The Coaching Roller Coaster

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I love my coaching gig, I even know I have gotten to be ok at it.  Probably even pretty good at it.  Maybe no one will be hiring me to coach in the NHL any time soon but I am pretty good at the level I am at.  I really enjoy the age group I work with, kids at around 14 are just awesome.  But it is a pretty up and down journey.  Today had a big down, so I figured I would pro con why I do this gig in a blog.

Coaching is a huge balance, especially for a designate coach in youth sports.  There is a lot of fun and a lot of scrutiny of us.  We don’t have a prebuilt relationship with the parent group.  In fact often they aren’t truly even a natural part of our peer group.  That can make it tough, a parent coach has some ins and outs with the parents because they are peers and friends.  Not to say a parent coach has it easy, they often have to deal with parents who don’t like them prior to the team being selected.  But that lack of a previous relationship is tough and can lead to some problems.

Some parents are great, supportive and they really just enjoy the process.  Those parents are fun to talk to.  We can just talk hockey or anything else without it being a part of some grand scheme.  Am absolutely spoiled this year with one of my managers.  I really appreciate her work but she is probably as close to a friend as I have ever made out of a hockey parent.  She is supportive and she knows a ton about the game.  She if great to talk to.  This is the best part of the parent situation, a cool and fun parent who gets involved.

Of course on the other end is the one Dad, and it happens every year and is almost always Dads, who is an absolute pain in the ass.  It is usually some know it all jerk who thinks he has some sort of special knowledge or experience.  Sometimes its a Dad who played a little pro, a dad who coached a lot or just some over bearing normal asshole who hasn’t taken the time to do anything but whine.  For the most part I don’t interact with these people for long, usually works best.

The good parents always make you feel welcome and want to come back.  This years manager is awesome and her kid is also awesome.  For the previous two years to this I had one Mom who was super cool.  She was a tough lady who made sure the team was looked after and was very supportive. Her son was a very special Bruin, would probably bury a body for that family.  Really enjoyed the whole family and it made it fun to come to the rink.  Always have a group of super fun Dad’s who love to shoot the shit over hockey, those guys are fun.  And some of those guys are connected and bring us some special opportunities.

I used to really treat parents like they had the plague, I didn’t want to interact at all.  Now I realize it is fun to make friends and have people to talk to.  I have tried hard to get better at talking to parents.  I am an abrasive prick so sometimes I am the problem too.  I think I am better at it now.  For all the great parents I owe you a thanks for making it fun.

The players are there own issue as each individual.  Most kids are freaking awesome.  I think I find them more entertaining than most adults.  Kids in this age specifically make me laugh.  These kids have such little grasp of the mature subjects they want to discuss, but they discuss it anyways.  They think they are so funny, and they are, but I am laughing at them not with them.  Most days they tell me a story about school that makes me laugh or they just say something so incredibly weird that you have to laugh.

Some of them are really good kids who might be apple polishers in some worlds.  But here they are just really great hard working kids who want to please the coach.  They are happy to be there and want you to know that.  They are a lot of fun because they learn a lot and maximize their time.  It is rewarding to see a young athlete develop, especially when they put in so much extra work.

There are the players who are clowns and sometimes get in a little trouble.  These guys aren’t bad at all.  I think some coaches get frustrated with these guys too early.  You need a clown and some fun in the room, it helps everyone enjoy their time.  Sometimes they cross a line and need a reminder but it isn’t malicious in intent.  They say the more inappropriate stuff, usually I laugh at this stuff later on.  They usually are the guys who the other guys follow and they can be a huge part of your team building.  If you let these guys be themselves you can usually watch some real great leaders develop.

The quiet kid is always there.  Sometimes these guys are hard to connect to.  But usually they are really responsible young guys.  They usually go one of two ways, they develop really well and it is rewarding or they never engage enough to make the best out of their development.  Sometimes these guys are afraid to make mistakes and that holds them back.  They sometimes fit in as a great teammate.  The guy who is always quiet when coach is around but you catch him telling the best joke when he doesn’t think you are there.  On the other end some of these guys have a tough time fitting in, and that can be tough to watch.  I think these days that is pretty rare because kids are very inclusive and help these guys out of their shells.

The problem kids are rare and usually come with problem parents although not always.  Some are huge problems and some are fairly minor.  A kid who needs constant reminders to work hard is a minor one but can wear a coach down pretty fast. Similarly a player who refuses to learn and challenge themselves.  These guys are always kiss asses but they don’t ever actually put in the actions they need to.  Most likely to have pain in the ass parents because one of the reasons they don’t ever learn is their Dad is in the car barking at them to do something different.  Some of the most common pain in the ass are these kids, every year has one or two who just pay you lip service.  They don’t actually want to kiss your ass and not learn. Tough to coach a guy who never even tries to improve and keeps making the same mistakes, no matter how often a coach gives him new tools.  One thing I have experienced is you see these kids who come from bad coaches too.  In our association we have a really bad coach who doesn’t commit to the process, the players I have received after him are lacking in accountability.  They saw a coach who didn’t commit or put in an effort and they didn’t learn about hard work and commitment.  Those players are faced with trying to learn, I don’t care about the BS words but want to see actions.  I feel bad these kids didn’t get a more appropriate experience from this coach.

The last problem is the actually bad kid.  A player who seems ok one year, can easily get into this spot the next.  Usually not one of the better kids, but the guys who seemed ok can become problems.  Sometimes you get a guy who becomes a year old and just becomes a bit of a jerk.  I know what you are saying, “they are kids isn’t calling them jerks harsh?”  The answer is no, some kids are just jerks.  Again it usually has some parental issues to match.  A few years ago I was coaching a bantam community team.  A lot of the first year players entered the elite stream the following year.  The jerk I had this year was a very special one.  Now in all fairness his Mom was an enabler and his Dad was a fucking asshole (and that is the nice things I can say).    The kid was brought home a number of times by the police for his use of Marijuana.  Now if I had a choice I would have had him sit out for a while but unless it was at hockey there ins’t much I am allowed to do.  Of course the fact his loser Dad was also a pothead wasn’t really helping matters.  We had to constantly discipline this kid for inappropriate penalties, but he didn’t improve.  At the end of the year his off ice issues became a bullying incident.  At this point we expelled him from the team.  Other players no longer felt safe with him around.  He should have been told he was never welcome again in that communities programs.  But the sad part is it wasn’t that easy.  The association actually called me and told me I had to play him through the end of our season and playoffs.  I refused.  They were adamant. Only one person in the association agreed with me so it was a tough fight.  I told them, by all means they could return him to the team but I wouldn’t be able to be part of making the larger group feel unsafe.  It wasn’t until I told them I would quit before I would coach him again that they decided to leave him out through the season completion.  Of course he was back next year.  I generally care about all of my players, they are important to me and I want to see them succeed in hockey or elsewhere.  Not this kid or his family, I actually strongly disliked this little shit and his asshole parents.  I don’t know what came of them and for the one time in m coaching career, I actually don’t care.  Losers.  Worst kid I have had, but the truth is there is sometimes a similar kid who isn’t just that bad.  These kids are annoying, if you get a bunch of them they wreck the coaching experience.  It is rare that happens but there has been a couple years in my past that kids wrecked it.

Coaches are part of the experience too.  The ones you work with and the ones you compete with.  I am lucky, I have a fantastic staff with two great assistant coaches, very knowledgeable and hard working.  I trust them both and that is awesome.  I coached midget AA one year, I had a tough group that year.  One guy and I got along fine, he was ok and it ended up being just him and I at the end.  The initial head coach was a total tool, who should not have been coaching.  They fired him a month and a half in.  Put me in a terrible spot because everyone expected me to step in, I wasn’t ready.  There were initially 4 of us assistant coaches. I got promoted to head coach.  One assistant coach was this young guy who rarely showed up at all and when he did was absolutely useless.  He was just there because he thought it would make him cool.  He knew nothing about the game and thought he knew too much.  There was a goalie coach who lead us to draft two very average goalies and was a bit of a piece of work.   He chewed tobacco around the rink and he was just a weird dude.  Never really fit in but I could handle him for the most part.  We fired the young guy too, he sucked.  Finally there was the guy I got along with but we were never on the same page.  We had a lot of tension for whatever reason.  I have worked with knowledgable guys who are jerks and that sucks and I have worked with guys who are nice enough but have no understanding of the game or ability to learn it.  They want to develop but you can’t trust them because they don’t know what they are doing and are scared to ask for help.

The coaches we play against are a big part of the experience.  Healthy rivalry is always a good thing and most of the guys are there to develop players first and then compete.  I like getting to know a lot of the other coaches and there are some cool guys.  You can shoot the sit with those guys for a long time after a game.  I love that part.  A lot of those guys end up being guys you share drills with or exchange ideas with, great for development.  I love sharing ideas with guys and learning from other guys.  I am lucky, I have worked with and around some great coaches.  Learn a lot from those guys.  One of my favourite parts of the gig is watching another practice or listening to another coach talk.  All of my drills are stolen from other coaches.  Watching them and writing them down or being in a drill share.  Coaches clinics teach a guy very little about how to do the job, the best place to learn is other coaches in the fray.  Watching practices and answering questions.  The guy who runs a lot of the clinics here thinks he knows everything.  Thinks he is a coach master, and it makes him boring and also behind.  I love to listen to a coach who is asking a lot of questions.  The best coaches know they have a lot to learn.  Those are the guys I latch on to.

However there are some jerks and some bad coaches.  A couple of years ago there was a guy in our league, he coached to advance his kids.  In the Elite Stream a parent should never be permitted to coach, it sways the selection process, but this guy was allowed to because he played in the NHL.  Funny thing is he wasn’t a very good coach, we always had no problems beating him.  The other thing was he thought he was better than everyone else. He was a good player but he treated all the other coaches like shit.  The guy will forever be one of the biggest assholes I have ever met coaching.  Don’t have a good thing to say about the guy and don’t shy away from my opinion when asked.  There are always a few stand offish guys, they are annoying fucks but hey you just don’t talk to them.  Then there are the guys who you can’t ignore.  You work in an association with them or you see them teaching bad things.  You see guys who are teaching players to injure the other team, that is a douche move.  The elite stream is a high level and takes a lot of commitment.  The truth is you have to love it and your team because you have to put in a lot of work.  Some guys think it is a hobby.  It isn’t, it is a job.  These families are paying towards $8000 a year when all is said and done.  You owe them commitment and the best development you can offer.  Some guys show up very rarely and don’t put in any extra work.  Our association has a coach who missed 3 months of last season (our season is 6.5 months long) and he knew he would before the season began.  There wasn’t a consistent message in the dressing room.  If you can’t commit to the kids then how do you expect them to commit to the process.  Also if you knew you were going to miss that much time you shouldn’t have signed up.  The guy does a lot of other stuff that is pretty inappropriate and is about him winning not the development of the players.  We are in the development business not the winning business but he doesn’t get it.  Every year I hope his team wins every game so he can feel better about himself, because his development numbers are freaking awful.  Those guys are the worst part because you know the kids are losing out.

We will skip the association portion because there isn’t a lot of good to talk about in the political wasteland that is an association.

So every part has good and bad.  But the truth is the great parents, fun kids and interesting coaches way out weigh the crap.  It is easy to focus on the crap.  Especially because hockey Canada has told us about how awful hockey parents are.  The truth is those ads they ran in the past were focused on maybe 2% of the parent group.  The real idiots are few and far between.  The bad kids are even rarer.  Even the ones that are a bit annoying you still end up enjoying and caring about.  They mean well and they try hard for the most part.  Always fun to watch a player develop and become better.  My favourite part of coaching is watching an athlete develop.  Most don’t know this but I follow all the players I have worked with for as long as I possibly can.  I spend hours scouring the Jr A and Jr B leagues looking for names of players from my past, seeing where they end up and how they are contributing at that level.  I try and make it out to see guys play for other teams after they leave my team.  I usually make it out to a number of their games in the city.  I follow their stat lines on websites.  All just to see how they move up.  It is the fun part to live vicariously through them.  I don’t go to games to see them or talk to them or their parents.  I usually go stand in a corner and watch them play, removed from the other fans.  When the final buzzer sounds I leave directly to my car and go home.  I don’t want to bother them but a lot of these guys had an impact on me and watching them play at higher levels is a truly awesome time.

I was a really shitty player, was never going anywhere in the game.  Especially because I wasn’t willing to put in the off ice work.  I do all that stuff now but not as a kid.  So many guys want to “give back to the game” they always say.  Sorry but coaching isn’t giving back, it is continuing to take away.  So after a long day of work I look forward to getting on the ice with my guys.  And even today, when things go a little sideways and discipline is my biggest job, I still love my gig.  I really care about our players and I get a great deal of enjoyment out of being a part of their careers for one season.  At the end of the year we get a card, sometimes at christmas a gift basket all kinds of thank yous.  The truth is when people bitch about it being thankless I don’t think they are looking very hard.  The thanks is the everyday in the work ethic and development of the athletes.  One day in the not too distant future I will finally have enough and stop being a coach, but until then it is a damn fine second job.

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