What to Expect at your USA Hockey CEP 1 Clinic
Coaching Education Program Details
In the Fall of 2018, I attended my first USA Hockey CEP Coaching Clinic. I was a last minute registration and, apparently, those that had registered well in advance had received a brief synopsis via email of what was going to go down.
As I registered just 36 hours or so beforehand, I was coming in blind, outside of a handful of Google searches I made in a last ditch effort to see what I should be prepared for.
I was shocked that the only semi-helpful search result, on a modsquadhockey.com forum, was from 2014 and full of conflicting opinions and information.
Didn't really put my mind at ease.
In short, I was nervous going in -- not really sure how out-of-my-league and comfort zone I might be.
The level 1 course I registered for was during the week, a Tuesday, which was my first preference even though I had to drive over 100 miles to get there.
Most of these clinics offered are held on the weekends from September through mid-December and take a full day. For any youth hockey coach, chances are, that requires that you miss a game. With 3 kids playing hockey and all on different teams, weekends this time of the year aren't exactly ideal for me either.
(USA Hockey should realize this as it's a common complaint and an easy remedy would be to start offering these clinics during the summer months. Seems counterproductive to be taking coaches off of the bench during the season to go to a required clinic/seminar.)
So here goes... This was how my USA Hockey CEP 1 Coaching Clinic went.
As I've made it a habit to always be early, I arrived at the rink (the clinic was held at the Worcester Ice Center) 45 minutes early and milled around the lobby looking lost. I could see on the board that one of the ice surfaces had 2 locker rooms assigned to "USA HOCKEY" from 5:00 - 6:00pm.
That meant we were going on the ice...so I went back out to the car to get my gear.
So, my first bit of advice to anyone stumbling on to this site looking for info on what happens at one of these clinics is: bring your skates, gloves, helmet, and a stick. Even if you don't think there will be an on-ice portion, have that stuff in the car just in case.
No one wants to be "that guy" that "forgets" their equipment.
On the way back in from the car, I encountered a familiar logo on a sweatshirt -- that of the Greater New Haven Warriors -- and felt a little more "at-home". Turns out that the GNH coach, Jason Hooper, and I share a lot of common contacts.
I've said it before and I'll repeat it again later -- the hockey world is relatively small...and it was comforting to not feel so "alone".
As more and more Massachusetts based logos started to fill the locker room, and younger guys that looked like they might have just ended their pro careers a few months prior sat down, it started to feel a little intimidating.
In my head I was thinking, "This is a level 1 course. We're all newbies..."
But as I scanned the room...all I saw were hulking Tier 1 or Tier 2 men's league players.
Last time I played men's league was nearly 20 years ago. I was a Tier 5 or 6 player...and a mediocre one, at best.
Holy crap, I am so out of my league!!!
Now, I've had access to and been in pro locker rooms for the past 20 years, so it shouldn't have been an intimidating setting...but I'd never been lacing up to go out with those guys. Guess that was happening...now.
Okay, so I might be exaggerating a little bit... But just a little. Unquestionably, there was a lot of nervous energy coming from all four corners of the room. It wasn't just me.
Everyone was genuinely friendly, though, few seemed to actually know anyone else there. Ages were from probably early 20's all the way up to their 60's and there were a few women there too.
For the most part, though, it was mostly men in their mid-thirties to late forties wearing baseball caps with bent brims...myself included.
At 5pm sharp, we all marched out on to the ice. Well, except for that one poor dude that "forgot" his equipment. Don't be that guy.
We all took a few laps and it was almost surreal. I joked that it was the first time I'd been to what felt like a public skate session where I didn't feel like I was chaperoning a middle school dance. So odd to see 70-80 adults skating in a counter clockwise direction.
This free skate time set my mind a little more at ease as there were a handful of skaters that were, well, not quite skaters yet. I mean, I was still feeling some considerable anxiety...but those guys clutching the walls must have been *really* feeling out of place.
For real, though, kudos to them.
It takes seriously courage to go all-in on something you've never ever done before and be thrown right into the mix with folks that have been doing it at a high level for decades.
From there, the head instructor, Tad Doherty, from USA Hockey blew the whistle and we all came together in one big group for a little intro.
Exciting video there, huh?
He then broke us up into 6 groups semi-based on the age level we'd be coaching and sent us to different parts of the rink -- and it became familiar to me after having attended so many early morning practices when my kids were younger that this was textbook ADM coaching going on. You know, a 6-station based practice.
The idea was that each group would put together and run through age appropriate drills.
As I was aware that I wasn't the strongest skater in our group, I, personally, didn't take initiative or anything but our group started doing some skating and stickhandling drills for, no joke, like, exactly 6 minutes (as the ADM insists) before changing it up to a passing drill.
And on we went continuing for just shy of 40 minutes.
Reality of it is that it was a bunch of adults participating in a mite/learn to play level practice.
And, no joke, we were sweating. Profusely.
Especially those poor sobs in those new CCM warm-ups that feel (and hold moisture) like garbage bags.
During one of the drills, I took a digger and landed on my elbow. I could be that guy that claims that I "lost an edge" but, truthfully, ice is slippery and I just went down. Hard.
No big deal, though. Kids fall. So do adults. Everyone had a quick laugh.
With about 10 minutes remaining in our ice time, the head instructor called the entire group together again and introduced us to a skating coach and she spent the final 10 minutes giving us a quick technique lesson.
We even participated -- I wish the little kids learning to skate could have seen a fleet of 80 adults with two hands on the stick and sculling the full length of the ice.
Then the zamboni came on and we were off the ice.
Phew, the part that had been causing me the most anxiety was over...and I survived.
Well, except for my now grossly swollen elbow... Ha!
So, everyone gets their stuff off and we're to meet upstairs in the rink's pizza restaurant which, for tonight anyway, was doubling as a conference room.
Tad started it off by having everyone shift seats so that we were, for the most part, sitting with peers that'd be coaching the same age groups. He took attendance and I couldn't help but wryly grin at the pronunciation of "here!" from all the Boston folks.
I don't know what it is, but I find that accent hilarious cause it's so 50/50. How can a person from Natick speak just like I do while someone 2 miles away in Dover ignores the letter R in all cases and then peculiarly adds an "R" sound to the word "idea" where there was never an "R" there to begin with. So weird.
Anyway, it was neat to take part in an attendance roll call as I'd venture to say the last time I had to wait and listen intently for my name was probably over 20 years ago.
Best of all, Tad pronounced my name correctly even after murdering a number of Polish and Italian names.
Side note: I've long since given up on correcting people due to the awkwardness of it all but, it's Rutsch like Dutch, if you care.
From there, we all got up and grabbed the age appropriate informational booklets from USA Hockey and a workbook and helped ourselves to a TON of fancy pizza that the restaurant employees kept bringing out.
I'm pretty loyal to Domino's pizza (don't judge) and I have food allergies so I refrained from eating any...but it was an unexpected perk for this class.
From there, it felt like we'd be settling in for 4+ hours of a dreadful PowerPoint presentation explaining exciting topics such as icing, offsides, and the C-cut.
Tad kept it light and entertaining, though, and encouraged participation.
We didn't cover any of the rules for ice hockey.
We didn't go over any suggested drills.
It was more of a pep talk -- thank you for doing this followed by getting us all to think about how important being a coach was.
Really, that was the initial message.
One of the more powerful things he had us all do was to name off the best coach we ever had. He called on 10 or 15 of us and only one person really had a tough time coming up with a name instantly.
And he wanted us to think about how we'll probably remember that coach for the rest of our lives -- coaches can be pretty big influences. He wanted us to think about that.
He then asked what it was that made that coach the best, like, the qualities they possessed.
For me, the best coach I ever had was unquestionably Kurt Fioretti, my track coach in high school.
He'd just taken over the coaching job from a guy who'd been coaching for, gosh, probably 30 years (who was awesome too, I might add) but had a totally different style.
He was only a few years removed from high school himself so there was that relatability at play but, while he appeared, in comparison to the previous coach, to be outrageously lazy, choosing most often to just lie on the high jump foam pit working on his tan, he also got more out of me and many of my teammates and led us to a state title and me, personally, to New Englands (where I got smoked).
I was a pretty big deal in high school. My coach made me that.
How'd he do it?
Back then, I probably thought it was because he "allegedly" dangled things like driving his POS Volkswagen Rabbit (Blue Lightning) around or potentially buying us a case of beer if we achieved a certain time or height or whatever...
I know, both practices would be highly frowned upon these days...and were probably back then too. Still -- he was a great coach and man of his word.
And while he certainly could appear lazy, any time someone challenged him or questioned the tasks that he'd ask of us, he'd slowly roll off the foam pit and say, alright, let's go and he'd do it with us.
He may have seemed like a lazy and hungover 20-something hanging out with a bunch of high school kids but I never once saw a teammate beat him at any event.
He could smoke me in the 5000-meter just as well as he could smoke our 110 high hurdle runners.
Indian sprints? Forget about it. It was horrible to have him in your group -- his speed and strength were truly amazing.
I never saw him attempt the pole vault as the pole vaulters were all smart enough to never question him, but I'd bet he could do that too...so even though I'm not really painting a flattering image of him here, besides the tan, of course, he had our respect too.
But the REAL reason he was the best coach I ever had, and that I realize now, is that he knew how to talk to us, how to get us to aim high (or fast or far), and he knew how to make something mundane like running in big circles...fun.
He wanted us there. We wanted to be there.
He told us to recruit anyone who could walk and chew gum at the same time...and we did.
If you could do those two things simultaneously, he always said, he'd find the right event for you. And just like that, some of the dorks, metalheads, mathletes, and skater dudes were suddenly varsity level athletes competing alongside the jocks.
Some of my fondest high school memories were watching the discus and shot put guys run the 4x400 relay in competition.
Those guys thought it was fun to be runners...and we runners thought it was hilarious to watch those big strong guys huff it around the track.
No joke, it was the "fun" strategy -- and the folks we convinced to give track & field a try gave us the added depth that made us un-beatable.
Okay, enough reminiscing. Back to the USA Hockey clinic -- there were a couple common traits that everyone's favorite coach had.
For real, everyone pretty soundly agreed that their best coach ever, sure they were great coaches, but the fact that they made it fun was a huge reason for it.
Point there was, don't do endless skating drills. It has to be fun or you'll lose the players. Sorry, Herb Brooks...
They also stressed communication.
I knew that -- Kurt knew how to talk to us -- and from the hockey coaches my kids have had so far, yeah, communication to the kids and parents (goals, expectations, responsibilities, etc...) is huge...and Tad stressed that as well.
He then brought in Chris Hartly who is one of the coaches for Becker College. For some reason, I knew his name, his face, and even his voice but couldn't place it.
He talked about some of his experiences growing up as well as his experiences as a coach and how things have changed during that time with the ADM model and all that.
Sensing some of us rolling our eyes regarding the ADM, Tad jumped back in and looked for a count of hands for folks who were on board with it and for those who were not.
I'm the latter group, for sure. My oldest son played one season of half ice with the blue puck when he was six and that was enough of that. For me...and him.
My other two sons have never played half ice or with a blue puck (besides Spring hockey), and maybe I'm full of myself, but they're far better players because of it.
Slight tangent, but I'll never forget my middle son Henrik's very first soccer game.
He had his super cool uniform on, shin guards, the whole get up and was super excited to play.
When we got there, they moved the kids off of the field to a mini-field, no larger than the penalty area on a real soccer field, said there would be no goalies, it would be four-on-four, and the ball had a cartoon dinosaur on it.
Henrik, probably not even 5 at the time, who has quite the mouth on him in situations like this, was like, "Are you f'ing serious?"
Look, I get it.
For some kids, half ice and super light pucks are a great idea.
For others, well, like Henrik, it's just not.
He wants to play hockey. Real hockey. Not gym class hockey. Not daycare hockey.
And for that reason, we play out of state where the USA Hockey recommendations (rules?) are sidestepped.
While Tad was towing the company line regarding USA Hockey's ADM, he got it...and he understood how and why some felt that way and we moved on.
Related, as each team and program is a unique situation, he discussed how kids are all different too.
Different skill sets, different maturity levels, and different learning styles that coaches need to find a way to balance.
We've fortunate enough that the kids on my son's teams for the past couple of seasons are all of like mind -- and they all want to be there and all work hard to get better and their skill sets are all relatively close.
Given that I'll be trying to help out with my sons’ teams only, thankfully, a lot of what was talked about won't apply too much to my personal situation.
For my youngest, who I really went through this process for, as long as he's having fun, he'll follow the same path with the same program and I'll help out with his teams too as a puck pusher or cone mover or whatever until it's more obvious than it already is that the kids are more skilled than I am.
Up next, Terry Virtue spoke. Long time AHL veteran whose main stomping ground was the Worcester area for years and years as a member of the Worcester IceCats.
For me, he's the guy who scored the most important goal in Hartford hockey history -- the one that sent the Wolf Pack to the Calder Cup Finals in 2000.
He told stories about his days playing youth hockey as well as how things work now for him as a coach.
One of the funnier ones was about how, as a veteran, he took an entire summer off -- didn't lace them up at all -- before attending training camp for the St. Louis Blues under the expectation that there'd be a couple on-ice days to get your legs back and into the swing of things before the competitive scrimmages started.
There weren't and he wasn't ready at all.
Following a scrimmage, Keith Tkachuk (then Captain of the Blues) asked Eric Nikulas (another veteran AHL'er) who that terrible player was... Nikulas told him his name was Virtue and that he hadn't skated at all during the offseason.
Tkachuk's response was, "I can respect that."
Hilariously, a couple years later, Tkachuk was sent home (and even suspended, if I recall correctly) for coming in to training camp overweight and out of shape.
Those were extreme cases but the discussion mostly revolved around curbing year-round hockey and doing something else to be better athletes.
There was also a discussion regarding how players today are overdoing it in the weight room -- so much so that they're needlessly injuring themselves. The moral of the story was essentially that having an amazing 6-pack won't make you a better hockey player, or even general athlete.
Another topic he spent a considerable amount of time on was communication.
There were a lot of recurring themes throughout the night...
Talk to the parents. Let them know what you expect of them while also remembering that you're not there for them -- you're accountable to the players, not the parents. When everyone is on the same page from day one, things go a lot smoother.
Now I know some might be thinking, who is Terry Virtue? He's a nobody. He didn't make the show -- why should I follow his lead?
Well, first of all, he did make the show suiting up for a handful of games with the Bruins and Rangers, but outside of that, he was a dominant top pairing blue liner in the AHL for a decade, at least, winning consecutive Calder Cups with Providence and Hartford as a major contributor.
Further, he wasn't drafted and started in the ECHL and worked his way up to the NHL. As his career was winding down, he went right into coaching. And even more relatable for any parents out there doing the coaching clinics, his son played youth hockey and was drafted and plays for the Remparts in the QMJHL.
Point is, he's been a player, a coach, and a parent at a super high level. He's experienced it all.
Hey, most of our kids will top out their hockey journey playing in a men's league at 11pm on Tuesday nights -- let's be real. Guys like Terry Virtue have a wealth of information to tap to maybe, just maybe, help our players reach a higher level than they otherwise would.
Terry, Chris, and Tad all gave examples of situations you'd likely find yourself in and had probably already witnessed at the rink. Unruly parents at games, parents complaining about ice time, dump and run parents, and that sort of thing.
For all of it, communication is key.
Setting rules, expectations, and team guidelines at the onset of the season is super important for both players and parents.
They also touched on the SafeSport stuff -- don't be dumb and put yourself in a bad situation. Ever.
Up next, Gene Binda came in to talk to us about the game from the officials' perspective and how important it was to treat the referees like regular people. He's a director of Officiating of some sort in the Northeast and I know his son, Geno Binda, was a referee in the AHL as recently as 2017.
(The hockey world is clearly a small and familiar place. Of the four gentleman that spoke at his clinic, I'd had direct interaction with 3 of them in the past during my two decades of working in the AHL. Didn't expect to cross paths with them here, at all...)
For me, Gene's lecture was one that should be given to every single parent at the onset of a season rather than to folks looking to get into coaching but, clearly, that would be an impossible task for logistical reasons.
The message, though, should be something that all coaches will pass on to player parents and that's why he was there.
Good stuff. Eye opening stuff.
Stuff I've seen firsthand at my son's games where unruly parents relentlessly heckle a teenage referee for missing a meaningless offsides in a mite or squirt level game.
He told one story where a 14 year old referee essentially hid from irate parents in the locker room until his parents came to pick him up.
I nearly put my head down in shame as I know for a fact that I'd witnessed, if not the actual occurrence he was referring to, something outrageously similar...and the parents on my son's team were a huge part of the problem.
It's ridiculous and something I'd never ever do myself...but having heard Gene's plea, the next time I'm in the crowd witnessing that sort of uncomfortable situation brewing while a direct cause of the parents on our team, I'm gonna say something now.
He also spoke of the opposite end of things where there are officials that are clearly just there to get the game over with as soon as possible, not calling anything, just to collect a paycheck.
The officials, in charge of the on-ice officials, don't want that either.
We should all be on the same page, which was the point.
If kids don't want to be refs anymore...there won't be any officials for your games. Don't be a dick.
After that more serious and sincere part of the night, Tad took over again to talk about his passion...goalies.
Aware that 90% of the people in the room were brand new to this, he asked how many knew what to do with the goalie.
Not surprisingly, there were only a handful of arms up.
One thing he said over and over was to NOT talk about angles. The real message, though, was to make sure they feel like part of the team, are having fun, and to try to get everybody to give goalie a shot at the younger ages.
Suggestions like not putting the goalie at the end of the line in skating drills (something the program my kids are in never do anyway) and having them participate in stickhandling and passing drills.
And keep it fun -- he mentioned telling the kids to act like Sponge Bob in net -- big and square.
After a few concluding statements and anecdotes as well as another big thank you for sacrificing the time to teach kids to play the best game out there, viola, everyone in the room was a USA Hockey certified Level 1 coach.
Just gotta do the Safe Sport, an online module or two for the age group you're coaching, and a background check too to make it all official...
Really, I know baseball does it a little bit too, but it's kind of neat that hockey is the sport that's so far ahead of the other popular sports in this regard -- youth coaching with a centralized nationwide training program -- but probably also why hockey is almost universally low on great coaches.
You don't just get to volunteer and sign up. It takes an additional commitment and a little bit of money too which, certainly, excludes a lot of folks that would otherwise be great coaches.
Now, I have no aspirations of ever being a head coach so a lot of it didn't feel super applicable to me but it was definitely a valuable 5+ hour experience for me.
And I'm not certain I actually learned anything that I didn't already know just from having keenly observed my kids' practices as a parent for the past three years.
What it did do, though, was provide me validation that the two head coaches that my older boys currently have are the cream of the crop.
I mean, they could've done this entire presentation themselves -- where I watched other coaches in the audience nodding their heads to the things they were clearly hearing for the very first time, I was sitting there nodding my head thinking, I see this in real life every single Tuesday and Thursday and every weekend too -- outside a classroom.
Fast forward twenty something years, when my kids are in this same situation, paying it forward, are asked who the best coach they ever had was, I'm all but certain of two names that'll be on the list.
As for me? Will I ever be on anyone's list?
Pretty certain the answer is no...and I'm totally cool with that.
Like I said, I have no aspirations to be a head coach and know myself well enough to know that I'm not real well suited for that role anyway.
At the same time, I've spent an awful lot of time on the other side of the glass alongside other parents.
Been there when some parent starts spouting off saying this coach sucks or that clown can't show my kid anything. I get it.
I'll be honest -- I've even been guilty of it!
The dude that initially showed Duncan how to push off was wrong, so wrong, and it bothered me for a long time. I tried to "coach" him the right way but, of course, your own kid will never listen to you.
It's a sure thing that a lot of those dad's over there sideline coaching their kid are a lot more talented than I am. And I know some of them over there are calling me that "clown".
Hey, I'll be the first to admit that my kids are better skaters that I ever was or will be. They were better than me when they were five years old.
And so will the kids that I'll be helping to coach.
I know "how" to be a better skater but I also know that I'm not exactly capable of teaching or effectively demonstrating to someone how to be a better skater myself.
Remember, I'm the guy who wiped out HARD. I'll even share a grainy low-quality clip of my wipe out. Zero shame.
Pure comedy, right here.
But I've also been on the sides watching a coach try to run a practice by themselves.
No fault of their own, but there's a lot of wasted time and, frankly, they're out there herding cats with knives on their feet that are also swinging sticks around too. It's an impossible task.
The USA Hockey modules, if you've plodded through them, all say that we should "embrace the chaos" at the youth levels. Eh...maybe. Chaos gets out of hand when there isn't enough supervision.
I'm out there to push pucks around, move cones, let the kids know which way to go, limit the pushing and shoving in line, tie skates, button helmet straps, re-tie skates, maybe open the door, loosen skates that I just tied too tight, and then make the kids laugh at my lack of skill as every single one of them surpasses me in talent at some point during the season.
So, yeah, I won't claim that I'll make your kid a better hockey player...but I'll help make sure the head coach (that HAS talent and the ability to effectively teach and demonstrate) spends more time making your kids better hockey players and less time doing the stuff a schlep like me could be doing instead.
I mean, I'm there at the rink anyway so I may as well help out as much as I can, right?
This is how I'm choosing to get more involved.
Going back to my old track coach's recruiting tactic, if you can skate (even barely) and chew gum at the same time, for real, sign up for one of these USA Hockey Certification clinics and get out there!
I've never once seen too many coaches on the ice at the U-8 level and there should be twice as many as there are at the U-6 levels, without a doubt.
So, yeah, it might feel intimidating but, trust me, there is a need for more coaches out there at the beginner levels.
You don't need to be the guy (or girl) that *still* rocks a mullet or is missing a tooth still from their Junior B days to help a kid learn to skate backwards.
You should do it.
So, yeah, in addition to going to a Coaching Clinic, you'll also need to complete the USA Hockey modules for the age groups you'll be coaching.
Those are 100% online and consists of a bunch of short videos you need to sit through...and then pass a little quiz at the end of each.
They're not hard but it does take some time. I did them in the middle of the night while the kids were sleeping. Not surprisingly, major themes covered are "Fun" and "Communication".
Each one takes around 2 hours or so to complete and costs $10.
You'll also need to complete the SafeSport training and it's more of the same -- videos with quizzes or sample scenarios.
It only takes around an hour to complete and if you're thinking it's mostly about concussions and player safety, well, you're in for a surprise!
(If you're still reading, I strongly suggest doing the online age specific modules and SafeSport prior to the coaching clinic just to get them done with early. Like, weeks early.)
And the last step, which isn't always required -- depends on the program -- is a background check to ensure that you're not a threat to children.
In Connecticut, the CHC (Connecticut Hockey Conference) runs it. The program I'm working with isn't in or part of the CHC, though we're in Connecticut, but I submitted my info anyway just to cover all bases and make everything 100% legit.
And roughly a week after completing the CEP course, you'll receive an email with your CEP# and you'll be added into the CEP database for life.
So, yeah, if I could do it, you can do it to. Help your kid's head coach make your kid a better player.
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» Great Programs have Great People
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