An open letter to coaches: Positive coaches
Posted by Dean Holden at November 25th, 2013
by John Russo, 21 November 2013
The following letter went out to all of the Elite League (boys and girls) and Elite Development League coaches and assistants for the 2011 season. It was one of the items identified as a “focus” for this year’s play. As you all likely know, I feel the psychological portion of the game is as important as the physical, and in fact, often controls the physical aspects.
It would be worthwhile for all associations and schools to hand the letter out to all of their coaches at all levels.
To: Elite Leagues and Elite D Coaches
From: John Russo
We would like to make a special effort this coming season to try to get results by positive reinforcing means. The best way for players to thrive and succeed is for them to feel good about themselves. They feel less stress and anxiety and play with greater composure. There will be times, however, when criticizing of the team (primarily) will be in order.
Players and, in fact, whole teams subconsciously choose to play harder or better based on how they feel (generally) and how they feel about you and the team. If you are positive to them and the team has a good overall positive feel about it, each player will play harder for you and for the team.
This all starts with all coaches staying composed. The worst thing we all do is lose our composure over the refereeing – or any other game-related issue (i.e. goalie having a bad game). This passes on to players who also get worked up and don’t play their best.
If you were to get a chance to sit on both benches in a game, you would likely hear both coaching groups complaining about the referees. Things generally (over a season) work out about even with refereeing – so take the bad with the good and give your players a break.
Young players have all the stress they need from parents, scouts, etc. They need as much positive reinforcements and coaching as they can get. Even when you make corrections – an important part of coaching – it is a good idea to start or end with a positive. It might sound something like this: “That was a great breakout pass you made last shift. Also remember to follow the play a little closer; it will get you a few extra points this season.”
There are some really good words that make players feel good and play good. They include:
• “You can do it”
• “I believe in you”
• “I trust you”
• “I know you’ll try your best”
• “The team needs you”
• “I’m proud of you”
• I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished”
It is also good to point out all of the good things that can make a player feel good – feel confident.
These are a sample of very simple and obvious items that make players and teams feel more confident and play well:
• Good practice prior
• Play well in that arena
• Playing well recently –”on a roll”
• Like to play the team upcoming
• Good positive comments from parents, coaches, teammates
• Really good warm-up
• Likes teammates or linemates
• Having fun
• Positive environment
You don’t know what kind of environment players are coming from at home or on their other teams (AAA, high school), so you need to give your players a “safe” and enjoyable place. “Enjoyable” does mean great effort and players doing their jobs, however – so that needs to be stressed also. A statement like: “We want you to have fun this season, but we also want you to progress and enjoy our time together in mature ways, like learning to play at 100 percent all the time and doing your job 100 percent of the time. These are mature things that make you feel good about yourselves – and create enjoyment.”
I hope you will each also help your players help themselves do well. That’s an internal thing for each athlete.
Part of your value as coach is that each of you has done well in our sport. You obviously had the proper external (we’ve just talked about those) and internal forces (confidence). If you think about your own growth, there were internal things that helped you.
It could be confidence in the coaches’ methods or background, positive visualization (some coaches use this before games for relaxation and self confidence), proper realistic goal setting, learning to “talk to yourself” positively, or just plain 100 percent commitment. Motivation is internal and is really a combination of all these things – as well as composure and mental toughness when games get tight.
Often composure and mental toughness are dependent upon being properly prepared (experienced) – from good practices and good practicing of the various aspects of the game – and a good level of concentration. It is harder to prepare for hockey situations than any other sport because it is so fast and has so many possible variations of what can happen. That’s why it is important in our environment of few practices to give players many rotations of critical situations, i.e.: many 2-on-2 half-ice rotations, many in-zone 3-on-3 tag-up drills.
These get the players into the swing and pace – and helps them prepare for a variety of outcomes. Players should have to face tough situations in practice, i.e.: 2-on-2, 2-on-3 for forwards, and 3-on-2 and 3-on-1 for defense.
We also encourage you to watch your players before, during and after games for signs of lack of confidence and especially anxiety. Watch for emotional issues (over- or under-emotion), poor execution in games, over-reacting to good or bad things, quietness or boastfulness, or inordinate involvement by either or both parents, for example.
It is your job to counsel players as best you can in regard to anxieties. It is one of the most prevalent issues with young athletes. If you see severe issues, however, you need to talk to one of us, and we will try to get some help, possibly from a sports psychologist. Remember, however, that self confidence is one of the things that cures anxiety.
So here we are again, back to self confidence and positive reinforcement of players. Players and teams that play hard generally feel better about themselves – win or lose.