Combinations for team optimization
Posted by Dean Holden at April 5th, 2014
by John Russo, 26 March 2014
Every team has a way of operating, a style, a spirit, a “personality.” This team personality is a combination of the personalities of all the individual members of the team. Each year I try to look at the psychological side of hockey at least a couple of times. As I have said in the past, the mental part of the game is every bit as important as the physical part – and sometimes more important.
In this column I want to take a look at what makes up the team personality and what some of the combinations are those make it all come together for a team. Back a few years ago I attended a coaching clinic put on by USA Hockey and the speaker was Barry Smith, who at that time was an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres. He talked about team concepts. Some of my ideas since then have evolved from Barry Smith’s thought-provoking presentation.
First, everybody has to understand that hockey is a team sport. Pretty simple concept! However, if you were to watch games closely, you could find at least one player and often many more in each game that don’t seem to have any understanding of team concept. The easiest way to proceed is to start looking at some of the components of TEAM. These components are what team individuals have to “buy into” to make the group work at its best.
1. Players respect for each other
Teams that have animosities within the group, that have cliques and selfish, hard feelings, will seldom operate well together. At the youth level it is not possible to trade away problem players or groups. They must be dealt with. Coaches have to keep a close eye out for these types of situations and try to deal with them. My experience is that they will exist. The most common is the clique. The “stars” or the school buddies can freeze out another “lower pecking order” group and make them feel like outcasts. Discussions as a group and individually can help. Explaining team goals and the importance of all players is important.
2. Acceptance of roles
Every player from the strongest to the weakest on the team has a role or a series of roles. All team members have to realize that each individual role is important to team operation. If the weakest wing does not cover the point well in the defensive zone, and the opposition scores, the team is a minus one. If the star scoring center does not have good defensive dedication in the defensive zone (third defenseman) and the opposition scores, the team is also a minus one! Roles also change as the season progresses. Coaches learn more about players’ senses of responsibility and see skill and effort increase or decrease as each season progresses. This may dictate role changes that sometimes are hard to accept (especially reduced roles).
3. Willingness to work hard
Each member of the team needs to commit to putting out a good effort. Effort does not relate to skill; it only relates to hard work. There is nothing harder on a team than not having all individuals pulling their share of the load. A few players who loaf or put out 80-percent effort “erode” the team spirit. Coaches need to constantly insist upon 100 percent effort – and reward/punish performance concerning hard work with more/less ice time or line assignments. Effort is, in my opinion, a 100-percent mental item. Players either decide to or decide not to. They don’t just forget unless the coaches let them.
4. Positive attitude/self-confidence
I have grouped these two together because it is very difficult for individual players to have one without the other. It is also difficult to have a good team personality without some substantial amount of these two among the players. Unsure, negative players can wreck any sense of team. It only takes 4 or 5 on a team of 16 or 20. Coaches need to make certain that confidence building is included in their daily activities. A strong teaching coach can do a good job with corrections, but sometimes can forget to give that positive feedback that makes players feel good (self-confident). Most self-confidence comes from improvement and growth. Individual and team goal setting can be useful in this regard.
5. Emotional control
This is one area that can also have a drastic effect on team spirit. Players that are constantly whining and bellyaching in practice (about teammates) and games (teammates, opposition players, referees, ice conditions, etc.) take the good edge off of other players on the team. Solutions early in the season are best. This likely will require counseling and disciplinary action, if necessary.
We haven’t talked much about passing the puck, skating or stick skills, and other physical factors. Those factors tend to be easier to attain when a good team personality exists. There are probably many other team components that I haven’t discussed that could become part of the mix. Hopefully the components we have discussed are enough to keep most coaches busy trying to get just that right combination so their team can optimize their play.
This article can be found as part of Chapter 3 in John Russo’s newly published book, “The Best of 26 Years of John Russo’s Coaches Corner,” available now online at www.russocoachescorner.com.
John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared since 1986.