If I Were to Coach College Hockey Again

December 9, 2019

Topher Scott

Hockey Sense. Compete Level. Coachability. If a kid doesn’t have those three qualities…I won’t recruit them.  Simple. If they have all three…LET’S GO.

I have had an absolute blast building the Hockey Think Tank over the past few of years.  It’s been a huge learning experience that’s been filled with lots of fun and sprinkled with a little bit of crazy. It’s also been a journey filled with ups and downs which has led to a lot of self-reflection and discovery. 

You certainly learn a lot about yourself and your capabilities when you’re trying to build something from nothing. And one of the things that I’ve learned throughout the whole process:

How much I miss coaching college hockey.

You get to meet so many cool people and make such an impact on the kids and families you encounter.  That was my favorite thing about coaching at that level and there will always be a piece of me drawn to going back because of it.

But as I reflect upon my time coaching at Miami-Ohio and Cornell I think about so many of the things that I would do differently.  And there are quite few. So I put down on paper the things that I would change if I did end up finding my way back.  I thought that you might find it interesting and give you a little bit of a window into what coaching at the college level is about:

1. Time Management

In building the Think Tank, I’ve had the chance to lean on a few business consultant friends for advice because at the end of the day…I’m a hockey coach.  The whole building-a-business thing was a pretty foreign concept at first.

And one of the things that became insanely clear in talking with them is how important my time is.  Because as an entrepreneur…you have to do everything.  Content creation, finance, marketing, customer service, etc.  You’re a one person shop so managing time becomes so incredibly valuable.

Comparatively…As an Assistant Coach in college you basically have two full-time jobs.  You are a recruiter and you are a coach.  And both require full time hours.

Over the past year I’ve really learned how to prioritize what’s important, put my full attention into executing on what’s important, and be much more structured in my day so I can be more efficient and productive.  All three of the above principles are so, so important and looking back I don’t think I did a great job with them while I was coaching.

When reflecting upon prioritizing what’s important…I didn’t do enough relationship building with my players.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it’s just that there were so many other things going on throughout the day that it’s one of the things that easily got lost.  Between recruiting, video prescouts, dealing with administrative duties, being on the road…I can think of a lot of easy excuses as to why it didn’t happen as much as I would have liked. 

But that’s all they are: Excuses.

Putting more structure into my day so I can prioritize those relationships would be my number one change.  I would schedule check-ins with players every month.  I would categorize a certain time out of every day where they would know I’m available to them if they wanted to initiate a conversation.  I would schedule 15-20 minutes for video with each line every week to talk some shop (I worked primarily with the forwards).  The list goes on.

There would also be scheduled times for recruiting and reaching out to youth and junior coaches to build relationships.  There would be time for video and prescouts.  There would be time for administrative stuff like financial aid and admissions that no coach wants to deal with but we have to.

By categorizing my time and giving myself deadlines, I would be able to carve out more time with my players to do the things that I love to do as a coach: Working with the guys.

And hey, things come up.  They ALWAYS do.  And they throw our schedules out of whack.  But by being more intentional with time, it would allow for so much more efficiency that even when the wrenches come I would be better prepared to prioritize the things that are important way, way more.

2. Recruiting

What I would do differently relating to recruiting revolves around simplifying the process. As a scout, you can talk yourself in and out of players at an alarming rate.  You dissect and dissect all the facets of that player’s game because you REALLY want to make sure that player is the right one for your program. 

After all, there are limited spots on your team and you REALLY want to get it right. But thinking about it now, the process of evaluation seems so much simpler.  What did all of the best players that I’ve played with or coached have in common?

Hockey Sense. Compete Level. Coachability.

If a kid doesn’t have those three qualities…I won’t recruit them.  Simple.

If they have all three…LET’S GO.

They have to have an understanding of the game and be able to make plays.  They have to have a passion for the game and a competitiveness to want to win.  And I would never recruit another kid who I’d have to beg to work harder or change their habits.  It’s not worth my time and effort, and it’s not fair to the kids who actually want to work with me to get better.

Most of the kids that fooled me in the past are the ones that had the reputation of having “POTENTIAL.” Ryan Hardy said it best at our Hockey Think Tank Conference when he said that kids with potential are simply “not good yet.” Most of the kids I’ve seen that have been dubbed with having POTENTIAL are the ones that have the physical tools but don’t have the hockey sense or the work ethic (usually the work ethic) to be good yet.  And in my experience there are very few who change that.  I don’t care how many tools you have…if you don’t work or compete, I won’t recruit you. 


Another thing I would make sure I do a better job with is managing “The Noise”.  There is so much information out there on players nowadays.  It can be easy to get hyped up in the “buzz” on certain players and think you’re making a mistake by not liking a kid as much as the buzz likes them.  I would find myself second guessing my eyes and my sources based upon the buzz.

Now I would simply trust my eye, trust the eye and the words of people that I trust, and make a decision from there. At the end of the day, every kid that I recruited (or missed on) that had the three qualities I mentioned above turned out to be players.

Hockey Sense. Competitiveness and Passion. Coachability. That’s all that matters moving forward. Simple.

3. Taking Care of Myself

As much as I loved being a college coach…it is all-consuming.  It’s 24/7.  It’s all day, every day thinking about beating that next opponent or landing that next recruit.  And if you let it, it can be exhausting.

I still talk to a lot of college coaches, and a lot of them can get rightfully stressed with the lifestyle.  I’ve always said that we’re really good at grinding (it’s why we got into it)…but we’re really bad at taking a step back and taking care of ourselves.

As coaches, we’re competitive.  We want to win.  And with that, there isn’t really an off-button because you can always text that next recruit or watch video for the 10th  time to try and find a tendency on an opponent you can exploit over the weekend.  There’s ALWAYS something to do. And we bring the stress on ourselves because working hard is our way of competing. 

I never wanted to be outworked by another coaching staff around the country.  That was my motto.

Taking a step back from the grind has shown me the importance of having an off-button where I can really connect with my family and recharge the battery to fight another day.  Discovering that off-button has allowed the on button to be so much more productive and valuable. 

It’s working smarter…a value that I have come to appreciate a lot more.

So the three things that I would change seem to kind of go hand-in-hand.  It’s about simplifying your process and making it work towards the things that are important and deserve your full and undivided attention.  It’s about cutting out the noise and laser focusing on the things that will make you successful and fulfilled.  And it’s about setting priorities so you can fully immerse yourself into achieving your goals for yourself and your team. 


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