Jacob Thayer believes that better people make better hockey players, and better teams.
Although he’s barely into his 30’s, Jacob has been a coach for more than 14 years, beginning as an assistant at age 16 while still playing high school hockey in Fairbanks, Alaska. Since then he’s coached at virtually every level from learn-to-skate to high school, and has recently moved into an administrative role, serving as Vice President and Coaching Liaison for the Juneau Douglas Ice Association.
An advocate for using the best tools available when it comes to coaching, we recently spoke with Jacob about his approach to hockey, his goals for the JDIA program, and his thoughts about the power of feedback to help young players move forward.
How did you get into coaching? Well, I’ve been around the game since I was about five, and even though I played a lot of other sports growing up—soccer, football, baseball—hockey was the one I really fell in love with. I played at house or rec level early on, then at about age ten, I switched to comp league, eventually playing for Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, where we won a state championship. It was really my coach there, Shawn Lundgren, who not only spurred me to think about coaching, but who really shaped so much of my approach to working with young people and teaching the game.
Let’s talk a little about your philosophy when it comes to hockey. As I mentioned, “Lundy” really influenced me there. He won’t be offended when I say he really taught me very little about hockey, because by comparison he taught me a ton about how to be a good person, and a good teammate. Don’t get me wrong, he knows the game inside out, but he’s the kind of coach who’d give us the basics, then challenge us to go out there and make them our own, and it seemed like every player who played for him stepped up to that. I still think he’s the reason our little high school in Fairbanks was able to defeat the Anchorage powerhouses and win that state championship.
So his whole approach to people and hockey had a huge impact on me as a player, as a coach, and as a person, for example, his focus on school and grades before anything else. And he was just so good at the psychological aspects of coaching, at letting players know it was okay to make mistakes, like the time he never said a word after I managed to turn a two minute minor into 14 minutes using only my mouth. He believed in catching his players doing good things and letting them know—giving lots of positive feedback—and that’s something I try to emulate big time.
Feedback is the basis of PowerPlayer. How do you see that fitting into coaching? I first discovered PowerPlayer through the Roger Neilson Coaching Clinic. I’m a big believer in taking advantage of every innovation possible, and I see this platform as something that can definitely move our association forward.
Being able to provide parents and kids with an ongoing report card that shows them how their hockey life is progressing just makes all kinds of sense. We plan to integrate PowerPlayer with our entire program, and to provide at least three complete evaluations each season, with lots of periodic comments, ratings, and video clips sprinkled in to help players get a better sense of what they might need to focus on as individuals. It’s really something I wish I’d had when I was playing.
What are the advantages of communicating with players and parents in this way? With PowerPlayer, we can deliver a stream of communication to each of our 200+ kids, and we can keep their parents totally up to speed. As an association, we’re focusing on rebounding after the recent Covid challenges, and we see tools like PowerPlayer as part of an open and progressive approach to youth hockey that’ll make all kinds of sense to parents, and make the whole experience more personal and enjoyable for kids.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share? We’re really in a unique situation here in Juneau. We’re not even on the road system, so just traveling to tournaments is a huge deal. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to help our players progress in the sport, and I see PowerPlayer as a tool that can help coaches make more positive connections with their players and parents, and that can help kids actually see where they are within the bigger picture. Down the road, if a player does reach the point where they start to think maybe they can take their game a little further, they’ll have the data to show their progress, and that’s something we can use to help them move to whatever level they’re shooting for.
I remember running into a player about six years after I’d had him in a single skating clinic. Somehow he recognized me and was so excited to tell me about what he was doing in hockey. That’s why I fell in love with coaching. It’s so great to see kids achieve something, and I’m always looking for more tools to help make that happen.
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