The Maiden Voyage Is Not Without Waves

Tonight the rookie coach (yup that’s me) took to the ice with my young group of players and a couple of assistant coaches for our first official practice. They say you are your own worst critic.  I can confidently say some criticism was deserved. Or perhaps I am particularly sensitive to the critical eye; including my own.  Being under the spotlight with expectant parents looking on and having been a parent on the other side making my own judgments on occasion didn’t help. With any misstep, I could imagine rolled eyeballs…mutterings of “what was that?”  Perhaps I entered with higher expectations than I should have.  Maybe I should cut myself a little more slack.  I certainly forgot how quickly the clock ticks when things aren’t going exactly to plan. I do understand that I have to remember and keep in perspective that we’re working with 13 and 14 year old girls with limited attention spans at best.

I believe, to my initial credit, that I spent a few minutes before practice proactively talking about expectations – those of both the players and the coaching staff.  Chief among these expectations being commitment, respect, effort and fun.  Mere moments later, I would find that I should have emphasized focus as well.

To my surprise, I felt the venture going sideways right off the hop. The seemingly basic instruction I gave my players for the warm-up skate before we all took that first fresh step onto the ice was “When you hear one whistle – accelerate, when you hear two whistles – change direction and when you hear three whistles – pivot and skate backwards”  Whether it was a lack of focus or a poorly delivered message, the first whistle had the players accelerating, but the double and triple whistle combinations caused all manner of confusion. Some players skated backwards, some went in the opposite direction and some simply looked around to see if they could figure out what everyone else was doing. One assistant coach glided by me and quipped “You didn’t think this was going to be easy did you?” To which I replied, “Ummm no, but I thought we could get through this first one.”  So I gathered the players together quickly to reiterate the signals, only to note another general state of confusion.  After the next triple whistle I watched one player back into and fall headlong over another traveling in the opposite direction – a move The Three Stooges themselves would have tipped a hat to.  In an effort to set a good cop/bad cop tone early, one of my assistants corralled the team and told them a lack of focus this early was not acceptable.  A little line skating was in order.  We will hopefully not have to employ the suicide skate tactics on too many occasions, but I’m sure there will be a few as there are with every team.

My next minor error I can attribute to a now obvious lack of on-ice help, which I will most certainly address before the next session.  As we three coaches directed forwards and defence through a basic passing drill, I was approached by one of our two goalies who rightly questioned “What should we be doing coach?”  Oh yeah, we need to make sure we don’t forget about the goalies who are not participating in a passing drill.  Kudos to them for asking the question. And again, I’m sure at least two sets of parents were looking on and asking themselves the same.  I owned up to my mistake to one of the keeper’s fathers after the practice. I was pleased when he bailed me out by saying his daughter has plenty of skating drills she can work on if she’s not been given specific instructions.  Granted, though my and our job is to provide the expected guidance.

The third and final shaky moment came in the form of an assistant coach miscue, which I will shoulder some of the burden for.  I assume I did not provide clear enough direction to my helpers who were active participants in a drill.  In what should have again been a fairly straightforward passing/skating/shooting exercise, the assistant coaches, who were responsible for delivering a pass to a skater moving by them on the opposite side of where they received a previous pass, fired pucks to other players heading in other directions.  At least a couple of players were contending with two passed pucks at once.  We successfully made a simple exercise look quite difficult. However, on this occasion a quick reset, coupled with some instruction to the pass recipients, saw the drill smooth itself out.  A practice component we will revisit in a future practice and no doubt master with all involved parties on the same page.

Fifty minutes for a practice is not a long time – time management is key. Though you can quickly lose track of said time, when plans go askew. Before I knew it the zamboni driver was frantically ushering us off the pad, while the next team waited for their fresh sheet of ice.  In thinking back to my time as an assistant coach, I am certain this happens to all coaches on a fairly frequent basis.  And yet, this flew in the face of my desired plan.

Post-practice I chatted again with the players who commented that the practice seemed to go “very quickly”, which I suppose I can take as a sign of engagement and maybe even enjoyment.  I confessed to some rookie mistakes as I’ve detailed here. I hope, nay anticipate, those will be fewer and far between as we move through this season together and become more comfortable with each other. I further hope, yet anticipate less, that the muttering from above will be abated.  I suppose I shouldn’t be concerned with the opinions of others, yet I’ve already admitted I’m my own worst critic. Still my chief concern should and will be the enjoyment of the game and the experience by my players. With an honest effort, which is likewise what I’ve asked of them, I am confident I can steer this ship in a positive direction


Back on Ice

Alright… it’s still August and the Devil’s been on the ice a couple of times over the last two weeks.  Some would and have argued a couple of times too many.  An opportunity arose for some ice time with another team, which was offered to all of the members of her and my team.  A few, including the aforementioned Devil, who weren’t occupied with other Summer activities, signed on to get some early practice in.  Having not had her blades touch a frozen surface since mid-May,the Devil out-loud wondered if she may have forgotten how to navigate a sheet of ice.  While her conditioning was questionable and some rust was obvious, she took to it as she has every other season following the mid-year break with renewed enthusiasm for a game she’d come to miss even after only a couple of months. Though I know catching an edge in a drill and landing firmly on her ass did not sit well with her (pun wholly intended).  I likewise marked myself appreciating the sights, sounds and even the smells of the abruptly sprayed snow, the well-struck goalpost and the ripe dressing room – familiar indeed.

In a week’s time, my new team will take to the ice for our first official practice. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some nervous energy guiding my new role.  Everything to this point has been administration.  Next week the proverbial rubber hits the rink.  I’ve already mapped out two full sessions, replaying instructions in my mind both before I hit the pillow and upon waking at least a full hour before I need to the last couple of mornings.  I’ve always said of delivering presentations that if you’re not nervous, it doesn’t matter enough to you. This does matter to me.  I have expectations around building a team, imparting a few hockey skills to propel these young athletes forward and hopefully instilling some positive life lessons along the way.   I assume my players have expectations of me; varied as they will surely be.  And I know many parents have already fashioned a set of desired outcomes, as they’ve every right to do. While I will have a staff to support me, I will still be the focal point in good times and bad.  I’ve accepted this role. I expect to look back six months from now to see my fretting was worth it.  I’ll measure success on the hopefully enlightened faces of players after a solid practice or hard fought game – win, lose or draw.  I want my players to realize it is just a kid’s game, the rink is an unbeatable place to be on a frigid Winter morning and they are fortunate to have the opportunity to just play.

As for the Boy, he and some buddies are entered in a pre-season “fun” tune-up tourney this weekend.  “Fun” in midget boys games generally means lots of inappropriate, testosterone-induced trash talking followed by the occasional dust-up in the corner along with a few goals tossed in.  I understand it’s been tough rounding up enough players, but the Boy for his part is raring to go.  I’m pleased to note he still loves playing the game — he comes by his competitive spirit naturally. I get the sense he’s also looking forward to tryouts in a few weeks as he’s been chomping at the bit to get some frozen pond under his restless feet.  As a coach, I’ll likely see fewer of his games this year, but will make a point to cherish each of them more with the clock undoubtedly ticking down.

So, ok…enough with the romantic talk already…gimme a stick, puck and bring on Hockey Season!