Lift the Mask: Coaching

After graduating college I knew my competitive playing days were over, and I wanted to give back to the game that has given me so much so I got into coaching. I connected with a high school hockey coach in Minnesota and was brought in to work with their junior varsity goaltenders the first year, then moved up to work with all the high school goalies, and was a JV assistant coach working with the defense. It was as a coach that I learned my most important teaching wasn’t about what was happening on the ice, but what happened at home.

I loved being on the ice at practice, running drills, showing kids different skills. It was fun to see the looks on their faces when a new system finally clicked for them, or they finally mastered a skill they were having trouble with. I had no idea when I got into it though that I’d be part physiologist, and part mentor as well.

I’m not sure why, but each year we seemed to have a goaltender in the program who was troubled in one way or another. As the goalie coach I was instructed by the head coach to “straighten those kids out”. I learned quickly though that I couldn’t just skate over to them, shout at them and expect results. I learned I had to get to know them, understand what was going on at home, and adjust my approach to each one.

For one goaltender he was living away from home with his uncle, and wasn’t too excited about it. He wouldn’t say it, but he was experiencing homesickness. To deal with him I learned he responded to me lightening the mood, cracking jokes and focusing on what he was doing well because he knew what he was doing wrong, and was hard on himself. After that season that goalie moved back home.

Another goaltender was disruptive in class, didn’t listen at practice and was a loudmouth. The other coaches would yell at him for his antics (rightfully so), but I felt like there was more there. I started talking to this goalie on the bus on our way to a game, and I learned that his biological dad had recently signed his legal rights to him away. He had a great step-dad who had raised him, and he loved, but he was still struggling with the idea that his biological dad wanted nothing to do with him. That’s when I learned this was the goalie I had to put my arm around when things were going tough on the ice, or he was acting out, and tell him everything was ok. I had to tell the other coaches to lay off him, and if he was being disruptive to let me know, and I’d handle it. It was amazing how quickly things turned in his game and personality around the team when I figured this out. He knew he could come to me, and be hones with his feelings when talking to me.

I had another goalie who was a good kid, but was a little like me in that he was a bit of a loaner and more comfortable on his own, but he wanted to fit in with the team. He wound up latching onto some of the trouble makers at school who hung out with some of our players and got into trouble that resulted in a suspension from school and the team. I could see the pain in this kid’s eyes when he told us what happened, and in most circumstance he probably would have been kicked off the team, but I plead to the other coaches that kicking him off the team after his suspension would drive him deeper into trouble, that he needed the game to get him back to being trusted. Consequently, when he returned to the ice he was the goalie I could yell at when he was not playing well or misbehaving because he responded to that.

When you signup to coach, know you are signing up to do more than draw up drills, bark at refs and deal with parents. Your biggest responsibility is to develop hockey players not just on the ice, but more importantly off the ice. Developing the character of your players is actually the most important role. Listen to them, and don’t treat them all the same. Learn which ones you can yell at when needed, and which ones you need to put your arm around and listen to them.

Categories: Lift the Mask

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