International Coaching Symposium a hit
by Lucas AYKROYD|20 MAY 2024
At the IIHF's 2024 International Coaching Symposium in Prague, a panel discussion takes place with (L to R) PWHL New York video coach Laura Brennan, Frolunda coach Erika Holst, 2018 Unified Korean Olympic team member Susie Jo, and Swiss captain Lara Stalder.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
The IIHF held a well-received International Coaching Symposium in Prague. The three-day event (18 to 20 May) featured engaging panel discussions, educational presentations, and great networking opportunities for some 240 attendees.

Increasing both the quality and quantity of coaches worldwide was a recurring theme, along with diversifying the profession.

“The role of the IIHF is to help the member national associations (MNAs), and the MNAs’ job is to help their members,” said IIHF Development Director Kalle Valiaho. “The better the environment is for the athlete and coach at the club level, the better the hockey is in the country and worldwide. We have 40 different countries represented in the symposium.”

“We are developing people in the MNAs with a new IIHF program: the IIHF MNA Developer program,” IIHF Senior Vice-President Petr Briza added. “This week, we finished up our first year with about 40 graduates.”

The vision of what a hockey coach can look like has certainly expanded. According to IIHF Council Member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, who chairs the Women’s Committee, this marks the first time the IIHF has put on a three-day coaching clinic where the last day is dedicated to women’s hockey. 

Emma Terho, a five-time Olympian and current chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, told an on-point anecdote about how compassionate, insightful coaching supported her as a teenage prospect.

“After becoming the youngest Finnish athlete to ever to win an Olympic medal [bronze] in Nagano in 1998 at age 16, I was cut from the 1999 IIHF Women’s World Championship team in Espoo, my hometown,” Terho recalled. “One of my coaches set up a gym program for me and encouraged me to keep going. That was a turning point in my career.”

In another panel highlighting the worldwide momentum for women’s sports, Angela Ruggiero shared her experiences. After winning Olympic gold in 1998 and medaling in her next three Winter Games, this all-star blueliner went on to more off-ice achievements. To name a few examples, she served as an IOC commission member, founded Sports Innovation Lab, and was the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. The Hockey Hall of Famer now works as a hockey operations advisor for the New York Rangers.

“As a female hockey player, you need to have a life after hockey,” Ruggiero emphasized. “Education plays an important role. Finding that balance between hockey and life is essential, and the coach is a key person who can help athletes do so.”

Other women’s hockey players with Olympic experience offered insights on the coach-player relationship today. Susie Jo, a member of the 2018 Unified Korean team who has a master’s degree in sports management, talked about cultural differences between North American and Asian coaches and the need to “find a balance between innovative methods and traditional ways of training.”

Erika Holst, who starred with the surprising 2006 Swedish Olympic silver-medal squad and now coaches Frolunda’s SDHL team, stressed open communication: “The most important aspect is trust and respect. Get to know your players and meet them where they’re at.” And Swiss captain Lara Stalder noted that while smartphones are everywhere in modern life, there’s a time and place to back off: “We have a no-phones rule inside our team. You talk to each other instead of Snapchatting each other.”

Coaching in women’s hockey has been elevated via the new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), whose finals between Boston and Minnesota are currently underway. Laura Brennan, an ex-Minnesota State goalie and current video coach with New York, said taking an open-minded approach has served her well.

“Try to diversify because it’ll help you be a better coach,” said Brennan. “For example, talk with your goalie coaches and learn from them. Even if there’s something you’re not an expert on, be open to learning, because it’ll only help you in the future.”

Brennan also highlighted some PWHL innovations that coaches in other leagues may experience in the not-too-distant future, including the “jailbreak rule” (where penalized players are let out of the sin bin if their team scores shorthanded) and the “Gold Plan” (which incentivizes teams out of the playoff race not to tank for the first overall draft pick).

The overriding trend toward diversity extends to many different coaching roles, as program moderator Amrit Gill spelled out.

Gill, who works as a Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi broadcaster and a Toronto Maple Leafs producer, described how the Leafs have successfully committed to diversity: “Our video coach is of Korean descent. Our coaching development associate this year is Indian. Among our skating coaches, we have more women than men. It goes back to mentorship, creating a pipeline of talent. It’s about attaining skills through experience, bringing people in, saying: ‘Hey, shadow me for a day. I might not be able to give you a job right away, but I can help open your eyes.”

Leadership coach Yennie Rautenberg-Loya highlighted some key goals for coaches at any level: making a difference in other people’s lives, empowering others to go beyond their own limits and succeed in reaching their goals, and continuing their own growth and development.

Additionally, Rautenberg-Loya explored two different kinds of trust that coaches need to build. Practical trust involves showing up on time, getting work done, meeting deadlines, and being reliable. Emotional trust involves feeling respected, generous listening, networking, and building a bond.

The first two days of the coaching symposium were likewise educational and thought-provoking.

Patrick Delisle-Houde, an associate coach at Montreal’s McGill University, identified cornerstones of a personal development plan for hockey players, including strength and conditioning, leadership, mental performance, and academics.

Cutting-edge athletic research was on display. Martin Musalek of Prague’s Charles University spoke about “Leveraging Biological Age Metrics for Fair Off-Ice and On-ice Performance Comparison.” The long-term mandate is to ensure that promising hockey talents don’t fall by the wayside simply because puberty begins later for them.

Slava Lener, the former head coach and general manager of the Czech national men’s team, coordinated a panel including ex-NHLer Jiri Slegr, a Triple Gold Club member (2005), and Tom Bedard, Connor Bedard’s father. They agreed that family support plays a vital role for young players, and that coaches need to reinforce positive messaging at home by teaching kids to love this sport.

Companies such as Hockey Development Training System and Hockey Coach Vision also showcased their products at booths in the lunch room.

There was truly something for everyone at the International Coaching Symposium, as the IIHF pursues its mandate to deliver high-quality sports education to the global hockey family.