Team Building and Priorities Down the Stretch

The Devil’s and my team is at a bit of a crossroads heading into the final third of our regular season. The team has played really well, really not so well and has been consistently inconsistent as our 3-6-6 record and 7th place standing in a 10-team league clearly indicate. A contributing factor has been a rash of injuries and absences at nearly every position, though we all know neither can be used as an excuse. Every midget-aged squad has to deal with the bumps, bruises and competing teenage priorities like work and school;  though being touch and go to have even one healthy goalie for a few of our games and having only eight out of 17 players showing up for practice is pushing it. All the while, this group has been getting along marvelously and certainly appear to be having a lot of fun; some I’m sure would say too much fun at the expense of focus and discipline. As usual, my guess is those off the ice are more concerned about wins and losses than those on it. Those on the ice surely know winning is fun too, but most aren’t going to let it dominate their experience. These young ladies enjoy playing and simply being together; regardless the result. Their raucous pre-game warm up rituals are proof positive. We’ve even seen them dancing between periods in the closest of games. Good to be loose, but not at the expense of focus some would say. A definite conundrum for coaches who, at least to some degree, must equate winning with success – or do they? Altruistically, we should all try to de-emphasize winning, but golly it gets tougher to do when you’re headlong into a competitive hockey season with “competitive” being the operative word.

keep calm and play hockey

The team’s inconsistency was no more apparent than in our last game before a Christmas holiday break against the league leaders; who we’d yet to beat in three previous tries with one tie. Perhaps visions of sugarplums were already dancing in their heads as  tThe first two periods saw us clearly outmatched by our counterparts who were a visibly more organized crew. Our side had no answer to four goals, two of which were scored as our players virtually stood still in our defensive zone. I pleaded for a better effort during the break between the second and third periods. I reminded our players how well they’ve played at times against this particular team and other strong opponents. I tried to appeal to their deeper sense of pride; their desire to fight back. My simple, final request was to win the third period. I was somewhat heartened to see them respond with renewed vigour and a 1-0 “victory” in the final frame.

Post game I tried to deliver a similar message for them to carry into the next couple of practices and the new year.  They’ve set a precedent of inspired play from time-to-time or, seemingly, when they really want to. This team can play with anyone when they put in the work and are all rowing in the same direction. I told them the onus will be on them to “really want to” from here on in if they hope to finish in the top 8 and thereby qualify for the league playoffs. It would be a real shame if they didn’t based on the promise they’ve shown. Time for the coach to earn his worth and figure out a way to motivate this group to reach their potential before it’s too late. The challenge has been issued. Let’s hope we’re all up for it.

And so, over the next eight games my focus will be on getting back to basics. Getting the girls to work hard one shift at a time, having fun and winning in that order; with the former hopefully feeding the latter. We’ve done a pretty good job thus far of building and nurturing a p0sitive team culture. The infirmary is finally starting to clear out a little (he says with fingers firmly crossed).  Now it’s time for the team to band together and build momentum down the stretch, cuz that’s what good teams do. I have every confidence this is a good team. In the end, I’ll be pleased if the effort to win is there; regardless the final tally. Probably not content, but pleased.

As always, I’m open to suggestions from any other learned hockey dads, moms, coaches, sports psychologists, priests….


Keep Calm and Play Hockey image courtesy (yeah, I’ll try anything to appease them)

Setting Some Hockey Team Rules

Had a chance to see most of the Devil’s and my new team have their first “non-official” skate together and through some expected summer rust there were some really good signs of things to come. While several of the players have not played together, many have, and those connections were readily obvious when they called to each other for a pass or instinctively new where the each other would or should be during a scrimmage. One of the things I’ve dreamed of seeing and more importantly hearing from younger-aged hockey teams is communication. Getting them to look up, call out each other names or simply call for a pass can be like pulling teeth when they’re eight years old. Here, with an older group, the importance of this critical component of the game has sunk in and surely seems natural. Of course, this will likely be true of every other team we face, so our team will also need to excel in other areas if we expect to compete with those squads.

The-Guiding-PrinciplesPrior to taking the ice I decided to lay down some coach/team philosophy and look to get pre-season buy in from the group. What I perhaps grandiosely positioned as “The Guiding Principles”,  jotted down on a bristol board (as I became accustomed to doing in my previous head coaching stint two years ago) and affixed to the dressing room wall for all to see were five simple tenets: Positive Attitude, Respect, Focus, Hard Work and Communication. Though they likely didn’t need much explaining, I took some time to review each in the context of “our” team and what “we” should expect of ourselves and each other. To solidify the importance of those expectations, hockey trainer/Momma had a great idea in suggesting each member of the team, players, coaches and trainers alike, sign the back of our mini sports Magna Carta. We stopped short of signing in blood, but I’m hopeful the messages left a mark and I’ll be re-affixing the document to walls before the next several practices and games for lasting effect. I said, and firmly believe, a team built around the top four principles and anchored by communication will succeed; regardless the finals scores or standings.

Having set some ground rules, I, the coaching staff and the team will start the real work this week beginning with a short practice followed by a minimum four and hopefully five-game tournament where we’ll get our first true glimpse of what we have to work with and on. Would I like a couple more practices before jumping into the fire? Sure. But we’ll go  into this weekend with few preconceived notions and will hopefully be pleasantly surprised…or not. Either way, the real goal of this weekend is to start to build a team and culture based on the aforementioned principles with an eye towards success on and off the ice.