I recently wrote an article entitled, “10 Reasons Why I Would Never Coach Minor Hockey” that was posted on my blog site, glassandout.com. People had been asking me for years why I don’t coach minor hockey, so I figured I might as well map out my reasons. Not long after I posted the article, it went viral and the comments began flooding in from around the world. Most people got a chuckle out of it and could relate to experiencing the minority of gongshow parents that were outlined in the article, while some people were downright angry, stating that I was biased towards parents and was letting bad coaches off the hook. After reading some of these comments, I figured I owed it to my endearing critics to flip the coin and talk about the fact that there are some bad minor hockey coaches out there and that maybe, just maybe, there is a good reason why some parents turn into Linda Blair from the Exorcist when they walk into a hockey arena.
So without further ado, here are 7 Attributes of Bad Minor Hockey Coaches, in no particular order.
1. Screaming Between the Whistles
Nothing annoys me more than when you see a coach screaming at players during the play at a minor hockey game. It serves no purpose other than to fuel anxiety and confusion. This is what ineffective coaches don’t understand. They think that coaching means being loud between the whistles, constantly screaming instructions. Effective coaching is preparing your team so that they can use the tools they have been taught to read and react when the game is on. Plays happen so quickly on the ice that the brain can’t properly process what a coach is screaming from across the ice. If anything, this creates confusion and a detrimental break in focus.
The human brain can only efficiently focus on two stimuli at a time. The first priority has to be what your senses are telling your body about what is happening on the ice, and in return, the reactions of your body to the stimuli. In hockey, this is called reading and reacting. The second focus priority is the communication from your team mates, helping you to make sound, split-second decisions.
Once you start letting other stimuli into that focus window, you start to lose efficiency and the potential for error increases dramatically. If you add in a screaming coach or parent, or you let taunts from opponents into your range of focus, you will experience significant drop offs in your prioritized focus areas and essentially, your overall focus. Being able to block out these other aspects is what is known as fine-tuning your focus. Good coaches understand this and try to develop these skills.
2. Board Talk Marathons
With the cost of ice today ($275 an hour in my hometown of Kingston, Ontario), it amazes me how much time minor hockey coaches spend at the rink board explaining drills and yammering on. Some coaches will spend a cumulative of 15 to 20 minutes on the ice explaining drills during a 50 minute practice (An hour minus 10 minutes for resurfacing). These coaches are wasting valuable ice time that could be put to better developmental use.
One of the best coaches I ever had was completely against any board talk while on the ice. He was highly organized and had a very precise system of teaching. At the start of every season, he would give each player a binder that contained all the drills we would do during the year, along with detailed explanations and diagrams. Whenever he wanted to add a new drill, he would print a page out for everyone to add to our binders. Each drill had a catchy nickname like, “Egg Beater” or “The Finisher.”
Forty minutes before each practice, he would write the drill lineup on the board in the dressing room. If we had any questions about the drills, we had 40 minutes to get them answered. When we would hit the ice, it was all business for 50 minutes. When it was time to switch drills, he would blow the whistle, say the nickname of the next drill and away we’d go. His system was efficient, organized and ideal for peak development.
3. System Overload
One of the biggest problems in minor hockey today is “System Overload”. Many minor hockey coaches are obsessed with strategies and systems, spending most of their time teaching 9, 10, and 11-year-olds the “Left Wing Lock” and “The Trap”. They spend so much time working on trick faceoff plays and fore checks and neglect what makes hockey players great—fundamental skills like skating, shooting, passing, puck handling and reading and reacting. At these ages, the extent of “system play” should be basic positional hockey.
These coaches mistake systems for hockey sense. Hockey sense has nothing to do with systems. Hockey sense has everything to do with reading and reacting and trusting your instincts when systems break down, which they always do. Hockey is all about breakdowns. Every time the puck changes possession, it is essentially a breakdown. When players move onto higher levels—midget, junior and beyond—systems become more relevant. It is at these levels that the finely tuned reading and reacting skills become a lethal compliment.
The thing that is like nails on a chalkboard for me is when you get a coach who tries to emulate NHL teams and their systems with his major atom team. I’ve heard atom coaches say, “You should have seen the Detroit Red Wings break out on the powerplay last night! I’m going to use it with my atom team. We’re gonna win it all!” He’s got no concept of the level he’s teaching. He doesn’t realize that 9 and 10 year-old kids don’t have the mental capacity or skill level to use these systems.
When is the last time you read a scouting report that said:
“Little Timmy isn’t much of a skater and has a shot like a muffin, but boy oh boy can he ever run that left wing lock! This kid is really going places!”
4. Lack of Communication with Parents
To be a minor hockey coach means to be approachable. As a parent, I have a built in worry system when it comes to my daughter. I worry about her when I drop her off at daycare and I will worry about her once she starts organized activities. As a parent, you want what is best for your kids and you want them to be happy.
When a parent watches their kid skate onto the ice for a practice, they have to understand that what happens in the next hour is beyond their control. For some parents, this is a really hard thing to come to terms with. One thing that a coach has to do is to communicate and help parents understand their methods, and in doing so, alleviating some of the anxiety. In minor hockey, the priority is development and well-being. The coach’s job is teaching kids the value of team culture and developing their skills.
Oh ya, I forgot to point out that parents are paying shitloads of money! They deserve to know that their paying for more than just snazzy tracksuits and a team bag.
5. Lack of Positive Communication with Players
When I was growing up, coaches were unmistakable in their cliché. They had a sharp, piercing whistle looped onto a broken skate lace, barked orders like a drill sergeant, didn’t smile and they told you to “Suck it up” and “Tough it out”. If you scored a goal, they’d point out what you did wrong before you scored and if you made a mistake, they’d bench you. This was the old-school mentality that the real world is tough and I’m training you to be able to fight through adversity.
Most people understand now that this way of thinking is as old and outdated as 8-track players, but there are still a lot of people out there that practice this method of motivation. It’s the people who say, “Life is tough and no one is going to hand you anything for free.” They say, “If you coddle these kids, they will never know the value of hard work and conquering adversity.” The last time I checked, when times get tough, you kind of know it. From my experience, it’s much easier to tackle daunting tasks with a strong sense of confidence and self-worth than with the mentality of “I better not screw this up.”
If you’ve ever played hockey and scored a goal, you know the overwhelming feeling that follows. It’s like being on top of the world. After the goal, you always play your best hockey because you’re filled with positivity. Your legs feel lighter, your energy levels are higher, and you have the desire to accomplish more. Now think about it. Is it the act of scoring the goal that makes you feel like this or the reaction of pats on the back and smiles you get from your coaches and team mates? Next time your kid scores a goal in a game, have them go home afterwards and shoot a puck into a net in the driveway. Afterwards, ask them which goal meant more to them and why.
It’s as simple as this: Kids want to do things that are fun. Feeling valued and a part of something positive and special is fun. Getting screamed at and called names isn’t.
6. Winning is Everything Mentality
When I was a kid, I had a bunch of trophies and medals from winning tournaments and championships in hockey. 15 to 20 years later, two facts stand out. One, I can’t remember one of the tournaments we won or how we did it, and two, I have no idea where any of those trophies or medals are today. The simple fact is, minor hockey isn’t about winning. Minor hockey is all about having fun and developing. Is winning fun? Sure it is, but not at the cost of having half your team rot on the bench.
Nobody cares if the Amherstburg Atom Cs from 1983 won the Regional Championships. Banners in arenas mean absolutely nothing to me. When I was a junior A coach, we used to go to St. Mikes to play the Buzzers and one of the other coaches said to me, “Look at all the championships they won in the ’80s.” I said, “Sorry, I didn’t notice. I was too busy looking at all the pictures of former players who went on to play in the NHL.” To me that’s the biggest compliment to a program. It’s the development aspect.
The primary goal of every minor hockey coach should be to develop all of their players and help them move on to the next level as better players and individuals. There is this obsession today about how great players have always been stars on their teams. This is ridiculous. There are more stories about late bloomers and underdogs in hockey than most libraries can hold. NHL players like Dustin Penner were never stars on their teams growing up and didn’t realize their potential until it was almost too late. Whoever says they can tell who will succeed and who won’t on a team of 14-year-olds is nuts. Kids will surprise the heck out of you when you give them a boost of confidence and show some trust in them.
7. Looking Out for Numero Uno
Don’t misjudge my message on this point. There is nothing wrong with getting into coaching with the dream of someday making a career out of it. What I want to touch on here is that there are some coaches out there that treat coaching minor hockey as a way to further their own interests.
There are a lot of different ways minor hockey coaches look out for number one. One common way is to find the person who has the most influence to help them achieve their goals and coach their kid’s team. From this position they can gain advantage by favouring the kid or working out an arrangement.
When I was in my OHL draft year, I was cut from my local AAA team because one of the parents brought in a coach that he could control to overplay his kid and all of his friends. The result was, myself and several of my friends were cut that season and had to go down and play A level hockey. Several years later, I was playing junior A hockey in Ottawa and this coach came to one of the games where I was named first star. After the game, my assistant coach at the time said, “Jamie, one of your old coaches is at the door and wants to talk to you.” I asked who it was and he said his name—the guy who cut me in my OHL draft year. I said, “Go back out there and tell him to hit the bricks.”
Another way minor hockey coaches put themselves before the team is by using their position as leverage against the parents. Everyone has heard of minor hockey coaches accepting bribes and preying upon parents in vulnerable positions. Maybe it’s, “You give me a job and I’ll make sure Timmy is on the first line,” or, “Get me a reduced mortgage rate and I’ll make sure Billy starts 75% percent of the games in net.”