The Root of All Problems
In Minor Hockey Today? Coaches Are Too Well Trained!
President and CEO
Infocom Canada Business Consultants Inc.
How’s that for an opening headline to catch your
attention? Yet, it’s true! And if you sit down and really
"listen" to old-timers who coached minor hockey kids thirty or
forty years ago, I’m sure they will provide you with many arguments that
will convince you that we have gone way overboard with the training and
certification of coaches. I have a Masters Degree in Education; taught
kids up to the age of 14 for over 28 years; raised three sons who were all
gifted hockey players; coached everything from Atom to Bantam, house
league and Rep; and yet, because I don’t have Level I certificate, I
couldn’t even open and close the bench door for any minor hockey team in
Canada. And yet, some punk who couldn’t run his nose, let alone a hockey
team, can sit in a classroom for a day, get a binder with plenty of
impressive written chapters and diagrams, and become a head coach in
charge of impressionable young boys and girls. What we need to do is focus
on getting "qualified" coaches back into hockey instead of
worrying about their certification levels.
HOCKEY IS REALLY A SIMPLE GAME
That’s right! Hockey is a simple game. But over the
years we’ve made it so complicated that it is no wonder kids are
dropping out and parents are becoming frustrated. As stated in the
opening, I firmly believe that the root of all problems in minor hockey
today can be traced back to the fact that we are doing too good a job of
training our coaches. Even people coaching entry level children are
equipped with dozens of books and coaching guides designed to develop
hockey skills in young players. The drills that are being used at the tyke
and novice level were once only even tried at the Junior or Professional
levels because of their complexity. Today, it is like a three-ring circus
at some practices. It is almost as if a coach is judged by how complicated
his drills are. The coach who simply goes through a few skating drills;
some shooting on the goalies; and then using the rest of the time for
scrimmaging is considered to be unqualified. Yet, there is nothing wrong
with using this kind of practice to develop hockey skills in minor hockey.
BACK TO THE BASICS
When you add everything up, hockey is all about trying
to master a few simple skills:
you have to know how to hold on to your stick;
you have to know how to balance yourself on your skates, even if you
are being pushed or shoved by other players;
you have to know how to skate forward and backwards;
you have to know how to shoot the puck, with accuracy, along the ice
and in the air with a wrist shot, a backhand and a slap shot;
you have to know how to receive a pass without having the puck
bounce off the stick;
you have to know the rules;
you have to know how to play the different forward and defense
So if that is all you have to know in order to enjoy
hockey, why do most coaches make their practices so complicated? Have you
ever seen some of the practice drills that have been published for
coaches? It takes most of the practice to have the kids learn what they
are supposed to do in the drill.
THE MORE WE FOCUS ON SKILL DEVELOPMENT THE LESS SKILLED PLAYERS ARE
This is a concern that must be addressed before we kill the sport of
hockey. And in order to find the answer, we certainly have to look no
further than to the "systems" that minor hockey players are
being forced to learn. These are systems that are being used by
professional clubs which are judged by the number of games they win.
Unfortunately, the coaches who run minor hockey teams have begun to
implement the same kind of systems at the younger levels. This means that
we have witnessed a decline in end-to-end rushes and players who hold on
to the puck while weaving in and out and around their opponents. Now, a
player is told to stay in his position and dump and chase the puck into
the corners. Get over the red line and dump it in. And if you do try to
hold on to the puck for any length of time, you had better be prepared to
get hammered by two or three members of the opposition who have learned
that it is easier to hook, hold, trip, slash and check than it is to skate
hard to catch up to you. Defense has become the top priority in most
teams. Keep the other club from scoring and take advantage of any mistakes
they make. In the old days, you tried to outscore your opponents. Today,
you try to keep your opponents from scoring and hope that you get a couple
of bounces or rebounds. Kids are afraid of making a mistake so they avoid
The irony of the whole situation is that most practices are all about
the development of offensive skills. The skating drills and passing drills
emphasize offense. But during a game, the emphasis is on defense and
playing your position. We have to give our young players a green light to
become more creative.
||The photo at the left shows three of the most
creative hockey players who ever played the game. Wayne Gretzky,
Guy Lafleur and Mark Messier all knew what to do with the puck.
They didn't simply cross the red line and dump the puck into the
zone. They held the puck and learned to stick handle
|Gretzky has said in the past that the big problem with
young kids today is that they are being forced to pick a 'position' while
they are still developing. How does a child at the age of six know whether
he wants to be a forward or a defenseman. Even Gretzky was a defenseman
when he was thirteen.
Give the kids a puck and let them have fun, especially in practices. If
they have the talent and the desire to become professionals, so be it. At
least everyone will have fun playing the game they all love and perhaps
hockey will return to the sport we all remember.
COMMENTS ON THIS EDITORIAL WOULD BE APPRECIATED
Robert, you just hit a homerun with
me. This is exactly what's happening in minor hockey today.
You attend a classroom session and you
come out a coach or an assistant coach. Give me a break - do
a police background check on me, check with my employer, someone
who knows my character, all of which would be fine with me.
Not only did you hit the nail on the
head with that but also the fact that some of these coaches with
these certificates are running practices that forget about the
basics and are running breakout patterns for six and seven year
olds is beyond me.
I'm 46 years old, played hockey or
have been involved in hockey for many years and I have received my
Level 1 coaching certificate and my Speak Out certificate but I'm
just furious with this system. I'm one of the assistant
coaches on my son's hockey team and I'm hearing that I will need
to attend another certification course, which on my behalf, won't
happen. I love being on the ice and working with our
coaching staff but to waste my time and money to approve of my
knowledge and willingness to make the game enjoyable for these
kids is insane. Again, I can't tell you how much your
editorial was right on the money for me. You summed up
exactly how I feel.
Golf Teaching Professional
Level 3 Referee
I totally agree with what you said in
your article. I have Major Junior playing experience, am an
elementary school teacher, and have several years coaching
experience. I completed and received my NCCP coaching
certificate years ago only to be told this year that I had to
attend Speak Out (which I believe is a valuable session), and
Initiation to Coaching before I could coach my five year
old's team. Then next year I will have to take another
Coaching clinic to coach novice. It is so frustrating
especially when I have completed my coaching (NCCP hockey) course
years ago only to be told it no longer qualifies me as a coach.
No wonder minor hockey has so much trouble finding
coaches! However, for the love of the game and to see
the smiles on the "little tyke's" faces, it is
more than worth it. I agree with your statement that by
simply going out and getting all of these certificates and
sessions, and a criminal background check it does qualify you
as a "good" coach. There is more to it
than knowing drills and defensive systems. Let the kid's go
out and have FUN first. Too much emphasis and pressure
is being placed on winning. We are putting too much pressure
on these little kids. For example, I see parents buying tyke
and novice players two hundred dollar composite sticks when
they are still trying to figure out whether they shoot right or
left, I mean come on people! Let's get back top where the
kid's learn their real skills..... the outdoor rinks. Also
with the cost of equipment, ice team, and entry fees, no wonder so
many of them are leaving our wonderful game. Develop
the skills through a variety of fun games. From experience I have
witnessed talented OHL'ers "living the dream"
only to wake up one day without an education and/or job to
fall back on. Remember it's just a game.
Don't get me wrong there are still
many wonderful volunteers and coaches out there spending countless
hours for the love of the sport and who do this for the kids.
But as mentioned there are many people out there that don't have
the necessary courses and documentation that would coach
and make a world of difference for the kids if given the
opportunity. Character references, background checks,
and criminal background checks should be mandatory for coaches,
but offer the other courses for those wishing to
take them rather than making them mandatory. Or set up
a mentoring program for coaches wishing to have extra help rather
than forcing this stuff down their throats.
Great piece from Mr. Kirwan. I
stumbled up this in a google search and it was well worth the
read. Having been a minor coach for only a few short years
I agreed with so much of Mr. Kirwan with respect to complexity of
practices, virtual elimiation of creative offensive play and
locking kids in to positions at a young age. The most
compelling point that I agree with is that we no longer play to
out score our opponents. While this is so true, offensively
gifted players should challenged to develop their defensive skills
just as we should encourage growth of offensive or 'with-puck'
skills of more defensive minded players.
Thanks for the read,
Responding to your editorial about the problem
with coaches would take a day long hot stove session.
I have come back to the article several times to see how I could
respond to those points I agree (several) with and those points
which are out to lunch (lots).
That would take more time than I have but I cannot let your
editorial stand without some comment:
(with all due respect to Mace Soroko
who is respected for his decades of experience teaching sports and
involvement in hockey, and from whom I have personally learned by
watching his practices)
My first impression of the editorial and the comments on it : I’m
afraid what I see are several old time hockey people who are bitter
about changes that have evolved over the years in an effort to
improve the team environment for minor hockey players.
Most coaches do not have a teaching background like you do.
The basic implication I get from your editorial
and the responses is: if
you don’t have 20+ years experience coaching and you don’t have
a teacher’s certificate. Don’t bother trying to coach minor
hockey because you are not qualified.
though there are thousands of volunteer coaches who can benefit from
the certification process, because I feel I am qualified, the whole
system is all wrong.
So, here I am starting out as a volunteer
coach—enthusiastically taking the Speak Out and the Initiation
coaching course; then, dedicating a weekend to taking the
Development 1 course. I
talk regularly with experienced coaches, watch and learn from
others; and, explain to irate parents why we don’t have a power
play in novice.
“why do most coaches make their
practices so complicated? Have you ever seen some of the practice
drills that have been published for coaches” From your comments, I
gather you have not seen the practice drills for the age groups nor
seen many age-level practices. The
drills are simple, show progressive skills development and have fun
drills built in.
The old timers learned lessons and became
“qualified” at the expense of the kids they first coached.
In fact, the common comment I hear about old time coaches is
that they would have gone to jail for some of the mean and cruel
things they did to their players. The
certification courses provide a start to a coaching career so there
is new blood and energy brought into the minor hockey associations.
So get a grip- don’t be bitter:
Keep providing some constructive support to coaching
development; support the certification programs which help to get
coaches started; provide
some protection to coaches from rep team-type parents, who expect
the NHL style practice drills and power plays; and advocate for
fewer games and more of the practices where coaches can make sure
the kids have fun and are creative.
Congratulations on creating a forum for this
type of discussion on minor hockey issues.