Coaching Symposium delivers insight
by Lucas Aykroyd|12 APR 2019
IIHF Council Member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer welcomes speakers and participants to the 2019 WW Coaching Symposium in Helsinki.
photo: Lucas Aykroyd
Have you ever wondered about the challenges of coaching women’s hockey overseas? How do you define success as a coach? What about ways to help your players grow as people as well as athletes?

These are just a few of the topics covered at the lively, informative, and productive 2019 IIHF WW Coaching Symposium. Coaches, administrators, parents, educators, and member national associations all want the best for women’s hockey players. This program, coordinated by IIHF Women’s Program Manager Blanka Elekes Szentagotai and Women’s Worlds Side Event Manager Enni Pohjola, certainly delivered the goods.

Here’s a partial overview of what happened on Day One (Friday) at the Radisson Blu Seaside Hotel in Helsinki. The Coaching Symposium, which includes lunch, continues on Saturday at the same venue. For more information, follow this link.

Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, Chairwoman of the IIHF Women’s Committee and IIHF Council Member, and Tuula Puputti, General Secretary of the 2019 Women’s Worlds and General Manager of Team Finland, welcomed the speakers and participants. “This is the first Women’s Worlds ever to feature 10 national teams,” Kolbenheyer reminded her audience.

Aku Nieminen, the IIHF’s Membership Development Manager, spoke about the 2018-launched Partnership for Progress Program. Designed to help bigger hockey nations and organizations help their developing counterparts, the program has already included such events as a Women’s Management conference in Radenthein, Austria and a Learn to Play seminar in Sofia, Bulgaria.

One of the morning's most colourful presentations came from Sarah Murray, who coached the historic Unified Korean team at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Murray highlighted four keys to success with that team: communication, creating a shared goal, controlling the controllables, and flexibility. She faced challenges on the road to good team play and peaceful cooperation.

As Murray related, she had to face the media with little preparation at the Seoul airport after the mid-January announcement that the two nations from the once-troubled Korean peninsula would join forces in women’s hockey.

Her staff made a three-page dictionary of hockey vocabulary so that players from the Democratic Republic of Korea could understand their new teammates from the Republic of South Korea. "Our South Korean girls would just say 'rebound,' but in the North, they would say, 'when the puck hits the goalie's pad and bounces out,’” Murray recalled. “It's almost a full sentence."

She also found ways to unite her players from disparate backgrounds, from greeting the North players with flowers to creating upbeat highlights videos – always maintaining a positive attitude. “Complaining is toxic,” Murray said. “We didn’t want the newcomers to feel that they were unwelcome.” Her persistent, compassionate  approach paid off, not only with tearful farewells after the Olympics, but also with strengthened sporting bonds and contacts between the two Koreas.

Kirsi Hamalainen, an Expert in Coach Development from the Finnish Olympic Committee, organized round-table discussions between breakout groups of coaches. Each discussion was kickstarted by questions like “How have you affected athletes’ sense of competence?” or “How have you succeeded in solving arguments?”, and focused on objectives, athletes’ reactions, feelings, and success or failure.

Interesting approaches came to light. For instance, the U.S.’s Milicia McMillen, a 2011 U18 gold medalist who now coaches at Ohio State, said that she attends as many coaching events, camps, and clinics as possible to build up her network of contacts.

Saara Niemi (nee Tuominen), a two-time Olympian and five-time Women's Worlds player, spoke about the lessons she learned as a bench boss with the CWHL’s expansion Kunlun Red Star in 2017-18 and the new HIFK Helsinki women’s club this season. In both cases, Niemi admitted she grappled with being given a mandate to win as many games as possible versus trying to develop young talent for the long term.

“I think it’s so important that the journey you do is something you enjoy,” said Niemi. “The journey is the most important thing. If you don’t feel joy, what’s the purpose?” She added: “The hardest thing is building a culture. It doesn’t happen in a year or two. It takes time.”

Project Expert Frauke Kubischta focused on the overall objectives of both the IIHF and the International Ice Hockey Centre of Excellence in Vierumaki. Using a fun, interactive pop quiz, she outlined how the new IIHF Coach Development Framework will use guiding principles to develop better coaches, better players, and, ultimately, better and happier people. It will launch in May on

Saturday’s intriguing program features presentations from legends like Mel Davidson, Hockey Canada’s 2006 and 2010 Olympic gold medal-winning coach and current head scout, and Kim Martin-Hasson, who led Sweden to an historic 2006 Olympic silver medal with brilliant goaltending and now serves as the general manager of Linkoping HC. Other speakers include Martin Loukota of the Czech Hockey Association and Anna Signeul of the Finnish Football Association.