CHAPTER THREE

The Role of A Hockey Coach

Trying to define the role of a coach may well be the most difficult thing to do in hockey. In all countries, National Coaching Certification Programs of some kind are in place. These programs provide coaches with basic skills and materials necessary to work with children at the minor hockey level in local communities. There are several different levels through which a coach may progress. The idea here is that the higher the level and the more certificates a person has, the more skilled he or she will be as a coach. That is about all I want to say about the training of coaches. If you want to find out more about the technical qualifications of each level, you should go to the appropriate web site of your national governing body.

Essentially, a coach is very much like a teacher who is put in charge of educating a group of young children. The curriculum is hockey. The program of studies is pretty simple. Help the children learn to skate fast, shoot the puck, pass the puck, stickhandle, play positions and show them the rules. Each time the team plays a game is a test of how well the coach has been able to combine the talents and skills of his players in comparison to the other team. The objective is to improve the talent and skills of the individual players at a faster rate than those of the teams against whom you play during the season, so that you score more goals than your opponent in the final game of the playoffs.

Sounds simple. According to this, anyone who passes the certification program should be able to coach. Unfortunately, this is just the same as saying anyone who graduates from Teachers’ College should be able to teach. We all know people who are not very good teachers, but yet they are ‘certified’ and given responsibility for a classroom. I would also imagine it is safe to say that we all know people who are not good coaches, yet they are behind the bench.

So what makes a good coach? What are the qualities you expect to find in a good coach?

We ask this question wherever we go. The answers are always interesting. It seems as if everyone can come up with some sort of definition and they can also list a number of qualities that you can find in good coaches.

Another interesting thing we do when we are working with an individual team is taking the parents aside and asking them to evaluate their coach as being good or not so good. We only give them those two choices. We then ask each parent to identify the qualities that the coach either has or is missing to justify their answer.

We then make an assumption that the coach thinks he is doing a good job and we ask the coach to identify the qualities he possesses which make him a good coach.

A comparison of the results is often very revealing. We do not normally provide the coach or parents with the answers, but the results give us insight into the problems that the team is experiencing and has a direct impact on the summary report we provide to the team following the seminar.

Coaching is a very difficult position for anyone to attempt. In fact, I often wonder why coaches volunteer their time. Imagine how difficult it would be to be a classroom teacher if the parents of your students attended each class and watched your every move. Imagine how nervous a teacher would be knowing that parents were counting the minutes you spent helping their child. Discipline is hard in the classroom now, but imagine if you had to wonder if the parents approved of your methods, or if they thought you were being too hard on their child. Imagine the phone calls at night after class asking you to justify why you didn’t acknowledge the parent’s child when he had his hand up to ask a question.

Coaching a hockey team is no different in terms of pressure. A coach is constantly under a microscope, and he knows that others are watching and criticizing his every move – not to his face, mind you, but they are being critical.

Before getting into some of the specifics about what it takes to be a good coach, I want you to read a letter that one of our young readers sent to us to post on our “After The Whistle” web site. You can go to the web site at www.afterthewhistle.com.

My name is K.L. I'm 11 years old and I'm living a dream I've always had. 

For the first time in since I've played hockey I made our rep team. We’re called the Minor Pee Wee Bulldogs ''A''. 

Is it ever fun going on the road to different cities and sometimes we get a motel. To me this is just like being in the NHL. We travel, we eat together, we practice a lot and we have fun together. 

Our coach has to be the best coach in the world. When we play other teams I see other coaches yelling at the players and sometimes I walk by a dressing and hear coaches getting mad at their players. The rep team I'm on has not won a league game in over 2 years. We did tie a team 2-2 the other day - boy was that fun. 

This is the first year this coach has coached this team. His name is Coach Paul. He will not win coach of the year, but he will always be coach of the year to me. 

He has not only helped me improve my hockey skills, he teaches me life skills. He has shown me that there is more to life than just hockey. Every time we lose a game, he makes us feel good about ourselves. He never yells at us. There is always laughter in the dressing after a game. Boy I'm having fun. 

He has told us to do good in school and school is more important than hockey. Behind the bench, he’s really cool. Points out our mistakes when we come off the ice and then gives us a pat on the back. I never knew losing could be this much fun. 

We're hoping we can improve the 2nd half of the season and show my coach that we appreciate the time he gives us. It’s not easy for a coach to coach a team that loses all the time. Most coaches wouldn't even consider coaching our team, but our coach did. 

Coach Paul you will always be coach of the year to me. 

After reading the letter from KL, you should have a better understanding of what it takes to be a good coach. Coach Paul seems to be having trouble winning hockey games, but he is certainly doing wonders for his players. And it appears as if he has accomplished the one thing that good teachers and good coaches strive for at all times. He has instilled a love of learning in his players. The players love working for him and want to do their best to show them how much they appreciate what he is doing for them.

So let’s see what Coach Paul is doing that makes him a good coach:

First of all Coach Paul is a true leader and he uses this leadership to teach the players on his team the skills, team-work, participation, communication and they have fun.

Secondly, Coach Paul ensures that the exposure every player received to the game of hockey is an enjoyable experience, allowing the children to have fun regardless of the number of wins and losses. In Coach Paul’s case, this is being achieved without ever winning a game. This ability to make the game enjoyable even when the team is losing is something that elevates a coach to a higher level than most.

Third, Coach Paul has earned the respect of his players and they turn to him for guidance and motivation. In fact, they can identify that he is teaching them life skills as well as playing skills. They want to do well for the coach to show their appreciation.

Fourth, Coach Paul demonstrates a very professional approach to the game. He doesn’t shout or lose his temper. He helps the players when they make a mistake without destroying their self-confidence.

Fifth, Coach Paul has a good knowledge of technical hockey skills. His players feel that they are improving their hockey skills. In other words, the players feel good about the learning that is taking place on the ice. He obviously knows what to do in difficult situations that occur during games because he is constantly providing his players with direction and instructions on how to correct their mistakes.

Sixth, Coach Paul obviously has excellent control over his players. He must enforce rules and regulations over the players and expect them to take responsibility for their actions. Players will only respect a coach who respects them and who treats them all fairly.

Seventh, since the letter indicates that the young player is having the time of his life and feels as if he is in the NHL. In order for this level of enjoyment to exist, Coach Paul must have an excellent communication with the parents who have learned to respect the coach’s judgment, policies and procedures. When the coach and parent are both approachable and open-minded there will never be a communication barrier. This will allow the coach to suggest areas on which the player needs to work. For instance, maybe the player’s conditioning is not satisfactory for that player to be safe on the ice.  If the parent is open to what the coach is telling the parent then together they can work on a method to fix the problem.  A solution could be to have the player spend an extra hour doing active work (ie. walking the dog) instead of sitting in front of a television.

Finally, Coach Paul seems like the kind of person who would accept his responsibility for providing a safe environment for all participants under his/her watch.  An unsafe environment fails to provide a proper place to have an enjoyable hockey experience, and in this case, Coach Paul excels.

There are many other qualities that one could list which apply to good coaches. Most are similar to those qualities we would expect to find in good “people”. So, in the end, a good coach is simply a good person who happens to be running a hockey team.

I am now going to let you read another letter that was sent by this same boy near the end of the hockey season. The boy is 12 years old now and is at the age when players are thinking of dropping out of the sport. The letter will also let you see why the sport of hockey has developed a negative image in recent years.

My name is K.L. and you put an article on your web site I wrote about my Coach Paul. This week was one of the saddest weeks I've ever had. 

My dad told me that the people running the hockey league in our city are not letting Coach Paul coach the team next year. We didn't end up winning a game and so they let him go. 4 years 4 different coaches.

 

He was a good coach who taught me a lot. I guess every year they will get a new coach, why? We try to win and he teaches us to have fun.

 

He taught me to do good in school. My last 2 report cards were the best marks I have ever had in 6 years of school. I get along better with my teachers. He taught me to respect my teachers and my parents. He had me enjoying getting dress pants, shirt and tie on for hockey. When I would feel bad about a play I would make on the ice, he would tell me what to do the next time and say don't worry about it.

 

In house league my dad was always waking me up for practice. Now I'm waking my dad up because I don't want to be late . I'm a better hockey player and person since the beginning of the season, due to great coaching from Coach Paul. 

 

I don't feel good inside right now. He wasn't only my coach, he was my friend. I don't even know if I want to try out for Rep next season. My dad tells me that Coach Paul would want me to try out and he would want me to work hard.

 

If a city is looking for a great Rep coach for 12 year olds next season, we have the best one in the world and I would come to your city to play.  We would make it fun.

 

My dad says that if Coach Paul was let go for losing then my dad doesn't mind being called a loser and so do I. 

 

Coach Paul, no one can take away the fun you gave me, the laughs we had, the hockey skills you taught me and most of all the friendship we had for each other will last in my heart forever.

 

I would like to say more but its 10 o'clock and dad says its time for bed.

 

It’s hard to imagine what goes on in the minds of the Board administrators when they make their decisions to appoint coaches. Obviously, KL thought the world of Coach Paul and was willing to express his feelings publicly. There were many responses sent in to our web site after KL’s second letter was published. The following one came from a parent who also had a son playing on the same team.

First let me reiterate the words and thoughts of the 11 year old hockey player K.L., who wrote in to tell us why his coach should be coach  of the year. My son also plays on this team and is coached by Coach Paul and his staff. He (my son ) is not a first year player like K.L. but this is the first year he has truly enjoyed playing. 

Coach Paul is in his first year coaching the team , so why is he not returning next year? Is it because he is not interested? To quote him "he is here for the long hall, win or lose or until they fire me.

Has he made progress? Every player is better than he was at the start of the season. They have come to benefit from this coach's  experience and knowledge of the game.

Do the players enjoy playing for this  coach? If asked, every single player would tell you that he thinks of this coach as a friend, mentor  and, to some, as a surrogate father.

Do the parents want this coach back?  Ask them and you will find that this is the first time in four years the parents  would want the coach back. And the hardest question to ask. Is the coach's  son a strong enough player to play at the rep level? He was voted by his  teammates to be an assistant captain and he is one of the top players on the  team. So I ask you again, why is he not returning? 

We as parents have been  told he is being replaced by someone who is better qualified. Something quite hard to do, when this coach scores an a+ from all the players and parents. This team has  had five coaches in four years and now according to the powers above we will be on number six next year. I have always thought that consistency grows  success.  I  guess I have a different agenda than the brain child in the big  new offices of the league executive. 

It is obvious to myself and everyone  involved that the association would rather have a coach they can control like a  puppet, rather than someone who was totally devoted to the young men he is  coaching. 

Coach Paul is one of the most caring and dedicated individuals I  have ever met. Not only is he at the rink with this team at least four days  a week, he seldom misses his teenage daughter who plays goal for another team in the city. He runs a contracting business, working for a hazardous  material company who also sponsors the team. He also volunteers countless hours for the City Fire Department. What a role model. 

The only good  that can come out of this is if the dictatorship of the league executive comes to their senses and asks the best thing that ever happened to the team and possibly the organization to come  back.

The parent who wrote the above letter did not provide us with his name. He was afraid that if he did, his son would not be given a fair chance to make the team next year. The letter points out something that is currently going in many other hockey associations in the country. The coaching selection process is admittedly a difficult one for league executives. There are so many "qualified" people who want to offer their services. Nevertheless, as hockey consultants, we try to advise league administrators to be aware of "perceptions" which will result from their decisions. A coach with the caring attitude like Coach Paul is not necessarily rare in hockey today, but it is rare to find someone like Coach Paul who also develops a positive relationship with both his players and parents. We know that it isn't healthy to allow one coach to stay with a team for much more than two or three years. You want to give the children a variety of teaching styles and experiences. But when things blend so well in one year, there is usually no reason why the person can't be given at least one more year to continue the development process. n this case, it would appear as if a "qualified" replacement has been found, but it will be a difficult fit for the new coach to step in and deal with the comparisons that will undoubtedly crop up in September and October. I want to share one other letter which was sent to us from another reader.

It is pretty sad to see that hockey organizations are teaching our kids that if you don't win, you will not be with our team. The fun is gone out of hockey for organizations like this city, who it sounds like as if they want a winning team if their going on their 4th coach in 4 years.

 

Sounds like Coach Paul was great leader to the kids. All we read about is kids getting assaulted, sexually abused, verbally abused hockey. It was so nice to hear about a coach who respected the players and made losing fun. I coached house league for a few years and nothing was harder than keeping the kids happy when we keep losing. I have 2 boys who play hockey and I only wish we had a Coach Paul here.

I hope that K.L. will continue to play hockey.  He sounds like a good kid, who loves the game and had fun playing it.

I think sometimes these organizations think they’re running NHL teams. Let the kids have fun. Why get rid of a coach the kids respect  and enjoy playing hockey for.

Due to K.L.’s letter, I see hockey in a different light. Losing can be as much fun as winning if you have a good coach.

Maybe down the road you ( After The Whistle) can get Coach Paul to write and tell us the secret to good coaching how he feels about hockey in general. Good luck to K.L.  Maybe one day I'll hear your name in the hockey circles. I can't wait to hear how next year goes for you Coach Paul. I hope you continue coaching somewhere. We more people like you coaching hockey.

There is no doubt that a hockey coach can have a great deal of influence on the character development of a young boy or girl.

CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS

Admittedly, there are many challenges facing minor hockey today. For some of those challenges, solutions seem to be readily available, while others have hockey people scratching their heads. Nevertheless, no solution will be possible until we have a proper collective frame of mind that will accept some of the radical ideas that will be necessary.

While this may not be a popular position to take, it is my point of view that coaches are the cause of many of the problems with minor hockey today. That being said, it is also my point of view that coaches are also in a position to be most influential in solving the vast majority of problems in minor hockey today. Let us examine one of the challenges I think will go a long way to cleaning up a lot of the problems.

 

COACHES MUST BE MADE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE ACTIONS OF THEIR PLAYERS

If we are going to address some of the problems in minor hockey today, we must make coaches more accountable for the actions of their players. All too often I have witnessed a hockey game going badly with respect to players losing control on the ice and taking needless, senseless penalties. When this happens, the fans get upset; the parents get upset; the players who are missing ice time because of penalty killing get upset; and the game becomes a joke.

The one person who has the ability to regain control of the game is the coach. It is not the referee, like many people may think, but rather the coach who can get his players back under control. In spite of this, many coaches not only refuse to take positive action, they actually encourage their players to continue with their negative behaviour by complaining when the referee calls yet another deserving penalty. The main complaint is that since the referee has already called three penalties in a row against his team, the next penalty should automatically go to the opposing club. I have personally seen games where one team is given four penalties in a row during a single power play before the players get the message that just because they are a man short, they cannot ignore the rules.

 

POSSIBLE SOLUTION

One way to make coaches accountable for the actions of their players is to establish a specific number of penalties during any one game that will be permitted before the coach is ejected from the contest. For example, once a team takes a total of nine (9) penalties in the game, the coach will be ejected on the tenth penalty and each penalty after the ninth will result in an automatic game misconduct penalty for the player. This will accomplish two things. It will ensure that the coach will be after his players for taking penalties early in the game since he will definitely want to “save” some penalties for later in the game when it may be necessary to take a “good penalty” to prevent a goal. It will also force teams to be less aggressive in the offensive and/or neutral zone. Finally, if a coach doesn’t exercise this control, he will face ejection after the 9th penalty is taken.

 

MANY MORE CHALLENGES

There are many more challenges with respect to coaching, and we have tried to address some of them on the web site at www.afterthewhistle.com. When you have some time, you may wish to visit the site and offer your comments for others to read.