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Deflections: Time in a bottle


As I was walking into a rink the other day, a fellow who is a parent but not a coach asked me how much time I spend coaching my team.

This was a poser. Maybe he expected a quick answer that would floor him. Actually, I’m not sure why he asked. But he managed to stump me because I really didn’t know. So I started by saying it took me about an hour to create each practice plan, plus the actual ice time, plus travel to and from rinks. Then there are games and prepping for those. Yes, I do prep for games.

On game days, NHL coaches are usually in their offices early in the morning preparing. In junior, I spent most of the day thinking about the evening’s game, jotting down notes, wondering how I’d approach situations, which players to address for what… Sometimes I got to it all; sometimes it just didn’t happen because events conspired against it. But even this year, back in minor hockey, I find myself doing the same thing, tempering most thoughts with, “Careful now, Richard. They’re 13 and 14. Keep it in perspective.” Does thinking count as time spent coaching?

Because if it does, like most coaches I know, I probably spend a good many hours pondering, reflecting, self-evaluating and occasionally self-flagellating over a host of things coaches need to handle in the game. Mostly, the games and practices are almost anti-climactic because so much thought has gone into them.

I worry I’ve said the wrong thing or too much. I wonder how to approach a goalie who’s had a bad period. Do I strictly adhere to the “criticize in private, praise in public” approach? Will this be the right game to fiddle with lines or game plans? Has the practice or even a drill accomplished what I wanted? And, is what I wanted the right thing?

So you can see how stumped I was by the man’s question. If you took actual time to, from and at the rink, on average, it’d be about 10 to 15 hours each week. Which is what I told him once I added the caveat about prepping for practices. This with an entry level competitive bantam team having 30 league games, four tournaments and about 60 hours of practice in a season.

I’m not sure what it adds up to in terms of volunteer commitment and I can’t say it matters anyway. In my broad network of hockey colleagues, I know of no one who complains about time at the rink, let alone prepping and thinking. Certainly there are no ligature marks on my wrists from being dragged, kicking and screaming, into coaching. As for time spent, it’s the one thing I don’t think about.

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