Archive for November 2010

Testing Theories and Making Your Own Rules

November 25, 2010

Like a lot of the posts you’ll find here, I honestly feel this one is appropriate to hockey players and non-players, to athletes and non-athletes as well.

Before I get on with the subject at hand, however, I want to wish you a (belated?)…

A late addition to this post is a 1-minute video on (sorta) What I did on Thanksgiving Day Morning.  Enjoy.

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Testing Theories and Making Your Own Rules

Thanksgiving might be an appropriate time for this essay, mainly because it has a lot to do with some things I’m rather thankful for.  Oh, I’ll not get into the mushy stuff at this time, but more into the opportunities I’ve been afforded already in this lifetime.

For the most part, I’m going to be talking about my climb up the hockey coaching ladder.  And, if you’ll please take this in the right way, I’m going to share a bit about my earliest insecurities and then how I arrived at my latter day confidence in what I do.

Ah, yes, the insecurities…  Perhaps a lot like your first experiences out there in the working world, I pretty much followed what others recommended, and I thought long and hard before varying one iota from the norm.  I mean, if “the book” on coaching hockey said I should do it a certain way, you can be sure that’s the way I did it.  Hey, did you do it any differently when you first started?

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the Montreal Forum…  🙂  Well, not exactly the Forum, but just down the street…

I know that on a lot of jobs, everything is spelled out for you.  I mean everything.  That’s not necessarily true when it comes to hockey coaching, though.  Naw, I found lots of areas where there appeared to be no help, or no direction.  (And trust me:  that I devoured every training manual I could get my hands on.)  So, almost from the start, I had to — knees-a-knocking — make some decisions on my own.

The interesting part is that most of my own early ideas seemed to work quite well (go figure).  And, while any slight successes somewhat boosted my confidence, they also gave me an uneasy feeling.  After all, I didn’t think that’s the way it should work for a 20-something, first-time coach.

Anyway, those kinds of things seemed to keep happening for me — in that areas of the game where I was left to my own devices turned-up roses on most occasions.  (Believe it or not, things I recommended to others — including several elite level players — brought me some notoriety.)

Then, as for that half-joke about the Forum, well…  It was really down the street in Montreal where I attended the 1980 NHL Coaches Symposium.

Now, understand that I paid my way into that thing, just like about 300 or more other coaches from around the hockey world.  However, at one point during the long weekend affair, as each coach in attendance was asked to submit his favorite drill, my MP Drill Format was picked as one of a handful that would be presented to the entire group (including my boyhood idols, the NHL head coaches — gulp).  Man, did this young high school hockey coach from Massachusetts sweat at the start.  However, my confidence grew quickly as I noticed all the familiar faces — from dawgoned TV — scribbling and taking notes as I spoke.  (Years later I would hear that my drill had become a favorite with a coach who ultimately won a bucketful of Stanley Cup trophies.  And I also know that my drill has been used in Europe, as well as with other elite level teams here in North America.)

Okay, but that’s not what I’m really here to talk about tonight.  Naw, instead it’s about the experimenting I did — through the earliest years, right up through today.

You see, as I described previously, some parts of our work are fairly carved in stone, while others are left for us to sort-out for ourselves.  If there’s a difference in the way various people handle things, it’s that some tend to shy away from those gray areas, while someone like I just can’t let something like that go.  I mean, I’m going to think and think on a matter, I’ll doodle and doodle if I must, I’ll do some testing perhaps, and I’ll ultimately arrive at a theory that I truly believe in.

Now, if you want a little boost to your confidence, let me share these thoughts…

For sure, I respect all the guys who coach Division I college teams.  Actually, going back a lot of years, I put them on a level far above us mere mortals.  However, my interactions with at least three such guys ultimately changed some things.  I mean, they actually wrote or called me to ask MY advice on some things (whoa).

Understand that they weren’t asking for my help on recruiting or about building their powerplays.  No, what they needed to know fell in areas where their jobs don’t really take them.

What I’m trying to say is that those guys know (far better than I) how to coach teams loaded with elite level players.  What they don’t necessarily know is how to bring younger players to the elite level.  They’ve never brought beginners through basic skill difficulties, they’ve never had to analyze skating strides, and they’ve never had to decide what course of action to take when different kids suffer from unique body-type challenges.

So, if you think about it, there are probably a lot of things you know about a given line of work that the so-called biggies wouldn’t have a clue about.

Okay, let me return again to the original topic.  For, I think the constant testing of personal theories can ultimately lead us to form our very own rules.

So, while I don’t want to bore you with hockey specific stuff, allow me to at least provide one brief example of this…

Over the years I’ve watched countless players bust their buns to cover an open opponent who might have a chance to catch a pass and quickly attack our net.

What I’ll see is a guy skating as hard as possible to catch the enemy player, only to still allow him to score.  Hmmmmm…

At yet other times I’d watch a player physically battle with an opponent out in front of our net, with all that effort still going for naught.  And again, hmmmmm…

What I ultimately realized was that all the effort in the world doesn’t do a defender a bit of good unless he (or she) is ultimately able to control — or negate — the opponent’s stick.  In other words, a player can skate like crazy to catch a bad guy, but that’s going to be fruitless if the bad guy’s stick is left free in the end.  And, I discovered the very same thing with him battling the potential attacker out in front of net.

Ultimately then, this became a “rule” with me.

I might also mention here my want to reduce such rules to something really simple, really basic, and really easy for a player to fix in his or her mind.  So, what I now tell my players is that, “Sticks score goals!”  Over countless practices and chalkboard sessions, they’ll gain the broader picture of what I mean — about their hustle or battling only being part of their job, and that all that effort still doesn’t matter unless they realize that, “Sticks score goals!”

At this point, you might not be surprised at the fact that I’ve amassed about twenty such observations over 40-years of coaching.  I’ve written them down, and I review a few at a time nearly every time I meet with my older players.  And, for the lack of a better name, I started a few years back referring to these as “Coach Chic’s Rules for Winners”.

Again, though, while my experiences have been all about hockey, I’m really suggesting that all of my friends could apply the same approach to their special areas of expertise…

For sure, there are some tried and true rules that we’re probably wise to accept.  Not that I’m opposed to studying any of those as well; hey, a lot of old theories get tossed-out after appearing as gospel for centuries.

What I’m especially targeting here, however, are the many areas of our work where there don’t seem to be any rules.  And, I’m suggesting here that there probably ought to be, or at least there could be.

In hockey, I am always trying to identify “little things” that seem to have a huge impact on results.  Of course, in my sport, the good, bad and ugly can usually be associated with winning versus losing, allowing or preventing an opposition goal, or scoring versus not scoring a goal of our own.  It’s possible your line of work can be similarly measured — be it in sales, dollars, time saved or wasted, etc.

Lastly, I’ve meant this post to be as much about confidence as anything else.  I might also suggest that it’s about problem-solving.  For, while my job is to help make the game of hockey easier for my players — be it from an individual or team standpoint, I’ll suggest that very similar conditions likely exist in what you do.  Oh, you could take a safe route, and not look for newer, better ways.  But, it seems to me that your success is ultimately going to be based on how well you also help make things easier for those around you.

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By now, most of my on-line friends know my penchant for alternative hockey training methods.  I traveled all the way to the old Soviet Union to gather a ton of new ideas, and I’ve pioneered quite a few new methods including the use of in-lines for cross-training.  Now, I’m unbelievably excited at the prospects for another new sport.  So, if you have a second, Google the word “floorball” or look for it on YouTube.com.  I think you’re going to be amazed, even if you’re not into ice hockey.

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Well, with Christmas just around the corner, more and more folks are doing their shopping on-line.  I also know that a lot of you are looking for something special, or something that will prove a huge surprise on Christmas morn.  So, I hope you don’t mind that I at least mention these gift options:

CoachChic.com is a membership site that’s loaded with hockey advice — for players, coaches and parents.

Hockey Tips and Tricks is an on-line store featuring a growing list of hard-to-find hockey products — from truly unique training gadgets to immediately downloadable videos and more.

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Murphy’s Law — In Hockey and Elsewhere

November 12, 2010

This piece was really prepared for the parents of my AAA Mite Major players, in preparation for our season’s opener.  However, I thought some of the ideas in here just might prove helpful — or at least interesting — to quite a few others…

Murphy’s Law — In Hockey and Elsewhere

Now, I’ve heard “Murphy’s Law” stated in several different ways, but the gist of it is that, “If something can go wrong, it often will.”  😦

During my first season in coaching, my young team lost its best player for a tournament game, just because 1) he ruined one of his skate-edges on a section of concrete in our lockerroom prior to the game, and 2) the rink we were playing in didn’t have a pro shop where his skates could be sharpened.  (Ugh…  Can you imagine the sick feeling, just seeing a 3- or 4-goals-per-game scorer sitting idly down on the end of your bench?)

You’d better believe I carried a skate stone with me from that point onward.  And so did I start adding to my little collection of extra gear as I’d lose a player — for a shift or two, if not for an entire game — because he’d lost a mouth piece, a neck guard, a helmet screw, whatever.  That’s pretty much how I deemed what needed to add — I mean by experiencing a problem, and then at least trying to not let that kind of thing happen again.

Ya, my collection grew, to the point where I ultimately started carrying around a huge box with all sorts of spare parts, tools and odds and ends of hockey gear.  And little wonder I ultimately dubbed that box my “Murphy’s Law Kit”.  :)  No doubt “stuff” is gonna happen; so I just want to limit the damage that stuff does to my team.

Now, while I’ve just described things from a coach’s perspective, you should probably know that I ultimately put together a mini version of that kit to go in a young Anthony Chic’s hockey bag.  Something like a school bag pouch normally used for carrying pencils and pens can fit easily into the player’s equipment bag, and it is usually roomy enough to at least hold extra helmet screws, an extra mouth piece and a small tool kit.

Speaking of small took kits…  I love the new (Christmas stocking stuffer?) gadgets that are similar to a Swiss army knife.  I have one of these attached to my own skate bag, just in case a student or player needs to fix something in a hurry.

Anyway, I’m seriously recommending that every one of my players put together his or her own kit.  For, some morning we might be at an important game, far from home, and without access to a pro shop.  And that, I’ll suggest, is when we’ll all be very, very glad each player did.

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By the time players are in high school, I think gear packing is their responsibility.  Ha, I can tell you that no high school coach is going to like hearing something like, “My mom took my practice jersey out of my bag to wash it.”

Depending on the age, someone in each household has to be responsible for going down a checklist of the gear needed.  And, this should be done the night before a game — no ifs, ands or buts about it.

I’m chuckling a bit right now, because I’m forever telling my high school guys about an old baseball player named Wally Pipp…  As that story goes, Pipp was an American League All-star first baseman for the New York Yankees.  Pipp’s problem was that he had to miss a game one day, and his replacement, Lou Gehrig, didn’t come out of the Yankees’ line-up for the next 2,130 games.  (This year I updated that story with a young Tom Brady stepping in for an injured Drew Bledsoe.)  The point of that story?  No player wants to risk coming out of a line-up for a needless reason — especially because of a piece of faulty or missing gear.  For, just missing a single shift might provide the break some other worthy player was just dying for.

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While on the subject of being truly prepared to play, I feel the need to raise an important point with parents of younger players (and maybe with older kids, too)…

There’s little doubt that every adult reading this appreciates the need to arrive early for important engagements — be it a business meeting or something as significant.  I mean, I’m sure he or she has hated the few times when the sweat started pouring because traffic was heavier than expected, because a car problem suddenly arose, or because he or she discovered that one more thing was needed to be truly prepared.

Yet, while a parent likely knows what I’m getting at here, he or she sometimes forces their youngster to get that same sick-to-the-stomach feeling by delivering him or her late to the rink.

Of course, not every parent has played a competitive sport, or he or she might not totally appreciate what I’m getting at.  So, at least for those types, let me offer these fleeting thoughts…

Older players generally like to get themselves to the rink hours before game-time.  They like to relax and ease themselves into readying, and a lot of them will even develop rituals that help them deal with the pre-game jitters.  They’ll re-tape and otherwise doctor their sticks, and they’ll often study every piece of their gear to ensure it’s all just right.

Believe it or not, that time just prior to a practice or game is also when most bonding takes place between youth hockey teammates.  Oh, it isn’t going to happen for the player who constantly rushes into the rink at the last minute, but it definitely happens for the kids who are able to relax together for a time.  (Sadly, I’ve seen what happens to the kid who isn’t often there to mix with teammates, in that he or she ultimately starts feeling as if they’re not really a part of things.)

Please understand that the 3- or 5-minutes allotted for on-ice warm-ups is dictated by rinks and leagues, and hardly recommended by sports medicine people.  God, no one can truly be prepared to go all-out after just that brief preparation.  My old high school and college teams performed elaborate off-ice warm-ups prior to their games, while I at least like my youth teams to do some light rope skipping, or to just be active before I call them in for a brief pre-game talk.  (I’m asking my AAA Mites to begin storing their ropes in their equipment bags, and to start using them on the runway mats every chance they get.)

Then, since I raised that point about Murphy’s Law, every parent has to appreciate that nearly anything is fixable IF given a little extra time.  However, if you want your youngster to get totally upset, just allow a skate lace to break 5- or 10-minutes prior to game-time.

Oh, and that brings me to what I refer to as “my time”, or the “coach’s time”…   You see, I view it as my job to help ready my players for the opening face-off.  And that requires a careful pacing of things.  (It’s not what a given parent might believe is the right pacing, but what I feel the team needs.)   That said, I must have TOTAL focus from my players about 10-minutes prior to a youth game.  As I hope you’ll appreciate, the players and parents can have all the hours leading-up to that point, but those last minutes are MINE (and the entire team’s).  So, just imagine what happens to a team’s concentration (and my blood pressure) when one player or family suddenly disrupts that time.

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One last thing when it comes to game preparations…

A number of years ago I stopped bringing “team waterbottles” to games.  Simultaneously, some serious diseases started spreading within local schools and athletic teams, while I also noticed too many of my players being far too careless when sharing drinks.   That’s when I put a stop to it, by just requiring my kids to bring their own drinks to practices and games.