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Cornered Coach: First win not so sweet

Mike and Max Toth enjoy some post-game popcorn. But during the game, Max's keen eye gave Coach Mike some food for thought.


They say everybody loves a winner.

But that's not always true. The team you beat, for instance, can sometimes be less than enamoured with you.

After losing the opening two games of the season, the 8-year-old house league team I coach (the Penguins) won for the first time defeating the Oilers a lot to a little. (Okay, for statistical purposes it was 13-3.)

With the game getting out of hand, one of our assistant coaches wandered up and down the bench urging our guys to work on their passing skills as opposed to greedily searching for more goals. Great advice, but 8-year-old boys being, well, 8-year old boys, it's tough to turn away from a chance to pad your goal scoring stats.

My little guy, Max, isn't much of a sniper and wasn't involved in the fireworks. However, he is a very observant young lad.

"Dad," he whispered late in the game. "The other coach keeps staring at you and he's really mad."

Frankly, I hadn't noticed. But Max was right and immediately after the game the opposing coach approached me behind the bench and accused me of "running up the score".

That definitely wasn't my intention and, in fact, it makes no practical sense to embarrass your opponent. In house league hockey, every attempt is made to keep the teams even and "running up the score" would only serve to make your team susceptible to losing one or two of your valuable players to a weaker squad. Unfortunately, that logic didn't seem to hit home with my coaching cohort, who also accused us of putting out a bunch of our best guys at the end of the game to really rub salt into their wounds.

"Are you serious?" I kept repeating. "It's house league hockey, man. Who cares about wins and losses?"

But while that line of thinking is correct, I realized later that I'd made a couple coaching mistakes.

1. Even though my assistant was spreading the "more passes" message I should have reiterated what he was saying because, as the head coach, it probably would have carried some extra weight with the kids.

2. I should have taken a page out of Max's playbook and been more aware of my surroundings. Maybe if I would have noticed the steam coming out of the other coach's ears, we would have clamped down on the scoring parade with even more authority.

With that said, I believe the Oilers coaching staff also made a fundamental misjudgment. Instead of encouraging their team to keep working and keep their chins up, the coaches on the other side appeared to be more interested in glaring at us. Kids pick up on that negative energy and I really believe that's the biggest reason the game got so out of hand.

The bottom line?

Kids aren't the only ones learning about hockey. Coaches also have a lot to learn and instead of glaring at one another and throwing accusations at each other, we all need to work together.

Because while everybody loves a winner, we all love the game a whole lot more.

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