Players, coaches and fans have been waiting a long time for the best hockey time of the year; the playoffs! In this article we will learn how to best prepare your team for the post season, as well as what coaches can do if their team does not make it to playoffs.
The key to success in anything is based on the mastery of the fundamentals, which must be practiced on a daily basis. Great coaches such as John Wooden (11 straight NCAA basketball championships), Vince Lombardi (five NFL championships in eight years) and Scotty Bowmen (nine Stanley Cups) all have one thing in common: they taught fundamentals to people who were already great at what they do! The first key ingredient to playoff success is to repeat the fundamentals on and off the ice!
Review all your team’s systems in all zones; make sure all the players know their assignments. Specialty teams are to be executed to the best they can be, power plays and penalty killing situations can win and lose games quickly in playoffs. Make sure training is short and of high quality.
Goal setting is the key fundamental for success. Facilitate a meeting with the team where a common vision for the playoff drive is agreed upon by the team. Commitment contracts also work very well in motivating players for the playoffs. Take time to interview each player and have him he set goals and make a commitment as to what he is going to do (eg. get four points) and sign the commitment sheet which is then copied and distributed to all team members.
Taking time to pre-scout opponents will give the coach an idea as what the opponents team play tendencies (strength and weaknesses), line combinations, current individual and team statistics. With this information the coach can set up a plan going into playoffs, insuring his team is prepared. The plan can include tactical strategies, line match-ups, etc.
Playoff time brings many psychological challenges for the players, such as pressure to perform, distractions, lost games, emotional control and many more will present themselves. It is important for players to “stay in the moment” and play one shift at a time. The coach can find video clips or newspaper articles to illustrate this point. A very important point to stress on players is to focus on the process of what it takes to win games rather than end results. Giving players a set of action words helps them to focus, words such as “battle”, “move your feet”, “speed”, “finish your check”, “shoot to score” and “forget it and focus” are some examples. Focusing on the positive and overcoming losses are huge in playoff success. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not here, so “focus on the present”!
Two separate meetings are advised; one meeting to cover all the mental aspects of the playoffs, setting goals, coming up with a team theme or slogan (“play to win” and “pay the price” are examples). There are other rituals coaches can come up with to stimulate motivation. The coach can also review the importance of nutrition and rest during playoffs. The other meeting just before the start is to review the opponents, the game plan and a team building activity to bring everyone together (call me and I can give you a few ideas)!
If your team is not in the playoffs, it’s important for the coach to keep the players enthusiastic and motivated. Some ideas are: 1) facilitate a team meeting to decide as a team to what they want to accomplish and set some goals for the remaining games, 2) have individual meetings so the coach can “set the table” for the following season, for returning players establishing possible new rolls etc. and for players that are attempting to move up in their careers, give them some strategies to help them in their journey, 3) divide the remaining games into short three-game series, set goals and challenge your players to reach their goals. 4) Make training competitive, set up small games like Pearn 3 on 3, make teams, set up a tournament and keep stats. Players must be taught that they must be prepared to compete no matter which situation and how much adversity they are facing. Not making the playoffs is a great time to teach this point!
Competing in the playoffs is what sportsmen love to do, coaches must teach players to have fun and enjoy the opportunity to compete. Even though there seems to be finality in the playoffs coaches should not add pressure to their teams and keep things in perspective!
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