Archive for July 2011

Gaining the (Hockey and Business) Skills

July 26, 2011

Just in case my current readers don’t know, I began this blog as sort of a supplement (or is it as a compliment) to my CoachChic.com website.

Why did I do that?  It’s because that other site — the love of my life — is mainly focused on sharing important training information for hockey players, their parents, and their coaches.  It’s hockey specific, and it tends to be geared more towards technical or how-to stuff.

Frankly, this old coach also needed an outlet — or a place to sometimes vent  🙂 — in areas that are only slightly related to hockey.  More I thought it a good idea to share with “outsiders” what the life of a hockey coach might be like, as well as share some thoughts on how our two worlds might actually be very much alike.

With that, let me talk a little here about having the skills to do our jobs well…

The spark for this entry really stems from some thinking I’ve been doing about my two hockey teams.

Each head coach in our Boston Bandits organization is given 10 summer practice sessions to ready his or her team for the start of the regular season (sometime shortly after the US’s Labor Day).  I’m not too worried about my littlest team of mainly 6-year olds — as I’ve said often in the past, they’re so mold-able it’ll be easy to ready them.  Where my worries do lie is with my older Bantam team (ugh).

In contrast to real young ones, it gets harder and harder and harder to change the playing abilities of older athletes, with the adult player’s die pretty much casted.  That’s not to say that my older kids — at around 12- to 14-years old — can’t be changed.  It’s just that changes take more time (than with little ones), and they’re not going to be as drastic (as they can be with my young Mites).

Anyway, I’d mentioned in my previous post about that older team struggling in a tournament, and I’d also said I’d taken a ton of notes from my in-game observations.  I believe I also shared with readers what I told my kids:  in that I can help them close the gap on some of the teams that thumped us, but it’s going to take a lot of work — and a true commitment — on every player’s part.

If the latter caused a problem in my previous plans, it’s that I had really hoped to show the kids some high level strategies to use against future opponents, but…  Ya, but…

In all my teaching and in all I’ve ever written to other coaches and hockey parents, the true secret to development is knowing where to begin the process.  In other words, a coach doesn’t start a first-time skater with hard “hockey stops”, but he should instead ease the youngster into things with something like an easy-to-do “snowplow stop”.

The same holds true with more advanced players, though…  I mean, if I want to get a player (or group of players) to Point L in a given skill, it is quite likely that I’ll have to go back to somewhere around Point D or E as a starting place.  Older players can usually lop-off the earlier progressions pretty quickly, so it’s probable that such a group could fast go through Points E, F, G, H and I, and then have to stay at that last point for awhile until it’s mastered.

The reason I went into that stuff is because my notes told me a story quite different from what I’d plan.  Ya, while I was hoping to teach them all those fancy X’s and O’s, what I realized was that my kids had to first be helped with some very basic skills.

And that brings to mind something else I’m always talking and writing about, in that we coaches can’t really look at those stupid letters or numbers as mere marks to be moved around on paper or on a greaseboard.  No, those X’s and O’s represent human beings (in this case young teens) who are being asked to perform some tricky on-ice tasks.  And, looking at things that way, I (and any other adult out there) should further realize that unbelievable skills will be required to execute those tricky tasks.

Yup, most of the notes I took during those tournament maulings had to do with my kids’ need for drastically improved skills.  And that brings me to something I cringe about, but nonetheless feel the need to address…

Whenever I observe a group (or individual) as I’ve just described, I can’t help blaming those who came before me.  I mean, many of my current kids have been let down through the years, being allowed to reach this level without having key skills in place.

Honest to God, I could write a book on this subject (or maybe I already have).  I mean, a lot of coaches run what I’ve heard described as “vanilla drills” (the kind that might look good but have almost no teaching value whatsoever), a lot of coaches take positions without accepting the corresponding responsibilities, and a lot of coaches feel their shortcomings in the teaching department will be taken care of by the kids’ next coaches.  (Ha — on that last point!  There’s a good chance the next coach and the next isn’t going to be any more effective or caring.)

While I’m on this rant, let me say that the kids’ coaches from just last year are not mainly to blame for their shortcomings.  Naw, the types of skill deficiencies I’m seeing stem from neglect when my players were beginners, Mites and Squirts (or during their earliest, formative years).

Oh, and the parents aren’t blameless here, because there had to be plenty of opportunities through those earliest years when they could have gotten their kids some outside help.

If some of my players or their parents (or other organization folks) happen to read this, have no fear…  I am NOT abandoning my plans for teaching the high level team play stuff.  What I do plan, however, is to go backwards for a brief time (to Point E?), so that the X’s and O’s will ultimately be easier for my kids to negotiate.  And, it is quite likely what I aim to help them with will serve each well as he strives for higher levels of the game.  (Darn, but someone has to do it; it just would have been better if someone did it a number of years ago!)

Hockey aside, I wonder how many of my faithful readers are responsible for other workers within their profession.  For, a lot of what I’ve said to this point applies within a work force, just as much as it does to a sport team.  A worker who struggles quite likely was let down previously — be it in school, or by other managers.  My thinking:  Stop the problem now (as I’m attempting to do), and start helping with some earlier progressions in the necessary skills.

Then, relating all the above on a personal level…  What’s the chance you find yourself short on something that’s affecting your work performance?  (And the same goes for me.)  Every job requires a number of background skills — be it as a goaltender, a defenseman, a mechanic or an IT exec.  Fundamentals are the key to proper execution, whether on the ice, in the office, or in the shop.

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More Hockey Short Shifts!

July 20, 2011

Over the near 20-years I wrote advice columns for Hockey/USA magazine, I’d on occasion arrive at not a single article topic but a batch of short subjects.   That’s not a problem, of course, but arriving at a title to such an article surely would be.  Genius that I am (LOL), I decided to go with a play on an oft used hockey expression by calling each of those kinds of articles “Short Shifts”.   So, since I believe I introduced that title here a year or so ago, it makes sense that I’d name this one as shown above.

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Just having joked about my genius, let me now hit myself in the head about twenty times for being such a dumbbell.  Thump…  Thump…  Thump…

A few years back I authored what I believe is an unbelievable manual for coaches of young teams.  The original was in hardcopy, but I more recently edited it, converted it to digital, and put it for sale through my Hockey Tips & Tricks store.  So far so good, I think.

Okay, so about a month ago I’m browsing through a hockey forum and notice a young coach asking for advice on a coaching manual that might help him teach the likes of positioning.  I was a little hesitant to just boldly tell him to buy my book.  Still, with the likelihood it would help him, I dared to do just that.

As an aside, I long ago named that manual after a serious need I saw within youth hockey circles.  I mean, most youth coaches don’t know a lot about teaching the X’s and O’s of the game, so I decided to dub it “How to Assemble & Teach A Basic Hockey System“.  I felt I was doing inexperienced coaches a HUGE favor, and I was.  But…

Don’t ya know, minutes after I just suggested that the young coach in that forum take a look at my manual, the responses started pouring in.  And, boy, were they scalding.  I’m talking some biggies throwing bombs my way, too — like a guy who had just won a championship with his 5-year old team (or whatever), saying that he didn’t believe young players should be taught “a system”.   And it seems to me there were other biggies chiming in — like guys who have coached up through Squirt B.   (I might be fuming now as I write this, but if you want some good laughs, read my last blog post having to do with their words of wisdom.)

I think I ought to say right now that I love dealing with young hockey parents and new hockey coaches.  So it’s likely the forum atmosphere that’s really to blame for the above.  Up close and personal, those guys and I would probably become great friends.

Here’s what I really want to get at now, however…  You see, I will argue anyone to the death about my manual being the best thing a youth coach could have in his or her library.  At the same time, I didn’t really do my homework when I picked its title.  In other words, I should have named it anything BUT something that implied it was all about X’s and O’s or systems.  (No, my manual is not about the left wing lock, the trap or the torpedo.)

To gain a sense of what that manual is really about, take a quick browse through its Table of Contents…

TABLE of CONTENTS
Preface
GETTING STARTED
Chapter  1 – PRE-SEASON PREP
Chapter  2 – THE PLAN
Chapter  3 – PRINCIPLES OF MOTOR LEARNING
Chapter  4 – ALTERNATIVE TRAINING
Chapter  5 – ABOUT PLAYING POSITIONS
Chapter  6 – The NEHI BUILDING BLOCKS APPROACH to SKILLS
Chapter  7 – BACKGROUND HOCKEY KNOWLEDGE
Chapter  8 – TEAM DEFENSE
Chapter  9 – TEAM OFFENSE
Chapter 10 – FACE-OFFS
Chapter 11 – SPECIAL TEAMS Play
Chapter 12 – Playing THE SCORE, THE CLOCK, and More
Chapter 13 – FINAL TIPS

Now, I know you can’t see within each of those chapters.  However, I hope you can get the sense that most of my manual is about planning, being organized, and then having an understanding of hockey’s basic playing principles.  As for X’s and O’s, well…  Three chapters in the middle of the manual give a coach some great ideas for helping his or her kids with positioning, and those chapters do pull the X’s and O’s together to form something of a simple “playing system”.

All that said, I am very seriously pondering taking that book off the shelves for a few days, just to change the title.  The note I wrote to myself as I was driving to a rink tonight says “The Art & Science of Coaching Young Hockey Teams”.   I don’t know, though…  What do you think?

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You hear me talk plenty about my experiences and friendships within Twitter and Facebook (while I view LinkedIn as a very different kind of social media).  And I even started a Facebook Fan Page recently, where I provide one pretty high level hockey tip each day (stop in, grab some ideas, and please “Like” the page for me before you leave).

I’m on the record for there being two big reasons I’m into these things:  1) it’s unbelievable for my business — to meet and really get to know so many people around the hockey world (and I do mean the entire world); and 2) my work has me going it alone most days and nights, so it’s awesome to have a virtual water cooler where I can commiserate with other “soloists”.

Anyway, along comes a new social media format that all my cyber-friends tell me I just have to jump into (oh, ya, like I have a lot of extra time).   Of course, you’re familiar with the Google name; what you might not have heard about yet is the new Google+ (or G+ as I’ve labeled it).  To be perfectly honest, I’m still getting my feet wet there, and I’m not sure I can explain it all that well right now.  I liken it a bit to Facebook, although I don’t think recreational users on Facebook will want to live in a seemingly more business oriented Google+.  The one feature most of us early users are raving about is the ability to group like people into “circles”.  (I’ll try to tell you more about that at another time.)  A lot like when I first joined LinkedIn, one has to be invited into G+.  So, if you want to come kick the tires, just let me know and I’ll hold your hand.

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As much as I love my work, it doesn’t come without at least some frustration.

Ya, I supposedly “work for myself”, but one — no matter his or her profession — doesn’t work (or live) in a vacuum.  Naw, we can’t draw our daily pay without customers, contractors, vendors, to name a few.  And, while 99% of those we deal with on a regular basis can be absolutely awesome folks, it only takes one (or two or whatever) to sometimes make our life’s love feel more like a drudgery.

What I especially worry about is the occasional tampering with my attempts to be professional.

The latter has happened a little more often than usual over about the past 2-ish years — and I mean the number of incidences in that span probably outweigh the previous 30-plus years I’ve been doing what I do.  (Ugh.)

What I also hate is another supposed professional telling me something is no big deal, when my gut, my conscience and my kzillion years of experience tell me it is very much a big deal.  And matters can be made all the worse when the other so-called pro is going to walk away unscathed as my reputation hangs in the balance.  Grrrrrrrrr…

Of course, you’ve probably guessed that I felt I’ve experienced the latter very recently.  Ya, hung out to dry seems a good way of putting it.

Still, that’s not my purpose for banging my keyboard tonight.  Naw…  One can only dwell on sucky stuff for a day or so, and then it’s time to get on with more positive things.  (Pssssst…  Besides, as one who is known to do lots of favors for folks, it’s only a matter of time before the offenders come knocking on my door for help — again.)

Thank God — literally, that I’ve always seemed to bounce back and smile.  I think I also owe a lot of that to my upbringing, to0 (so thanks, mom and dad).

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Speaking of making the best out of mush…

Around 1980, I had a good friend who helped me big-time behind the scenes with my high school hockey team.  If you can envision the year, you might also appreciate that my friend and I may have been the only two guys in our county who owned VHS video units.  In fact, my friend had the first portable VHS unit (camera included) that I ever saw.

Anyway, we arranged a deal surrounding the video-taping of my games…  I’d leave a blank tape in the ticket window as my friend would enter the rink, he’d shoot the game (with awesome shots), and then leave the tape for me to take home and review between games.  (Years later, I had a great young staff doing the same for me as I coached in college.)

It was also that long ago that I came to one lasting realization, in that the only games worth studying were those in which my team’s weaknesses were exposed.  In other words, the tape of a game we’d won handily proved of little value, while I could study for hours the one showing us being clobbered.  Make sense?

Well, what I’ve been leading up to is that my AAA Bantam team was recently clobbered several times in a weekend tournament.  Was that discouraging?  You bet.  However, as I described in my previous short shift, it makes no sense to cry for long; naw, sooner or later, I’ve just got to get back to work again.

Nor did I want my players to be down in the mouth for long.  Sure, it didn’t hurt that they discovered they had a lot to learn (I suspect I’ll have their attention at the next practices).

Really, though, I want to re-emphasize that point about my learning a lot when my team has struggled.  In retrospect, I probably should have had someone video the game for me.  Short of that, I came away from the tournament with enough notes to choke a horse.

My point here, I guess, is that I should in some ways consider myself (and my kids) fortunate that we did get hammered a few times long before our official season gets underway.  Perhaps a worse fate would have been for us to enter the season thinking everything was fine, and that we didn’t need to work on much of anything.

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One of the best lectures I’ve ever sat through was one given my Dave Dryden (Ken’s brother), that talk being about his transition from years of NHL goaltending to his first stint as a Canadian junior hockey coach.  And among the kzillion tidbits Dryden shared, was his feeling that the best thing he could have ever done to prepare for his new job would have been to take a course in communicating better with his players.  Hmmmm…

Well, Dave and I took different routes toward our coaching posts, because I’ve had just about every coaching course one could ever imagine.   What I’ve found I’ve been lacking in is the business side of hockey.  (I’m almost laughing to myself here, while I could also almost cry.)

A couple of cases in point…

There is a well known powerskating lady who keeps getting recycled in hockey publications, despite the fact that she seemingly doesn’t have a clue about the science of her work.  I mean, many of her drill principles and techniques are absolutely wrong, and even detrimental to a player.  However, there she always seems to be, face plastered on the cover of another USA Hockey or similar publication.  And why? Just guess.

There’s also a West Coast guy who has flooded the market with books and tapes on skating, and I can pretty much put his works in the same category as the powerskating lady’s — with tons of flash and dash, loads of smart marketing, and totally absent the science.

Before I sound too much like I’m crying here, though, let me say that I am awfully glad I spent so much time in the trenches — gaining a “scientific” degree, studying videos, studying under some of the world’s top skating authorities (who happen to work in labs, not in hockey schools).  And I’m also very thankful that I’m recognized by the right people in our game.

What gets hurt in all this is the bottom line.  I mean, while NHL teams have bought my books, and many of the world’s top coaches actually use some of the drills I’ve invented, I lose — big time — when it comes to reaching the masses.  Ya, like Dryden, having to do it all over again would have seen me taking a few extra courses — in marketing, advertising, accounting, and the likes.

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Here’s a (daily) freebie for my hockey friends…

Celebrating the opening of my Coach Chic Fan Page, I’ve begun offering free access to some CoachChic.com posts that are normally reserved for members only.

Here’s the best part:  a new peek into my hockey secrets will be unveiled every day.

Here’s the bad part, though:  each normally hidden article or video is removed after about 24-hours, as it’s replaced with new stuff.

Bottom line:  you ought to get into the habit of checking my Fan Page every day in order to not miss a trick.

Oh, the first time you visit, please click the button that looks like this one:


Believe it or not, that gesture means a lot to me and my business.

I Hate It When Hockey Folks Talk In Code :(

July 8, 2011

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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Talk about avoiding no snow jobs…

I just released three videos aimed at helping absolutely
anyone
TEACH SKATING!

I called these “Must-do Skating Drills,
because they are
a must for players to master
on their way up the hockey ladder:


BEGINNER****INTERMEDIATE****ADVANCED

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