Long before the 1999 Molson Open Ice Summit, mentoring coaches existed. That ’99 event, coincidentally the year Wayne Gretzky retired (99, get it?), produced 11 recommendations to improve minor hockey. First on the list was to be the hiring of paid mentors or master coaches, one per 20 teams, to assist coaches in developing their kids and creativity.
But in 1978, in a Montreal suburb, I was hired to do just that. Still in my 20s, I was ill-equipped and not nearly masterful enough to do the job. Someone thought I could. The cynical me wonders if it was to get me out of the community where I was coaching and had just won a de facto provincial championship.
The community recreation department had hired a fellow to oversee its ice sports programs: hockey, ringette, figure skating, and speed skating, which was in its infancy. Hockey, of course, was the big deal. He, in turn, would bring in people to work in those programs. He got my name, we met, and the $10 per hour job was mine. I was to mentor four AA (their highest level) teams at pee wee, bantam, midget, and juvenile. I’d never met the coaches. Two were sort of enthusiastic about the extra help. One wasn’t sure he needed it. The fourth fellow, the pee wee coach, wanted nothing to do with me.
I spent the season working with three teams and became fast friends with the juvenile coach who had the least experience of the four head coaches and welcomed the input.
It was an interesting learning experience from every angle. I’d never done anything like this before. While I’d had success coaching myself and teaching in hockey schools, advising or guiding others was new. The pee wee coach turned out to be somewhat of an arrogant jerk anyway and his team was riddled with issues all season. Andre, the fellow who hired me, told me to stay clear and let him drown since he’d never shown interest in getting help. I was uncomfortable with that approach since it left the kids high and dry, but I did it anyway.
There was no formal programming nor job description. Just help them, I was told. Rather intimidated, I asked what they need help with. Often they didn’t know themselves until it was too late. For instance, everyone knew tactics; no one had a handle on how to effectively teach them.
As with every mentoring role I’ve taken on over the years, there were a lot more hours spent with coaches than what was “billable.” Moreover, the learning experience for me probably dwarfed anything the coaches got out of it. I was able to steal from three teams.
Like everything in hockey, connections count. The midget coach went to coach in Europe the following season. When he returned, he told me about a club looking for someone. So off I went.
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