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Cornered Coach: Finishing Strong


The whole country needs a bath.

Everything is a mess in March, with salt sprinkled on every Canadian's car and every Canadian kid covered in the stuff after leaning up against the family sedan. Exiting the parking lot and heading into the rink, in fact, the hockey jackets of every little guy and gal look like a bunch of chalkboard brushes.

Yes, Old Man Winter is definitely a cruel customer and, by now, most of us are completely fed up. Unfortunately, however, March is also the biggest time of the year in minor hockey as playoff action swings into high gear.

But how do you stay motivated for more ice when your head is somewhere else—like a Florida beach where, as the old joke goes, the only ice can be found in your favourite frosty beverage?

It's not easy.

I remember one old major junior hockey coach telling me about the challenge of motivating young players in March.

"You'd be surprised at how many guys are sick and tired of playing at this time of the season," he said. "A lot of players just want to go home and show off their team jackets to their buddies and girlfriends."

So, if elite athletes such as junior hockey players lose a lot of their 'get up and go' at the end of the year, how can you pump up a group of minor hockey players running on fumes, with many of them already dreaming about lugging a lacrosse stick or swinging a baseball bat in sunshine-filled splendour?

In the end, it always comes down to fun.

If a coach puts too much emphasis on winning and grinds his players into the ice prepping for a playoff run, there's a good chance your players will smack into a brick wall before the first puck of the post-season is even dropped. Obviously, a coach wants to make sure and prepare his troops for the playoffs. After all, following a long and gruelling season, it doesn't make any sense to mail it in at the end.

However, while turning up the competitive knob, you also have to push the right buttons by raising the "fun" bar. 

Scrimmaging with an orange hockey ball, letting the kids play "Showdown", springing for post-practice “Smarties”… a few examples of how a coach can balance the pre-playoff workload by sprinkling in some good times.

Not only will it put a smile on some young faces, but it also takes some of the pressure off as they get set to play in games that have a little more at stake. 

Hey! Everyone loves to win.

But as another hard-hitting winter slowly grinds to a halt, don't forget that everyone needs a nice, warm bath now and then too.

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