Molding the next crop of top-level hockey talent starts in the youth ranks and following USA Hockey’s American Development Model principals. Starting out, coaches can ask if they stuck with ADM age-specific drills and practice plans.
“Are they learning through the season?” Lehto asks. “Are they developing? Are their skills getting better? Are they gaining concepts that the coaches are teaching? This is all age-specific and driven by what [age] team you’re developing.”
Lehto adds that coaches should think about the development of the team as a whole and each individual player.
“You might be coaching players with a range of skills, but as a coach you’ve still got to bring players 17-20 along the same way you bring 1-4 on the roster,” Lehto said. “It’s harder to judge when you have a higher caliber player, those developments might be measured in inches versus new players who can’t get around too well and by the end of the year they’re motoring and we’re talking half-mile gains on those types of players.”
What culture did you create off the ice?
Today, coaching youth hockey goes beyond drawing up a power play or setting cones out and pushing pucks around.
Lehto believes that coaches can have a positive influence on the way a player or teams acts both on and off the ice. He preaches teamwork, responsibility, leadership and good sportsmanship.
For examples beyond the ice, Lehto asks himself, “Did the players do something extraordinary giving back to the community as a team or individually? Did the team represent its organization well, represent the program well?”