Same Thing, Only Different?
Posted by Dean Holden at August 20th, 2015
by Richard Bercuson, 7 May 2015
<I have included two of Richard’s articles together as they were designed to be sequential, building on the same topic. – DH>
Do our coaches coach as they themselves were coached?
For the most part, yes, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Let’s look at three examples.
Coach Gary was an elite player who went from minor to college hockey and finally a stint in minor pro hockey. We forget that the vast majority of so-called elite kids go this route. They never even come close to “the show.” Not that having your education paid for and experiencing the world of pro sports isn’t healthy or enriching. It’s both in a multitude of ways. His first coaching job, with no training at all, was with elite midget age kids.
His clearest recollections of drills and approaches are from his junior and college days. One coach was ordinary, a couple of others barely that. He got somewhere sort of in spite of them. Now as a coach, he finds he needs to really think about his own approach so as not to resort to what was done with him, which was mostly uninspiring. But without role models or mentors, he admits using many of the same drills and teaching techniques he saw. For instance, he starts every rep of every drill with the whistle, an old style technique that limits player decision-making and makes the coach focus on a drill’s start rather than what the players do in it.
There’s Coach Paul who played a little competitive hockey as a kid then intramural in university. He has a good eye for teaching the game and relates well to kids. He’s a pretty good coach by any measure—creative, investigative, innovative. But without higher level playing chops, he’s not regarded as a serious contender for elite teams because he didn’t experience the level himself. Yet his teams have always done quite well. He searches for newer and better ways to deal with players, challenging them to work towards a level he himself couldn’t attain. He works hard at coaching because he knows he has no alternative. To draw the best from his players means exploring every avenue open to him, and some that aren’t.
Coach Al got roped into the position because no one would take the team. He played a little as a youngster but not much. His skills are poor. He watches team practices at various levels then steals drills which look fine when others do them but are horrible when his team tries them. He has no means of comparison and no standards to aim for, let alone no help. In a way he envies people like Coach Gary who at least had something to draw from. On the other hand, he’s thankful not to be influenced by how it was done in a bygone era. But where to get guidance on all this?
For the most part, coaches coach what they know. To expect more is perhaps a bit delusional.
Why? In this country, minor hockey coaching is largely a volunteer activity at all but the elite levels. Mostly, you get what you get and not often what you want. Sometimes associations have to cajole people into coaching. With more competitive teams, there’s the exercise of coach interviews and the like, but usually the list of candidates is relatively short.
So then someone chooses to coach (or apply to coach) a team bringing along a fairly minimal coaching resumé. The intentions are great, which is why Canada is the envy of the world in terms of volunteer involvement. But you need more than just good intentions to dance at this party.
Like kids? Check. Love the game? Check. Want to be involved? Check. Belief in having something, whatever it is, to offer? Check.
Know how to run drills? Create drills? Communicate? Deal with parents? Run a bench? Manage a dressing room? Address technical issues? Correct a team flaw? Or an individual’s?
Have interesting, challenging and fun practices? Um, well, sort of, sometimes… depends…
It’s not a knock on our coaches. It’s the reality. The coach who comes with a strong playing background also drags along a narrow version of what worked (or maybe it didn’t) at that time in that situation for him/her. True, there are lots of cool drills that can be mined again. However, coaching is not and has never been about using cool drills. It’s about teaching. Drills are but one tool. Coaches from high level playing careers find this out pretty quickly. They’re just another volunteer trying to get the most out of a bunch of kids. No one cares anymore where they played, except for parents who love to hear the stories.
In some ways, coaches with minimal playing backgrounds don’t have much in the way of preconceived notions of how the game should be taught or played. They’re fresher and more open-minded. The ex-player has experienced a certain approach from former coaches; the not-so-much ex-player is limited that way but tends to want to try a more experiential approach to coaching, unencumbered by memory. Both know the game, though from differing points of view. Neither background is better than the other, yet both require guidance.
In last week’s blog, I cited three examples of actual coaches and their hockey backgrounds. Each has brought to their teams varied skill sets in communication and sport. More importantly though, each learned to build upon those inherent skills because they discovered pretty soon that they didn’t know what they didn’t know.