The opposition scores with less than two seconds to go to force overtime in a medal game. The play was an errant pass that bounced off your backchecker’s skate. One of your key players gets a highly questionable penalty at a key moment - then the other team scores on the powerplay. Your best forward and only scoring threat is tossed from the game for a check from behind. The team’s goalie has been outstanding, keeping you in the game. 'Til a lob from over the blueline bounces off his head onto the ice behind him and trickles over the goalline. Or how about when you play a team that’s far bigger and plays aggressively to the edge of being just plain dirty. They consistently run over your small players and pretty much have their way with the puck in your zone.
What to say?
It doesn’t matter the level or age group. Every coach has been faced with the conundrum created by such disasters. The Hobson’s choice list of potential wrongs is nearly endless.
Say something? Sure. But why? What will it add to the narrative already unfolding? How can you restate the obvious and make it meaningful? Okay, don’t restate what’s happened. What about just describing what could have been done to prevent it? No, that’s likely to make the players feel worse. They already know what disaster looks and feels like.
You could make light of it. “Well, that didn’t go so well, did it?” But being flippant about a game event the players perceive as being negative gives them the wrong idea about you. Does the coach care? Doesn’t he get it? So no, scrap that thought.
Ignore the event? Not really because you can’t act as if it didn’t happen.
One coaching friend recently had his team’s shot at a provincial final blow up with 1.76 seconds to play on an entirely fluke goal. After the period, before overtime (which they lost), he chose to peripherally refer to the event in a holistic way. He gathered the boys and reminded them that they’d been faced with similar situations all year and came back. It was obvious to him that the heartbreak of the goal could not be erased. Likely, they’ll remember it forever. So he needed to mitigate the pain by going in a slightly different direction.
Hockey is essentially a collection of such coaching moments linked by the game’s action. The tricky balance is always to figure out how to use these moments in not just the right way but also at the right time. Such is the art of coaching.
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