We spend inordinate amounts of time teaching skills and tactics as well as showing coaches how to do it. Of course, it’s all needed. But we consistently miss an essential ingredient in teaching, which is how to control the team.
This is no trifling matter. Ask a new classroom teacher about the importance of keeping a room of kids effectively corralled. It’s vital to learning. So, too, must it be in sport. Hockey, however, presents problems few other activities face: a cold, damp, and slippery hostile physical environment, boredom if not moving, and the presence of toys called pucks which, though rubber, are a magnet. The kids want to play; the coach wants to coach. How to make them meet?
When you watch effective coaches, you immediately notice some key things. They’re exuberant and enthusiastic; their voices are clear; they’re well organized; assistants aren’t goofing around at any time; they’re teaching and giving feedback; they intervene frequently to make corrections; they stand before the kids when talking, making sure they can see them all. The ones who use the whistle a lot (which, frankly, I don’t like. See my earlier post Whistle While You Work) use it in a commanding fashion. You just KNOW these coaches are in charge. You can sense it.
Still, it’s far from an easy task nor is it a coaching skill everyone has right away. I not-so-fondly remember my own early coaching days doing a lot of yelling to get kids to listen. When I watched more experienced people work, they seemed so composed all the time. Now maybe they were like ducks in water: calm on the surface but paddling furiously beneath it. I doubt that. They harboured a secret I wanted in on, that is, to be able to control a hockey team without threats and shouts.
It takes conscious work. There’s no such thing in minor hockey as being on autopilot with kids in practice. You need to be ever observant and alert and be willing not to let little things slide by, like an assistant who wants to shoot at an empty net or a few kids who play keep-away for some time after they’re supposed to come to the group. A coach who addresses these things straight away will be in control.
We shouldn’t confuse having control of a team in practice with being an autocrat or borderline dictator. The dictatorial approach suggests the coach is ordering the kids, commanding them from “on high.” A coach who controls his team does so with benevolence but also with the understanding that good control will lead to a better and more fun learning environment.
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