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Youth Coaching Tips from Pat Burns

November 17, 2011 General 1 Comment

Youth coaching tips from Pat Burns
By Alex Carswell
Nov 6, 2001, 19:57



Before he transformed the Toronto Maple Leafs from perennial losers into a perennial Final Four team, before he won 204 games with Montreal, and before he built a .594 winning percentage as an NHL bench boss, Pat Burns coached kids.

“I started with Peewees, Bantams, and Midgets,” says Burns, “(before) going on to Major Junior hockey, which is more of a business. It’s not really youth hockey. (But) Peewee, Bantam and Midget—that’s more of the recreational thing for the youngsters, although it depends whether you work at an elite level or a participation level.

“I worked in the elite level most of the time,” says Burns, recalling the quality of player he coached. “You’d see the kids starting in Peewee (and) you could almost see them going all the way to the NHL.”

Of course, not all hockey dreams come true, something youth coaches and parents must remember. Burns believes that even with promising athletes a youth coach has an obligation to keep a level head—that to do otherwise is a disservice to the young player.

“You start seeing around the age of 15 or 16 whether a kid is going to have any chance to be able to get (to the NHL). But remember, only like one in a thousand kids makes it. So you have to be careful not to make the kid believe that he’s going to play in the National Hockey League.”

That’s not to say that a youth hockey coach can’t have an impact.

“You help the kid along, and if there’s any potential talent that you can see, that you can guide a little bit—and maybe help the parents along, too. But it’s a very dangerous thing to tell a kid he’s going to make it.

“We’ve heard this story many times: that if this kid had a chance he could have made it; that if this kid had a break he could have made it. Well, no. If the kid had been good enough, hewould have made it.”

These are words that stem from ex-perience. It was after returning from the St. Louis Blues training camp that Burns, then a Major Junior player, realized he would never be good enough to compete at the NHL level. So he quit hockey and became a cop. But once he got back into the game—he stood in behind the bench for a sick friend in the early 1970s, and has been coaching ever since—his awareness of hockey’s real world made him a better coach.


The parent trap

Burns emphasizes that parents are often guilty of filling their children with dreams of grandeur, and adds with a laugh the best thing they can do to help a kid enjoy youth hockey: “Leave them alone!” But many parents don’t.

“That’s a problem in minor hockey, that the parents want to overcoach or—you hate to say over-encourage—but sometimes it’s true.” And Burns says even one parent’s overzealousness can have a devastating effect on a team, and a coach.

“If you criticize the coach in front of the child, that’s going to reflect itself, because the kid’s going to tell his teammates, ‘Well, my dad said (the coach) doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’

“When a coach is put at a minor league level, there’s a confidence you have to give him at that point. The people who put him there obviously have screened (him) and decided he knows what he’s doing.

“I think what the parents tend to do—because of the illustrious million-dollar careers now—the parents would love to see one of their kids get right in there, and say ‘Hey, my son’s going to make a million dollars a year.’ And they want to push it.

“That’s where the stories often start of ‘this guy could have made it if he’d had a break.’ Well, as I said, I completely rub that one out. If he’s good and he has the drive, he’s going to make it. And parents sometimes forget that. They prefer to think that their kids were somehow overlooked, badly coached, or badly managed.”

Yet a good hockey parent is the most important element in any kid’s playing experience.

“A child loves to play hockey when his parents or family are present. (When) he does something good, he needs that kind of encouragement. But he doesn’t need the distraction of being discouraged through parents who get up and call referees expletives and call other kids expletives.

“You can’t do that in minor hockey.”


— Alex Carswell

This first appeared in the 12/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Drillsetc says:

    One of the all time great coaches. Rest in peace Pat!

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