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Deflections: Learning how to win - Part 1

 

Done. Over. Finished. In the end, our season ran headlong into a bit of a wall: us.

First some important background information. The competitive bantam team I took on was a combination of minor (7) and major (10) age players in a league comprised entirely of major players. Why that even was allowed to happen is another matter. At an age, 13-14, where the growth and maturational gaps are vary wildly, the kids were flung into physical situations a great many were ill-suited for. Some played fearful most games.

Historically, the group had done poorly in every category: goals scored and allowed, penalty minutes, wins, losses. Moreover, it’s in a small association of 400 kids up against behemoths of 2,000 or more. The association further handcuffed the selection process by declaring that, to ensure sufficient local representation, 13 of the 15 selected skaters and at least one of the goalies had to be from the host association.

So from the outset, the odds of this group experiencing much success were next to impossible. But there was another, more subtle issue and it had little to do with their already challenged skill level. They just didn’t know how to win.

Leads were squandered. Comebacks faltered. They’d hang tough with a good team, then flounder and flop when that team’s skill overcame ours, resulting in an almost inevitable downturn. They’d compete for the puck to a certain point (some kids wouldn’t at all) until it became clear they’d not come out with it, and so go through the motions. A few were second or third on the puck nearly all the time. Size was a factor as were age, strength and skill.

And when the coach, yours truly, gradually increased expectations to compete better, the response was inconsistent. Some tried to rise to the occasion, hampered mostly by skill deficiencies. A few had to be dragged along by more eager and braver teammates.

They revelled in their few wins but didn’t know what created the success. The adage that good teams find a way to win only came into play a handful of times.

All of which meant the kids needed to learn how and when to turn up the heat; how to play at a consistently high level; how to squeeze the most out of themselves as possible; how to synthesize instruction and then apply it in so-called big games. They knew nothing of these things.

But this is not to say the season wasn’t a success. It was. They scored more, allowed less and were vastly more disciplined than ever before. Of the 57 teams in four bantam and midget leagues, only one other team had fewer penalty minutes than us. And ours were half of everyone else’s. Games were closer, shifts harder, shots more frequent. Their improvement was remarkable. If only they knew what it took to win…

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