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Deflections: The Pro-Am Coach

Let’s say you happened to see a minor hockey coach behaving like a loon in front of the kids or parents at a meeting. Not that it has ever happened. But let’s say. Perhaps the coach has used foul language or made sweeping pejorative remarks. Whatever the reason, would you call him unprofessional?

And if you did, would you expect said coach to snap, “I’m a volunteer like everyone else here.”? In other words, volunteers appear to be protected from society’s conventions about civility and courtesy because they aren’t paid and thus should not be held responsible.

What a barrel of donkey dung.

We tend to limit the definition of professional to those who are paid or at least to those in professions where one is expected to be, well, professional. Teachers, doctors, nurses, administrators—we want them to act professionally. We expect it. Anything less and our respect for them, and even for the profession, suffers.

But minor hockey has no such expectations of either its coaches or its leaders. When was the last time the term “unprofessional” was used to describe either? Too often, we set our standards fairly low and all too easily we meet them.

On the coaching spectrum, the coach of the lowest level of house league player is usually the least experienced and trained of all. We’ve created a system where our best coaches wouldn’t dream of stooping to such a level. They want to work with the best, not the worst. So what we end up with are coaches from whom little is expected, and not just in player development but also in comportment. Those same “low level” house league coaches could be lawyers or accountants or business executives. They are expected to carry themselves “professionally” all day. Why not in the evening, too?

Can we not then have professional amateurs? It seems to me that we’ve put too much stock in the term volunteer and have used it almost as an escape card. Yes, you can behave poorly or not plan or be disrespectful or even languish in ignorance, but since you’re a volunteer, we’ll excuse it. What’s more, feel free to announce that, because you’re a volunteer, striving for competence, let alone excellence, will be accidental.

Add another barrel.

In the real world, the term “professional development” is thrown about to describe extra training employees get. In hockey, we’ve stayed clear of it because we don’t want to scare people by thinking a minor hockey coach needs to be “developed” or, heavens, “professional.”

A pro-am is a member of the minor hockey leadership group who carries himself with distinction. He may be coaching a low level recreational team yet he treats the kids like gold. He plans. He teaches. He sets an example. He acts professionally.

Really, at the very least, that’s all we ask of our volunteers coaches.

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