The “I” in team: The Original

Here is what I was working on when the tragedy in Kansas City happened:

I am admittedly old school when it come to hockey for the most part having grown up in the Herb Brooks Miracle on Ice era. Work so hard in practice that is makes the games easy. Teams are not supposed to be democracies, the terms are dictated by the coach and I guess to a point back then, we just did what we were told and if we complained to our parents, they told us to shut our mouths and listen to the coach.

I am not sure when times became more complicated and everything became a “What’s in it for me” attitude, but as a coach I see more and more everyday – and surprisingly, or not, with my son’s team of 8-year-olds.

Let me set the stage for you. I took on a team of kids who made this rep hockey team because they showed up at the tryout. This is the third level team in the age group and only a couple of kids on had tried out for the level above and were cut. We have a few kids that didn’t skate all summer, 1 that didn’t even play hockey last year and the rest were house league kids which many of them had very poor skating skills.

In the 3 months since we have be together, we have mainly focused on skating – I have spent nearly 30-45 minutes of every practice working on their skating, in fact, this week (the last week of November) is the first time we worked on any breakout or 5 man team system in practice.

The kids have improved and it is a great, albeit sometimes loud, group of 8-year-old boys who are greatly entertained by any mention of a bodily function. This group has not once picked on a teammate for not being good enough, nor have they ever blamed our goalie for letting in a soft one. Our staff in general likes to refer to the team as the players from the land of misfit hockey players.

However, I have one situation that I have found very troubling. Again, being old school, I tend to build from the back out. We had a goalie(one, he has only missed once being sick and we had to press someone else into goalie duty for a game on short notice), so day 1 of practice I looked at who could be my defensemen. Either who had more of a stay at home mindset balanced with kids who were our strongest skaters. Remember that even old school hockey had Bobby Orr, so I am all for a kid having the freedom to jump in the rush, as long as they start to learn when to go and when not to. All part of teaching.

Well, I have one defenseman that believes it is a punishment to play D. This player also, is arguably the best D on the team and a kid whose skill set right now could lead him to become a decent hockey player. Here is where times have changed. The father emailed me after a close loss saying that I should really think about moving his son to forward, that could really help our team. Mind you, I have been doing this for 20+ years and the family has been involved in hockey for less than 3. I replied very nicely that I felt his sons skill set was best suited for that position at this stage, we will be moving kids around, but I want them to have a full understanding of what they are doing in the position they are in before making moves. It will only make them better at their next position if they have a full understanding of their job at this position. I then sat down with the family and discussed the situation so we were all on the same page. Problem solved, right?

This week, the kid had a great practice and was rewarded with our Practice Player Award. The next morning I get a message saying how excited he was to get the award, but wasn’t sure why I don’t like him, because if I did, I would have him play forward. In the games on the weekend, the kid played pretty well the first day, but in game 2, it seemed like he played the game like he was trying to prove that he could be a forward all the while make the game very difficult for the other 4 on the ice to do their jobs.

Now I like to think I try to put kids in the best situations for not only their personal development, but also for WHAT IS BEST FOR THE TEAM. I could not imagine asking a coach during my youth “Can I play this?” We played where the coach told us to go. I started as a forward, was moved to D, then to wing, then to centre, played D on the power play and penalty kill when needed. Never asked, was told. The only conversation I ever remember having about positions was the first year we had a spring league in our town. This was not an all-star spring league, but just the players in my community. All the kids from the different level teams in the age group were split up onto the different teams. The coaches made a decision that the top forwards from our highest level team would play D for the spring. Since my dad was helping coach, he asked my input, we talked about it, and it was one of the best things for my development as a player. Also, I was 12, not 8.

The hardest part of coaching is managing what is best for each player within the concept of what is best for the team. Sometimes we have to make a sacrifice that is not in our own best interest, but makes sense for all 16 of us. I am not sure why there are more and more parents that don’t understand that learning to do your part, do what is needed instead of wanted and looking at the interest of 16 people rather than 1 is such a problem and why multiple conversations need to be had over the same subject.

Coaching this age and this level, I truly don’t care if we win or lose. I want us to compete hard, do our best and learn something each time on the ice. Most importantly at this level of hockey is the other things you learn, being a good teammate, learning how to give you best, even learning the skill of sitting still and listening. It is not always ADD, sitting still and listening is a skill that can be learned. Is it harder for some than others, absolutely.

Of course this is not the only time that I have come across a selfish player(parent), but I am astounded that I am seeing it in a player so young and inexperienced.

So for you players out there, the only thing coaches are out to get is the best out of their team and you as an individual. Sometimes those two things do not move in the same direction at the same time. For you parents (now or later), remember that the coach needs your support away from the rink. If there is an issue, talk about it, but try to understand the coaches point of view and 99.9% of us are not there to make a child miserable, but to try to get 16 kids to learn to work together and do the jobs necessary for success.

See you at the rink,
Coach Dan