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Deflections: What's in a name indeed?


“What’s in a name?” wrote a certain Mr. Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.

Quite a lot if we’re to affix names of titles to positions in hockey. It’s not just semantics. For instance, in the media and everyday parlance, we use the word “hit” to describe a solid body check. Perhaps this is fine in the pros and junior. It’s not at all appropriate in minor hockey where the connotation of the word is entirely misplaced. “Hit” suggests a good body check must be aggressive rather than assertive, edging on violent rather than effective.

Hitting, I say to coaches and young players, is reserved for baseball and football. Not hockey.

Back to word play. The terms we use to describe the leadership positions in our game need to be carefully considered. The biggest culprit, victim actually, is the Initiation Program. Begun nationwide in the mid 1980s, the IP is the foundation of our game. It was so successful at its outset that USA Hockey and numerous other hockey federations tried to copy it. They’ve since surpassed our program, redrawing it in their own visions.

The IP’s history dates back to a program called Sca-Dia in Montreal in the 1970s. It was an instructional program, a hockey school in fact, for little ones created by the brilliant hockey team of Gaston Marcotte, Charles Thifault, Christian Pelchat, and Georges Larivieres, perhaps four of the finest hockey teachers this country has had. Sca-Dia (and Gaston, with whom I taught in the 70s, could never explain the origin of the name) evolved into the Hockey Quebec teaching program and from that came the fibres which were sewn into the IP.

But the IP is now devolving and a lot of it is due to misnomers. It is, and has always been, an instructional program. As such, the on-ice teachers are instructors, not coaches. At the same time, the kids on the ice are divided into groups, not teams. The difference in meanings is significant.

As soon as you create teams, you need coaches. Teams are run by coaches. Teams suggest team play, camaraderie, cohesion, specific numbers of players, positions, even lines or units. But the IP should be none of those. The kids are five and six years old, after all.

Groups of kids, however, means there can be any number in a group with the groups created according to whatever works best. They don’t need to wear the same jerseys. The people teaching them are directing them and teaching skills, not practising break out passes. (Yes, I’ve seen IP “coaches” actually do that). Nor should they ever - ever! - do any full ice activities, especially scrimmages.

Once an association’s IP leaders insist on the right terminology, the not-so-subliminal message will be that we are running an instructional program for little kids, not building miniature teams to prepare them for pee wee.

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