What didn’t I do with my bantams this year? What didn’t I follow up on? What more should I have done? Or less, for that matter?
Turning. Most of these kids could not turn both ways, either by crossover or sharp turns. Even on their good sides, they were inefficient. I recognized it early on yet figured that by combining turning skills with basic individual tactics, I could mostly lick the problem. Wrong. To properly correct a skill deficiency, you need to focus on just it alone. I knew that after years teaching skating. But with a team, time was tight. Shortcuts were in order. Consequently we had trouble retrieving pucks, transitioning, breaking out, and pulling away from defenders. All because of turns.
Conditioning. However one defines “in shape,” the kids weren’t really in shape to begin the season. So the too-frequent ice times often did more harm than good. They were exhausted. I’d promised to bring in a well-respected and well-known colleague to show them how to get in shape and stay there, but schedules conflicted and we just plain ran out of time. I feel I failed the kids by not following up.
Every coach has weaknesses. One of mine has always been team bonding exercises. In the past, I relied on other members of my coaching staff. I always felt these things were a bit artificial, as if you could manufacture chemistry in a room. I did try a couple of things at away tournaments. But as it turned out, the kids all got along anyway. I was given ideas by coaching friends and considered using them, though I never did. Still, I wonder if the team would have gelled on the ice better and sooner had I done more.
I was warned in August about the group’s skill and previous record. No one mentioned a compete level that was nearly non-existent for many of them. It often appeared that what I was doing was way over their heads. I knew it, too. What I didn’t do was talk more often to individuals. Perhaps I was afraid to hear I was pushing too much. One boy did tell his parents the practices were hard. Well, yes, they were challenging. Aren’t you supposed to be challenged in competitive hockey? Some kids in this group just didn’t want that, even right to the end. I chose to pay it less heed than perhaps I should have.
I didn’t talk enough. Around December, I got feedback from my assistants (through their sons on the team) that the kids wanted to hear more from me after games. I wasn’t used to that, having come from junior where the less said after a game the better in most cases. So I had to alter my approach and come into the room after every game and give positive directed feedback. It took three months for me to receive that advice because I hadn’t really stepped back and tried to understand what 13- and 14-year-olds needed to hear and why.
Upon reflection, I sure would have done some things differently. Then again, as I’ll show next week, it was mostly a good season.
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