"So, we’ve spent a lot of time the last eight years developing those resources in conjunction with the other professionals to provide the best platform possible."
Strike up a conversation about hockey with Mike MacMillan and you instantly can hear the passion in his voice about the sport.
As the USA Hockey national coach-in-chief, MacMillan makes everyone around him feel that love of the game.
MacMillan, who lives in Minneapolis, was named to his role with USA Hockey in September 2010 and has excelled while bringing new programs to the table with the team of district coaches-in-chiefs and National Office staff.
It’s a volunteer position, but one to which MacMillan dedicates a great amount of time.
“We can’t be successful in the country if you don’t have good coaches,” MacMillan said. “I’ve had a passion for coach education since early on in my career. I got into coaching when I was in college. It’s just one of those things that’s been important to me.
“I’ve been blessed and fortunate to be able to be in the role, to be honest with you.”
MacMillan has plenty of background when it comes to coaching. The 56-year-old started as a coach in 1981-82 while at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and the next season was a full-time assistant coach on the Menomonie High School staff. He’s worked up the coaching ranks ever since. MacMillan, whose day job is as a director of a probation parole department, has been an assistant coach the past five seasons for the NCAA Division III Hamline University men’s hockey team.
A couple of MacMillan’s main responsibilities as USA Hockey national coach-in-chief are overseeing the coaching education programs as well as representing and working with the 13 district coaches-in-chief throughout the United States.
“The 13 district coaches-in-chief are responsible for putting a team (175 instructors nationally) together to execute and deliver the coaching education for Levels 1, 2, 3, 4, and also be a resource for the districts that they serve around the country,” MacMillan said. “My role, I represent them as the section chairperson and board member as well as serving on the Youth Council and Player Development Committee for USA Hockey.”
MacMillan also plays a lead role in educating coaches who are trying to achieve Level 5 status, which is the highest coaching certification for USA Hockey. MacMillan collaborates with the Coaching Education Program director and National Office staff to lead the biennial USA Hockey National Coaches Symposium.
In MacMillan’s role, he along with the CICs and staff, are responsible for developing the educational curriculum and new materials.
“Online modules, the newsletter, the Mobile Coach App — all that has come out of the Coaching section,” MacMillan said. “We develop those products to give the coaches resources throughout the country to be able to do their job better. When I took the position, I felt that coaches needed to be part of all hockey discussions and be at the table when they are happening. The other thing is, we needed to be the leader in providing resources for our coaches. Not just the clinics, but also the resources they’re going to use when they go out on the rink with their players and work with the parents and everybody else. USA Hockey needed to be that resource for them. So, we’ve spent a lot of time the last eight years developing those resources in conjunction with the other professionals to provide the best platform possible.”
Goaltending coach education was one area of coaching education that USA Hockey realized was lacking. In response, USA Hockey with its American Development Model leadership and CEP working together, developed a joint curriculum and educational process for individuals working with goalies across the country. The Goalie Coach Development Program launched in May and has been successful in the opening few months.
“We’re involved in just about everything that relates to coaching and coach education in the U.S.,” MacMillan said. “And we work with our partners; I am fortunate to help represent us working with our partners. If it be high school coaches, if it be college coaches, we try to develop those relationships as well, because we know at the end of the day, they also coach our youth players and work in our development programs. We want to be in sync with them as well.”
Everything USA Hockey is doing from an educational component with coaches is working well. The number of coaches that are USA Hockey certified continues to increase and the retention rate for coaches is extremely high.
“I think we’re doing a really good job with maintaining the coaches that we have and lifting up the ones that are coming in as new coaches,” MacMillan said. “We changed our development process for coaching about eight years ago to where a coach doesn’t have to go to multiple clinics in one year, they’ll go to one clinic per year. That’s really made a major difference in how we do our education, along with making sure coaches are armed with age-specific practices and resources.”
MacMillan tries to get out in the field with his fellow coaches as often as possible. He feels it’s extremely impactful for him to connect with the coaches to get a feel for how they are doing and what areas need to be improved.
“The reality is, if we’re not listening to them, we’re not going to have a very good product,” MacMillan said. “This year, we’ve been doing surveys at the clinics and we’re implementing a new tool that will be easier and get quicker responses from those that attend the clinics. So, I think that’s going to be really good. I’m excited about that. We’re constantly trying to get feedback.”
With the hockey season getting into full swing, MacMillan has some goals in mind to accomplish in 2018-19.
“The goal is simple: to continue lifting up coaches,” MacMillan said. “We need to do a better job of educating them, bring in the latest tools. And the other thing is we must continue to do a really good job with our instructors and give them the tools necessary to do a better job in the classroom. Education is ever-changing, and we need to be on top of that. We have to be professional educators, even if some of us are volunteers.”