An Email Interview with Aaron Wilbur of The Coaches Site

The Coaches Site

When it comes to hockey, most of the attention goes toward the players.

This should not come as a surprise, considering that they are the ones that put the puck in the net, keep the puck out of the net, make great plays, and amaze fans on a nightly basis. That has always been the case and will continue to be as long as the sport exists.

That said, hockey pundits and fans should pay more attention to the coaches. Being a coach is a tough job, whether it is done at the professional, amateur, or even youth levels.

Someone who pays a lot of attention to coaches and even created a website for them to utilize is Aaron Wilbur of The Coaches Site. Aaron was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to tell us about how he got into hockey, how he came up with The Coaches Site, how the Coaches Site helps hockey coaches, and more.

PH: Growing up, how did you get into hockey?

AW: That’s a great question that I haven’t contemplated in a long time. I grew up with a single mom, and occasionally I would sleep over at my best friend Drew Simpson’s house when she had to work, and he played hockey.
I grew up in Langley, BC, and due to the lack of available ice, the young kids had to practice at 5 a.m. I would end up having to watch Drew’s team practice, so I began to bug my mom to let me play.
She finally caved, but looking back, I don’t know how she managed the schedule and expenses on her own. It blows me away to this day. My mom was an amazing woman.
I fell in love with the game as soon as I stepped on the ice, even though I was a few years behind most of the kids. Outside of my mom, the game had the biggest impact on my life.

PH: Growing up, who was your favorite team? How about now?

AW: I was a goalie and grew up just outside of Vancouver. I rooted for the Canucks and idolized Kirk McLean.
Today, my team is the Alabama Crimson Tide football program, as I love college football. As for hockey, I cheer for people more than a particular team.

PH: When and how did you come up with the idea to create The Coaches Site?

AW: I had bounced around through my 20’s coaching junior and University hockey. I moved a minimum of every two years, and I always told myself I’d reevaluate if coaching was a career path worth investing in the long term when I turned 30.
I realized it wasn’t in the cards for me, but I still loved the game and wanted to stay involved. I started a coaching conference in Vancouver and called it the Coaches Site.
The intention was just to stay connected to the game while I figured out what to do next. The conference doubled in attendance in the first three years.
The conference planted a seed for a blog, which turned into a membership site and community of coaches from 21 countries. It’s wild. Never could have predicted what it’s become. It’s been a fun journey.

PH: When you were first putting together the site, what were some of your goals?

AW: By the time I launched the site, I recognized there was an opportunity to build a digital coaching toolbox but had no idea where to start. Mostly I wanted to honor the coaches who showed up to speak at our conference, as the videos of their presentations anchored the site when we first launched.
I have so much respect for them and their commitment to their craft. The site had to represent them professionally, so that was my initial goal. I just wanted to figure out how to build and operate the website.

PH: What was the general reaction from the hockey industry when your site first went live?

AW: So the very first membership site we launched was terrible. I was so embarrassed by it, so we didn’t promote it and got to work on building a new site right away.
Organically, and I have no clue how they found us online, coaches started to register. Before you knew, we had 100 coaches signed up and paying us money for our service.
I get that’s not a lot, but at the time, it was really rewarding and motivated us to continue building it. Today, roughly 10% of the global hockey coaching population is a member, and it continues to grow.

PH: How has your site evolved over the years?

AW: Today, it’s a firehose of coaching content. We cover all topics via a variety of mediums.
We are so fortunate to work directly with the game’s best coaches. Some are household names, and some aren’t.
It’s great to be able to highlight the work of some of the lesser-known coaches. Also, one of the ways it’s evolved is that it’s become a platform for aspiring coaches to grow their personal brand and get on the radar of owners and general managers.
If you apply for a job and they Google, your name and your presentation from the conference pops up, that can provide some real street cred.

PH: Your platform has events, programs, and more for all kinds of hockey coaches. How have you been able to get some well-known names in the hockey coaching industry to participate?

AW: We’re fortunate to have built some great relationships. One of my partners, Ben Cooper, was the video coach for Hockey Canada and won Gold in 2010. He’s super connected and manages a lot of the relationships with the bigger-name coaches.
Overall though, it all comes back to treating people the right way. The coaches we work with are coming off grueling seasons. They don’t have to jump on a plane again to speak at a conference.
They do it because they care and want to give back. In turn, we want to ensure it’s a first-class experience.

PH: Is there anything else you would like to share with us hockey fanatics?

AW: Just that there is so much that goes into preparing when it comes to the teams that you cheer for. Like, it’s ridiculous the number of hours these coaches invest and their overall commitment, and there is so much we all can learn from them as their lessons can apply to all aspects of life.
I’ve been so fortunate to be around them. It continues to motivate me.  

Patrick Hoffman

Patrick covers the NHL for Inside The Rink. He has previously covered the league for The Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave, WTP Sports, Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

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