Long before The Summit and in an epoch when the Bee Gees were the group, mentors existed in hockey. And I was one of them.
It was with a hockey association in Montreal in the late ’70s. The community in the area where the minor hockey association existed first hired a fellow to take charge of all their ice sports. He in turn hired “technical advisors” to oversee coaching development for each discipline. It was my first paying hockey gig outside hockey schools and I made $10 an hour.
There were five teams whose coaches I was supposed to assist in whichever means we all deemed appropriate. Three teams used my services regularly. We communicated using a device called a telephone though most often we just talked at the rink. We never liaised. We talked. One team practically adopted me as an ad hoc assistant coach. Another didn’t call on me once for anything. The team’s coach, in his view, needed no help and considered the very existence of a young pup mentor rather ridiculous.
Nobody used the word “mentor.” It was probably in the dictionary but not in relation to sport and certainly not to hockey. I was the AA teams’ technical advisor. Mentor didn’t really come into vogue till 1999 with the Molson Open Ice Summit.
The Summit was meant to be the grand awakening for hockey in Canada, the caffeine jolt to slap us out of our developmental lethargy. Leaders from professional and amateur ranks gathered in Toronto that August and came up with a detailed list of recommendations to improve the game.
One could say, cynically, that the NHL’s input was somewhat self-serving. More skilled players coming out of this country meant a better professional product and more money in the bank. Regardless, The Summit’s 11 recommendations had as their focus “the development of hockey players in Canada, with the continued education of coaches, parents and volunteers involved in hockey.”
The creation of mentorship programs was a key one. At the time, I recall thinking that my halcyon Montreal days as a technical advisor were really spent as a mentor. Or was it vice versa? I, and others of my ilk, had been doing this for some time. The question was; what exactly had we been doing and were we doing it right?
Today the mentoring of coaches has more import and significance. Since my first turn at it in Montreal, I’ve been the mentor for three other minor organizations as well as a Hockey Canada branch. I remain as convinced now as I was when Stayin' Alive was a hit that training and certifying only goes so far. What our minor coaches really need is active, personal mentoring
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