Q&A: When Do You Bench a Player for Bad Behavior?

Q. A player on my daughter’s all-girls team engages in “mean girl” behavior, including telling other girls they are fat, giving them cheap shots during practice and tossing their hats/gloves in puddles in the parking lot. She is also the leading scorer and we’re heading into the playoffs. Should the coach bench her?

A. “As coaches, the biggest carrot we have is playtime,” says experienced hockey director and coach Angelo Ricci. “They’re kids so we can’t fine them and suspension is a last resort.” The key to using playtime to help control behavior is to establish all the rules up-front in a preseason meeting. Then, it’s up to the coach to hold everyone accountable and enforce the rules in a fair and consistent manner, says Ricci. “If you favor kids or change the rules midseason, you lose respect in the locker room.”

In particular, Ricci emphasizes that the behavior of repeat offenders needs to be addressed with playtime. While he admits that some coaches turn a blind eye to behavior when they shouldn’t, the philosophy remains the same: It doesn’t matter what game it is. If a coach determines that a player needs to be benched for a portion of a game, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season or the last. After all, Ricci says, “Would you let your kid steal a $1 candy bar but not $50 headphones? It’s the same crime.”

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Angelo Ricci for sharing his 15 years of expertise as a hockey director in this article. Ricci is founder, head instructor and consultant for Ricci Hockey Consulting. With 20+ years experience as a skills and stickhandling coach, he conducts/oversees more than 40 programs year-round that develop over 1,000 players each year.

Communicating Effectively with Young Athletes

Coaches give a great deal of time and energy to providing a worthwhile life experience for young athletes. To optimize coaching effectiveness, coaches must be aware of the importance of skillful communication in achieving their objectives.

Everything we do communicates something to others. Because of this, coaches should develop the habit of asking themselves (and, at times, their athletes) how their actions are being interpreted. This enables coaches to evaluate whether they are communicating what they intend to.

Coaches must constantly ask themselves what has been communicated to athletes and whether the communication was effective.

Effective communication is a two-way street.

  • By keeping the lines of interaction open, coaches can be more aware of opportunities to have a positive impact on athletes.

  • Fostering two-way communication does not mean that athletes are free to be disrespectful toward their coach.

  • Rather, it invites athletes to express their views (both positive and negative) with the assurance that they will be heard by the coach.

  • Furthermore, by presenting a model of an attentive listener, coaches can hope to improve the listening skills of their athletes.


Effective communication also requires that coaches view a team as a group of individuals and respond to these individuals accordingly. For example, a youngster who has low self-confidence may be crushed (or positively affected) by something that has no impact whatever on an athlete with high self-esteem. By improving sensitivity to the needs of athletes, coaches can be more successful. The ability to “read” athletes and respond to their individual needs is characteristic of high-quality coaches at all levels of sport.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., and Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., for this article. Drs. Smoll and Smith are sport psychologists at the University of Washington and co-directors of Youth Enrichment in Sports. To see previews of their Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit www.y-e-sports.com.

How to Handle a Player Who Won’t Pass

Q: I coach a Squirt team and have a player who won’t pass, no matter what. The other parents are getting very frustrated. What is the best way to handle this?

A: A coach will almost always have to deal with a player or two who will not move the puck. When dealing with younger players (U8 and U10), try the following:

  • Use the teaching terms “puck movement” and “head man the puck.” These terms are imperative.

  • Demonstrate and emphasize to all players that nobody can outskate a pass. The other team, however, sure has the possibility of catching a player who does not pass.

  • Stress that holding the puck too long makes it easy on the defender.



  • Sit with the player at the rink and watch a game together. Point out examples of good puck movement and poor puck movement.

  • Review video with the team and show players the different results when passing and not passing the puck.


As you get to the U12, U14, U16 and U18 levels, be stern while continuing to stress the importance of teamwork and moving the puck. Try the following, in order:

  • If a player at this age does not pass, the greatest card a coach holds is playing time.

  • If it reaches a point where the player just will not listen, the coach must take away ice time.

  • If that does not eventually work, have that player watch a game from the stands and write a paragraph or two on why it is important to pass the puck.


Editor’s Note: Thank you to Angelo Ricci for sharing his 15 years of expertise as a hockey director in this article. Ricci is founder, head instructor and consultant for Ricci Hockey Consulting. With 20+ years experience as a skills and stickhandling coach, he conducts/oversees more than 40 programs year-round that develop over 1,000 players each year.

The Children’s Hospital Coaches Clinic, June 25, 2011

The Colorado Avalanche want you to know the latest in concussion prevention and treatment. The Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Department and HeartSmart, Inc. designed The Children's Hospital Department of Orthopedics Sports Medicine Coaches Clinic for youth sports coaches who want to be prepared to assist an injured athlete at games and/or practices. This seminar will include interactive presentations on nutrition, sideline management, concussion, and hands-on workshops on football injuries/conditions, soccer injuries/conditions and weightlifting/conditioning, and CPR certification. Click here for the clinic brochure.


10 Values Coaches Can Teach + 4 Things to Avoid

Coaches are teachers and have a huge responsibility. They can imbue—or not imbue—values that go far beyond sport itself. What are the lessons of sport and life that parents want their young athletes to come away with? Think about the athletes we admire so much—the names Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Michael Jordan, Cammi Granato and Michelle Kwan, come to mind. What distinguishes these great athletes from so many others? Think of it! Throughout good times and bad they have always played their game with class.

Coaches can inspire children to:

1. Think
2. Create
3. Experiment
4. Be artistic


Coaches can also demand that their athletes exhibit:

5. Honesty
6. Fair play
7. Courtesy
8. Consideration
9. Sportsmanship
10. Etiquette


These characteristics are all integral to winning. Unfortunately, coaches can also teach athletes to:

1. Fear authority
2. Obey without question
3. Perform mechanically
4. To do whatever it takes to win


I believe it is time to come down hard on negative behavior and poor sportsmanship. Young athletes must be taught that how they play the game counts. Then, regardless of the outcome of the game, they will be true winners.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Laura Stamm of Laura Stamm Power Skating for this story. Kelly Anton, managing editor of the Grow the Game initiative, condensed and edited this story.

Playing Consistent Hockey

I remember watching the movie The Boys On The Bus over and over again when I was a kid—almost as if it was a Disney movie. The movie is about the Edmonton Oilers in the early and mid-1980s. I still remember one clip in which Mark Messier explains how he plays every game like it’s his last. It’s a great and—I argue—the only attitude to have when approaching each game.

For a little perspective on “the Moose,” he played 1,752 NHL games. If you do anything close to 2,000 times it can be repetitive and boring. Plus the travel, little nagging injuries, up and downs of a marathon season and non-hockey life can make for big distractions. For the most part, elite players have a passion for the game. If not, they would have been weeded out a long time ago. But the greatest players take that passion and have a laser-like focus that allows them to play great consistently. Good players, meanwhile, play great every three games or so—a big difference over a season and career. Here are two simplistic ways to approach the game: Average vs. Greatness.

Average Approach

If you go into a game thinking “it’s just another game” or “we beat this team 8–0 last time” or look past this game to a “bigger” game coming up, then you’re not giving your best. There was a game yesterday and there will be a game tomorrow. So you take the present game and basically go through the motions. The problem with this, as Seth Godin points out in a recent blog post on business, is that there is competition. As you take the skills you have worked so hard to achieve and average them out to just get through the game, the competition is giving it their all with a take-no-prisoners attitude. At least the good teams are. Who’s going to win?

Greatness Approach

If you think this might be the last time you enjoy the great privilege of strapping on skates as Messier did, then most likely it won’t be. Plus you get the added benefit of playing great hockey. Get hungry out there on the ice. It’s the difference today of two points in the standings. It’s a difference tomorrow of making the most out of the skills you have and achieving consistent greatness.

Good luck this weekend.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brett Henning of Score100Goals.com for this story. Henning is the author of 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players, and was a member of the Inaugural National Team Development Program and 2000 World Junior Team with USA Hockey. He played Junior Hockey in Canada and at the collegiate level for the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted by the New York Islanders before a back injury ended his on-ice career.

Coaching = Teaching

“There is nothing mysterious about developing a good team, because coaching is nothing more than teaching. Coaches impart the techniques to the players. The better job they do, the better job the players will do.” —John McKay, former college and professional football coach

Young athletes expect coaches to help them satisfy their desire to become as skilled as possible. Therefore, you must establish your teaching role as early as possible. In doing this, emphasize the fun and learning part of sport, and let your athletes know that a primary coaching goal is to help them develop their athletic potential.

All Athletes Need Attention

During each practice or game, be sure that every youngster gets recognized at least once. Athletes who usually get the most recognition are (a) stars or (b) those who are causing problems. Average athletes need attention, too! A good technique is to occasionally keep a count of how often you talk with each athlete to make sure that your personal contact is being appropriately distributed.

Key Teaching Principles

Based on over 25 years of research and experience, several principles have been identified for creating a mastery climate—a learning environment that emphasizes skill development, personal and team success, maximum effort, and fun in youth sports.

  • Always give instructions positively.

  • When giving instructions, be clear and concise.

  • If possible, show athletes the correct technique (demonstrate).

  • Reinforce effort and progress.


Give Athletes Support

When an athlete has had a poor practice or a rough game (as we all have), the youngster should not go home feeling badly.

  • The player should get some kind of support from you—a pat on the back, a kind word (“Hey, we’re going to work that out. I know what you’re going through, but everyone has days like that sometimes.”)

  • Athletes should not leave feeling detached from you or feeling like a “loser.”


Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., for this article. Dr. Smoll is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington and co-director of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program (www.y-e-sports.com). See a preview of his Mastery Approach to Coaching DVD here.

Captain Selection Secrets



For those of you who never played sports, team captain is not just an honorary position for the cutest, most-popular guy or gal on team. (Or for the coach’s son or daughter.) The captain and alternate captains have an actual job, defined by USA Hockey as the players who “shall have the privilege of discussing with the Referee any questions relating to interpretation of rules that may arise during the progress of a game.” (See the complete captain section on page 11 of the 2009-11 Official Rules of Ice Hockey book.)

So who should be the captain? We turned to Captain D of CaptainDevelopment.com, a USA Hockey Level 5 coach, for help. His site covers everything from rotating captains to development and duties. Here’s an excerpt from his site:

Selection of Captains

Some coaches choose their team captains. Some have the players vote for captains. With older players it may not matter too much. In most cases (although not always) the results will be the same. Why is this? Coaches will choose players who’ve shown good leadership skills. Players also look up to and choose players who’ve shown these traits.

A successful high school coach had an interesting compromise. When asked at a coaches’ seminar how he chose captains for his teams he replied, “We have the kids vote—then the coaches count the ballots.” (He went on to say that in all the many years he had coached, the coaches never had to throw out the vote of the players. They always chose captains that the coaches would have chosen anyway.)

Location, Location, Location

One indicator of leadership potential is easy to spot. Note where players sit in the locker room.

  • The player who sits in the center of the wall across from the door is likely to be a player who is confident, wants attention and is likely to want to be “in charge.” This can be good or bad since some players like this are “bossy” but lack the work ethic and/or respect needed. Keep your eye on these players to see if their confidence and work ethic are both strong.

  • At the opposite end of the spectrum are the players who seat themselves in the corner behind the door. Although they may be very skilled players, they aren’t likely to be leaders.


Naturally, seating arrangements should not be used to automatically determine captaincy, but it is an indicator of players’ temperaments.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that choosing the captain is only the first step. Once chosen, coaches must work with team captains to help them develop and use their leadership skills. “However good a leader a captain may be, the key is finding what makes his teammates willing to follow.”

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Captain D for this story.

The Top Two Traits of Excellent Coaches

traits_of_excellent_coaches_postFrom the dawn of youth sports, there has been debate over the qualifications an individual should have to coach a team. In a perfect world, a coach with intimate knowledge of a sport would be ideal, however, often this is not the case. The following article outlines the two most important traits a person should have when taking on a coaching role.



Although a coach can have a tremendous amount of knowledge about his sport, the two most important considerations for a coach are:

  • Can he or she teach what they know?

  • Can he or she  motivate players to do what they teach?


According to the Wikipedia, “a teacher is a person who teaches; a person who guides, instructs, trains or helps another in the process of learning knowledge, understanding, behavior or skills, including thinking skills.”

Although a coach may have tremendous skills from playing sports, their ultimate success will come more from their teaching skills. Coaches who want to be successful must complement their playing skills with the necessary teaching skills. Otherwise, a coach who knows everything about his sport will often find himself losing to coaches who know far less if he cannot teach what he knows.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Sports Esteem for this article.

The Three Most Important Coaching Roles Every Coach Should Master

three_important_coaching_roles_postCoaches can play many roles - including medic, psychologist, chauffeur and sometimes equipment manager to name a few. There are three key roles that define the philosophy, practice and impact of a coach. The coaches who confuse these roles can find themselves making serious mistakes. The coaches who manage these roles effectively are the ones who win and change lives.



The coach as teacher - Every coach is a teacher who provides instruction in sport-specific skills and strategies. The best coaches also teach positive life skills like healthy living, positive character, self direction, teamwork and leadership. Even when coaches are not teaching with words, they are teaching with action. Their athletes watch them closely and learn from what they do.

The coach as leader - Every coach is also a leader, whether they realize it or not. As a leader, it is the coach’s job to provide purpose, direction and motivation to the athletes on the team. Like teaching, some coaches are better leaders than others. The best leaders produce teams that get the most out of their talent and play with a high degree of spirit, honor and trust. Coaches who lack leadership skills usually have teams that under-perform for their talent.

The coach as competitor - The third role of a coach is that of competitor. We don’t talk about this role as much as the roles of teacher and leader, but the coach’s competitive disposition is always a factor. A coach with a controlled and positive competitive disposition can teach their athletes important life lessons about competing with honor. Coaches who lack competitive self-restraint can cause serious problems for athletes under their supervision.

Role Confusion

Most coaches who make serious mistakes are confused about their role priorities. They may have good intentions about teaching and leading for positive youth development, but when they get into competitive situations their own need to win over-rides their commitment to doing what is right for their athletes’ personal development. They make rash decisions aimed at winning in the moment without realizing or caring that they may be damaging the positive development of their own athletes. Their athletes see this for what it is, and revoke their trust in the coach as a teacher and leader. Then the coach wonders why the team plays tight under pressure and why the athletes don’t stay loyal to the program.

Taking Action

The truth is that few coaches are completely immune to the risk of putting their competitive instincts ahead of positive development of their athletes. The driving will to win can get the best of anyone. Positive competition is good, but we do need competitive self-restraint, which is simply the practice of putting the needs of our athletes ahead of our own need to win. We can accomplish this by:

  • Reminding ourselves that as adults we are teachers and leaders of young people first and competitors second.

  • Committing to make positive youth development our highest mission as a coach.

  • Judging ourselves not on our win-loss record, but on the content of our athletes’ competitive character and positive development.


None of this means that winning is unimportant or not worth pursuing.  It simply means we will not compromise the positive development of our athletes for the sake of a scoreboard.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Elevating Athletes for this encouraging article.

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