Coaches talk too much. We expect, by virtue of our lofty and powerful positions, that just about anything we say to our players is both profound and useful.
Of course, this is, as Col. Sherman T. Potter would say on the TV show M.A.S.H., a load of donkey chips. There comes a time when the players just need to play the game with a minimum of fuss and bother. Which is why when my bantams played their first one, there was nothing I could say to prepare them more, if they’d been prepared at all.
We lost 4-0. I suppose I could dissect the game zone by zone, period by period, even shift by shift in some cases. However, the essence of this team’s looming tribulations centres on some inescapable facts, to wit:
We are a minor/major team playing in a major bantam league. Half the team is first year bantams and, at this age, the extra year of bantam experience is significant.
The minors in particular just don’t have the strength and balance yet to beat or ward off checkers. Try as they might - and they do try hard - unless they place their bodies in exactly the right position each time, they will get pushed off the puck. And they did. Frequently. That same lack of strength made it really difficult for them to even clear loose pucks away from the net or out of the zone. “High and hard off the glass” isn’t so easy when you have neither the strength nor quickness to do it.
Only 21 boys tried out for the team: 18 skaters and 3 goalies. We kept 15 and 2. That’s slim pickings when our opposition is selecting from many dozens. So on sheer numbers alone, the talent pool is thin.
Lousy as I am at making predictions (otherwise I’d buy lottery tickets), this team won’t win a lot of games. Keen, enthusiastic and positive as they are, the avoidance of frustration will be an objective.
After a long string of practices, they were noticeably wired and ready to play game 1. There wasn’t much to say in the room beforehand to either relax them or get them prepped. How about we just play, I said. During the game, I limited bench feedback to reminders of short shifts and verbal pats on the back for nice plays. Both were a coaching challenge. Short shifts are a good deal easier in junior where players can jump the boards. Not so easy for kids who need a step ladder to do it. Nice plays? Yes, there were some but mostly it was a case of looking for the smallest of good attempts to laud. A fine try at a stick check. A nice pass, though a bit late. Good defensive body position, even if by accident.
I wanted the kids to return from a shift feeling they’d accomplished even one or two things successfully against an opposition that was clearly better all around, though not outstanding.
Small victories all around. It was, after all, just the first game.
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