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Deflections: What’s an elite coach? Part 2

Do elite coaches plan?

While serving as the mentor for a minor hockey association’s competitive teams, I tried to get the coaches to understand the importance of even rudimentary planning. Their kids were playing on the highest level teams in the region at the time. There were certain expectations and responsibilities that came with the territory.

I asked them to provide me yearly plans broken into segments. The segments could be as simple as early, mid and late season or as complex as bi-weekly. Within the segments they had to provide overall objectives and a few specific ones. It wasn’t meant to be an onerous task but I suppose that’s in the eyes of the beholder. Most saw it as unnecessary and time-consuming paperwork.

This is where we differed. I saw planning as one of the foundations an elite coach, or at least the coach of elite kids, needed to have to stay on the right path. The alternative would have been for them to plan week to week, preparing practices and off-ice sessions as game results warranted. In other words, performance would drive the machine, not development.

Did they provide me plans? Most did but largely because the association executive had my back and insisted on this kind of coach training and development. I got a dog’s breakfast of segment plans. Most were barely passable, dashed off in probably an hour or so. I didn’t have an issue with this approach though. It still meant the coach had to think. I wasn’t there to grade their work but rather to see they were applying even a modicum of thought to the season.

A few years later, one of those coaches was again in my mentorship group with a different association. When I broached the topic of planning, he stated outright he would not do any “paperwork.” (It should be noted he’s attending a High Performance 1 seminar this summer whose assessment requirements include a considerable amount of “paperwork.”)

There are lots of cute pithy statements about planning which are meant to get us all to nod our heads in unanimous agreement.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” (a paraphrase of Benjamin Franklin’s “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”)

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road can take you there.” (from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland)

Or Yogi Berra’s version: “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.”

Personally, I like Mike Tyson’s description of planning. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

If our so-called elite minor hockey coaches were to listen to the elite coaches at higher levels or other sports, they’d be surprised at how much planning goes into a proper training program.

Indeed, plans are live documents, just like the kids we coach. But you need something to deal with the complexities of elite athletes.

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