Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Little Tough Love Never Hurts

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post entitled RESPECTING Young Hockey Players.  I highly recommend it, for anyone who either has young children in sports, or for anyone who coaches kids at the youngest levels.  In a nutshell, though, I was adamant in that piece about young athletes deserving to be taught, and not just being summarily dismissed as incapable of learning.  In fact, my feeling is that little ones want to learn just as much as older kids do.  

If you read that, you'll notice that I talked some about my fun approach to training young ones. And, although I didn't mention my work with older players very much, I need to say right now that, most of our more advanced level work (or work with older kids) should also end-up being enjoyable to those in our charge...
That said, a major part of my year-round work has always involved coaching -- and actually guiding the development of -- older players.   In more recent years, that work included a group of junior high school age kids, plus another team made-up of high school-ers.

For a number of (obvious?) reasons, I have to slightly adjust my ways with them -- due to their ages, due to their general age-specific personalities (if you know what I mean), and due to their presumed aims in the game. And in reference to the latter, each player is presumed to be dreaming of making -- and maybe starring on -- a high school team someday.

So, as I jokingly refer to it...  I sometimes have to wear my "high school coach's hat".  I mean, if you think about it, athletes don't only succeed by having great skills and hockey smarts.  No, each team candidate is a whole package, with yet another key ingredient being the way each handles himself (or herself) emotionally.

Anyway, at different times during our practices and games, I've put on that high school coach's hat and grumped or grumbled a little.   I actually warn the kids about that, even telling them, "I love you guys, so I'm preparing you as best I can for what's ahead, even if it comes-off sounding mean."

Oh, and by the way... Sometimes I had to fake it -- not really being upset with them at all, but instead wanting to ensure they're going to be able to deal with the mix of positives and negatives that are sure to be thrown their way down the road.

As for the subject of "tough love"... Don't you know that I slightly "lost it" one night at a  Jr HS/HS Prep off-ice practice.

For Practice.jpg
What had happened was that a lot of my long-time players were acting a little too comfortable as we drilled. They were senior members of the group, they knew a lot of what was coming in some of the basic drills, and they were half-listening or half-working as the practice went along.  More than anything, I worried that they were showing our newest and youngest team members the wrong way to apply themselves in a practice.  So, at some point I began turning the screws on them. And I sorta nailed the offenders for anything and everything they did wrong.  Ya, I got their attention -- and that of the new guys, too.

Still, comes the time to end practice, and I'm thinking about a few things... To a kid, they love the game.  I mean, they are all great kids, and they really are into getting better.  And, here they are at a "voluntary" practice on a warm summer night, while some other kids had missed the session.  If you get my drift, I'm thinking that -- while the whipping was necessary, I couldn't send a single player home wishing he hadn't come.

Make sense to you?

And that caused me to gather everyone together at the very end of practice, to sit around in a circle, and to rehash the events of the night.

As close as I can recall, I said, "Hey, I need to explain a few things to you guys... I think you all know I love you, and I only do things that will help you in the end. You also know I love teaching the game.  So, if there are things going on that prevent me from teaching, I'm going to let you know about it."

Oh, I'm sure I said more than that over about 5-minutes, but that was the gist of it.  No way was I apologizing for holding their feet to the fire.  In other words, I needed to ensure future practices ran as they should, while at the same time wanting to give those kids reasons to come back for future practices.

So, my questions -- to older players, parents and other coaches...
How do you feel about a coach holding his or her players' feet to the proverbial fire?

And, how do you feel about explaining oneself as I did?

Further, since I will at least once or twice per year tell my players that I made a coaching mistake (or whatever), how do you feel about that?
Hey, as I suggest in one of my podcasts...  "Why We Have to Start Teaching Mental Skills Early"