I Hate It When Hockey Folks Talk In Code :(

If you’ve noticed my absence for awhile, it’s probably because nothing has really ticked me off over that stretch.  That’s what I need to get me going, ya know — to rant or rave about something with some passion.

With that, I’ve had plenty to get me on fire lately, and I’m feeling like my keyboard just might burn-up over this one…

Up front, two things…

1)  Before they closed their doors, I wrote one (and sometimes two) advice columns per issue for “Hockey/USA” magazine.  And hardly a month would go by over nearly 20-years without me receiving some nice words from a reader.  For sure they liked the content I regularly provided, but as often one of my faithfuls would compliment my writing style.  Oh, I don’t know a past participle from a parenthetical expression — trust me on that.  But I have always tried to write so that my readers could understand me.  Come to think of it, a number of my old readers dubbed my style “folksy”.   (Ya, that’s me, still the farm boy at heart.)

As an aside, I suspect some of my old high school English teachers are rolling over in their graves as I type.  For all the students they poured out their classroom doors, I’m sure they never dreamed their favorite jock would make part of his living authoring books, advice columns, video scripts and a blog.  (Of course, my old teachers never saw the advent of SpellCheck coming!)

Oh, ya…  When I transferred my engineering credits to get a degree in physical education, I was disappointed the new school was going to make me take dawgoned English again.  (Geeeeeze…  I just wanted to get on with the coaching courses!)  Anyway, after a few writing assignments in that course, the professor called me aside as a class ended.  Gulp.  Instead of what I’d feared, she whispered, “I really apologize that you’ve been made to take this class. ”  (Phew!)  And she went on to bemoan trying to help most of her younger students string a few words together.

2)  Speaking of college…  I had a great guy as my Anatomy professor, and I still see him from time to time as he follows his young grandson around local rinks.  Anyway, if you can picture it, a lot of physical education courses are pretty close to what doctors might take in their earliest years — with lots of scientific, medical stuff.  And that Anatomy course was geared to having us learn the Latin terms for all the various body parts.  So, one day I kinda needled my prof about the fact that I’d have to as quickly unlearn all those terms if I was going to survive in my chosen field.  The poor guy wrinkled his nose, and I could see a huge question mark engulfing his face.  “Ya know,” I said, “I deal with regular folks around the rinks, and I’m not about to snow them with fancy words they won’t understand.”  (And in the real hockey world, no fancy Latin terms are needed to warn my older players about the butt whipping they’re going to get!)

That was the truth, though, what I told my professor.   And that’s not taking anything away from my customers.  I’ve had tons of doctors’ children skating with me, and as many players who belonged to lawyers, skilled mechanics, technicians,  construction workers and housewives.  And, I can tell you that each of them knows far more about what they do than I’ll ever dream.  Still, just as you and I would expect that a specialist would spell-out our problems in simple terms, I am not about to heap a pile of snow on my customers’ heads when they need advice.

Now, as for that “I Hate It When Hockey Folks Talk In Code” thingy…

I first noticed this many, many years ago, when I attended a coaching seminar at a college on the outskirts of Boston.  For, throughout his presentation, the head coach at that college kept using the expression “goal line extended”.  I mean, he had to have used it a good twenty times over about an hour’s talk.  And all the while I’m sitting there trying to figure what the heck he was trying to say.  ???  I did, of course — finally figure it out, I mean.  Probably even non-hockey readers know a red goal line is painted into the ice and across the front of each net, and the line actually does extend outward and across the ice to the side boards.  So ya, I guess, we could call that part going from the a net to the boards something like the “goal line extended”.  What I think the logical question would be is, what ever for?   The rest of the world understands that line’s existence — and where it runs, even if you just call it a dawgoned “goal line”.  Grrrrrrr…

In more recent years, a new term has emerged.  Yup, it wasn’t good enough that all of us understood that a rink is surrounding by “boards”.   So someone decided it best to redefine the “side boards” as the “wall”.  And, if you watched and listened to many Stanley Cup playoff hockey games this year, you probably couldn’t avoid hearing a play-by-play guy using the term “half-wall”.   Well, just in case you feel the need to sound politically correct or to impress someone with that kind of stuff, the half-wall is the general area in each end zone about halfway up the rink’s side boards.

As another aside here, I am thinking that a lot of this craziness stems from college campuses in the United States.  To be honest with you, I never felt inferior to professors when I coached in college — hey, they’re good at what they do, and I’m pretty good at what I do.  Maybe others, though, feel the need to complicate matters and invent new terminology just to elevate themselves.

With all that, you ought to know that the recent playoffs didn’t set me on fire.  Naw, I half-listen to announcers, anyway.  What did get me going are some hockey forums I’ve been participating in lately.  There, I find even more destruction of the hockey language, but it’s even sadder than what I’ve explained to this point.  You see, a lot of hockey dads and youth coaches in those settings are tossing around terms and phrases that they don’t even understand.   And I know exactly where they (half-)learned them:  from attending coaching seminars led by college coaches.

The phrase that’s killing me of late is “time and space”.  Ugh.  And it’s being used (and abused) in a way that suggests that simple collection of words — sprinkled here and there in a paragraph — can make anyone sound intelligent.  In other words, one doesn’t have to say much of anything over a hundred words or so, so long as he or she occasionally offers that “time and space” answer to a given problem.

I suppose someone is going to want me to define that, although I find it hard to do it well.

In effect, in a game such as ours, a lot of players are moving at a relatively frantic pace.  All the while, they’re attempting to do what they need to do, with their success quite often based on the fraction of “time” they have to execute, and the amount of open “space” they have to negotiate.   A guy carrying the puck is hoping for enough time and space to do what he wants to do, while a nearby defender is most often trying to limit those two conditions.

So, if there’s something else I pride myself in, it’s the proper use of hockey terms.  For example, what does the word “check” mean?  Oh, if I ask a little hockey player, he’s bound to tell me it means to scrunch someone against the boards (or smash their face off the glass) — gotta love the little ones.  So it seems, though, will most hockey parents and inexperienced coaches explain it that very same way (or at least that’s how most folks within those forums seem to be using the term).  Ha…

In reality, “check” can be either a verb or a noun.

In general, the term “checking” could be used to cover just about everything a player or team does defensively.  (You’ll understand more about that in a moment.)

Used as a noun, I might tell one of my guys that #12 on the other team is his check.  In other words, that’s the guy he should cover.

As a verb, I could similarly tell my guy that I want him to check #12, again meaning I want him to cover that guy.

Then, because checking encompasses just about everything a player does in his or her defensive game, check becomes a root word for defensive terms like poke-checking, forechecking, backchecking, and body-checking.  (Note, if you will, that all of those things take place when the other team has the puck, or when our team is on defense.)

Personally, I’m very careful when I use any of those words, whether talking to my players, hockey parents or other coaches.  First, I want to be correct when I speak with anyone about the game.  Secondly, however, I want to perpetuate the right use of terms, in hopes others keep it going.  Those in the forums, on the other hand, seem just plain lazy in this regard, and lots of kids are bound to lose something in their development for that very reason.

Lastly, I was moaning a bit to a Facebook friend just the other day, about how much all the talking in code annoys me.  And, since that friend is also a CoachChic.com member, I felt comfortable telling him that I’ve yet to use those kinds of perceived fancy terms in any of the 500+ articles I’ve posted there.  No, I’m writing and producing videos for those members because they want — and deserve — answers.  And, the very last thing they need are misused terms and a snow-job.  :/

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8 Comments on “I Hate It When Hockey Folks Talk In Code :(”

  1. Amy D Says:

    I have often thought to myself, as a parent, that the young kids transitioning from Instructional to Mites should be given a stick, a puck, and a vocabulary book. When I was a “newbie” to the game of hockey and my oldest boy was on a Mite team, I chose to sit with the older brother of one of his teammates. He quickly schooled me on the “hockey code-words” and their meanings. This lasted until I could somewhat understand the game. Fortunately, my oldest played with older kids and great coaches who took him under their wing and explained the hockey code words. And I never really thought much about the necessity for teaching our younglings the lingo until last hockey season with my youngest boy, a brand new Mite.
    Since I am typically the team photographer for my kids sports, I am usually seated in a penalty box during most of my kids hockey games. It gives me an up close and personal view of the game, refs, and coaches. In the middle of last season, I overheard one of our coaches yelling, “Get out of the crease! Get out of the crease!”. The poor kid stayed in the crease and the ref made the appropriate call. Kid skated to the bench. Coach told him that one is not allowed in the crease. The youngling was looking right at the coach with eyes as big as saucers, “Umm, Coach, I kept looking at the ice and could not find any creases in it”. Fortunately, our coaches then explained the code “in the crease” and its significance appropriately to the players. My youngest, who is well known for his perspective or “The World According to Peter” as we call it, said after the game, “Mom, why can’t the coaches just speak English?”

    • Coach Chic Says:

      Amy, that is one of the best and most insightful Comments I have ever received in all my years of writing.

      Actually, you remind me of my dad in a certain way… His area of expertise was in baseball, and he didn’t really know all the inner workings of the game I played and coached. So, any time he made an observation, it truly was from the outside looking in, and it was almost always something even an experienced hockey coach wouldn’t think to see.

      And that’s what I’m saying about your observations, in that you’ve identified things that more experienced coaches should (but don’t often) see. It’s pure common sense on your part, which is something drastically lacking in many youth coaches.

      Then, about your ending story, having to do with the “slot”… :D I have a similar one I’ve been telling for years, only it has to do with the “points”!

      Lastly, that coaching manual pictured within this post goes behind the scenes (as we’re both suggesting), and in one part of the book I mention taking a few minutes to sit high above the rink with a team, and just discuss all the various rink markings. I also mention the “imaginary areas”, like the slot, point, lanes, etc.

      Thanks so much for Commenting, Amy. Now I hope others will weigh-in.

  2. John Charlesworth Says:

    This year, my 11-year-old daughter was playing against a girls team that probably had 6″ and 25 lbs on us.

    My daughter was on a breakaway when the other team’s coach yelled “back check!”

    The player closest to my daughter then cross-checked her in the back, right into the ice…. (Isn’t that what “back-check” means??!)

    They had no idea….

    …/j

    • Coach Chic Says:

      John, I’m guessing you’re partially kidding — especially when you write, “Isn’t that what ‘back-check’ means??!”

      No matter… To be honest, most people DON’T really know what backchecking means. Oh, they have a general idea — like the opposite of “checking to the fore (or forechecking)”, backchecking does, in general usage, mean to check (or cover an opponent) as the opposition attacks and you have to come back (towards your net).

      However, oftentimes not much gets accomplished with that mentality. Oh, sure, coaches and parents in the stands are screaming, “Backcheck! Backcheck!” And, with that, the players bust their buns to come back, while the opposition still exchanges passes at will, and then puts a puck in the net — off a shot, a deflection or a rebound.

      To make order out of that chaos, my players are taught to handle opposition attackers differently in each of the three zones. In other words, they’re advised to do one thing in our offensive zone, they’ll backcheck a certain way through the neutral zone, and then they really do things differently as the attack gets more dangerous in our defensive zone.

      So, in a way, John, you’ve helped me further make my points (thanks for that)… First, backchecking is but another term most youth parents and coaches don’t really understand. Secondly, if youth coaches fail to do their homework, young players lose-out on learning yet more important hockey principles.

      • John Charlesworth Says:

        Hey Coach,

        I was being facetious when I wrote “Isn’t that what “back-check” means??!”.

        My point was similar to yours: that coaches shouldn’t *assume* that their players know what the buzzwords mean.

        In this case, the coach constantly yelled “backcheck! backcheck!” without ever explaining it to his players.

        So the players came up with their own interpretation: backchecking must mean cross-checking someone in the back.

        How many other buzzwords did his players not understand?

        …/j

      • Coach Chic Says:

        I kinda thought so, John. Still, you gave me the opportunity to (hopefully) make your point even better, in that most coaches do not explain themselves — or hockey terms — well.

        Thanks again for Commenting!


  3. Great post! I don’t have a ton of beginning players that I coach, but I had a small group last month. One was five, and the other two were four-year-old twins. The twins found passing the puck back and forth to be just about the most fun thing in the world.

    So on the subject of hockey lingo, I took that excitement on their part as a great opportunity to teach them how to call for a pass. I can’t actually remember a coach ever teaching me how to do it. Sure they all said communicate, and call for passes, but no one really knew what they meant. It wasn’t until I was playing Juvenile that I finally had a real experience with communicating on the ice. I was holding a puck on the boards just inside my attacking blue line, being double-teamed and waiting for help. I’m 5’7″ and facing the boards with two guys behind me, so I can’t see anything. But then I hear someone yell “Duncan” behind me, and I throw the puck into the middle of the ice, he picks it up and we get a scoring chance. I was 20.

    Anyway, back to my little guys, I made a point of teaching them to use each other’s names, and where they were on the ice, in the simplest terms possible. People might think I’m crazy for trying to teach “tactics” to four year old’s, but I they managed to learn very quickly what “boards” and “middle” mean, and they were even able to fathom that the “slot” and “in front” were one and the same. They also started reinforcing this to each other.

    As some of the other comments have pointed out, I just don’t think anyone really teaches these things. They assume you’ll just pick them up as you go, because for those of us still involved in the game as adults, these things seem logical and innate. They’re not, though. A lot of them (like crease and slot, for example) are completely arbitrary and abstract. Someone’s got to teach you what they are.

    And on the subject of not trying to sound smart, when a kid asks you “why is it called the crease” or whatever else, I’ve found the most useful answer is “I really don’t know, but everyone does!”

    • Coach Chic Says:

      Duncan, that is absolutely awesome! (Actually, I can’t believe the quality of all the Comments that have come in so far!)

      You raise a couple of really good points, beginning with the one about communicating. I’d have to think about how I’d handle that with little ones, but not because it isn’t do-able (you’ve proved it is). But I actually have my older kids — maybe Pee Wees on upward — regularly practice talking to each other in key parts of their game. And I also make a very big deal out of my players communicating with their eyes — as in maybe two guys making eye contact just prior to one darting to the slot for a quick feed.

      You use the same terminology as I always have, too, by referring to areas like the slot being arbitrary. So are the “lanes” beaten to death with few coaches ever explaining them.

      Best of all, you intimated something that I’m forever saying, in that I teach lots of extras to young players because I respect them. And in contrast to that, I’ll suggest that those who think little ones can’t learn a lot or be challenged are showing them a great deal of disrespect.

      Again, thanks, Duncan, for some really, really good insight.


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