddle and explain a drill, the players who get to the coach first are appreciated. This behavior is a good indicator of which players are ready to listen, learn and compete.
“First, it speaks to engagement: ‘Coach I’m ready to go. I’m ready to listen to what you’re saying, I’m ready to play.’” Cheesebrough said.
“If they are all listening and ready, then when we get down and play that small-area game, we don’t have to worry about stopping after 30 seconds because the first group knew what was happening but the second group had no clue what to do because they weren’t paying attention.”
4. Peer-to-Peer Correction
It’s a fine line and a big ask, especially for younger players, but players who can correct a teammate without making him or her feel criticized or under attack are invaluable to coaches.
“Last year, we had player-coaches on the bench. Like having Reg Dunlop in real life,” Cheesebrough said of his Centennial team that made it to the Class 2A state tournament. “There’s something about peer-to-peer communication. At Bantams or high school, it’s a little easier to see than Peewee and Squirts. The key is being positive.”
5. Peer-to-Peer Explanation
For younger players, the first step in good peer-to-peer communication is explaining concepts to their teammates – be it a drill, a small-area game or a situation that just happened in a game.
“I think in many instances, it carries a lot more weight than the authority figures down to the player,” Cheesebrough said. “And when they’re nodding along, that gets back to being a good teammate and communicator and building your teammates’ confidence.”
6. Down, but Not Out
Coaches love players who can face adversity head on.
“If you can start young, I think coaches value it because we know we’re going to face tough times, it’s a long season. There’s going to be highs and lows, it’s the part that when we hit the lows, can we ride them out?” Cheesebrough said.
Hockey is a game full of mistakes. Are players able to receive instruction and correction while maintaining a positive attitude?
“Coaches are hopefully giving constructive criticism so you can improve,” Cheesebrough said. “Take the error you just made and try to improve it the next time out. Coaches love when you can look a player in the eye and they say, ‘I know, I got this.’”
7. Switch It Up with a Smile
Coaches love when players readily accept new assignments or positions. They value players who are flexible and don’t complain when asked to do something they might not feel totally at ease with.
“We love it when a player looks a coach in the eye and says, ‘I’ll do it’ rather than complain or ‘I can’t,’” Cheesebrough said. “Well, coach is putting you into a position for a reason and we all want someone who is willing and accepts it.”
8. Up Front
Players who are willing to battle in front of the net show toughness, reliability and a willingness to compete.
“Want to be sent out in 6-on-5 situations, the power play or penalty kill?” Cheesebrough asked. “Be willing to stand in front of shots on offense and defense. You will rank high on your coach’s list, whether your team is protecting a lead or needs that tying goal.”
9. Razor’s Edge
Every coach wants players who compete and play with the fire of 1,000 suns, but it’s important not to get so hot you burn your team.
“We want you to go into the hard areas, we want you to dig in the corner, we want you to win wall battles and we want you to have some grit and play with an edge,” Cheesebrough said.
But don’t cross the line with dirty hits or dumb retaliatory penalties. Play hard, but have what Cheesebrough calls an “internal governor.”
“Even better is battling and a guy cross-checks me in the back, because I’m standing in front of the net and I fall down and get back up and don’t retaliate, because we’re on the power play. I want them to play with a certain ferocity, but as long as they’re not going over.”
10. But Why?
Cheesebrough enjoys players who really want to know the “why,” asking smart, probing and challenging questions. Why do we do certain things in the context of a game or practice?
“It shows me an internal willingness that they want to improve. Maybe it’s how kids get higher hockey IQ or better learn the game,” Cheesebrough said. “Maybe they are the ones who are little coaches and in 20 years are going to be coaches and then pass it along.”