The Three Tenets of Coaching

Sitting in the office the other day, we were having a discussion about what makes a good coach and what areas you have to excel in to be considered “good.” After some thought and conversation, I believe that coaching comes down to three major areas: Technical, Tactical and Interpersonal.

1. Technical: A good coach must have a strong technical knowledge of the game or sport that they are coaching. Technical expertise is anything that is involved in the mechanical ability to complete an action. In hockey, this boils down to skating, passing, shooting, stick positioning, how to play the body, ability to execute under pressure, etc. Personally, I feel as though situational play also falls under technical ability, although an argument can be made for this being a part of the tactical game. For example, how you play rushes (on both sides of the puck) can be seen as both technical and tactical. Executing on both the offensive and defensive side of a situational play is a technical ability and, to me, the tactics involved in the situation are again a technical skill in the game of hockey.

2. Tactical: The tactical elements of the game mostly involve systems and what structure a team plays with. A coach’s tactical ability influences a game in a number of ways – primarily through adjustments and the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses (both in game and on tape) and attack/protect the respective elements. Coaches with strong tactical abilities have an ability to impact the game through the style of play of their team, their ability to implement adjustments and their proficiency in teaching their systems. 

3. Interpersonal: The interpersonal abilities of a coach are often the biggest indicator of success. Coaches who can interact with people, teach their players and thrive in a pressured environment are often the ones that are the most successful. Good coaches must have strong interpersonal skills to relate to their players, their own peers in the coaching world and their colleagues within their office/department. You can be the best technical and tactical coach in the world, but if you cannot relay your message to your players, it is completely useless. The ability to connect and build trust with your players is critical. In addition, you must be able to get along with your peers in the coaching world and your colleagues in your office/department.

It is my belief that all great coaches possess these three elements – I know there are many more skills and habits that create a successful coach, but without these three tenets coaches will struggle to be successful.

I would love to hear some feedback – what do you think? What have I left out? What does it take to be a successful coach?


“There is more than one way to skin a cat” – old English proverb

Much like anything in life, there is more than one way to play the game of hockey. Different methods to teach the game, different styles of play, different theories on success. Is there one right way? Is one system better than others?

The answer is yes, there is one system that is better than others. That system is the one that everyone on the team buys into, believes in, and executes to the best of their abilities. The X’s and O’s of the system aren’t important, it is the buy-in and commitment that matters.

There is also a system that better fits your personnel. It is hard to say what that system is without knowing your personnel, but there are better ways to play the game based upon the players that you have.

Good coaches have a belief in the way that they play the game and the ability to get their players to buy in to that system. Good coaches recruit players that fit their system and style of play. Is there one system that wins every hockey game? No, but there is a system that is right for certain teams and players. Programs that find the right mix of systems and personnel are usually the ones lifting trophies at the end of the year.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: Center Circle Forecheck

Center Circle FC


Team concept drill this week – working on forechecking and breakouts. The drill starts with five players lined up on the blue line and two forecheckers on either side of the center circle (X’s). Everyone else stands inside the circle to stay out of the way. A puck is dumped in and the two players skate around the center circle, after one lap they turn up ice to forecheck the group that is breaking out. The group of five executes a team breakout (whatever your systems are) and then dumps the puck in at center ice. Five more players have lined up on the opposite blue line and head in to break out when the puck is dumped. Two players from the first group then skate around the circle and head in to forecheck the next group.

This drill is great for working on breakouts – your team will get a lot of reps breaking out against variable pressure. You can alter the number of forecheckers (1, 2, or 3) to change the forechecking pressure. When forechecking three, you can work your forwards on forechecking concepts.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: St Cloud 3v2

St Cloud 3v2


This drill focuses on rush offense and systemic play in the neutral zone. The drill starts with two lines of forwards and two sets of D. On a whistle, the forwards attack the D 3v2 from a standstill. The forwards must create an offensive chance – put pressure on the defensemen, put them in a vulnerable position; concepts such as middle drive, rink width, far pad shots, etc.

After the rush ends, a whistle is blown and a second puck is presented in the neutral zone. The forwards are attacking the same net they attacked off the rush, the D are attacking the opposite net they defended. The objective with the second puck is to simulate a neutral zone situation, with both sides working on team systems in the neutral zone. The second puck can be placed or added anywhere, creating a quick counterattack/backchecking situation, a regroup, a hinge, etc. After the neutral zone situation, the drill resets and starts again.

Game 6: All About the Mindset

Like most people, I was impressed by the Blackhawks comeback win to clinch the Stanley Cup last night. Reflecting on the game and the win, I realized I shouldn’t have been that surprised. The Blackhawks won, not because of anything technical they did, but because of their mindset and approach to the game.

After the first period, shot attempts were 32-8 for Boston. Chicago was being outplayed – badly. But they went into the locker room only down by one goal. Mentally, they were in a pretty good spot. They knew they were outplayed, but they had the confidence that they were able to keep Boston at bay despite not having their best period.

After the second, the game was tied 1-1…a huge confidence boost for the ‘Hawks. They fought through two sub-par periods and after 40 minutes they were tied with an opponent who was outplaying them. As a coach and a team, this is a confidence builder. When you know you can hang with your opponent, you just have to keep fighting until you find your game.

When the Bruins took a one goal lead and time wound down, you could see the Bruins body language relax just a little. Tuuka Rask was playing well (again) and they had been the better team all night. Meanwhile, Chicago became a little more aggressive, working to get pucks in deep and go chase them. Being the aggressor builds confidence, as teams hate having to break out against a potent forcheck time and time again.

Finally, when Chicago broke through for the first goal, you could almost feel a huge momentum swing. The Bruins were trying to talk themselves off their heels and stop playing defensive, while the ‘Hawks were getting up and making plays. The pressure of the game had shifted to the home team and all Chicago had to do was put pucks on net and get to the dirty areas.

While execution and a few fortuitous bounces certainly helped, the mindset and mental approach that Chicago had throughout the game was the ultimate difference and why they were able to stage a miraculous comeback and put an end to such a great series after 6 game (and a few overtimes).

New York Rangers Power Play Part 2

New York Rangers Power Play