CoachThem Corner with Mike Bonelli

CoachThem Corner with Mike Bonelli

Mike Bonelli boasts over three decades of experience as a coach, hockey director, program director, rink builder, and development director, so he knows a good hockey product when he comes across one. A fervent supporter of the CoachThem platform, Bonelli is the owner and operator of Mike Bonelli Hockey Solutions where he focuses his efforts on helping to build youth hockey programs and advising them on using a variety of different tools within the hockey community to maintain and grow their membership base. In addition to previous coaching stints in the high school, prep school and collegiate ranks, Bonelli currently coaches in the Connecticut Junior Rangers program and also serves as a member of the USA Hockey Coaching Education Team for New York State. He also served as an assistant coach with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale during the 2019-20 campaign. We recently caught up with Bonelli to learn more about his appreciation of CoachThem.

What sold you on CoachThem in the first place?

Mike Bonelli: Communicating with your players is important, but it’s equally important to communicate effectively with your fellow coaches. When you’re running a practice, every single member of the coaching staff has to know the plan. That’s where CoachThem comes in. If the head coach can’t attend the session, every staff member should be able to run the practice and direct traffic at the different stations. These days, we’re asking volunteer coaches in Canada and the United States to dedicate so much time and effort into taking coaching education classes and getting certified, so they shouldn’t be cone pushers during practice. You always need to have a well-communicated plan in place, and everyone needs to be on the same page. CoachThem has really facilitated that.

How has CoachThem changed the way you coach?

MB: It definitely makes me more efficient. When you create something digitally, it starts making more sense right away. CoachThem really helps you fine-tune how you’re going to incorporate all of your practice objectives into your session – and when ice rental fees could be $625 an hour here in Connecticut, that’s important. It’s all about making the most of the time you’re given with your players. That’s how I kind of relate this aspect of the job to everybody I work with. The less time you spend explaining drills, the better. If I spend 12 minutes explaining drills during a 60-minute practice, that’s $125 worth of ice time we aren’t actively moving and developing as a group. If I can make myself more efficient by using CoachThem the right way, sharing content with our players and coaches long before practice starts so they know exactly what the plan is, everybody wins. I’m on the ice maybe 45 times a season for practice, so I’m saving over $5,600 worth of productive ice time. I always look at things like that.

How has CoachThem become even more valuable in your line of work during the COVID-19 pandemic?

MB: I’m not meeting with my team right now, and there won’t be any chalk talk sessions in a locker room anytime soon. I’m sending players everything from full practice plans to smaller detail things like faceoff combinations, how I want to attack on the breakout, and how we want to handle neutral and defensive zone coverage. I’m doing that through the team sharing section of CoachThem, and more importantly I can save the content forever. That allows me to go back and build my own secure and shareable playbook. I’m always sharing key points that I want to work on with our players – drills emphasizing stick on puck, stick in lanes, the way we want feet facing, the way we want body contact to be initiated, containment and commitment type of opportunities off faceoffs – they’re getting little snippets of everything and they receive it right on their iPhones. They’re all plugged into technology, which makes the whole process work smoothly.

You’re a firm believer in the importance of small-area games. How does CoachThem help you make the most of that coaching and development tactic?

MB: There’s a whole bunch of pre-planned content available on CoachThem in that area, and the nice thing is that the database is getting bigger and bigger every day as more members align themselves with the program and start using the file sharing features. I use the "Bill Game" all the time. The drills aren’t just well-documented and well-articulated, but they have excellent descriptions as well. You can read it, comprehend it, and then you understand the purpose behind it. But I’m not just a fan of small-area games for the hell of it. I’m always asking: "What is this teaching? Where does this fit into what I’m trying to instruct? Where can I get the most kids playing with the most touches, the most hits, the most shots, and the most saves?" I’m constantly trying to replicate the speed, tenacity, competitiveness, and aggressiveness of a real game in my practice drills. Small-area games inherently do that, and CoachThem has that valuable database packed with drills that are constantly being added to.

Is CoachThem helping to build connections within your coaching network?

MB: When I work with other coaches and organizations, one of the things I get asked about consistently is collaboration. That’s a real focal point with CoachThem, which is huge for me. It’s easy for me to get on a phone call and say: “Hey! Let me show you this cool station-based practice plan I organized for my group. Maybe you could take something from it.” We’re always encouraging fellow coaches to collaborate like that. I also do a lot of work with USA Hockey in the coaching education department, and our virtual clinics are really focused on practice and drill planning. CoachThem does that so smoothly. It helps coaches plan with purpose and show progression. When you’ve got high-end Connecticut Junior Rangers coaches like Chris Drury, Martin St. Louis, and Jeff Hamilton appreciating what CoachThem brings to the table, it’s great to see.

Your hockey resume speaks for itself, but does utilizing CoachThem add even more credibility to your craft in the eyes of parents because it stresses preparedness and focus?

MB: More than anything, parents want their child’s coach to be organized. They want a syllabus. They want to know that just like their child’s teacher, you have a plan. It’s not a lot to ask of a coach to be organized with a purpose-driven practice plan. CoachThem is only going to enhance your relationship with parents. I get a lot more buy-in when they see that I’ve taken the time to build a practice plan and post it for their children. And if they’re wondering why I’ve incorporated a particular drill or activity into a practice plan, they can find out right there in the CoachThem drill description. Maybe a parent wants to know why I chose to feature a particular drill like "Soccer on Skates," so I’ll explain that it hones fundamentals like edgework, pivots, head fakes, shoulder position, body position, hand position, and stick position. If parents aren’t necessarily well-versed in hockey, it can definitely add some clarity.

What else do you want people to know about CoachThem?

MB: As hard as it might seem to sit down at a computer and make a practice plan, it isn’t. CoachThem will make your life a thousand times easier. We are all strapped for time, and this actually gives me more time because my players and coaches are always in the loop. When I get to the rink, we just hit the ice and go! One of the things I’ve done the last two years is start every practice with a game. My kids are so excited. They’re at the door chomping at the bit because they know it's the first thing we’re going to do when we get on the ice. They don’t want to miss that, and parents see that enthusiasm. It all builds a better culture, and CoachThem is a part of that. If you want more efficient practices and a more enjoyable experience for your players, be transparent, be organized, and have a plan – and CoachThem can help.

Follow Mike on Twitter and Instagram to learn more about his work.

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