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Deflections: Changing your hockey coaching approach

 

Some of my early teaching years were spent bouncing between senior high school and grades 5-8. The most difficult adjustment had nothing to do with curriculum, timetables or class sizes. It was learning how to change the approach from dealing with adolescents to little kids and back again, sometimes in the same day.

This is what teachers do though. They’re professionals, usually well trained, and armed with considerable support mechanisms. Often teachers spend their formative years in the profession doing exactly what I did before narrowing their preferred grade levels.

In minor hockey however, we see a rather different model, one that forces (or should force) coaches to adapt to new age groups almost annually. For instance, the majority of coaches at the younger age levels, pee wee and under, coach their own children’s teams. Each season they go to the next age group with their kids until either the coach or child says enough.

As coaches learn all too quickly, the six months between seasons can bring about a host of changes in kids. The squeaky-voiced 12 year old in March returns in September with a stubble beard and a body ripped from summer workouts. Because coaches generally only know the age groups their own kids are in, moving up to a new one is not straightforward. This is one of the weaknesses in our volunteer system. Our coaches know they need to adapt just from watching their own children change. But how?

From a technical standpoint, there’s plenty of guidance available. Hockey Canada and its branches provide charts and skill inventories that are excellent starting points. Here’s what you teach atoms, but here’s what you should be teaching pee wees, etc. It’s impossible though to come up with a definitive chart for a particular level or team. The coaches are left on their own.

To make it even more challenging, a coach may have a recreational bantam team one year and the next season his son makes the lowest tier midget competitive team. Aside from the leap of 14 to 15 year olds, this coach has to deal with a far different set of expectations and skills. It may be that only his child and a couple of others succeeded in going a level up. The rest have long histories in competitive hockey. They want more and expect more. A coach from a house league setting may not be properly equipped to effectively make that leap.

With little or no prior experience at either an older or better calibre group (let alone both), a coach is left with a difficult challenge. Retooling is easy to say, not so easy to do.

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