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Deflections: Playoff preparation: Part 1

Let’s start an argument.

(Monty Python: “Would you like a 5-minute argument or a 3-minute argument?”, “I’d like the 3-minute.”, “No, you wouldn’t.”, “Yes, I would.”)

All minor hockey teams should be in playoffs. Or, there shouldn’t be playoffs. How about we have playoffs but nobody loses?

All moot points. We do have playoffs and with them comes a host of issues that can make the ride rather turbulent for coaches. If they thought it was tough during tryouts, wait till playoffs hit. If ever there was a true test of a coach's mettle, how to handle playoff emotions is the one.

To wit, I relate an example of a recent conversation I had in a rink. Turns out it wasn't an atypical one.

Me:  "How's the season going, coach?", as I try await an answer related to development, skill acquisition, learning, well, anything except performance.

Coach: "Great. We're in third and match up well with the team we'll see in the playoffs. Only lost two games since Christmas. Our forwards are really finding the holes and we're breaking out great. We're in good shape for a playoff run for sure." Which then launched into a summary of how his teams have done at this level the last few years.

Did I mention his kids are eight years old?

Has he lost perspective or is he merely an object of the environment?

The problem with coaching a minor hockey team in playoffs is that it's just a bunch of kids being told that playoffs are important, much more important than the previous five months. Reality has nothing to do with it. That only one team can win isn't the point. Even the most marginal team can pull it off, can't it? Look at the NHL's L.A. Kings who won the Stanley Cup in 2012 as the conference's eighth and last seed. If they could pull it off. . .

Whether or not a coach, like the one quoted above, is offline is only partly the point. There's a much larger beast at play here. Leagues create playoffs; parents manufacture often inappropriate expectations; and sometimes coaches hang their coaching hats on what kids can do under bizarrely pressured circumstances.

What's a coach to do? Playoffs loom. Everyone talks about what's at stake, which is really not much in the larger scheme of things. We place enormous importance on a few games, grossly overestimating the impact a few games will have on the lives of children or adolescents. If we were to ask the kids we coach to sit in a gymnasium and write a math or English test while all their parents watched, imagine the negative feedback.

But as long as we’re stuck with the situation, we need to make the best of it. Might as well prepare as best we can. Next week in Part 2: The practices.

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