Asking For Your Input or Ideas

Posted August 21, 2013 by Coach Chic
Categories: Summer 2013

(Please see an update at the bottom.)

Ya know, there are times when I get a little annoyed at someone telling me how to do hockey business.  For the most part, I usually feel like they should have skated for something like 40-years in my boots before they come close to knowing why I do things one way rather than another.  On the other hand, hmmmmmm…

My late dad, for example, was an unbelievable observer.  I mean, he never said much about the way anyone went about their business, but when he did offer a thought — more often in the form of a question, he was usually dead-on.

Actually, dad didn’t know the intricacies of hockey — I had an uncle who was up to his eyeballs in that sport.  Oh, he knew the game well enough as a fan, but more importantly he was a former baseball coach, and maybe even more importantly than that, he knew people.

Sooooooo…  On the rare occasion when he’d make an observation about my high school or college team, you could bet money that he was right.  Again, more often than not he phrased it in the form of a question, like, “Den, do you think your players are up-tight about making a mistake?”  No doubt he was right — that time, and the few other times he’d gingerly offer his fatherly (or coaching) advice without hurting his oldest son’s feelings.

Of course, you have to figure that someone more recently tried to suggest I consider a twist in my hockey approach.  Yup, you just have to figure.  And it was none other than my best lady friend, Brenda V.

Oh, you’d also better know that she got her indoctrination to my way of thinking back when she was first able to visit me in sunny Florida.  At the time I thought I’d be coaching a team in the ill fated Tropical Elite Hockey League, and at the time I thought she’d be watching a lot of my games.  So — maybe with a touch of humor in my voice, I forewarned her, “Tell me just once my powerplay sucks while we’re on our way home from a game, and you’re on the next flight back to Montreal!”  ;)

To be honest, there were a number of good reasons why she laughed whenever I’d say that.  First, she doesn’t curse (I mean that — never).  Secondly, I don’t think she’s the know-it-all type, and I don’t think she’d be comfortable coming off that way.  Thirdly — and despite what everyone thinks about Canadians, she’s been little more than a fan of her beloved Habs, and never really into the intricacies of the game.

With that, Brenda and I were having coffee very early this morning out on the back patio — when Raggs would allow us some peace, and we were talking about our plans for the day.  As is customary, she got me to salivating describing what we’d have for dinner later tonight, and I mentioned that I had some work to get done — readying for the launch of a new website, that I needed to contact a Junior coach about some players I might have for him, I had to promote my new coaching manual while it’s still on sale, and that I also had an idea for an article I wanted to work on for CoachChic.com.

Raggs finally settled down, she then hit me with a question that wasn’t unlike my dad might have sprung on me.

To be honest, I can’t remember exactly the way she phrased it, because from the outset I was a little energized, and we almost immediately began going back and forth on an idea.  Oh, she’s come to know this sometimes grumpy old coach fairly well, and she’s been more than fair about getting too much into my work.  This time, though, I had to tell her from the get-go that she was right.

What she reasoned with me is that I have a trained eye like few others (she’s seen it, just in our few visits to watch games or practices at local rinks).  Actually, Brenda or I might say it’s a “trained” eye, but I sense it’s more a combination of 40-years worth of observing, quite a few years of both formal and informal training, mixed with a knack for spotting certain athletic movements much like my dad had.

Of course, knowing full-well that a trained eye won’t buy one a cup of coffee, Brenda proceeded to ask me how I used that special trait back home.  (Speaking of coffee, I thought it a bit unfair that she was making me think that hard when I hadn’t even had the chance to get halfway into my first cup.)

Thinking for awhile, I knew that I’d adjust my team’s practices based on the needs of my kids.  I mean, I’d make mental (or written) notes about the skill deficiencies some of my kids had, and I’d design drills to overcome those during our practices.  In yet another venue, I designed clinic and hockey school lesson plans based on what I knew kids in a given age group absolutely had to be able to execute.  Still, I don’t think that stuff was what Brenda was waiting to hear.

No, it wasn’t until I mentioned my frequent private lessons that I sensed a, “Bingo!” in her tone.  Ya, private lessons, where a parent would call me about a problem they or a coach saw in their youngster’s game or skills, and I’d set about fixing it in pretty short order.

What Brenda was really getting at, I’m sure, is my frustration with not having any hockey problems to solve over about the past year.  She’d actually dragged me to three or four local hockey events — again, I’m sure, just to get my creative hockey juices flowing again.  And, God bless her, her efforts paid off.

She wasn’t hinting to me this time about private lessons, though — or at least not locally.  No, she was reminding me of my own rather techie capabilities.  Ya, true enough, that I’m a master at studying players, at zeroing in on their real problems — most likely the problems others missed completely, and then developing a plan to easily solve whatever ailed them.  Of course, the techie capabilities I have beyond most others have to do with my video use for better than 25-years, and my unique capabilities on the Internet.

“So,” Brenda asked me in the end, “what about being a virtual hockey problem solver?”

What she was getting at was for me to take my trained eye and special techie capabilities to the World Wide Web.  And yes, I thought it was easily do-able.  Better yet, I wouldn’t be trapped to just helping players within commuting distance, but I could solve problems for a Mite in Milwaukee, a Pee Wee in Palm Springs, a Midget in Manhattan, and an adult player in Atlanta.  Come to think of it, only a language barrier might prevent me from helping an Atom in Austria and a Bantam in Belgium.  Hmmmmmmm…

Is was about that time, though, that Brenda and I sorta hit a wall.  As I’d explained to her, this idea wasn’t exactly new.  In fact, I’d thought about it off and on starting back about a decade ago when the first CoachChic.com website went on-line.  What always got in the way were the logistics.  Oh, not the logistics having anything to do with the technical side — I do more things via the Internet than you can imagine, including being able to watch a video on my Kissimmee laptop along with a parent, coach or older player out in Seattle.

No, the kind of logistics I’m talking about has to do with how I should offer — or package — such a service.  Going back a step further, I have to wonder if anyone will even buy it.

For example, how should I sell such a service?  In other words, should I charge a considerable amount for a one-time service — like solving a player’s skating mechanics?  Or, would it be better for someone to keep me on a year-long retainer, making it possible for me to gradually affect even more positive changes over the long haul?

Just so you know, I’ve cured a million hockey ills in private lessons.  I’m a master at analyzing the skating stride, and I’ve even produced a scientifically based video on that.  I’ve also developed drill progressions over the years that can help players develop “hands”, become highly skilled passers and receivers, and ultimately send rockets off their sticks.  So, however, have I been called upon to help skaters hone specific positional skills, be it as a forward or a defenseman (I leave the goaltenders to others).

That’s where Brenda and I looked at each other and agreed, “We need help on this kind of stuff.”  As I told her, “I have a ton of great friends on-line, from adult players to parents of developing players to coaches who might need help with their teams.”

This isn’t to say that everyone needs my help (although they probably do, in one way or another).  But whether they do or don’t need such a service right now, they’re going to see things in ways that I probably can’t.

And, of course,  the “they” I’m really talking about here is YOU.  I know certain things, and so does Brenda.  What we don’t necessarily know how to do is look at these things through your eyes.  (I might have been a hockey dad, but I was able to teach my own son well enough for him to have what were described as world class skills, and those ultimately got him into pro hockey.  Nor did I need to call on anyone else when it came to helping my son’s son break college scoring records and look forward to a likely dabble with pro hockey.  You, on the other hand, might not be able to help your own quite as well.)

So, as the title suggests, Brenda and I are asking for your input or your ideas on such an offering.  If you have some, I can appreciate that you might not want to put them in the comments here.  Actually, I’d much prefer that you Email Me, so that you might feel a little more comfortable telling us what you really think.

Thanks for any consideration in this matter.  I look forward to hearing from my friends, and I promise to let everyone know a little later exactly what I’ll do about this most interesting idea.  My hope — and probably also Brenda’s — is that I’m able to get back to solving hockey problems again, and thus get those old creative juices flowing like they used to.

*

Update…

Up front, not a lot of people responded to the above plea for help or advice.  However, the few who did email me were really positive.

No surprise to Brenda and me, most of the respondents were from back in my home area, between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with a pair from across the pond (in the UK and in Sweden).

Of course, I always get juiced at the slightest encouragement (thank you, folks), and I usually get right to work once the creative juices start to flow.

The culmination of  those efforts is a program outlined on a new website entitled YOUR Virtual Hockey Coach.

Do I believe it will work?  You betcha!  And, as I say in the directions on how a hockey customer and I will pull it off, I think it’s going to be “easy-peasy”…   We have a quick communication at the start, I suggest how a brief video ought to be shot, the customer sends me the video, and I perform my magic from there.

Anyway, this was just a quick update, and a chance to thank those who provided some great feedback.  (It’s nice to have friends like you.)  If you’re into hockey — or if you know a player who could use some help with his or her game, please at least take a look at my new site.

Proving I Can Laugh At Myself

Posted July 6, 2013 by Coach Chic
Categories: Winter - 2010

Ya, I can laugh at myself.  However, if I might begin with a little brag here…

You see, I was a fairly good athlete as a young guy.  Folks around my hometown would tell you that, as would older members of my family.  The reason it’s necessary for me to tell you that is so I might also tell you it didn’t prevent me from being the world’s absolute worst golfer.  And really, wouldn’t you think that all my years at coaching three different sports would count for something?

Ya, wouldn’t you think.   Grrrrrrrrrr…

I think one of my frustrations has been that many of the skills I honed in baseball, football and hockey just never seemed to transfer over.  Oh, I know that hockey players are known to really crank their drives, but people on a course will run for cover when I wind up.  Ugh.

With that, the only ones who have ever been able to lure me out to a day of embarrassment — errrrrr, golf — have been my late dad, my two brothers and my son.  And, in most instances, it took three of them to do it.  (I said I can laugh at myself, but I didn’t say I volunteered to do it!)

Okay, so let me set the stage for what I believe was my very last time on a golf course…

Our hockey seasons over, my son and I got to join my dad and my youngest brother, John, for a day at a pretty nice place near Tampa, Florida.

I say it was nice, because it was a far cry from the Sunbaked Acres known as the Hall of Fame Golf Course (I think my brother had dubbed it the Hall of Shame).  We’re talking about a dusty place with no cover from the sun, gators popping their eye-balls up from the waterholes, and landing gear almost hitting you on the head as planes came in or took off from the local airport.

If I have one fond memory of the Hall of Fame, it was playing alongside one of dad’s neighbors, a guy named Bill, who didn’t want anyone to take this golf thing too seriously.  I mean, Bill’s favorite expression out there was, “Oh, that’s a gimme,” even if your ball was twenty feet from the pin.

My late dad, God love him, only carried about three clubs with him.  To be honest, I’m not sure he even used more than one.  Ya, he’d nub a ball from the tee, and it would roll on a straight line for six million yards.  Then he’d nub another and another ’til he tapped a near gimme into the cup.  I’m talking mostly grass cutters here, that still always amounted to a five or six on each hole.  Grrrrrrrrrr…

Brother John was also a pretty good athlete, but he took golf more seriously than I once he put the spikes and cleats away.  (I happen to like working at hockey, and just never found the time to do anything other than play golf — and again, only when I was dragged onto the course.)  You can be sure John always knew what his handicap was, while I hadn’t a clue how to even compute mine.  Grrrrrrrrrr…

I said earlier that hockey players can really crush a golf ball?  Ha.  My son, Mike, hit his drives further than the other three of us combined.  With that, I think he only had to blow on his ball a few strokes later to put it in the cup.  Grrrrrrrr…

As for me, all I can say is that my dad had tears in his eyes throughout every nine or eighteen holes he ever played we me.  I don’t care where or when it was, he could hardly control himself, laughing at my frustrations on courses from Massachusetts to Florida.  Grrrrrrrrrr…

Okay, so we’re out on this nice course, and things are going pretty much true to form.  John looks like the reincarnation of Ben Hogan, Mike is crushing balls and looking a little Tiger Woods-ish, and dad is doing his usual nubbing and somehow managing to stay with the other two.

Me?  I was doing fine for awhile.  In fact, maybe I started getting a little cocky.  For, instead of taking dad’s safe approach, and going around a cluster of trees, I salivated at a clear spot I thought I saw between them.

Ya, well…  My next — probably blankin’ six — shots looked like something out of a cartoon.  Grrrrrrrr…  I hit the first ball and it glanced off one tree and then another, probably ricocheting off about five in all.  That’s what I mean about it being cartoon-like, because one could almost hear the Ping…  Ping…  Ping…  as my ball hit tree after tree.

Thinking back, I’m not sure if dad, John and Mike were ducking for cover each time I swung.  Ping…  Ping…  Ping…  Come to think of it, though, I covered up a couple of times myself.  Grrrrrrrrr….

Then, ya know how time flies when you’re having fun?  Well, I had inched my way through that stand of trees, again to the tune of a good six strokes (at least).  All the while, my playing partners were up near the green — about two counties away, talking amongst themselves, I’m sure, and hoping I emerged from the trees before the sun went down.

I did emerge, though, and that’s when something struck me…  As clear as anything, I could recall Mike saying to me a little earlier, “Dad, my ball is way up near the green, so I’ll leave you the cart.”

Oho.

There I am, finally on the other side of those trees, and I can see the cart in the distance, not too far from where we teed off.  Ya, and speaking of teed off, there stood four pretty pissed off guys, leaning on their clubs, and staring at Mike’s golf cart right in their way.

Ya, I said “Mike’s golf cart”!  I surely wasn’t in the right frame of mind at that time to go all the way back and listen to those guys’ crap.  Dad’s belly laugh being as infectious as it was, he and John were bent over near the green in stitches, which left Mike as the only one who could bail me out.

Of course, to this day I’m sorry I did that, buddy, but…

As much as I suck at golf, and as much as I hated the frustration it usually brought me, I think it kinda neat that my last twirl around a course — despite my battle with those trees — had my dad once again laughing.  And, who knows…  Maybe blogs can be read from heaven, and dad is wiping away some tears from his cheeks right now.

For Some Rinks, Status Quo Seems Good Enough

Posted June 26, 2013 by Coach Chic
Categories: Winter - 2010

I’ll bet even my long time followers believe my experiences over the past 40+ years have been limited to just coaching hockey.  Oh, it’s true, that my main interest has been in teaching the game.  Over all that span, though, I’ve actually had to wear a number of hats, including running some hockey businesses and twice being an arena manager.  Moreover, I’m an observant rascal, and I’ve hardly missed a trick as I’ve watched some of the best at doing hockey biz.

With that, I sense that any business type is going to find a number of my recent observations interesting…

Coach Chic:  Hi, this is Dennis Chighisola.  Is Bill available?

Rink Secretary:  Sorry, Coach, but Bill and Jerry are out of town for a couple of days, at an arena managers’ convention.

Coach Chic:  (Thinking to himself:  Hmmmmmm…   A 20-year veteran rink owner and his long time manager are taking the time to learn new things, and to discover what’s going on at other rinks?  Ya, hmmmmmm…)

So, what got me going on this topic today?  The truth is, it’s the culmination of my having received a kzillion emails over recent months, these having to do with rink offerings that will take place lightyears from now.  Okay, that last part was a little tongue-in-cheek,  but let me explain…

This morning’s email was advertising a stickhandling course that will take place next fall.  So, with this being almost the start of July, that rink is alerting potential customers at least two months in advance.

Actually, I have probably received five or six other notices from various rinks, each of those alerting the reader about the summer hockey schools coming to their facilities.  Rightly so, though, those emails arrived in my inbox a good three or four months ago, and still several months prior to each program’s start.

It should make sense that enrolling in anything like a clinic or camp requires some sort of commitment on the parts of the prospective customers.  And it should make further sense that families will oftentimes plunk down their deposits as early as they can.

What I’m getting at is that it’s risky business to think about and then advertise new programs at the last minute.  Most of your potential customers will likely already be committed elsewhere, even if they’d have preferred your program.

As you can tell, I’m on a lot of mailing lists, mainly because it’s my business to keep up on the goings on in the hockey world.  And one of the regular newsletters I received yesterday is from back near my old Massachusetts home, where a group of rinks is always announcing their coming programs, also a good two to three months in advance.  And they then constantly remind their readers of those offerings over subsequent issues.

Then, get a load of this…  About a month ago I received information about two different youth hockey tournaments that will take place next Christmas — one in the northeast, and the other out west.  So, in each case, I believe the notices arrived something like six months in advance.  (Halfway into writing this post, an email arrived announcing tournaments at a southeast location that will take place this coming November, January and February.)

Of course, it’s easy to see that every one of those arenas is on the ball.  At the same time, my relocation to Florida has me observing some rinks down here that don’t seem to be on quite the same page.  (More on this later.)

I think it’s been a good thing for me to experience or see the rink business from different vantage points.  Of course, I’ve spent the majority of my time as a rink customer, and mainly as a hockey clinic or school director.

As an aside here, I know I used to drive relatives back home crazy when I described my need to sometimes design my own hockey work schedule close to a year in advance.  Trust me, that one doesn’t just rent ice on a given day, and then expect a slew of customers to show up a day or so later.  So, very far in advance, I’d have to lay out the likes of my winter teaching schedule, my winter-long team coaching schedule, my spring clinic lineup, and then where I’d be over the summer months for hockey schools in various locations.  Not easy, for sure, but very, very necessary in my line of work.

Oftentimes those conversations with friends and relatives had to do with how difficult it was to predict the economic climate and so many other outside influences that might have a bearing on attendance (or profit).  A major storm could hit at the wrong time, the economy could tighten drastically, or the local schools could even make a scheduling change that devastated my turnout.  As I said above, though, it was absolutely necessary to book ice, enlist my staff, and do so many other things long in advance of each program.

Switching hats now — from hockey school director to arena manager, let me tell you that so much of the same line of thinking holds true from one job to the other.

When I was a rink manager (in my younger years), I was always working on schedules that were two seasons away.  In other words, sometime around mid-winter, I’d already be plotting how the rink’s spring should look; not long after I’d be looking at the summer months; and by the spring I’d already be sensing what was necessary to fill our ice come the fall.  Then, considering all the things long distance teams have to do in order to commit to a tournament, an undertaking like that had to be planned and then announced a good six months (maybe further) in advance.

Now, one thing I’ve always been famous for is the way I handle the so-called “dead ice”.

BIAFor sure, plotting a rink’s activities far in advance helps identify open blocks that aren’t yet sold.  And, of course, that makes for a handy list or chart to keep available when one is talking to hockey or other skating groups.  And it always came in handy when I was considering a new program.

As importantly, areas of dead ice can often suggest where slight scheduling changes might be made.  One has to identify them early, though, in order to jockey some hours around — to either close some gaps or enlarge them, the latter in order to accommodate a new program.

I said I was always famous for filling dead ice, and this is so.  In fact, there used to be one rink manger in Massachusetts who would call me any time he discovered a block of ice that he just couldn’t sell.

Actually, that’s the ice-time I’ve always viewed as dead.  I mean, something locally usually had an effect on that ice — maybe because that was when tee-ball was played, or when the local town soccer teams had their games, whatever.  It could have even been during prime-time cookout hours that prevented locals from coming to the rink, unless…

Ya, unless something very special was taking place.  And that’s where I’ve tended to excel.

I’ve already been told by more than one USA Hockey official that they keep tabs on what I do and write.  So, I have to be thinking that some of the inspiration for their current day ADM Program comes from something I created sometime around 1990-ish.  Believe it or not, it included “small area games”, teaching stations and — get this:  portable rink dividers that I made myself.  And, that program not only packed the ice in my home rink on Saturday mornings for many springs, but I ultimately trailered my portable “boards” and took that show on the road to several other area rinks.

Again, though, nothing of consequence can be accomplished on empty or trouble ice-times unless someone identifies those times far in advance.

Now, I might be unfairly accusing some rinks of not keeping up with what’s going on elsewhere, or with what others in the industry are doing.  However, it at least seems that way to me.  Remaining in the dark — and staying with the status quo — is not only stifling to a rink’s bottom line, but it’s also eventually quashing growth in most of its skating programs.

I recently stumbled upon a story about one local rink that seemed not to deal with a situation in what I know to be the right fashion.  What happened was that a hockey mom and coach’s wife messaged me on Facebook one day with a slight complaint.  She said that a local rink had wanted to charge her husband more than the wintertime hourly rate to run a summer hockey school.  Huh?

I told her that rinks back in and around New England generally discounted their spring — and especially their summer — ice-time, mainly because it was difficult to lure hockey families away from other sports, barbecues, the beaches, and the likes.

Here’s the scariest part to handling things in the wrong way, however…  My guess is that the manager of the rink in question is going to be walking into the place lots of times over the coming spring and summer months, and he or she is going to stare at a place with the lights off and no one on the ice.  Not good; not good at all.

SportAboutShopUnderstand a basic premise when it comes to a rink’s bottom line…  Within reason, the bills to run the facility are constant — 24/7, and for 365-days out of the year.  I mean, the costs to maintain the ice, staff and other things are going to keep mounting, whether anyone is paying for the ice or not, whether anyone is buying from the snackbar or vending machines or not, and whether anyone is spending any money in the pro shop or not.

And it’s at times like that — when the manager (and owners?) see the empty ice, that he or she has to be thinking, “God, I’d even take a dollar or two for that ice right now!”

Worse yet, not only is that hockey school gone for this summer, but it’s gone for lots of summers to come.  Think about that one, please.

Just so you know, when I’d make initial contact with a new rink, I’d ask the manager to help me over the first summer hump.  That guy usually knew what I meant, in that it’s always tough getting a first-time program started.  A hockey school director almost expects to lose a little money until his program becomes established, but if the rink can work with him a little, it surely helps.  At the same time, it seems in the rink’s best interest to help that school get going, understanding that it might stay in that previously dead ice slot for a lot of years to come.  And, if it’s anything like my old programs, there’s a chance that the new school might even expand and buy a whole lot more hard to sell ice.

Then, while I said that an email this morning got me reeling at my ‘writer, something else a few weeks back actually started me thinking on this subject.  I was talking on the phone with a guy from the midwest, and he was telling me about the rink near him trying to advertise and start a springtime adult skills clinic on the spur of the moment.  Ugh.  By now, you know my feelings on that.

Here’s what I suggested to the young guy on the phone…  “That thing should have been advertised while all the potential customers were still playing in the rink’s winter adult league.  They were a captive audience back then — for handouts left in the lobby and in their dressingrooms, and for posters around the rink.  Teammates would have likely discussed it, they may have told guys from other rinks about it, and some may have even arranged for car pools.  Most importantly, guys (and gals) could have made long-range plans to attend that clinic, before they looked elsewhere, and maybe before they arranged spring or summer vacations.”

One other thought when it comes to building up rink business…  I tend to use a pyramid to demonstrate a lot of things in hockey.  When it comes to this conversation, though, the triangle-ish shape I draw on paper shows a kzillion little kids at the base.  They’re needed to support and feed the upper levels of a rink’s programs, be they in ice hockey, figure skating, whatever.

If you can visualize what I’m describing here, little ones should be relatively easy to attract — partly because a beginners’ program can be dirt-cheap and accessible to many local families.  Hooking them — or keeping them so that they’ll move onto a higher level program — is the next real challenge.  (I’ve written quite a lot on this subject over on my CoachChic.com website, including the way I’ve managed nearly a 100% success rate in keeping the little ones coming back.)

The reason my sketch tapers towards its top is that skaters are generally lost for a myriad of reasons, as they get older and move up through more challenging levels.  Such attrition can be for a lot of  very good reasons, including lost interest, the parents inability to keep up financially, and so on.  Again, it’s a natural thing, and something to be expected.  The answer is to start with the broad feeder program, give regulars plenty of reasons to stay, and then have enticing reasons for new players to join the higher levels from elsewhere.

About the only other unusual element of my pyramid has a rather exclusive type team at its peak.  In hockey, that might be an elite-like under-16 team, and eventually either an under-20 or Junior team.  Why is something rather elite so important?  My feeling is that all the kids at the lower levels need something to look up to and to aim for.  Dreams of playing in college or in the pros are factors in young kids sticking with their game, and so might those things be in the backs of the parents’ minds.  However, that local elite team is the obvious nearby stepping stone, and one that should be within reach for the better homegrown players.

If you can picture the opposite here, it’s that — absent a higher level team in one rink, the parents of young teens start looking elsewhere.  Worse yet, they just might leave the first rink a year or two early, just to get their foot in the door at another rink.

As it so happens, an organization I used to do a lot of work for is planning to build a new rink complex up on the east coast.  The man in charge touches base with me once in awhile, maybe to pick my brain, but more probably because he knows I enjoy talking about such things.  One concern I’ve pointed out to him — beyond what I’ve already mentioned here — is the importance of structuring ice-time in a special way.  I mean, the majority of successful rinks have certain groups skating in similar time slots for very good reasons.  I mention this because I’ve noticed some rinks going again the grain in this regard.  What I’m hinting at is that they’re painting themselves in a corner when it comes to growing certain programs, purely because the unused ice isn’t where it should be.

Then, as I watch Florida rinks make announcements for their various team tryouts, I have to shake my head once again.  What could they be thinking, if they’re not trying to one-up other rinks, or trying to attract more players to their own organizations?

I usually love Kevin Costner movies, and I especially loved “Field of Dreams”.  At the same time, most business types will tell you that the movie’s “build it and they will come” theme doesn’t work in real life.  Naw, you have to have a promotional plan in place, and then you have to very carefully execute that plan.

My gut tells me that a number of the rinks I’ve visited lately long ago built their shiny new facilities, opened their doors, and then declared, “Here we are!”  Management may have armed themselves with the right ideas back then, but they later relaxed into a “they will come” mentality.  Of course, I’m here to tell them that they will not necessarily come, or at least in the numbers most rinks want.

I may be 108-years old, but I get the feeling I’m more “with it” than a lot of rink owners or managers half my age.  I mean, I investigate everything new that comes along, and they should, too…

I’m not only big into social media (boasting 15,000+ connections), but I know how to use it.  In fact, a lot of business types ask this old hockey coach for advice on the subject.  With that, I believe every rink nowadays ought to have a social media person (other than a niece or nephew) keeping its brand constantly before customers’ eyes (and in their minds).  And new deals ought to be flowing on a weekly basis.

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Then, here’s a freebie tip…  QR codes are easy to generate, and they’d be awesome to use on posters displayed around a rink.  Anyone who has ever printed posters, knows they’d love to include more info, but that just makes the poster look cluttered.  The answer is to encourage customers to “Scan this code to discover a whole lot more!”  (You’d be surprised how many customers already have code scanning apps on their smart phones.)  The scanned code can take the customer to a website where an on-line signup or printable application form can be found.

Here’s yet another freebie…  Have your top coaches (in any sport) create a simple ebook loaded with some simple tips.  Offer the ebook on the rink’s website as a free gift in exchange for the customer’s name and email address.  The entire process is simple to automate, and a rink can make some friends while its email list grows — completely unattended.

Winding down here, what I’ve been saying doesn’t necessarily go for all local rinks.  In fact, in between the rinks that aren’t keeping up are those that are thinking outside the box — or at least thinking — and stealing the others’ customers.

Does any of the above sound like rocket science?  It shouldn’t.  For the most part, everything I’ve mentioned above is really a matter of common sense.

Have I meant to direct any criticisms toward a single rink?  Naw.  All rinks have their strengths and shortcomings.  And even the best deal with the likes of dead ice; they’re simply among the best because they’ve taken the time to identify the problems, and they continue to look for creative solutions.

As for me, I really just needed to give my mind some exercise today, and I also needed to clear out a rather cluttered email inbox of all those hockey school, clinic and tournament ads.

One last minute thought…  I’ll be the first to admit that I make as many mistakes as the next guy  (or gal).  What I hope I do better than most is to not make the same mistake twice.  I say this because the rinks I’ve kinda criticized here look like they have a track record for doing the wrong things — or perhaps doing nothing — on a regular basis.

What Naysayers Have In Common

Posted June 18, 2013 by Coach Chic
Categories: Winter - 2010

THE FREE Dictionary defines “naysay” as “To oppose, deny, or take a pessimistic or negative view of…”

Ya, that about does it for me, because I’m mainly talking about those who take a pessimistic or negative view about something, most of the time with an argument that is so far off base it makes the naysayer look foolish.

Okay, so I always try to make it a point to let my friends know what set me off lately.  (I also always promise that posts here aren’t totally about my profession, but also about work experiences in general.)  For this one it’s easy, though, if you’ll allow me to explain a little history…

After experiencing what I’d gone through with the demise of the Tropical Elite Hockey League, I spent plenty of time reflecting on the whole affair.  I’m not talking about sulking, however, because I’d done enough of that in the first month or so after I was left stranded here in Florida.

What I got kinda psyched about were the things I learned during the TEHL’s brief existence.  For sure, I’d seen plenty of things done wrongly, but that was actually good — I mean seeing what didn’t work, and then coming up with remedies I sensed would.  Actually, I knew in my heart that I could have saved the league had I been given the chance to replace the — take your pick:  either inept or corrupt — league commissioner.

What non-hockey or non-Junior level folks should know is that there are few Junior teams across the US that don’t charge their players to play.  In other words, they work a lot like youth hockey, whereby the players pay for the opportunity to play.

And, make no mistake about it, teams in pay-to-play leagues live or die on having full rosters.  Operating costs are high for running a Junior hockey program — what with the practice and game ice costs, long distance travel expenses, equipment, front office and coaching salaries, and much, much more.

Actually, I’d done better than any other TEHL GM/coach when it came to recruiting, but I still didn’t come close to a full roster.  The problem, at least as I saw it, was that the players were out there — somewhere, I and the other league teams needed more players, but I’ll be darned if we ever got to connect.

The latter was one reason I decided last fall to form the Junior Hockey Scouting Service.  I’d gather tons of young guys interested in playing Junior hockey, and then I’d connect them with teams in need of players.

Junior Hockey Scouting ServiceThe second part of the equation had to do with deciding which side should pay for the service.  And I believe my decision was a first for this kind of service, because I allowed the players to enroll for free.  I further reasoned that a paying player was worth a lot to a team in need, usually representing at least $8000 (in tuition) per player.

I wouldn’t make teams pay per player, though.  Actually, I arranged a far better deal that’s so low it’s almost a no-brainer.

Okay, so now that you have the gist of how things work with my JHSS, I’ll leave it at that and get on to those naysayers.

Well, as I so often do, a few weeks ago I mentioned the JHSS in a few social media posts.  Suddenly, I get kind of a punch in the ear by a young guy on Twitter.  His gripe was that I was trying to pull young high school kids away from home.  ???  I tried to explain that that wasn’t my aim, and I wished that I could have explained better within Twitter’s “140 Rule” how I actually turned away a couple of star players at the TEHL tryout camp.  Yup.  As good as they were, I told their parents that I preferred they go back home and finish their last 2-years of high school before returning to see me.

This aside…  First, I advertise the JHSS to all Junior eligible players, which means it’s open to guys from 16- through 20-years old, just as dictated by the two ruling hockey federations.  Secondly, I’m not about to tell players and parents what they can and can’t do, as long as the kids are eligible.

As it turned out, the couple of young, future stars I mentioned earlier — and turned away — just went and found another Junior team.  Grrrrrrrrr…  So much for good intentions, huh?

The young Twitter naysayer didn’t give up, though, and I sensed he was attempting to embarrass me and my program in front of his handful of followers (it’s true, that few hockey people were even following the guy, which suggested to me the amount of clout he actually had).  Stay tuned, however, and I’ll tell you more about that jerk a little later.

Now, you have to understand that I spend a lot of time in social media; that’s a big part of what I do.  And, while I tweet and post about a lot of different topics — including the escapades of my little pooch, Raggs, I generally let friends know about the JHSS a couple of times per day.  That in mind, I felt those posts had been pretty well received when only one other naysayer muddied my Twitter stream the other day.

Ya, it was another shot in my ear, with this guy announcing to the world that, “There are too many Junior teams!”  (Obviously not a rocket scientist, that’s something I’ve read a few times in articles penned by other Pessimistic Petes.)

What does one say to that, because I have my feelings on the subject — and it’s just an opinion, while he’d be hard pressed to really defend his stance, either.  What the guy really meant was that, he feels there aren’t enough great players to fill all the teams in existence.

Oh, boy, do I have some feelings when it comes to that one…  You see, humans mature at drastically different rates, which means that a late bloomer at one point could ultimately out shine a lot of previously noteworthy players.  In fact, with what we know about the sciences nowadays, a kid who suddenly gets motivated can, given a little time, blow right by the player who supposedly has all the talent.

Knowing that numbskull is from the Boston area, I pointed out the story of Daniel Nava, who is currently starring with the Boston Red Sox.  By all rights, Nava should be paying his way into pro baseball games, because just a few years ago he was buried on a who-cares, low, low minor league team.  Nava just wouldn’t quit, however, someone within the Red Sox organization gave him a chance, and the rest is becoming basball history.  Actually, though, Nava wasn’t even an instant hit in the Red Sox system, experiencing a few highs and enough lows to make most guys quit.  He wouldn’t quit, however, but instead kept working his butt off until he was able this spring to earn a regular spot on the Sox’ Major League roster.  And, he’s not just hanging on by his thumbs, but instead having Boston-area fans saying he deserves to make the American League All-star team.  Amazing, huh?

Of course, the latest naysayer tweeted something to the effect that Nava is a one-in-a-million story.  My feeling?  I’m in the game for the sake of guys like Nava, and it’s stories like that one that keep me feeling that a lot of players deserve a chance to hang on a little longer, to get a little more good coaching, and to give their bodies and minds a chance to mature just a little bit more.

Naysayer Number Two and I went back and forth exchanging insults for even longer than did Number One and I.

I always get a kick out of guys who use as their argument things that are totally unrelated and really off the wall.  This guy evidently thought name dropping gave his case more validity, but I laughed and thought to myself that I probably taught or coached the guys he looks up to.  At the least, they’ve probably followed my writings.

Before leaving this dummy, I feel the need to even better explain our disagreement, as well as some of what I said just a while ago…

He seems to feel as though a kid who doesn’t show some real promise at maybe 18-ish years old should be told so, and sent home to play in some adult rec league.  I, on the other hand, have that “players mature at different times” mentality, and I’m always willing to give a good kid just one more chance.

Okay, so I’ve promised to share with you my thoughts on the things the typical naysayers have in common.  In other words, why would someone take the time or expend the energy to argue a given point — in public, no less?

Of course, you and I probably see lots of posts travel through our streams that cause us to shake our heads.  Most of the time we dismiss them with a mumbled expletive, and most often decide that an argument isn’t worth the effort.

That’s why I’ve come to realize that there has to be a real driving force behind anyone who ultimately chooses to engage in a negative way.  I have to think that there’s a selfish reason they’re doing it, too, and I’ve hardly ever been disappointed with that one.

This line of thinking goes way back to my earliest years in coaching…  I mean, back as far as the late-1970′s and long before the JHSS came along, I was pioneering new training methods, promoting some new scientific principles, selling hockey books or training manuals, and even getting word out about a new hockey training invention.  Ya, those were times when naysayers seemed to come out of the woodwork.  And those were also the times when I started seeing a connection.

As an example…  When I returned from Moscow of the old USSR, I was psyched to show hockey folks around New England new and better ways to train, and most often without even needing costly ice-time.  Those who listened to me got to discover — probably 15-years in advance of others — how to use plyometrics and how to get faster with over-speed training.  As I hinted at above, though, there certainly were detractors — and how.  Why?  Hmmmmmm…

The sale of my “You Can Teach A Basic Hockey System” manual was another one that caused quite a stir.  The digital version hit the market at about the same time USA Hockey put forth their ADM Program.  A number of youth coaches started screaming bloody blue murder that I’d encourage the teaching of X’s and O’s to young players.  At this point, some readers might believe the naysaying should have been expected, in that my manual does go against prevailing USA Hockey preachings.  On the other hand, I’m going to ultimately suggest something quite different.

Once the in-line craze hit North America, I unveiled some things I’d already been doing behind the scenes with some of my students.  It was awesome, really, knowing that most hockey players could suddenly have access to a new tool that promised some gains even beyond what could be done on the ice.  Enter the naysayers, however.  And, even though I explained how certain negative training effects could be avoided with slight adaptations to training, the boo-birds persisted and persisted.  Why?  Ugh…

Then, you should have heard the screaming when my invention, the Skater’s Rhythm-bar, started selling around the world.  Wow.  Guys and gals who hadn’t a clue about the sciences claimed it went against all that was known about skating mechanics.  The fact is, that device is totally based on what’s known about skating.  Newton’s Laws are involved, as are the studies by numerous PhDs who make a living analyzing physical movements.  Yet, there were pert, little former figure skaters and telephone linemen — who moonlighted as “powerskating coaches” — telling anyone who would listen that the Rhythm-bar would hurt a player’s stride.  Why?  Geeeeeeeeeze…

What I ultimately realized was that guys (and gals) with their own very strong agendas were nearly always the culprits when it came to beating down a good idea.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think I ever met a naysayer who wasn’t thinking about his or her pocketbook, first and foremost.  They weren’t thinking about kids, and they weren’t thinking at all about the betterment of our game.  No, almost everything I encountered from those Negative Nellies came from pure selfishness.

In reference to the downing of my training manual, a few guys knocked it because they had their own books or videos on the market.  Not all of the pooh-poohers were thinking about their pocketbooks, however.  Naw, a number of them had found safety within the ADM program, which quite nicely makes it possible for any idiot to conduct something at least close to an effective practice.  So again, those guys weren’t concerned so much about financial gains as they were in preserving a system of “teaching” that required them to do little more than toss a puck out onto the ice.

In most instances, egos also came into play when the handfuls of negative feedback came my way.  I can’ blame the likes of noted powerskating instructors for having their noses out of joint as I began gaining some attention.  For sure, they didn’t want their students looking to off-ice training if all they knew about was on-ice stuff.  I’m guessing they were also panicking that my Skater’s Rhythm-bar was going to render a lot of their teachings as archaic.

And this all brings me back to a grand total of two Twitter members who want to tell the world that there’s something evil about my Junior Hockey Scouting Service.  Hmmmmmm…  I see only a couple of possible answers to this one:  that they are totally right, or that they have a hidden agenda — be it ego- or money-related.  Again, hmmmm…

Naysayer One’s concerns for young kids leaving home might seem innocent enough on the surface; and don’t forget that I kinda agree with that.  Still, he did “protesteth tooooo much” after our initial exchange, and that’s a dead giveaway to me, that there is a very strong agenda lurking in the background.  About all I could discover is that he’s a high school hockey coach in Massachusetts, which leads me to believe he’s probably seen his team lose some good players to Junior hockey.  Where that might suggest his ego was in play, a closer look at his profile shows that he’s also involved in something pretty close to Junior hockey, suggesting to me that his purse might also be taking a hit.  As a matter of fact, I can sense from his bio that it would likely hurt both his ego and his wallet if Junior hockey teams lured players away.

Now, I didn’t have the time to check further but, I found it very interesting that Naysayer Two works in the same vicinity as Number One, right around the north-of-Boston area.  So, are they connected?  No matter, that guy showed his true colors by suggesting that no kids deserve the chance to extend their careers longer if they’re not ready by some arbitrary date.  Of course, his name dropping and other spoutings tell me the ego was a huge factor in his stance.  As for the pocketbook issue, can you believe that guy told me I’m only running the JHSS for the money?  Jeepers, I’m hoping anyone reading this gets paid for what he or she does.  Better yet, since that guy is supposedly a high profile coach, I wish I had the time to ask if he is getting paid to do that job?  (Sometimes guys say stupid things just to hear themselves talk.  :/ )

Oh, that last guy did let his hair down at one point, moaning something about all the work it takes to sort through talent and assemble a team.  Surprise, surprise, huh?  And that brings me to one other reason a naysayer might do what he or she does…  Laziness is what I’m talking about here.  God, it is hard work putting together a new team each year.  And, while I might sympathize, I’m not about to sacrifice any teen players just to make his job easier.  Nor am I going to tell a community that might be willing to support a Junior team that there are already too many teams out there looking to help kids advance in the game.

So there you have it, Coach Chic’s theory on why naysayers do what they do, or the few traits they typically have in common — from concerns for money to fragile egos to a tad bit of laziness to the distinct possibility they’re kinda stupid.

All we can do is keep plodding along, keep dealing with folks as honestly as we can, and keep hoping that we have more friends than naysayers when all is said and done.

On Hockey Expansion

Posted May 21, 2013 by Coach Chic
Categories: Spring 2013

My sincerest apologies for the lack of posts here lately.  All the blogging gurus advise types like me to make frequent entries, but I’ve hardly done that.  In my defense, I’ve just been too distracted with a huge mixed bag of very necessary projects and a number of absolutely fruitless ones.  At least a good many of the latter are likely to prove interesting fodder for posting sometime down the road.

With that, here’s a subject that’s been woven through a lot of what I’ve been involved in over the past year.  And, as I so often promise my Diary readers, there should be something in here for both hockey and non-hockey folks alike…

This whole thing resurfaced innocently enough last night.  I’d run across a LinkedIn post announcing tryouts for a low minor professional hockey league, and I thought I’d help spread the word.  I retweet and share often, ya know, attempting to do the kinds of favors I wish others might do for me.  (Well, I can dream, can’t I?)

With that, I blasted the league’s announcement to about 13,000 social media friends.  Never did I imagine the response I’d get, most of it negative.

As an aside here, I’m thankful that most negative replies are somewhat respectful.  (Only during political discussions do I receive personal insults.  But, that’s yet another topic for another time.)

Those responses came in open forums — like in Facebook comments, but the more sensitive, better thought out stuff came by way of private messages.  In each case, I tried to explain that I had no dog in this fight.  In other words, while I did want to let deserving players know about the tryout opportunity, I wasn’t necessarily endorsing the league that offered those tryouts.  More specifically, here’s how I feel…

Minor pro hockeyA new league, despite its shortcomings, offers close to a couple of hundred playing positions that wouldn’t otherwise be there.  So, take your pick:  Bury the league and lose those slots, or pray the league survives so those spots remain.  That’s an easy one for me, because I always side with giving more players a chance (see my free Junior Hockey Scouting Service).

And, while the above should make plenty of sense to my readers, what they might not consider is that each franchise in a new league also brings with it a myriad of opportunities for others.  I mean, at the risk of missing a good many other jobs, every team is going to need a general manager, a coach and an assistant or two, some scouts, a secretary, a publicist, a marketer, a social media manager, and perhaps a trainer.  Sure, some of those jobs might be combined and performed by one person, but still…

While I’m on this subject, let me say that I’ve heard the same kinds of negative rumblings concerning expansion within the Junior hockey ranks (Junior hockey is basically for amateur players between the ages of 16- and 20-years old).  Some might say that the level of play is being “watered down” with added teams.  In other words, the Negative Nellies are evidently suggesting that to go beyond some magic number of teams will allow players to skate without really deserving it.  And for this, I have a different perspective that goes for both the Junior and minor pro levels…

For, no matter the level, no one can tell me that the best people in the world have already been selected for the top jobs.  In other words, there are most likely some geniuses out there who just need a chance to show what they can do — in roles as GMs, coaches, front office workers, wherever.  And in some instances, they just need the chance to try and fail, try and fail, then try and finally succeed.  Having interviewed for several GM/coaching positions in the original East Coast Hockey League — at one time the lowest of minor pro leagues, and having thus followed that level for a good many years, I know of a number of guys who made their way all the way from there to the National Hockey League.

I have slightly similar feelings when it comes to giving more players a chance…  You see, athletes develop at different paces.  Those with children should appreciate this, probably having seen both early and late bloomers.  The tough part about any sport is that each has its own rather arbitrary deadlines — with hockey players usually needing to be ready to show their wares for the NHL draft by a certain birthday, and to show that they’re deserving of a college scholarship by another birthday.  The lower minor leagues offer a chance to those who  didn’t meet such deadlines, or for players who may have played college hockey in relative obscurity.  And, while some might be thinking that I’m only talking about physical maturity here, let me tell you that I am not.  Just as surely, the light comes on a little later in life for some athletes.  And so does a burning desire to achieve sometimes suddenly overtake a guy in his young twenties.  So, to just discount any of those I’ve just described seems a sin, at least to me.

Now, as for those complaints leveled against that low minor pro league, let me say that I believe many of the negatives I’ve heard to this point.  The league has its problems, for sure, with far too many of them being aired in public.  I said earlier, though, that I followed the ECHL startup — as well as some others, and I can tell you that most leagues go through some of the same — often embarrassing — problems.  Chalk it up to their infancy.  (This was later confirmed in a Facebook comment by a long time minor pro player who had been involved in both the ECHL’s startup and the new league in question.  He, too, suggested that the ECHL, now a premier pro league, initially had plenty of similar problems.)

If I could advise that new pro league, it would be to consider some things I’ve gathered from a number of experiences…

I’m chuckling to myself as I type this segment, because I’m thinking I’m not exactly what most casual observers would believe.  Yes, I surely do speak out at times, when I think it’s the right thing to do.  More often, however, I’m a pretty quiet observer, sitting back and making mental notes about things that a good many others would miss.

This was especially taking place as I watched the Tropical Elite (Junior) Hockey League crumble around me last summer.  Frankly, I thought I could have maybe salvaged that thing, but…

If there’s one quality I felt the TEHL had going for itself, it’s that the league was supposedly founded on something similar to what Aristotle said a kzillion years ago, in that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  (Actually, I’ll give Chuck Harrison credit for resurrecting that line of thinking as he attempted to put together another pro league awhile back.  I’ll also at least give the TEHL’s commissioner credit for borrowing Mr Harrison’s business plan.  Whether the commissioner followed it with conviction or not is yet another matter.)

Junior hockey actionThe TEHL’s application of that principle meant that we — all league members — would put the league first.  That had special meaning for me in my capacity as a GM/coach, in that everyone was supposed to be willing to help with the league’s main goal of getting as many players to colleges as possible.  Sure, we coaches would try to beat hell out of each other on game nights.  However, we’d also help kids on other teams if we had the college or pro contacts opposing coaches didn’t.  Seem right to you?  It surely did to me.

A few months ago, I had some negotiations concerning the commissioner’s position with a northern area Junior league.  Actually, they didn’t yet have one, and they were just exploring the possibilities.  Of course, my proposal included a number of ideas and suggestions, but its cornerstone was that “… whole is greater…” concept.  In a nutshell, I suggested to league owners that it didn’t help for any one of them to have a strong team if other members were dropping like flies.

Why did they table a decision on hiring their first league commissioner?  My guess is that it was two fold, with a possible third reason…

For sure, money had to play a part.  Oh, I can’t blame a new group for being careful about taking on added expenses.  It’s not an easy thing to fund a Junior team and to keep it in the black.  One will never know, on the other hand, if a strong central office might have ultimately paid for itself in the long run.  Just the chance to deal with vendors and other outsiders as a group may have made up for the commissioner’s salary.

Giving up control to a central office — or officer — may have also frightened some.  In simple terms, though, I tend to liken that to whether or not a community chooses to have a police department or not.  I mean, some might think it fun that they can drive as fast and as crazily as they want — until, however, someone in their family is seriously injured by a reckless driver.  Of course, what I’m getting at is that a few league owners may have liked doing as they wished without much oversight; but they may have failed to realize how many times they’ll need someone watching their backs and keeping law and order.

A Part B to that last paragraph might be that the current owners want to keep the job in-house.  Hmmmmmm…  I’d say that would be okay if the new commissioner has no ties to an existing organization.  On the other hand, I sense that at least the perception of bias is always going to be in question under such circumstances.

Yet another hot topic within any new league is expansion.  :D  Want to see a group salivate?  Just get the members thinking about raking in money from new teams willing to pay their way into the league.

I’m not speaking against league expansion here, but I am suggesting that it has to be done very carefully and methodically.  My long time friend, Richard Neil Graham, penned a history of Roller Hockey International in his book, “Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks & Bucks“.  And Rich will tell you within those pages how expansion greed ultimately killed a league that otherwise had everything going for it.

Beyond the obvious — that a new team has to be financially able to endure over the long haul, I happen to think that placement of such teams is super-important.  Of course, some new cities may sound sexy.  On the other hand, adding teams outside an existing league footprint can cost big time — in travel expenses, overnight lodging for an entire team, etc.

Personally, I feel that the nearness of teams can build some great rivalries, as seen in most pro sports.  So are fans more apt to follow their favorite team to away games.

Okay, so maybe I have or maybe I haven’t gone off track here.  I don’t think I have, because all of these things matter in the big picture, when it comes to any new league.

To my social media friends who bashed that new pro league in my stream, I only ask that they lighten their tone a little, consider that every new league goes through some growing pains, while also considering that new teams provide great opportunities for countless players, coaches and support staff.  A new league also offers an entry level spot for those with their hearts set on yet loftier goals.

Finally, to that new league…  I’ll suggest that a window of grace is fast closing.  Most within hockey will accept some bumps in the road, but the critics aren’t going to wait forever.  My guess is that every league member knows what’s needed to get their collective acts together.  There’s nothing to it but to do.  I think hockey needs you.

Finally The Right Door, And I Opened It Myself!

Posted December 22, 2012 by Coach Chic
Categories: Winter 2012-13

This blog entry may come as a shock to some, or at least a bit of a surprise.  To me it’s not, ’cause I felt it coming for the past few weeks.  If I’ve surprised myself at all, it’s because I finally did decide “that’s it”.

I’m also surprising myself a little from the way I ended my last post, suggesting back then that I’d pursue a certain Plan A for as long as it seemed feasible, and then I’d move on to Plan B or C and so forth.  

Actually, I sense that some folks will find my wade through Plan A interesting, while others might want to skip down to Plan B.  The option is also there for you to skip each of my early possibilities, and go right straight to what has now become Plan D for me, or “The Big Decision”.

Plan A – My Dream Job

Just to refresh my faithful followers’ minds, my biggest dream was to start a Junior hockey organization down here in Florida — from scratch.  I love molding things.  Of course, I’d been building a plan since back in May — in my head, on paper, and on my PC, so I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted a new organization to look like or be like.

Problem:  Most of the important stuff would have to be in place early, in order to go whole-hog into the player recruiting phase, beginning on March 1.  So, this being very late December, and counting backwards, we’re really only talking two months remaining to get an unbelievable amount of stuff accomplished.

If you’ll also recall, I’ve been through the Junior recruiting thing once on my own already, and again later helping my son with his team.  I’d also spent 7-years trying to lure talented incoming freshman to my old college team.  So, I know the questions asked — by the players, and then by the players’ parents.  And, should anyone want to believe their questions aren’t valid, I’d say, “Guess again!”

Too little, too late.That last bit was a huge bone of contention between the long-gone TEHL Commissioner and me.  For example, while parents and players constantly asked if there was a website they could visit, the Commissioner thought it not that necessary.  Well, he maybe felt that way, and so could anyone else.  What really mattered, though, were the needs of those players and parents.

It’s not much different than any other kind of sales, really…  A seller can believe he or she has the greatest product in the world.  However, if its features don’t match the needs of potential buyers, the seller is going out of business in a hurry.

Anyway, by March 1, the guy in charge of hockey operations has to be able to say, “THIS is the Beaver Swamp Angels Hockey program!”  ( :D  That team name, by the way, was an imaginary one concocted by my favorite childhood uncle, who just happened to be one of the world’s greatest storytellers.)

First, an organization wants a player to die to be a part of it; and for that, the things that tend to entice young guys have to be in place.  I’m not talking about vague promises that those things are coming, but they need to be in place, and maybe even depicted in photos or in a promotional video.

Secondly — assuming the player does want to come, the parents need to feel secure about a number of things.  More than anything, they tend to care about education, housing, the amount of training, and the possibility their son will get exposure to the right people.  And THEN — yes, I said, “And Then”…  Parents also need to know that it’s going to be worth their while to submit a substantial deposit.

Yet another reason things really need to be in place early is that the recruiting season can be extremely hectic.  I mean, I’m talking about dealing with players and scouts from around the globe, and in virtually every time zone.  Just considering North America, time zones span some 5-hours — from the Canadian Maritime Provinces to the US state of Alaska.  Making telephone connections aren’t the whole of it, though.  No, a real recruiter follows a systematic approach for each player, with each being on a totally different timetable.

I had connections lined up from literally all over the hockey world.I mentioned in a previous post how I’ve always liked to stray outside hockey for new ideas.  Well, what I’ve learned from some really innovative business leaders is the need to put “systems” in place for certain processes.  Besides what I know about hockey recruiting, I gained access this summer to a standard, step-by-step college football recruiting process.  As I also mentioned in an earlier post, I’d set up a system of scouts or “bird dogs” — from literally around the world — who promised to stay on the alert for prospects.  And, as a suggestion to other Junior hockey recruiters, you might Google “autoresponder” for your emailing needs; I’ve been using one with my Internet businesses for years, and it can be programmed to send out “personalized” messages on any timetable I want.)

If you get my drift, I believe that a ton of stuff has to be in place before recruiting can officially begin, so that the entire process can work as smoothly as possible.  Trust me, that there’s little time for other major projects once players are up for grabs.  And, trust me further that, if you don’t have the players, you don’t have a hockey organization.

Okay, so we’re creeping up on the end of the year, and I doubt very much that St Nick is bringing me any investors to put that new Junior program’s wheels in motion.  Even if Santa did, though, that would leave only January and February to get far too much done.

Perhaps this story will let you know how I’m built…  Lots of years ago, I started and then ran a pretty big hockey tournament — it was based in MA, but drew teams from at least four other states and at least two Canadian provinces.  On more than one (very) late night occasion, the rink owner told me I was working too hard.  I explained to him that, “Something like this is bound to have some things go wrong once the teams start arriving.  One problem should be easy enough to handle, and so might two.  However, leaving too many things to chance now is just asking for trouble.”

My point, of course, is that I could have used more than two months to do things right, and to limit the chance of foul-ups down the road.  Knowing Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head when we least expect it, I’d have preferred to deal with only one or two minor problems once the recruiting season got underway.

Consequently, I’m now announcing that the time has passed as far as I’m concerned, and I won’t be unveiling a new Junior hockey program for the 2013-14 season.  If you read on, you’ll discover that it’s unlikely I’ll do that in any future year, either.

Plan B – Not Exactly the Way Things Used to Be

In a way, I’m sad about the need to abandon Plan A, but…  Having decided it’s right to put that to rest — it made sense for me to move on to Plan B (if ever so briefly).

Ya, Plan B, which was actually intended to incorporate some of Part C.  And, ya, I ever so briefly studied these…

Coach Chic's Learn-to ClinicsIf there was a prayer of me running some Florida-based hockey clinics — or doing any of the other things I used to do back in MA, I’d have had to get on those this past summer.  Anyone who knows hockey should understand what I’m saying; for those who don’t, please appreciate that most special hockey clinics begin in the fall and continue through the winter until the spring.  So again, it’s virtually impossible to start something new once a rink has done its scheduling and gotten into its fall-winter scheme.

Why didn’t I jump right into offering my services to local rinks, or to local youth organizations, way back in the summer?  Grrrrrrrrrr…  There were so many times when I’d planned to do just that.  However, I’d then catch wind of a chance to get back into the Junior hockey, or I’d hear that there was something else hockey related opening up for me.  Later, of course, there was my own misappropriation of time spent on Plan A.

In effect, it was a rollercoaster ride:

I’m going to start my own programs…  Oops, no, a better opportunity might be opening up…  Naw, better get working on my own programs…  Oops, hold on, because there’s a chance that other opportunity is opening up again.

Ya, a regular roller coaster ride.

LOL…  I know a few family members have suggested I look into wearing a white paper hat, or that I should practice the phrase, “Welcome to Walmart!”  To be honest, I don’t see myself as above such jobs.  But, I’ll probably save those for something like Plan E (thank you very much).

Okay, so I’ve said for awhile that I’d work myself from Plan A to Plan B, yet it wasn’t until I got to that second door that I realized it had already closed.  Again, the time to look for work at local rinks has long since passed.

I also said that second stage was a two-parter.  In other words, while I hoped to run some local clinics or camps, or do some private on-ice lessons, I’d still have plenty of time left over to dabble with something else.  And that something else would be another favorite activity of mine, my Internet work — Plan C, if you will.

Plan C – Another Love of Mine

Hmmmmmmm…  Did I mention a rollercoaster ride earlier?  Man, here’s how it really went:

Some work on my dream job — of building that Junior program…  Some thoughts about what on-ice programs I could offer locally…  The realization that the only place I was making an income was on-line…  Then — oops…  A hint from the outside that there might be something good awaiting me…

Call my state of mind through most of that overwhelm, frustration, what have you, but life has not been fun for quite some time:

Up on this possibility, down ’cause it didn’t happen, up with some new possibility, down and disappointed again.

CoachChic.comThe interesting thing — and see if you can think along with me here, is that any one of those jobs would have been fun and fulfilling.  I mean, I surely would have loved running the Junior program, and maybe even coaching the team.  I’d have loved overseeing a youth organization (God knows most of the ones in Florida could have used my guidance).  I’d have surely loved running my form of weekly skill development and hockey schools (I’m probably the only person you know who has actually helped an easy dozen students make it to the NHL, and hundreds upon hundreds more play at other high levels of the game).

All that said, time spent considering such things has been nothing more than a waste for me, and more dangerously, it threatened my sanity.  On the other hand, the only thing I could safely scramble back to was my on-line work, or the part I viewed as Plan C.

Plan D — This Was “It” All Along

Having already mentioned my sanity being threatened, I kinda know that my physical health has also slipped a bit over recent months.  I blame a lot of that on the proverbial rollercoaster, because all the changing of attention robbed yours truly of so-called “Me Time”.  I somehow became too rapt in the latest whatever — half the time in a panic, and failed to climb on my Whole Body Vibration machine, I skipped the walks I’ve always liked to take for exercise and mind clearing, and I haven’t been in the readily available pool or hot tub since I can’t remember when.  And it’s those things — among a few others — that suddenly struck me within the past few days.

What exactly is Plan D?  It’s going to be henceforth a total dedication to my Internet work.  (Oh, I can hear some of the snickers now.)  However…

I absolutely love dealing with my CoachChic.com members.  And, while the fee to belong to our group is minimal, folks there pay me fairly well to do something I can really sink my teeth into.

Yet another beauty to that kind of work is that the only boss (or bosses) I have are my customers.

And, guess what…  The commute from my bed to my office is about 15-seconds.

Then, besides the fact that I love that work — and I know quite a bit about it, I have to admit that it’s never really been given a fair chance to succeed beyond where it is right now.  I mean, every time I’ve wanted to expand CoachChic.com offerings or venture into something new, I’ve been sidetracked by one of the many interruptions I’ve noted above.

And that last statement brings me to say — with no turning back, that I am for now on going to be a full-time Internet marketer.  I am also, quite obviously, retiring from coaching hockey, except for the rare instances where it helps my on-line work.  So…

- The only reason I won’t quickly sell my personal gear is because I just might want to teach my lady friend to skate at a local public session.  I might also need it to demo for a future hockey video production.

- If anyone contacts me for advice on organizing a Junior hockey program — or seeks any other sort of hockey guidance, they’re going to be on the clock for what I got back home when I hired out:  $125/hour — and I’m not leaving the comfort of my home.

- It should make sense that I don’t need any seeds planted in my head about potential hockey work doing this or that; that’s what ultimately brought me to this decision.

Lastly, a few things…

Lest anyone think I have any regrets, it’s only that I waited so long to arrive at this decision.  You won’t believe how good it suddenly feels, knowing I can get up tomorrow morning with only one hat to wear (phew).

Nor will I miss my old title, because I was already a former high school coach, a former hockey school director, a former college coach, a former guest speaker and lecturer, and a lot of former other things.  So, I’m as comfortable as I can be in referring to myself for now on as a former hockey coach.

Perhaps another interesting aside…  A lot of guys retire from playing without ever really coming to grips with it — they’ll spend the rest of their living days and nights sitting on a bar stool and crying in their beers, something like, “Ya know, I could have been…”

Well, of the three sports I played, baseball was the one that took me the furthest, and kept me active the longest.  A challenge for me arrived when my military commitment sorta meant that I would have to be a part-timer with my team.  And, although my manager (God bless his heart) begged me to keep playing, I let him know that I’d suffer more under those circumstances than if I walked away completely.  And, son of gun, if I didn’t end up being totally satisfied with that.

So, does it make sense to you that I know in my heart I’m going to be totally satisfied with my latest decision?  Truly, you can count on it.

Hopefully everyone understands exactly what’s going on in my head, and wishes me success in my new life.  I’m psyched, and I suspect that those who really care about me will at least respect my declaration that…

I am officially retired from coaching hockey!  :D

We Live, We Learn, We Move Forward – Part 2

Posted December 12, 2012 by Coach Chic
Categories: Winter - 2010, Winter 2012-13

Tags: , ,

Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to read Part 1 in this two-part series.  (Is there a chance there’ll be a Part 3?  Hmmmmm…)  Trust me, though, that the earlier post is relevant to what I’m about to say. 

No matter, this very brief recap…

In a nutshell — and at the urging of others, I came to the realization that I had to stop dwelling on the negatives that so dominated the last several months of my professional and personal life, I had to do a fair accounting of what I had going for me (and against me), and then I needed to start plotting a new course for the rest of my life.

Thankfully, I could list a ton of things working in my favor…  A long history and a pretty good reputation in hockey has to rank high on that list.  There’s no taking away my 40+ years in coaching every level in the game — up through high school, Juniors and college, as well as my steering hundreds of young players towards the NHL and other high levels.  There’s my God given ability to just keep churning out hockey advice articles, manuals and instructional videos.  No stranger to Internet marketing, I own over 100 websites, highlighted by CoachChic.com, my Tips & Tricks Store, and this more personal blog — “Coach Chic’s Hockey Diary”.  Then, at least in the hockey world, I have to be close to the king of social media, with lots of fairly high level folks even seeking my advice.

Lastly, a couple of things I failed to mention in my previous entry…  1) Noting my desire to remain here in Florida, gazes out across palms remind me daily that my dad seemed to wish I’d eventually settle here.  (Darn, but he’s buried about 90-minutes away from me, and he’d enticed me for years to “come on down” prior to his passing.)  2) Totally separate from my outside professional work, I was able to help guide and then follow my son through a relatively successful pro playing career, and my grandson through a record-breaking college career.  And, trust me:  Every step along the way was a learning experience, for them and for me.

This somewhat humorous reflection…  Many years ago, I won a fairly lucrative contract to run skills clinics for a MA-based youth organization in what I thought was an interesting way.  As it was related to me after that program’s closed meeting, I guess that a board member ultimately stood and said her piece:  “All of these applicants have big names, yet they can’t even teach their own kids how to play, while Dennis has taught his son well enough to be the best player in the region!”  (I’m chuckling as I type that, having to delete a whole bunch of expletives I understand were sprinkled throughout her real speech.)

I ended the previous post by mentioning that my son is now staying with Raggs and me for a time, as he attempts to put together a new Junior hockey team just around the corner from where I’m living.  Trust me, that this plays no small part in what is to follow…

Part 2 – What I REALLY Want to Do!

Ya, I forgot that message to the left, too, because I’m only a man, and I’ve never claimed to be able to do anything without help.

Okay, so I headed down here to Florida from Massachusetts during the mid-summer, but I’d actually started what I saw as my dream job much earlier.  I was no stranger to either the Junior level — having run an experimental program for USA Hockey many years ago, or recruiting — having head coached in college for 7-seasons.  I’d also seen the best and worst of that process, having watched Mike and Tony Chic go through similar experiences as teens.

Anyway, starting my new GM/coaching duties back in May, I’m going to suggest that I haven’t really left that job at all.  From Day One I began plotting my strategies towards building a “real program”, I’d started the recruiting process, and I’d also started putting together a scouting network that spans the entire hockey world — yes, I said the entire hockey world.  I’m even into some scouting services most folks in the business don’t even know about.  And don’t forget my social media contacts, because each of my 15,000-ish friends has friends of friends of friends.

Lest you think that my work ended when I left the St Cloud job, think again.  At that time, I’d already recruited more players than any other TEHL GM, and I still had a number of them on the way (some later funneled to my son’s team in Daytona Beach).  At the time, I was able to still keep a pulse on league goings on.  And, within days of the Tropical Elite Hockey League’s ultimate collapse, I proposed to my former owner a way that I might help her still make a success of her organization for years to come.  (Here I go chuckling to myself again, because shortly after telling me that she could do it on her own, she folded the Thunder’s tent and limped on back to Alaska.  Geeeeeeeze…)

I mentioned in that last paragraph about helping my former owner build an organization that would be successful for years to come.  I can’t help it, I guess, but that’s how I’m built — a delayed gratification kind of guy, who isn’t just looking for a quick fix.  Pay some dues now, don’t take any needless shortcuts, and it’s possible to have something truly worthwhile down the road.

I must admit that the whole TEHL thing was a nightmare to those of us who put our faith in one man and a special concept.  And, in a way, my son and I were probably torched as badly as anyone involved.  At the same time, there’s the chance we’ll both do much better in the end, mainly because we have staying power.  True enough, that I was close to ruined, and I’m sure my son feels no better off.  Yet, no one can take away the hockey knowledge in our heads, nor the passion in our hearts.  (I’m always reminded of a line from an old football movie, whereby a smaller guy looks up at a giant and warns, “You may beat me, but you’d better bring your lunch!”)

As I just hinted, a number of teams attempted to make it on their own as independents once the TEHL folded.  I predicted in an earlier blog post the kind of future I foresaw for each of the seven teams, and I think I was dead-on with all but one of them (and I was right about the St Cloud team’s chances, based on whether they brought me back or not).

Hardly breaking stride, I switched from my Thunder job to helping my son behind the scenes with his Daytona Beach team.  Not a lot changed, either, because I was helping Mike by doing special assignments, scouting, and trying to beat the bushes for some new recruits.  I also continued to keep a pulse on Junior hockey, from AAU happenings to USA Hockey procedures to what was going on in most of the Junior hockey leagues across North America.

You might find it interesting that I also never stopped gathering information.  In other words, I kept working as if I was still a Junior team GM, or in charge of a Junior team’s hockey operations.  I am an incessant hockey information gather, ya know, and my files and folders on all the related topics have just grown and grown, right through this morning.

Let me also share a bit of advice with anyone who is a professional — at anything…  Never limit yourself to studies having to do with just your own special field.  In fact, little innovation ever comes about in that way.  I learned that in my earliest years, studying the likes of great coaches, great businessmen, and great military leaders.  In one of my favorite hockey books of all-time, “Road to Olympus“, the late and great Soviet ice hockey coach, Anatoli Tarasov, cites more famous people from the theater than those in hockey.  In fact, you might borrow one of Tarasov’s favorite lines — and one that has been a guiding force for me, in that “To follow someone else is to always be second best.”

So, while I’ve been leaving no stone unturned in studying the right ways to put together a winning hockey operation, I believe I’ve been wise enough to also grab some slightly related ideas — from other kinds of recruiters, other business types, etc.  (I have a lady friend who is trained in Human Resources, and it’s just a matter of time before I start picking her brain, and maybe even asking if she recalls any suggested readings from her college days.)  The other day I downloaded and saved two different approaches from a publication every business thought leader has nearly memorized, and I also watched a documentary on that same classic, “The Art of War“.

So again, while it’s absolutely necessary to know your own field exceedingly well, you’re not likely to be tops in your profession without venturing outside for some new and innovative ideas.

Now, having perhaps beaten to death the idea that I’ve yet to really leave my job as a Junior hockey exec, here’s a bit more on that…  As I mentioned earlier, my son is now staying with Raggs and me, and it should come as no surprise that we constantly talk hockey.  Hey, it’s something we both know as well as anyone, and it’s something we never tire in discussing.  Our conversations might start over morning coffee, they’ll likely continue with the many phone calls that go in and out — with recruits, league or federation execs, or other GMs or coaches, and they’ll often pick up again late at night when Mike returns from his duties at the local rink.  Oh, those duties:   He’s Director of Hockey Operations for the one remaining TEHL team.  The fact that his organization is basically a startup, and wrought with all the challenges and craziness that comes with such, I’ll suggest that it’s the best kind of training he could ever get, and it’s the best stuff I could ever observe.  (Ya, my son is likely to get some gray hairs as he deals with all that can happen in a first season, but I’m thinking he’s learning more right now than could ever be found in a college text.  Come to think of it, that goes for me, as well.)

In most instances, I’m doing all the listening, and I’ll only on occasion offer my thoughts on a given subject.  Hey, it’s Mike’s neck in the noose, and he has to deal with things in ways that help him sleep at night.  I’m still feeling I’m on the job, though, as the discussions go from recruiting to fundraising to roster moves to dealing with ownership to the selection of team coaches and other staff.

Trust me, that I quiz Mike an awful lot…   And one recurring question has had to do with how many of the challenges — and especially the annoyances — could be avoided as a second-year organization, or under different circumstances.  From my observations, a lot of the things he has to endure are huge distractions, or they take away from his ability to deal with the most important matters.

Mike and I have also bantered around visions of the ideal organization.  And, since good players make up a huge part of a successful Junior program, we’ve attempted to list all those things that appeal to the decision makers — meaning the players and their parents.  (Trust me on that one, too, in that players and parents have some very different concerns, which means that the wisely run organization is going to touch all of those bases).

Interestingly, the cost cutting measures I’m hearing about down here for some Junior programs were used in my summer hockey schools a kzillion years ago.  As a matter of fact, I sense that few hockey guys in Florida have dealt as creatively with ice-time, scheduling and very large staffs in the way I learned to do.

At this stage of the game, I’ve seen an entire league go under, and I’ve had the chance to watch at least 7-teams deal with varying degrees of adversity.  (See my post on the House of Cards for a few of my thoughts in that area.)  Mentioning earlier my stabs at predicting which teams would fail and which ones had the chance to succeed, I believe I now know what it takes to build a Junior organization for the long haul.

And that brings me back to the reason I gave up just about everything back home to relocate so far away…  Of course, I saw the chance to develop a new Junior hockey organization as my dream job.  Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m the creative type, and that I can get kinda possessed when taking on a really worthwhile challenge. That mindset started the night I was hired by the Thunder — back in May, and it hasn’t subsided all that much while I’ve been on the sidelines.  I hardly slept a wink that first night on the job, or on many subsequent nights thereafter.  Actually, I haven’t had any set “work hours” in probably 40-ish years; I mean, I love what I do, and the job is only done when it’s done.

So, what is it I REALLY want to do with the rest of my life?  I want another crack at that dream job, and I want the chance to develop as good a Junior hockey organization as anyone has ever seen.  Would I coach?  Only if it helped the organization.  Would I want to GM, or be in charge of hockey ops?  Ya, that’s what I’m talking about, a chance to put a program on the map.

The truth is, I do have a VERY DESIRABLE location in mind, and one that projects to be a huge success, both in the short and long term.  Again, read my post concerning the House of Cards, to gain an understanding of why so many TEHL teams failed.  Down the road, maybe Mike Chic can also ultimately share his thoughts on why some startup hockey operations might more than struggle in the beginning.

I will let friends in on one secret, however…  Time is of the essence.  One HUGE mistake made by the TEHL Commissioner had to do with the short window given before all teams had to be in full swing — like 4-months for the earliest members, and closer to a couple of months for the later arrivals.  Not fair, and not right.  In reality, time is needed to put an organization in place, to establish an identity for the organization, and to start entertaining players — exactly in that order.  New players and their parents are looking for tangibles, and they’re not likely to make the commitment a club asks without sensing that club can produce all it’s promised.  (In my mind, it’s getting late already, because no one does any job rightly when they’re having to rush important steps.)

Yet another aside…  As I got around the recruiting circuit this past summer, I discovered a wide array of offerings by different Junior programs, with just as wide a difference in what they’re charging their players.  Perhaps the “going rate” for a basic program might be in the vicinity of $8000 for a season.  However, would you believe I came across one organization that charges $25,000 to their members, and they were supposedly turning players away?  You can spell the difference:  A-M-E-N-I-T-I-E-S, plus the reputation for keeping its promises.

Okay, so I’ve sorta been dreaming out loud or musing through most of this entry.  Ya, because if there’s anything wrong with all I’ve said to this point, it’s that I couldn’t possibly undertake my dream job on my own.  Oh, I can definitely design a plan that will work.  And, I can definitely carry out that plan — right to the first puck-drop, and ultimately to the hoisting of a championship banner.  What I’m no longer in a position to do (sigh) is fund such an undertaking.

What I’m getting at is the need for an investor, or more likely a group of investors.  Given the time — and resources, a new organization can step into a prestigious playing schedule, an upbeat city, and a welcoming arena.

Do I have a Plan B and a Plan C?  For sure.  But, at least for the next few weeks — or until the window of opportunity appears to be closing for my plan, why settle for anything less than my dream job?


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