I will admit it has been hard to blog lately. The material hasn’t been coming to me. Sometimes things in life get in the way, like a week and a half ago. But this week is already been tough for a whole other reason. At other times it is because of a very focused set of thoughts. An singular focus point. The past few days have definitely had that issue. It is one of my favourite times of year.
This Saturday we begin the process of team selection for our bantam AA hockey team. Some 160 or so kids will be slowly whittled down to four times of nineteen. One AAA team and three AA teams. Their parents have put a lot of pressure on them to enter the elite stream of hockey in their first opportunity. Some played in our program last year, many are trying to enter for the second time or are in their first year of bantam. It is a crazy time.
Most years my excitement starts very early, but I did spring hockey this past year. I got off the ice in late June and really didn’t get my usual extended break. But this week the bug bit hard. I have inundated my staff’s e-mail box with prep work. Some talk about how to run the team after selection and lots about making sure we are doing a great job of evaluating. Don’t get me wrong, i have bounced around my seasonal plan all summer, as a usually do. A tweak here and there, but as of about Saturday night, my brain is all hockey all the time, So I will blog without specific direction today about the upcoming season.
Here is what it is like to be a coach, well at least how our operations run. I am what would be called a designate coach. I have no genetic anchor in the game. I have no kids trying out and am not required to follow them down the totem pole of levels or play the BS games to get them bumped up. I coach for a number of reasons, none of which is advancing some ungrateful little shit.
I started coaching sports when I was young. I started in lacrosse because I was a pretty good goalie and people would give me teams because of playing success. Once you are bit by the bug though you can’t get out. I found myself looking for places to coach, even helping found a lacrosse league in a small southern Alberta city. Soon I moved to hockey and have been working my way up to ladder since then. In 2009 I coached my last lacrosse game and moved to elite stream hockey. I wasn’t a very good hockey player and I have to work hard to be able to coach this game. The challenge drives me to be better and keeps me interested every day. There are also so many awesome resources to access when trying to learn to coach in this sport. At least in this region of the world there is. So personal improvement is a big motivator. Nothing beats watching a kid improve his game or the sparkle in their eyes when they have done something they are happy with. Showing up at the rink early, before most of the kids, there is always that one guy who is waiting to get on the ice. They always beat the coaches.
I take a lot of pride in my work, and it is work for me. The parents in our area pay a lot for hockey development and my expectation is that our staff will do everything we can to maximize development for every player we can. I am not delusional, I realize not everyone experiences their best development under the watch of our staff, but I do expect us to reach and help a large percentage of them. At some points I haven’t been really good at this, but I am learning too. I like to think now we do a pretty good job and the feedback we get is mostly positive. I also have built a very good staff to make me look good.
So Saturday will go something like this:
Well actually it will have started Friday. All the necessary eval docs will be in place, I will have rosters printed off and highlighted the players I know, I can watch them and evaluate them a little quicker. Once you know a kid well you know what improvement looks like for them, not that difficult to see where they are. (I will right a eval myths or something post later so the crazy hockey parents reading this can try and better understand this previous statement). I also mark the kids who will be playing AAA that year, there is a good chance if they played AAA last year, they are going back. So I can watch them a little less, they won’t come to my team. Now I will try and sleep but really I will be too excited. Already planning and wondering what my new group will be like.
Saturday morning will roll around and I will have less trouble getting out of bed than usual. I will force my wife to leave way too early. The area we coach in is in the opposite end of town. The rink of tryouts is about a 45 minute drive away with no traffic. So I will bribe her with a non-fat extra hot latte (oh by the way she is one of the coaches on my staff) and we will head across town. I will force her to discuss the team because I am pretty much at the gate of disneyland by now.
The arena is a new facility, a large metal and concrete building, painted an off white. It is located at Canada Olympic Park, an area that hosted the ski jump and bobsled events for the 88 winter olympics. I have only one memory of these olympics. Standing at Anderson station at the side of Macleod Trail, freezing, watching the torch run by, but mostly just freezing. Through the double set of front doors is a large foyer. To the left is a skate sharpening booth, red machines always buzzing. The desk lined with skates of all sizes. They have irregular hours and charge a fortune. directly ahead and across the foyer is the soda machines, pitching sugary sports drinks to kids. To the right is a wall with tall windows and beside the tall windows is a set of flat screen TVs mounted to the wall. The screens are red and white with booking names, rink locations and dressing room numbers on them.
Between the window wall and the soda machines is another set of double sliding doors. We will make our way across the soft rubber black floors into the rink through these doors. We will exchange pleasantries with the AAA staff and talk a bit about what they are expecting. Then we will make our way past the three rinks to a stairway and head up the stairs to the viewing level. The floors here are concrete and have glass separating the hall from the rinks. It is like they set the glass to entice people like me to ignore conversations. A person will be talking to me in the hall but I am always watching the rink behind them. I realize what an ass this makes me, but hey I can’t help it. We will make our way to our rink and open the glass door at one end. Through the glass door we are standing above maybe 10 rows of seats. Each grey backed with a red “soft” area for seating and back rest. By the end of this week we will all know how not soft it is. We always plant ourselves in the one corner of seats, top row against the wall. The seating is at the one end zone of the rink so options are limited. The rest of my week will be spent in this corner, 5 hours a day watching 13 and 14 year olds chase their dreams.