Over-Coaching Spawns Mediocrity

Too often, parents and fans have the misconception that a yelling coach is a hard-working coach.  I hear too often that, “So and so is a great coach because he’s always giving instructions to players and he’s tough on them because he knows that the world is a tough place.”  In reality, this line of thinking is as old and outdated as disco.

The best coaches are the ones who have a plan, prepare their teams in practice, and put in their time in the video room.  Good coaches are people managers.  They take the time to get to know all their players and find out what makes them tick.  They know how to motivate each player and find the best ways to bring out their strengths.  Come game day, the best coaches are aware of the ebb and flow of a game and make adjustments to systems, line-combinations and maximize momentum.

When I see a coach who spends the whole game yelling during the play, alarm bells starting going off in my head.  Immediately I think, “This guy has no clue.”  As a coach, you essentially have the power to control the anxiety level and demeanour of your team.  If you are screaming and panicking on the bench, your players will feed off this and it creates a sense that everything is out of control.  When you’re out of control, anxiety is up and you begin to make mental errors.

Another thing that screaming during the play does is confuse players.  As a player, you are only able to process two stimuli effectively at a time.  That means your main focuses should be the physical stimuli that your body is reading and reacting to and the second should be the communication between you and your team mates.  If you add in the third stimulus of a screaming coach barking out inaudible directions, you are starting to confuse your mind and body.  This leads to mistakes like mishandling pucks, double-clutching on passes and ultimately creates anxiety and hesitation in the player.  In the same breath, if mommy and daddy think that by screaming instructions from the stands that they are helping the situation, they are sorely mistaken.  Now we’ve added a fourth stimulus, further enhancing the anxiety in the player.

What does a good coach do instead of panicking and screaming instructions from the bench?  He will make a note of a particular mistake or breakdown and once the player comes off from his shift, he will pull him aside and calmly go over the situation, providing alternative options and instructions on how to achieve a better result.  This is called teaching and is what coaching is all about.

The worst thing a coach can do is to think that they have more of an effect on the plays that are happening on the ice and let their ego dominate a game.  Over-coaching is a term that comes to mind.  Essentially, over-coaching is the business equivalent of micro-managing which is entirely based on ego.  Teams that are over-coached are teams that fail.  Basically, the coach has stated that he is the most important cog in the wheel and the players are his puppets.  When you over-coach, you take away all creativity and trust within a team.

Good coaches find ways to empower players and help them to grow their talent and mental acuity.  To play hockey at a high level, you need to be able think the game at a high level.  The only way to become mentally stronger is by learning to read and react and problem solve on the fly.  Coaches instil this in players by giving them the tools to succeed.  If a player makes a mistake and comes off the ice and is screamed at, he will associate that mistake with anxiety and will freeze up when he’s in that situation again.  If a player makes a mistake and comes off and is taught in a calm, constructive manner, the player will carry a level of confidence and knowledge into the next situation he or she encounters on the ice.

Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

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