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Deflections: Benched! Active participation when coaching coaches


Some of the most fun I’ve had has been teaching coaching clinics. For over 30 years, I’ve watched programs evolve and sometimes had the good fortune to help determine the path of the evolution.

There’s always been one constant. No matter the course content or how beautiful the PowerPoint slides are (or the overhead acetates before them!), the ice sessions have always been a highlight.

Coaches were consistently clear: Give us all the paper and theoretical piffle you want, but don’t deprive us of the first hand on-ice experience.

Now it has happened at nearly every clinic that a couple of coaches are unable to participate for health reasons. The message remains this: on-ice is not a requirement. Just stay at the bench and I’ll talk to the group where you are. Meanwhile, you copy down drills and notes to share with the others. Never been a problem. In fact, coaches who couldn’t come on the ice appreciated the empathy.

The sessions aren’t hard. They aren’t a workout nor should they be. Coaches wear only helmets and gloves. Most are in rotten shape and probably haven’t done a drill in eons. Demonstrating for your kids isn’t the same as actually trying the drill. So I keep reps down to one or two just for coaches to get a feel for the requirement.

They discover as well that directed observation of other coaches helps clarify what a technique, drill, or tactic requires. Besides, doing this stuff is fun. Even adults like to have fun. The noise level, the sound of fun rises noticeably during any competitive drill.

So it was to my ever-loving shock when, at a Development 1 clinic recently, the Sunday ice session featured just 23 of the registered coaches on the ice - and 11 on the bench. Of those 11, a few had been junior players not so long ago.

These are adults of course and I left them with quizzical looks and an obvious glare of disappointment. My Saturday ice session had just three who legitimately couldn’t skate. Two coaches had been locked out of their equipment storage at their rink and one was awaiting knee surgery.

But the Saturday session hadn’t been any different than a couple of hundred I’ve done before. Now suddenly, my team bailed on me. What happened?

I carried on as before, bringing the entire group to the bench to those who copied down the drills and teaching points. What I wanted to say was this: Yes, it’s a long weekend and ice sessions make it physically tougher. But you really need to be engaged in a learning environment to truly understand what you ask of your kids.

You’re sore? Fine. Tired? Sure. But in the end, your active participation will help you.

I wonder if they understood.

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