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Jim Johnson: Coaching the Coaches
During his stellar UMD and NHL hockey careers, Jim Johnson ‘85 had some excellent coaches. Based on the accomplishments of many of the kids that he’s worked with, it’s safe to say that Johnson is a very good coach himself. But he isn’t content to rest on his laurels, because Jim Johnson wants nothing less than to make every coach out there the best they can be.
Johnson has the greatest respect for his UMD coaches. “The direction that they gave us as players was unprecedented at the time in college hockey, the on-ice training, the off-ice training, and the education of teaching us how to play the game. It gave us the opportunity to play in the NHL,” Johnson said. Johnson’s Bulldog teammates who also turned pro include Brett Hull, Tom Kurvers, Norm Maciver, Guy Gosselin, Bob Mason, and Bill Watson.
After playing over 400 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Johnson went to the Minnesota North Stars on a trade. Then Minnesota moved to Dallas, and he was traded from Dallas to Washington. After that he opted to go to Phoenix as a free agent. Johnson ended his playing career in the NHL in 1998, after playing in 829 NHL games, but he certainly didn’t retire.
Johnson and his wife, Jody (Jackson) ‘85, who he’d met freshman year at UMD and dated all through college, decided to stay in the Phoenix area. Johnson worked in a variety of coaching capacities; most recently as development coach with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning where he works with their defensemen.
However, Johnson grew frustrated when he watched his own kids at practice. “They were being coached in a way that wasn’t developing their fundamental skills,” he remembers. He admits he came home many evenings complaining to his wife about it. “After talking, we came to the conclusion that youth coaches are passionate and they have time, but they don’t always have the skills to teach what kids need to know and especially to have success in their sport,” Johnson said. But, unlike most people, Johnson didn’t just complain about it, he decided to do something about it.
At first, Johnson began coaching his son and his son’s friends in hockey. He founded the P.F. Chang’s Hockey Program in Phoenix. Of about 20-25 kids that he’s coached, 10 have gone on to receive full scholarships in hockey for Division I colleges. “It’s been fun to watch the success of these kids, born and raised in Arizona – not known as a hockey hotbed – some being recruited. I had my first player drafted into the NHL by the Pittsburgh Penguins,” he said. His son, Derik, plays hockey for the Penticton Vee's in British Columbia Junior League where he is one of their captains this season. Derik is considering UMD for college as is daughter, Mia, who is still in high school.
Eventually Johnson decided he needed to do more and launched the website that teaches coaches how to teach important fundamental skills. He and his three partners all have extensive experience in coaching, management, and playing. The result was flexxCOACH.com
Johnson and his partners have established 25 skill sets for hockey, available in the Practice Planner component of the site. Skill sets include skating, passing, receiving, shooting, scoring, and goaltending. Within the 25 skill sets, there are numerous drills for each.
The flexxCOACH.com team has developed over 400 hockey drills to teach the fundamentals and the concepts of the game. “All the drills are animated so even youth coaches who don’t know much about the game can be taught to utilize the ice surface, learning exactly where the players start and where they should end up in the drill in an organized manner,” Johnson said.
Coaches can even email practice plans to their players. “Players can go online and view the drills so that they are more prepared for practices. Coaches are more prepared, committed, and focused. They get a lot more done during practices,” Johnson added.
Another component that is offered on the website is the Learning Center where coaches can learn or brush up on tactics, rules, and strategies. The site also offers a USA Hockey recertification program. Some of the most successful players and coaches in the NHL have contributed to the program’s lessons. “We try to find the best teachers out there,” Johnson said.
The hockey portion of flexxCOACH.com has been very successful. They now have baseball drills available and are working on adding drills for soccer, football, basketball, and lacrosse, always with the underlying principles of fundamental skill development as the foundation.
“One of the things that I learned early on is once you stop with fundamental development of your skills, your playing career will end very quickly. Just because you’re playing professionally doesn’t mean you stop with developing your overall skills. You can always improve yourself as a player,” Johnson stated.
The Ultimate Goal
Johnson knows that not every kid who plays a sport is going to end up in the NHL, NFL, or NBA. But he does know that playing will help them develop their confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. “Learning to work hard and being able to take that mindset to whatever they choose to do in life is a wonderful accomplishment,” Johnson said. And, quite possibly, some will become really great coaches.
Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, firstname.lastname@example.org
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