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Cornered Coach: The Peanut Gallery


"Players play; Coaches coach; Parents watch."

It's a common catch phrase and a motto used by numerous minor sports organizations. But it's the third part of the equation that usually presents the biggest challenge.

We've all seen them.

Rabid hockey dads and moms who just can't help themselves.

"Go to the net, Bobby!"

"C'mon, Sarah! You've gotta cover the point!"

"Pete! Make sure and jump on those rebounds!"

Often times, you'll see the tiny caged heads on the ice nodding quickly – a reflex reaction to the parental pointers raining down from above. But all that advice, no matter how well-intentioned, is usually wreaking havoc on the team chemistry a coach is trying hard to create. 

In the worst-case scenario, a parent will actually approach the coach on the bench during the game itself, usually complaining about their child's ice time. Most coaches will tell you this is a mortal sin. The bench is considered sacred ground in hockey and an act of trespassing by a perturbed parent can create a big-time explosion.

A few years ago, coaching my eight-year-old son's ball hockey squad, a sugared up dad jumped behind our bench to complain that his son had missed a shift. I wish I could report that I handled the situation with patience. However, hallowed ground had been infiltrated and I immediately blasted off.

"Nobody comes near our bench during a game," I roared. "It's hockey code 101!"

In retrospect, of course, I should have remained calm and simply told the trespassing dad that we'd talk about the issue after the game – which is what ultimately happened, as I apologized for blowing my stack. But hockey parents need to understand that the coach is the one in charge of the decision-making process. Sure, you can question a coach at the appropriate place and time. But, especially if your child is playing on a team with a volunteer coach, there's a pretty simple solution if you're disgruntled by anything that's happening.

If you don't like how the team is being run, why don't you step up and volunteer to coach?

It's the go-to reply that many coaches have used in battles with upset parents; and the beauty of it is that it's hard to argue. Of course, a lot of parents fancy themselves as sideline coaches. As mentioned earlier, they love to shout advice to their own children and any other player who comes into view.

But that's when "Murphy's Law" often crops up.

And I'm not talking about the Hall-of-Fame Larry Murphy who was a sensational defenceman with the Penguins and Red Wings. I'm referring to the Larry Murphy who was booed out of Toronto after serving as a scapegoat for some miserableMaple Leafs teams in the mid-90's. Under that version of "Murphy's Law", here's how it often shakes down.

Last hockey season, I ran into a young d-man who I used to coach. It was just before one of his games, as he was now playing for a new team with a new coach.

"Hey, Tommie!," I said. "Don't be afraid to rush the puck tonight. It's one of the best parts of your game."

So, from the stands I watched the contest and, sure enough, my former player proceeded to lug the puck out of his zone every chance he got.

The only downside?

He coughed it up a couple of times, costing his team a few goals. After the game, I chatted with the coach of my former player's team.

"Man," he grumbled. "I don't know what got into Tommie. He was giving the puck away all night long."

"Yeah," I mumbled meekly, as I quickly made my exit from the rink.

The moral of the story?

It's always the same.

"Players play; Coaches coach; Parents (and former coaches) watch."

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