McCoaching: break free of the fast food coaching mentality!
Posted by Dean Holden at April 22nd, 2014
by Dean Holden, 22 April 2014
Like people eating at fast food restaurants and wondering why they can’t lose weight, I’m constantly amazed by the majority of coaches who spend far too much time on systems and specialty teams only to be frustrated when their teams don’t experience success because they can’t properly execute under pressure! “We’ve practiced the PP for hours… we always get the same results… why didn’t their previous coach teach them any skills or hockey sense?!” This is the very definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results.
What coaches really need to do is (have patience) spend time improving their players essential skills (passing and receiving, etc.) and encourage their athletes to play ‘heads up’ so they can perform! As I have mentioned in previous articles, my definition of an elite athlete is one who is able to demonstrate proficient technique, plays with their head up, at speed, under pressure, while fatigued, consistently, and can perform on demand. Coaches need to think more deeply about the game; embrace statistics and analytics so they can train purposefully and intelligently. They should also nurture their personal coaching philosophy as this is the foundation to support everything else.
In my friend’s PhD dissertation on a European U20 Junior team, he recorded every game and practice through an entire season and analyzed every play. He found 45% of all game action was attributed to a 1v1; 35% to a 2v1; 10% to a 1v2; and the remaining 10% included all other aspects of the game! His findings stated that coaches should use this information to plan their practice curriculum accordingly; for example, spend 45% of your practice time on 1v1. (Hint: Don’t major in minor things! Focus on what happens most frequently to be most efficient!) Why spend any more time on the ‘other’ than the statistics show; especially when you end up stealing time away from the game situations that occur most frequently? How do your own practice percentages look? You can’t cheat the numbers!
The data suggests that individual skills and tactics are imperative to winning 1v1, 2v1 and 1v2 battles. While players are improving their individual skills and tactics, they should also be learning the principles of the game so they know the ‘what, how, why and when’ both on offense and defense. This knowledge, combined with their ability to execute technical skills and tactics with their head up – so their eyes can scan the playing area, analyze, think, make decisions – are critical for all situations and will lead to success.
This is the reason why playing lots of Small Area Games (SAG’s) is so vitally important – they promote multiple puck touches, transitions occur quickly in a small space, players must make rapid decisions and they immediately see the results of these decisions – that’s hockey! Knowledge plus experience plus SAG’s combine for the hothouse development of hockey sense.
An inordinate amount of time in coaching clinics goes towards systems. Growth and development – a topic that is critical for all youth coaches – is often sacrificed for other, ‘more important’ X and O items! The topic of developing one’s coaching philosophy is often left to the individual coach to do on their own time. Shouldn’t critical thinking and problem solving be on the agenda?
The X’s and O’s (drills / patterns) which coaches crave look nice when their teams execute them in practice for the 100th time – typically against no pressure – but have little transfer or meaning when that team is thrust into a game; where pressure, chaos and unpredictability rule. This focus on the X’s and the O’s robs players of their creativity – their spontaneous decision-making and problem solving – by demanding patterns! Author and speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, had this to say about creativity: “Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go! They are not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same as being creative, but what we do know is that if you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.”
Sadly, I see this statement gaining momentum particularly as kids get older – I am guessing their creativity is being snuffed out by their coaches always telling them, “That’s wrong! You should have done this… or you should have gone there!” These ‘play-by-play coaches do more harm than good.
Who’s to say ‘that child’ will never be a goal scorer or a play maker? Do we truly inspire greatness and bring out the potential in each player? If we did, why aren’t there more Gretzky’s? Coaches must strive to provide an appropriate learning environment with purposeful parameters, then shut up and let the players Figure It Out (FIO). Real long-term learning occurs when players struggle and emerge via their own first-hand experiences.
I prefer to be entertained and amazed by the creativity of the great hockey artists; not the role players or checkers. Today, it’s the Datsyuk’s and the McKinnon’s; earlier, it was the Jagr’s, Lemieux’s, Gretzky’s, Dionne’s and Orr’s! These players were so much more creative than the boring predictability of a defensive coach demanding the robotic, trapping style of defense – or the Moose Jaw breakout (high and hard off the glass) – or the unskilled dump-in and forecheck!
Like players needing to be taught the principles of the game, coaches must take responsibility for gaining a deeper understanding of the game while ‘operationalizing’ their coaching philosophy. This could take months or years and it should evolve to ultimately reflect the individual values of each coach. It is not about doing exactly what I do, it’s about finding your own path, your own way.
While you might start by emulating other notable coaches, make sure your philosophy accurately reflects who you are or what you aspire to be. It’s not only about the game; it’s about a bigger picture of life; about human beings; about relationships! Please use this off-season to take advantage of some professional development and self-reflection. Take the time to seek the words of eminently respected coaches, like John Wooden, in your quest to evolve.
To close, the simplest job description of the coach is: train skills, teach the principles of the game purposefully and structure the environment such that the athlete can achieve many repetitions in a game-like setting. Do this in a respectful, positive way, maintaining perspective while you teach life skills and you have the ingredients for a successful coach and a successful season! Have a great summer!
Category: analytics, art of coaching, Ask the Experts, creativity, decision training, game intelligence, growth & development, leadership, opinion, philosophy, planning / periodization, practices, research, respect, self-awareness, self-improvement, Skills, small area games, statistics, tactics, transfer