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Deflections: What to do?


The boy was 14 and neither of the coaches quite knew how to deal with him. He’d untie and re-tie his laces after every shift. He’d mumble about linemates and opposing players out to get him. He could, if he wanted to, use his immense skating and puck handling skills to blow by everyone on the rink, but never did. His parents were at a loss, even after sending him to a psychologist.

Teammates couldn’t stand him. He was just “off.” Blessed with all the physical attributes of a potential star, Tim never did cut it anywhere, not in minor nor junior with a few different teams. There was no disciplinary action that could properly address his idiosyncrasies.

Barry had been, at 16, the top scorer in the junior A team’s training camp. Yet he was cut and not told why. So he went to midget with a chip on his shoulder the size of a cement block. He was difficult to coach, to teach, to direct, to advise. Linemates didn’t want to give him the puck for fear of never seeing it again. He took penalties for yapping. Some players told the coach to just sit him and he’d get the picture. But the coach wouldn’t do it, figuring benching would just frustrate even more an already frustrated potentially great player.

The next year, Barry made the junior A club and within a year was a star on a team that made it to the national final. About ten years later, the coach got a phone call from Barry. He’d completed his masters degree, was teaching high school in the U.S. and coaching its hockey team. He called to thank the coach for his patience in midget when the world, he said, seemed stacked against him.

Jack coached a competitive atom team. One boy, Pierre, had a history of bad stick penalties and seemed perpetually angry. In one game, Pierre took three more. So Jack sat him a shift and used the extra minute to talk to him. Pierre’s father saw the missed shift, ran from the stands around to the bench, literally picked up his son and carried him off to the room. He later charged Jack with abusing his son. The charge went nowhere as there was nothing to it, but Jack left coaching for a few years. Pierre grew up to become a penalty leader in midget and junior.

Every coach has dealt with similar issues in varying degrees. But in nearly every case, reactionary or punitive discipline becomes merely a stopgap. It doesn’t address the core issues and that’s where coaches need to begin. Having a kid sit a shift or a period may be a short term solution, but is rarely more than that.

Like the process to release players in tryouts, there’s no perfect answer though there are certainly better ways of going about it. So, too, goes discipline where preventive steps and carefully measured responses should be the rule.

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