Everything is difficult before it is easy.
Nothing like a pithy aphorism to make you lean back and take note. Or yawn. The statement, like so many such proverbs, is attributed to more than one person: A 17th century clergyman, Thomas Fuller, and the 18th century German writer Von Goethe. Either way, it’s entirely appropriate to coaching because it makes more sense than coaches are sometimes willing to accept.
In one of my junior coaching experiences in the last few years, we tried to develop a power play. As the assistant coach, though also the guy in charge of all teaching and tactics, it was quite a challenge. I’d chosen to show them a rather unique approach I’d unabashedly ripped off from a successful NCAA program of some years ago. It had worked with another junior team I’d had because it was really a pretty easy set up.
The problem with this group was that the personnel wasn’t as skilled and more prone to frustration. Some of the so-called key players figured they’d get it straight off and execute in a game with near perfection. I could have cited stats to illustrate that even if a team manages 20% on a PP, that’s considered good. You’d score on 1 in 5 chances (which is worse than a decent batting average in baseball) and perhaps get a couple of good attempts on net otherwise. So then, to expect any PP to work right off the bat, let alone a new one, meant not understanding that it’s hard first and easy much later on.
Let’s set aside the difficulty they had in gaining the offensive zone to establish the set up. That was a study in frustration. My approach was to get them to buy in to the setup, see its potential, and then believe in the importance of zone entry to get to the setup.
The more stubborn players, vets who saw themselves as far better than either they or their records had shown, did not want to work at it. Yes, I said, at first it’ll be awkward but once you get the idea, it’ll become easier. Hard then easy. Just like skating or puckhandling or shooting on the move.
No one likes doing things that are difficult. Why? Because they’re difficult. Even when you do things that are easy, you forget that at one time, it was difficult. For this team, whose PP in previous season had been abysmal, falling back on what they’d done was indeed easier. Unsuccessful, but easier. The PP I was showing them would in fact become easier to succeed had after just a few practices.
It didn’t work. I was prepared to be patient with it; the players and the head coach/GM/owner weren’t. They overruled me and resorted to the old PP. The result? An 8% success rate, the league’s worst, and more shorthanded goals against than any other team.
But it was easier.
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