Talk to anyone who has coached for at least a few years, and there’s a good chance he or she will have a mental list of their favorite players.
There’s an even better chance that those favorite players were not necessarily the highest-scoring or most dominant on the team.
Rather, they likely possessed a set of qualities, both tangible and intangible, that made them stand out in the eyes of the coach.
What are these traits that coaches love? Well, they might differ slightly from coach to coach. But Dan Jablonic, a player development manager for USA Hockey, recently laid out five of them that seem to be fairly universal.
Here they are, with a particular nod to their application to 12U players:
Jablonic has several friends who coach at the 12U level, and from them – and from being around the game – comes the realization that hockey starts to become much more of a team game at that age level.
“That’s your introduction to the team game,” Jablonic says. “In 8U or 10U, one or two players can carry a team. That starts to change at 12U.”
As a result, players need to start adapting to not only include others around them but to understand how they fit in on the ice. Those who are able to do it both seamlessly and willingly will quickly gain esteem in the eyes of coaches.
“It’s about not only becoming a good teammate, but how to make other players better,” Jablonic says. “What are you doing to really learn the game of hockey in a team game, situation players, utilize the players around you, now that the game is more 5-on-5?”
Here’s where that notion about coaches not always remembering the most talented players comes into play.
Obviously, talent is a huge part of what makes a player stand out on the ice. But there are many other behind-the-scenes attributes that stand out to a coach.
“What are the habits that really don’t take talent? Things that you can control. Work ethic, effort, how positive you are,” Jablonic says. “Those kinds of things are really important for coaches. You want to be around players who want to have fun, have a great attitude.”
Coaches also like players who ask a lot of questions and want to learn more.
“Are you willing to learn. Are you asking questions or are you just passive in that process?” Jablonic says.
Players these days are more willing than ever to speak their minds and be inquisitive, which is a positive development. Jablonic says he was coaching some younger players recently and they started asking him questions about his playing days at the University of Minnesota Duluth after running his name through Google.
“That’s definitely new. All sorts of information is one search engine away, so it’s very important to get them good information,” he says. “Back in the day, you weren’t necessarily asking those questions.”
Good questions lead to good answers, which lead to learning.
Another quality that might be harder to define is energy. Is a player engaged and displaying positive body language? Those are attributes coaches love.
“It’s all about building that energy and bringing it every day to practice,” Jablonic says.
Last but definitely not least on the list of traits coaches love is good, old-fashioned hard work. While it’s not in short supply these days, it can be difficult to convince 12U players about the process that yields results.
Jablonic notes that the rise in social media, which has certainly filtered down to kids aged 12 and younger, has changed sports consumption in a way that is very highlight driven.
“They see all these different things, the highlight clips, and they don’t necessarily see all the hard work that goes into the highlights,” he says. “The process behind it should be fun. You’re not playing hockey for the end result; you’re playing for the life experience and what you’re getting out of it.”
Coaches can foster the hard work they crave in their players, Jablonic says, by creating genuine connections.
“That’s what coaches should help deliver,” he says. “Social-emotional intelligence is big piece of finding it.”