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What’s in a name? The difference between a coach and an instructor


A chap named Shakespeare wrote, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Don’t believe it.

In minor hockey, a name means a lot. More specifically, the moniker we affix to a leadership position can carry enormous weight. To wit, the difference between a coach and an instructor.

If we weren’t associated with a certain sport and I were to ask you to describe this difference, you’d likely have a quick and accurate response. It might be something like this: A coach has a team whereas an instructor doesn’t and is responsible for teaching certain skills.

This makes sense. For instance, in hockey, a skating instructor would never be confused with a team’s coach (unless they were the same person).

In this country though, we’ve been saddled with an oddly named certification level that really does a disservice to both its volunteer leaders and its little participants. The Initiation Program is basically an instructional program designed to introduce kids to the game through discovery learning, play, exposure to basic techniques and the like.

There is nothing remotely like a team concept in it, either philosophically or in reality. That was its original design in the 1980s as was its precursor, the old CAHA Beginner’s Program of the 1970s.

Sadly though, the name “Initiation Program” is being swallowed up by the monster called coaching certification, so that the leaders who attend training sessions are now taking a clinic called Coach 1. (Coach 2 or Coach level is for recreational level teams and competitive levels below peewee).

Does the rose smell as sweet? Not at all.

When you tell people they’re attending a Coach 1 clinic, the association with an instructional program is questioned. I wouldn’t take my six year old who can barely float to a club swim coach. I’d take him to a swim instructor for lessons.

This is what we’re doing in hockey, or at least should be. The problem is people do believe that having Coach 1 certification slopes down into having a team of munchkins, teaching them some skills, but not without also trying the occasional breakout or 2-on-1 attack. I kid you not. This is not an anomaly.

We can’t blame it all on a name. But the connotation of an introductory instructional program being mixed with coaching is a mistake.

We would have been far better off, and would have kept the Neanderthal naysayers at bay, had the current Coach 1 just been left as Initiation Program and the Coach 2 just Coach level (or Intro to Coaching). Tell someone they’re taking a coaching clinic and they leave believing they’re coaching a team rather than teaching skills to a group of kids.

It smells quite differently indeed.

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