So, how’d it go?
To which the respondent, a perfectly typical minor hockey coach who, like nearly all of them, has his heart in the right place, says, “Pretty good. We got into the finals of two tournaments. That’s never happened before at this level in the association. We lowered our goals-against from last year’s team by over 1.5 per game. Better penalty minutes, too. Went on a five-game win streak before our best forward twisted his ankle and everything sort of fell apart offensively. Our goals-for dipped but the power play really suffered. We went a month before scoring on the PP. Oh, and the playoffs… Well, we made it in and took the third place team to six games, which I understand is the furthest this group has ever gone. The forecheck broke down just enough times for them to capitalize. Goaltending was okay. Save percentages were better as the year wore on.”
Blah. Blah. Blah.
That kind of reply is fairly common when I ask coaches about their seasons. Did you notice that everything in it is performance-related, as if the team statistician was sitting right there and reeling off fact after fact? Those things may all be true and, to some degree, provide a gauge of the team’s success. But in my experience, one doesn’t often hear coaches boast about how much certain skills improved or whether those forwards ever learned to turn both ways or if the small area games done in most practices were reflected in games in some way. Oh, and whether or not it was a fun season for the kids.
It’s a bit of a commentary on our system, that we’re so results oriented we quickly lose sight of the process. Admittedly though, it’s tough for coaches to set aside stats and performance-related objectives that were or weren’t met. Expectations from parents, especially on competitive teams, and sometimes from association boards can fly directly in the face of the coach’s instincts. We all know we shouldn’t be focused on product, but we also can’t ignore what’s around us.
I certainly take into account the level and age group. A major bantam AAA group should have vastly different objectives than a 3rd tier atom competitive team. One is elite hockey, preparing young teens for junior in a couple of years. The other is well-skilled children on the cusp of, well, no one yet knows because it’s just too early.
Perhaps a more apropos and pointed question for a coach might be, “So, which won this year: process or product?”
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