A few years back, I recall having a conversation with Tom Renney, the classy president of Hockey Canada. At the time of our chat, Tom was doing some scouting with the New York Rangers. However, after being fired by the Vancouver Canucks a few years earlier, Renney really wanted to get back behind an NHL bench.
"What about taking a job as an assistant coach?" I asked.
"Well Mike," Renney replied with a grin on his face, "the most important jobs of an assistant coach are to pick up the pucks after practice and to make sure the head coach has somebody to eat dinner with on the road."
Renney was obviously being a tad facetious about the role of an assistant coach. But there's no question the job doesn't come with the responsibilities and pressures of being the person in charge and, with that in mind, an assistant coaching role is a perfect entry-level position when it comes to minor hockey.
I've been a head coach in the Toronto minor hockey system for the past three years and have been fortunate to work with a number of tremendous assistant coaches.
This season, as head coach of the East York Atom Avalanche in the local house league ranks, I have three fellow hockey dad's keeping me company on the bench. Four coaches are more than enough to cater to the needs of 16 young hockey players (ages 9 and 10) but if you divvy up the responsibilities, everybody will feel positive about contributing to the team.
Coach Jamie - He runs the defense, making sure all our P.K. Subban-wannabe's stay back and play their positions.
Coach Don - The forwards are his responsibility, making sure his tonsils are tuned up for screaming "Change 'em Up!" when the shifts get a little long.
Coach Brad - He's our "Jack-of-all-Trades", keeping a record of "who plays where" so we can make sure to give all the kids a chance to play different positions. Coach Brad also takes a lead role running practices and....oh yeah! To the delight of all our players and parents, he dressed up as Don Cherry for our Halloween Night game. (Although, with apologies to Grapes famous pooch "Blue", we ended up losing 7-5 against the Blues.)
Coach Mike - That would be me and thanks to my talented assistant coaches, I'm simply there to oversee things, fill in the gaps and to take the blame when we lose.
Actually, in a fun house league environment, there's not much blame dished out. However, as a head coach, make sure to hand out plenty of praise to your dedicated assistant coaches. They're the team behind the team on the ice, and a group of passionate hockey people who make it a ton of fun to come to the rink.
And what the heck!
If they happen to pick up the pucks after practice and pick up the odd check at dinner, who am I to argue, right?
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