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Remembering Why We Coach Youth Hockey

Hockey Players Outdoors - Why We Coach Youth Hockey

Sunday afternoon: It's -10 degrees, you're 200 miles from home and you're walking into an ice rink to coach a youth hockey game. Some would call this insane - others would call it a dream. So why do coaches decide to sacrifice their free time to put in countless low/un-paid hours with a group of 10-20 kids for 6 months out of the year?

We all hope coaches know why they're there. In youth sports, it's not about the coach - it's about the kids. But how many times have you walked into a rink to hear a coach (or coaches) screaming at a group of kids? Most likely your answer is "more than once." Next time you come across that scenario, take a look around the rink at the reactions of the players and parents. Do you see parents nervously pacing? Are the players hanging their heads? Shoulders slumped? This can be one of the saddest parts of the game. Far too often coaches put too much emphasis on winning. Teams go through win streaks and slumps. During the difficult times, it's even more important to focus on the things that will help you get back on track. This begs the question, "what will get us back on track?"

Each group of kids is a unique puzzle for the coach to put together, but most kids gets involved in hockey to play a game they enjoy. Key words - "game" and "enjoy." Every coach wants to win, but if we don't keep the great game of hockey fun for kids, we're missing the point. There are several indicators to help you gage how much fun your group of kids is having. Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly:

When you walk into the rink, are your kids excited to see you - or are they intimidated?

Whether it's a practice or a game, the kids should be excited you're there. This one is usually pretty easy to tell. When you come through the rink doors, do the kids come up to you? If they're truly enjoying themselves in hockey, they recognize the coach is a big part of that.

After practice, do your players have sweat on their heads and a smile on their face?

There are plenty of ways to work hard and have fun. Too often we see kids coming off the ice dripping in sweat and in a bad mood. Why? Most likely they just spent the last 15 minutes doing "60 second drills." Big surprise, this isn't fun for any kid! Push the kids within reason based on their talent level, but be creative when it comes time to 'condition' them. What you gain in conditioning by doing 60 second drills isn't worth what you'll lose in morale.

Do the kids feel comfortable enough with you to ask you questions?

Sometimes as a coach you'll see a player make the same mistake over and over again. We as coaches have to ask ourselves why they're repeatedly making that mistake. Do they know what they should be doing? If that player isn't sure, they should be comfortable enough to ask you questions about what they need to do. If they're not comfortable enough, they probably feel intimidated by you and don't want to put themselves through the pain of asking and feeling dumb. We need to create an environment where the kids can learn and be comfortable with making mistakes and asking questions.

Do your players look forward to coming to the rink - or do they dread it?

If the feeling in the locker room is tense (especially on a practice day), then the chances your players are having fun are fairly minimal. Remember, it's only a game. Win or lose, the sun will rise again the next day!

If you weren't able to make it to a game, would your players be happy about it?

Is there a sense of excitement or happiness when you announce you won't be able to coach at the next game? If there is, this goes back to the players being intimidated. This one should be a sure-fire sign that things need to change.

Finally, remember that we're not dealing with professional athletes here. We're working with a group of kids whose parents are paying thousands of dollars for them to play a game. Let the kids have fun. There's nothing wrong with being competitive, but remember - your game probably won't be on the news - or even make the newspaper, so is it really that big of a deal that little Johnny at 8 years old missed an easy breakout pass? Certainly not - instead, let's make sure Johnny knows how he can catch that pass next time and not turn it into an even more negative experience than it already was for him. As Coach Don Lucia says, "let's continue to give the game back to the kids." Let them have fun and learn in a safe, positive environment.

See you around the rinks...

Article written by Kevin Muller for HockeyShare.com

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