Getting the most out of young athletes

Scott Murray is the player-coach-GM of Thailand's fabled expat hockey squad, the Flying Farangs. He is also the Vice President of the Siam Hockey League and a lifelong hockey fan and aficionado, remembering attending original six games at Maple Leaf Gardens.  

In our continuing series on innovative coaches and how they can get the most out of their players Boltsports focuses on Matt Doyle, who has been the Hockey Director of the York Devils in York, Pennsylvania, for the last 5 seasons, his 8th year coaching. Since then the club has grown by roughly 5% annually, captured up to 10 league/playoff championships and has been in the district championships at the u14 level, three years in a row (hopefully soon to be four).

Matt grew up playing tier 2 hockey for the York Devils. He worked for the ice rink as an employee as a 14-year-old doing everything from building ice to being a skate guard and driving the Zamboni. He was fortunate enough to make/play on York’s u18AA team as a 15-year-old, and then transitioned into two years of junior hockey in the MJHL where he captained the team his final season. After his playing career, he immediately got involved with coaching: first, off the ice (speed, strength and conditioning) under his mentor and former coach, then he became involved with head coaching teams from u8-u18. He holds certifications for strength and conditioning as well as mental performance.

Matt believes prioritizing development as a better human, athlete and then hockey player, is the ONLY way to go about serving the youth hockey community.

Matt has taken many experiences (both failures and successes) into developing his own brand (DSS Hockey: Doyle Strength and Skills) as well as the philosophy of being a learner every day. Any time you’re dealing with youth, he thinks it’s a really big deal and a massive responsibility. He takes this belief with him into the rink every day.

Boltsports Q & A with Matt Doyle

How did you first become interested in hockey and how did your passion for the game grow?

My brother and I grew up playing street hockey with my neighbors in Northern, VA when I was four or five years old. It didn’t take long before my dad brought us to a public skate, and I was hooked. He then took me to my first ever pro shop to acquire my gear, and explained to me on the way in that he was a candidate for the ’84 US Olympic Team… it went WAY over my head at the time. But as my younger brother and I grew older we realized how special that was, and we became “rink rats”, accordingly.

When did you first take up coaching & when & why did you decide it was going to become a huge part of your life?

I was in a unique situation through high-school playing four years of high level u18. At the time, I didn’t know any better paths to becoming a college hockey player. By the time I aged out of junior, college hockey had started to fall off my radar. My focus at age 20-21, was playing (loving) hockey, training at the gym, and banking as much money as I could… driving the Zamboni (again, rink rat, through and through). 

I worked some odd jobs out of high school as well to pass the time. It wasn’t until I was sick of detailing used cars at our local dealership, that I started realizing I could potentially replace that income by giving back, and doing private lessons with the local players in my area. I had already started volunteering my time in the gym, training players that I used to play with. So I had already started to pick up some of the nuances of coaching. 

It all happened so naturally. I very quickly quit my job at the car dealership, and never looked back. I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 

What are some of the attributes you think make for a good coach/trainer?  

Passion, for sure. 

I care about the process of developing players on and off the ice. Since I was able to seamlessly go from a competitive junior hockey player, right into head coaching am u14 team at the age of 21, the competitive nature never left. In my playing career, I was able to experience what a “good” coach looked like, and certainly what a “bad” coach looked like as well... For me it always came back to the word “care”. 

You can challenge your players, but not until you teach them. You have to be invested in them (away from the rink, too) before you can ever expect them to be invested in your program or coaching philosophies. 

Preparation is also a key factor. If you look at every aspect of your teachings to your players, staff or even parents, it has to be connected with a collective “why”. Again, it comes back to your level of care associated with the task at hand. 

How can coaches best instill confidence in young players?

I believe clarity breeds confidence. And confidence comes from ACTION. Confidence is often mistaken for a feeling. “I need to feel confident in order to play good”. If you are waiting for that feeling… you will likely be waiting for a while. 

So again, how can I best prepare my players for exactly what I am asking them to do? Through clarity and giving them the opportunities and the repetitions to learn through the game itself. 

Every coach prefers the aggressive mistake versus the passive one. The entire game is filled with mistakes. If you guide your players to go through a clear, repetitive situation but also give them the freedom to make decisions, the game (action) will provide the feedback needed to instill confidence in making the right decisions. 

In short, clarity breeds confidence. Confidence comes from action.

Give your players the freedom to make decisions, instead of focusing on “mistakes”. 

What are some motivation tips & ways to keep the game fun?

I think every game should be competitive: doesn’t matter if it’s on a chess board, or on the ice. Go out there and push yourself, and your teammates! Approaching skill development as a creative challenge will keep things fun away from the rink as well. 

We talk a lot about the “Success Clock” (Picture a clock)

(12) Hard Work —> (3) Success —> (6) Good Feelings —> (9) Fun —> Right back to 12 o’clock!

Please tell us a little about DSS Hockey: Doyle Strength and Skills, how it came about & how it has grown

So DSS was created by me, my brother and my best friend Adam Eby, who I played with in my last year of junior hockey. He is currently the captain at Elmira College (NCAA Division 3). It started with a small week-long camp, and gradually expanded every year to players from all over this area. We now run a 6-8 week program that emphasizes teaching Energy Systems Training, sport specific strength and conditioning as well as in-game video/tactical skills that we start from the beginning of summer, right up to your team’s training camp. 

At the end of the summer program, we compete for the “Zamboni Cup” in an annual Black versus Gray small area games tournament. 

Please elaborate on your philosophy of being a learner every day

Learner Every Day... You’re always chasing “elite”. Even the best in the world are constantly searching for their next challenge. You can never be complacent with who you are, doesn’t matter what you do for a living. I believe this life is meant to be DYNAMIC or, ever-changing. Young or old, active or retired, failure or successthere is always something to learn in every situation.

There are no losers in this life if you can control your response to any event. You are either winning, or learning.

Acting every day with that humility and hunger will keep you focused on dominating in the present moment, which is ultimately all that you can control. 

You can contact Matt at mc.doyle@icloud.com.