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Deflections: Can we teach high performance coaches how to coach?

Last week I addressed issue 1: The new mandatory High Performance 1 clinics will paint bantam AAA and junior A coaches with the same broad stroke brush.

But here’s another issue. Under the new Hockey Canada/Coaching Association of Canada, a coach will now attend the certification clinic that is applicable to the group he’s coaching. Content for clinics then is geared towards that group. For instance, at these new HP 1 seminars, it’s expected presentations address the needs of coaches dealing with elite players. Mostly, this is true. Though again, there’s a pretty strong argument against giving minor coaches who deal with 12- to 16-year-olds the same content and expectations as junior A coaches whose players are a couple of sniffs from pro hockey.

What we’re seeing, however, is a large number of coaches at AAA and junior levels with no coaching backgrounds at all taking over teams merely on the foundation of their playing experiences. All they know is what they learned and how they learned it. The actual art of coaching becomes on-the-job training.

This is not to say they should first pay their dues with house league teams. The very notion of “paying their dues” isn’t what it’s about. The objective has to be to learn how to coach. So what we’re doing is tossing these new coaches into an abyss inhabited by difficult parents, association leaders with little if any coaching experience themselves, or team owners who now have new toys and perhaps even vehicles for their own kids to play in. This is not a situation that sets them up for success, let alone enjoyable new coaching experiences.

It doesn’t make it easy for the kids either. Many are left to play for coaches who just don’t have the experience and even the know-how to understand the nuances of today’s youth. The game changes, the kids change, and how we teach it changes as we learn more about what effective teaching and coaching can provide.

In a way, I feel a bit sorry for these coaches. With the best of intentions, they take over teams where expectations automatically rise simply by virtue of their playing backgrounds. The “Wow” factor (as in, “Wow, he was a pro.”) wears thin when their teams don’t meet expectations, regardless of how realistic they may be.

The question now becomes, how do we prepare these new coaches so they are able to learn the best possible and most up-to-date coaching techniques? When we vault them directly into the kind of coaching clinic we now have, we don’t give them an opportunity to learn fundamental coaching skills. It’s tantamount to having a bestselling novelist teach grade 9s how to write a 500-word essay without the students being taught the ingredients of a good essay and the role of proper grammar. Parents would find such an approach unacceptable.

Not so in hockey.

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