3 ways to keep your youth hockey team on top of their game
By Coach Nate Leslie
1) Good bench management means teaching the players on the bench
It is exhausting and overwhelming for everyone if the coach spends the entire game yelling at the players on the ice; trying to manage their ice; while teaching all at the same time.
Let the kids on the ice play, using only short keywords if you decide to communicate with them while they’re in play. Spend most of your time connecting and sharing insight with the kids on the bench. Use a coach board to do this.
2) Instruct your players on when to change
Most goals are scored after 45 seconds of a shift because someone gets tired and makes a mental or physical mistake.
Effective bench management should dictate that players change just before they get tired (not once they’re already tired), while the puck is moving in the offensive direction, and is past the neutral zone entering the offensive zone (a low-risk time to change).
Younger players always seem to want to take the first player off, when they are next to the door. This will only create confusion. Each player should know who his/her ‘man’ is so that all positions are in place on the ice.
3) Discourage your team from changing all at once
Opportunities for a wholesale change can certainly happen in a game and that is all good. But most of the time changes happen on the fly during the play, and changing all at once can leave your team vulnerable for obvious reasons. Both D, all 3 Fs, or all 5 players changing at once often results in bad things happening!
The D should try to change one at a time, unless they are 100% sure they can make a safe change, of course. More specifically, the new D coming onto the ice should try to get a switch and cover the far side, allowing the more tired D to get closer to the bench, increasing his/her opportunity to change without risk.
Forwards should normally change 2 at a time max, with the 3rd F making sure there are no bad turnovers. That said, they definitely need to have a feel for the game so they change ‘close’ to one another, preventing your lines from getting out of sync.
Good bench management involves making the right decisions through effective communication.
Nate Leslie played 7 years of professional hockey in Europe, including the Swiss National A League. He is the owner of Leslie Global Sports and director of the West Coast Hockey Prep Camp. Leslie has helped develop countless young hockey players, and this year alone he will oversee the training of some 1,500 players. He lives in Vancouver with his wife and two children. This article originally appears on the How to Play Hockey website.