It was the coaching equivalent of the parent-teacher interview. After the season ended, I conducted coach-player exit interviews, something I hadn't done in a while. I don't know if many coaches do this, not that it matters. I've always felt that when a competitive team's season ends, the coach owes it to the players to provide them some feedback on their progress. As well, it affords the players a last opportunity to ask questions or comment on the season.
None of these kids had ever experienced anything like this before, nor did I expect they would have. Bantams, at age 13-14, are pretty much at the entry point for being able to understand the nature of the feedback and perhaps do something with it.
The process was this. My two assistants and I met for about 15 minutes with each boy and an invited parent at our home arena. I thought it important for parents to listen in. After all, they do have a vested interest and needed to hear what we were to say. If their sons are going to continue in competitive hockey, they need to hear our views on what to improve.
We gave each player the team's statistical summary along with an eleven-category chart on which the coaches rated the kids on a score of 1 to 3, with 3 being the highest. We made sure they knew the ratings were our opinions and that the evaluations were relative to our team, not the league. I selected the categories carefully, trying to pinpoint the key physical, tactical and soft skills needed to play at this level. The categories were: agility, speed, transition skating, puckhandling, passing, shooting, defensive play, offensive play, effort, self-control, Improvement.
The assistants began the debriefs with a few words before my comments. It was so important the kids hear positive commentary, especially after a losing season. Far too often, actually regularly, people equate a team’s success with its record. To my mind, our season had been a rousing success - with a record of 5-20-5 and 9-8-1 in tournaments. The kids had learned to compete and in the last couple of months were in every game, despite being from a small association and having a minor/major mix in a league of all major age players.
As to my assistants, this was also a new experience. For one thing, they got a feel for what parent-teacher interviews are like. Sitting face to face with a boy and parent giving feedback isn’t easy. For another, they learned that good communication is at the heart of coaching, even when the season is over.
Some kids didn’t show up. One was sick and the parent hasn’t yet rescheduled. Another, not a word. One goalie dad said his son would receive ample feedback from his goalie camp instructor in the summer. I couldn’t have agreed less. He doesn’t get it, but it wasn’t worth the fight.
And selfishly, the exits gave me one last opportunity to thank those boys for the wonderful season they’d given me.
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