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The Cornered Coach - Beware Playoff Fever

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Out of the mouths of babes comes great wisdom.

And eight-year-old Novice hockey players can be pretty sharp cookies, too.

This week my little lad and I attended a pair of GTHL playoff games in Toronto, one in the Major Atom division and another in Minor Bantam. The action on the ice was fantastic, but the behaviour of some of the coaches on the bench and a few of the parents up in the stands was a tad over-the-top. Screaming at the players when they made a poor pass; hollering at the referee and linesmen for their perceived inequities; and underlining the criticism with a parade of foul language—it was way too loud and didn't leave you feeling very proud of our vaunted Canadian minor hockey system.

"Dad," my eight-year-old observed, "I bet you most of the parents and coaches screaming at the kids and refs couldn't even beat them in a skating race."

Good point, son.

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the game, especially a playoff contest, and most parents and coaches have let their enthusiasm run a little too wild at times. However, it's important for every adult to look in the mirror and undergo some self-evaluation when we're on the bench or sitting in the stands watching our kids play.

The most important question to ask ourselves?

"Is this game more important to me than it is to my child?"

If the answer is “yes," there's obviously a problem.

Last season, I coached a group of nine- and 10-year-olds in an Atom House League that included a coach who was a bit too enthusiastic. Every time his team would score (and especially if it was his son doing the scoring) the coach would leap into the air, pumping his fist as if he'd just won the World Juniors, Stanley Cup and the Olympic gold medal all at the same time. But the next time the Toronto Maple Leafs score a goal, watch for the reaction of Mike Babcock. He's a coach who has actually won the World Juniors, Stanley Cup and Olympic gold. However, when the Leafs put the biscuit in the basket, Babcock is the complete picture of calm, cool and collected.

Those characteristics are even more important in minor hockey. As a young coach in my twenties, for instance, I shouted at referees with the best (or worst) of them. But I like to think I've matured over the years and have come to realize that officials are no different than coaches and players. We're all trying to improve our skills and, during that process, we're all bound to make mistakes. 

Besides, is it really so damaging to your team's opportunity for success to be whistled for a few penalties?

The best powerplays in the NHL only operate at about a 20 percent success rate. Triple A minor hockey powerplays aren't much different; and Atom house league powerplays?

Most of the time, you'd be better off declining the penalty than relying on the man advantage to snipe a big goal.      

The biggest goal of minor hockey, of course, is to make sure that everyone involved in the game is having fun. In essence, players, coaches, referees and parents are all part of the same team and we're all involved in the same game.

And even if it's an exciting play-off game, it's crucial to keep our emotions in check.

After all, you never know when an impressionable eight-year-old might be watching. 

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