Archive for September 2011

Making Use of Volunteer Hockey Coaches

September 13, 2011

Although I just raised a certain question with my thousands of social media friends — to see how they feel about this topic, the question isn’t new to me.  Naw, I’ve been asked the very same thing by others at least a couple of times each year.

There is, however, a reason why I’ve chosen to tackle this subject at this specific time.  For, you see, that burning question hit my inbox twice in just the last few days.

My long-time friend Jill Messaged me on Facebook with this one…

I’ve got a friend…  who’s struggling to find a U10 Girls team that she can coach.  She is a hockey and soccer player (and outstanding at both), has decades of experience coaching, is really smart, is a great parent, and has two 10 year old girls who play hockey.  She’s looking for an opportunity where she can coach her girls in a league relatively close to where she lives…  Do you have any thoughts or ideas I could pass along to her?”

I’m going to hold on the rest of that note from Jill, mainly because it should prove useful a little later.

A few days later, I received the following email from Tim, a long-time member, this pretty much mirroring Jill’s question…

I enjoy teaching and am told I am rather good at it. My day job consists of training and supporting software users. And as I mentioned previously, I have been a ski instructor…  Well, I thought I would like to learn more about coaching (hockey). So, this past Saturday I attended a USA Hockey Level 1 coaching clinic.   Now, I have no illusions that I would automatically become a coaching expert.  Far from it.   But, I like to do things in a progressive, methodical way.  Having completed the coaching clinic, I contacted our local hockey director, letting him know that should any of the house Mite team coaches need some assistance during practices, that I would like to make myself available.  His reply was nice enough, but essentially said “Thanks, but we have all the help we need”.

Now, I’d like you to read the following, and tell me if it doesn’t suggest real sincerity on Tim’s part.  In fact, I think he’s a lot more understanding than I’d be…

And this could indeed be true  (that they have all the help they need).  I suspect many Dads help.  And hockey is just starting, so the head coaches probably have already made their plans.  So, I replied back, asking him not to forget me if they are shorthanded at some point during the season.

All I could do was shake my head — in response to both Jill’s and Tim’s plaints.  And as I suggested in my response back to Tim, my fingers were getting itchy and I was sensing a need to write a flaming sort of blog post.  (What else could I do?  Most states currently have gun laws!  Grrrrrr…)

Taking a deep breath, I instead posted this topic on both Twitter and Facebook, in hopes someone would make better sense of all this.  Verbatim, here’s how it looked:

What do you think about new #hockey coaches
being turned down as helpers by local youth programs?  ???

My friend De, a youth hockey board member from Kansas, put it as well as anyone could…
Why would anyone turn down anyone (safe) that wants to volunteer their precious time?  (I’ll get to that “safe” part momentarily. )  Let them, and then say thank you!
Jeremy (from West Virginia) was the next long-time friend to respond, offering simply..
Places have enough volunteers that they turn people away? That must be nice…
Enter a Facebook Message I received from Robert.  He coaches higher level teams in Pennsylvania, and he introduces a few new ideas here…

… I can understand why some clubs turn away coaches with little or no experience if they have children on the team.  Second I think…  (it should be made) mandatory that any coach who wants to get involved must be an assistant coach first and be taught by an experienced head coach. I could go on for hours but that is my first thoughts on the topic…”

Robert goes on a little later during our exchange…

… I only know of one coach this year at my club that was turned away and it was because of some issues he had as a parent.  He was disciplined as a parent from the Board last year for conduct in the stands during games.

Going along with Robert’s thoughts — when it comes to new coaches initially needing to be assistants, my long-time California buddy, Mike, states…

I think new coaches who are USAH certified should be able to help out with youth programs. They need to be mentored. I think that’s very important.

🙂  There are no flies on my Florida friend, John D, who actually echoes something I’d been thinking all along…

What (expletive deleted) turns down free, quality help??? seems like someone is afraid that a volunteer would steal their thunder, or worse… *gasp* actually impart some knowledge!!!! *the horror*… Tell whomever is turning down help to (more deleted), put their pride aside, and accept a freebie!!!!

John K is from New Jersey, and he’s right on board with all the recent opinions…

I think that’s crazy (turning away volunteers).  Sure, you don’t “give” a new person a team and then leave him alone on an island, as much for the kids’ sakes as the coach’s.  But we have to encourage and develop new coaches (and referees!) in the same way we do with players.  There’s only so long us old guys can keep going and if we don’t develop new guys to replace us, then there will be no game left.  The way we should develop coaches is to get interested parties involved by helping with teams or learn-to-skate or whatever…

By getting them involved under our direct supervision and guidance, we not only can help give them the tools and put them in a position to succeed, but we can also evaluate them easier and weed out the ones who don’t belong with kids in the capacity of a coach.

Kyle Mac is a young coach in New Brunswick, Canada, and he contacted me through a series of Twitter Direct Messages…

Hockey would not be where it is today if it weren’t for growth and progression at the grassroots and minor hockey levels.

It is appalling to think that there are well intentioned enthusiastic volunteers not getting the opportunity to contribute toward continual positive experiences for young players.

Where I live that isn’t the case. Hockey New Brunswick and KVMHA have made so many opportunities to enhance my coaching resume available.  It is impossible to grow our game with elitist views!

This issue maybe more prevalent in areas where minor hockey is stronger.

Now, I said earlier that I was holding back on the rest of Jill’s Message, and I did that because I believe it’s a good way to wind down this topic…

I think she (Jill’s friend) is feeling boxed out by an “old boys” attitude and an inability of these guys to bring in someone different from themselves with new ideas.

Ha!  I’m with Jill’s friend, in thinking she IS being “boxed out” by the “good old boys”.  Hey, the guys currently coaching want to coach their own kids, whether they’re good coaches or not.

I went on to suggest that Jill have her friend look into other programs.  I just have to believe in my heart that some organization will know better than to turn down help.  And, while it may not be fair of me to say this, I suggested she look into so-called AAA programs rather than town based ones.  There’s just a different mentality, as I see it, with quality of the program taking far greater significance than with the basically parent run organizations.

Just so you know, I’ve advertised for months for a young guy who might like to act as my assistant.  And I’ve promised I’d be willing to share as much as I’ve learned over 40-years on the bench.  Ya, I’m dying for good help.  Of course, my motives are much different than those who turn potential helpers away — I sincerely want the help, and I also want more for my kids.  Nor does a bright young guy frighten me.  One of my long ago assistants now works on an NHL bench, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Lastly, if this post should fall upon the screen of a youth hockey program director — and especially one who is in the habit of turning away potential new coaches, I hope you’ll listen to the others who have spoken here.  They’re from all levels of the game, and from across the US and Canada.  I also happen to know they range in ages, from pretty young to older and very experienced.  More than anything, I’m hoping folks will set aside pettiness or shortsightness, and look at the bigger picture.  Personally, I’d like to think that hockey in my area will be better for my having toiled here.  Which has me ending with the words from one of the youngest contributors…

It is impossible to grow our game with elitist views!


Battling Hockey Wives’ Tales — Ugh!

September 9, 2011

Hmmmmmm, “wives’ tales”…  I plugged that into Google which brought me to Wikipedia and the followng definition:

An old wives’ tale is a type of urban legend, similar to a proverb, which is generally passed down by old wives to a younger generation.  Such “tales” usually consist of superstition, folklore or unverified claims with exaggerated and/or untrue details.

Hmmmmmm, again…  “…superstition, folklore or unverified claims with exaggerated and/or untrue details.”  Ya, that’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Of course, I’m going to relate this to my profession, while my friends might do quite the same.

In my case, I am all about teaching the game of hockey.  I do that in all different ways, from running clinics, writing, producing videos, and I also see my work with any team as a form of teaching.

Like any school teacher or college professor, there’s a code that guides me — mainly to teach what’s right, or to convey truthful information.  Personally, I don’t mind once in a while telling someone I’m not sure on a given subject, or that I just plain don’t know something.  To me, that’s far better than guessing or flat-out lying.

Even more compelling is my need to be up on the very latest in science, especially when it comes to anything having to do with physiology, biomechanics and the likes.  And, because it’s always been a favorite field of mine, coaches and hockey parents will hear me often relate teaching methods according to the “principles of motor learning”.

With all that, I find myself constantly shoveling (whatever) against the tide.  I mean, the wives’ tales don’t die — they just keep coming, whether untrue or not.  And I’m suggesting I see this happen in my profession on nearly a daily basis.

Typically, such infractions happen in rink lobbies, in dressingrooms, and in the stands.  (The water cooler might be the place such things take place on your job.)  A mom or dad might wonder aloud about some hockey problem, this followed quite gladly with the gospel according to some self-proclaimed hockey guru.  Oh, the guru might not really have a clue on the subject, but he or she has heard that such-and-such is the absolute right thing to do.  The problem, of course, is that the given wives’ tale stemmed from someone who knew little on the subject, and it’s been passed on through a dozen others who know as little or less.

Did someone say, “…superstition, folklore or unverified claims with exaggerated and/or untrue details”?  Ugh!

Still, somehow, such advice keeps getting passed along, until it oftentimes overwhelms the truth.  Is it possible the more something is said the more credibility it gains?  For sure, things shouldn’t work that way.  Around the rinks, however, it almost seems so.

Okay, so here are the things that led to my frustration on this day…

I’ll soon to releasing my Skater’s Rhythm-bar to the ice and in-line hockey communities.  It’s an unbelievable training device aimed at adding smoothness, rhythm, energy efficiency and power to a skater’s forward stride.  Like everything else I do, that thing is based on scientific principles and skating mechanics.  (Come to think of it, the reason this gadget is handheld is because of what I know about motor learning!)  Earlier versions have been used by players from beginner to pro, and every one of those users (or their parents) would tell you that my simple device results in near miracles.

Now kinda in a “pre-launch” mode, I mentioned my Rhythm-bar in a Facebook post about a week ago, and I received an expected comment sooner than I’d dreamed.  I mean, within a few minutes a hockey dad asked me about the way a hockey skater’s arms should pump.  (On the one hand, I guess the guy’s question told me that the prevailing wives’ tale was still very much alive and kicking — darn; on the other hand, he gave me the opportunity to at least explain a little science — to him and to anyone else who happened to browse that post.)

Not to bore my non-hockey readers, but I’m guessing some folks are going to want to know a little more about the above discrepancies.  So…

If we study a track sprinter (or any runner for that matter), we’ll see that his or her legs reach forward and thrust backward.  Obvious, of course.  But we should also notice that his or her arms and hands pump along the same forward to backward plane (and the shoulders rotate in this way, as well).  What’s happening is that the upper body is attempting to keep everything in balance with what’s happening down below.  In fact, the sprinter’s arms and hands are pumping rather forcefully in equal and opposite reaction to the movement of each lower limb.  If you want to better appreciate the benefits to forcefully pumping the arms, though, just envision attempting to run with your hands in your pockets.  Ha.

True scientists and biomechanical experts will tell you that a hockey player might use very similar movements to a sprinter when he or she first takes-off.  Of course, common sense will tell you that the skater needs to get some forward momentum, and that the initial thrusts of the skates will be rearward.  So again, upwards to about three steps, the skater will push back, and at the same time balance things and increase forward power by pumping the arms forward and backward.

An interesting thing happens after the first few steps, however, and it’s where we lose the carriers of those wives’ tales.  For, after the take-off, a hockey player will shift into “skating mode”.  Yup!  From about that point onward, the skates thrust outward, rather than back.  (To the naked eye, the skates seem to push rearward, only because the skater moves forward and the thrusting skate momentarily trails behind.)

Okay, when we analyzed the sprinter, we noted that the arms had to balance-off what was happening down below, and that those upper body movements were done in equal and opposite reactions to what the legs were doing.  Soooooooo…  Since energy efficiency (and so much more) relies on that, the hands and arms (and shoulders) of a skater MUST travel on the same plane as the thrusting skates — or dawgoned outward!

Adding insult to injury, another wives tale carrier emerged just the other day…  I’d just recently made a new hockey friend over on Google+, and I’d thought we were on the same wave length.  Owing to his background, I kinda know he knows his stuff.  Yet, when he sent me a link to his channel, I noticed he included among many videos one done by a notoriously non-scientific spinner of wives’ tales.  Now, that particular skating guru probably offers a number of positive things to young skaters, but she is WAY off-base when it comes to the mechanics of a forward stride.  I mean, WAAAAAY off-base, since she perpetuates the notion that a skater’s arms should pump in a forward to backward motion (as the legs thrust outward?).  Ugh.

Much as I did earlier — when I suggested you think about running without using the hands and arms, I don’t mind mixing more common sense with science as I pose the following…

I’d like to ask the carriers of wives’ tales why a slideboard is prescribed as a great way to enhance skating power and positive muscle memory.  And, if you’d like to visualize something else, try to sense how you’d move your hands and arms in order to assist a forceful push laterally and across the board.  Actually, it would be laughable to try pumping the arms forward to back while on a slideboard!

Then, if you’re into off-ice workouts for skaters, you’re probably familiar with the benefits of jumping exercises.  Done rightly, a great deal of explosive power can be gained from such movements.  However, while all vertical jumps are helpful, most advanced level coaches will tell you that lateral jumps — like side to side over a barrier — are even more specific to the skating movement.  Why?  Because — in skating mode — the thrusts are outward.

Lastly, I didn’t mean to get carried away with either the skating movement or my Skater’s Rhythm-bar.  My real intent has been to bring to light all the falsehoods constantly thrown in the faces of those who would really like some help.  I don’t know if much can be done about the know-it-alls who frequent the rink bleachers and snackbars.   I feel it’s a losing battle most times — there are just too many of them, and they’re never held accountable for any of the advice they so freely share.  That so-called professionals are distributing “…superstition, folklore or unverified claims with exaggerated and/or untrue details” is a crying shame.  As for me, I guess I have to just keep hammering on this keyboard, attempting to undo as much harm as I can.  (Did I say “Ugh!” yet?)

Hockey, Hurricanes, and the Changing Times

September 1, 2011

This entry is less about hockey and more about the way times seem to have changed as hurricanes passed through New England (and through my life)…

Part of what spurred this post was a neat full-page article contained in the local newspaper, “The Enterprise”.  I kinda like nostalgia, so the heading near the top of that page — “BLASTS from the past” — really got my attention.  And so did the sense that I’d recall of lot of those blasts as I scanned on down…

Now, despite what some might think, I actually missed the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635, the first on record to strike New England.  Ditto the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.

Evidently the idea of giving hurricanes human like names started shortly after, and I do vaguely remember 1954’s Hurricane Carol.  I’m guessing current Whitman, MA residents will have a hard time believing this, but my little hometown contained as much farmland as historic shoe factories when I was young.  So, the numerous uprooted and toppled trees left in Carol’s wake totally changed the landscape where my buddies, my collie dog and I so often roamed.  Unbelievably, that article says that 4000 homes, 3500 cars and 3000 boats were destroyed during that storm.

It seems funny to me, but I have few recollections of Hurricane Gloria, another powerful blast that hit in September of 1985.  I think part of the reason for that was that the college hockey team I was coaching back then wouldn’t have gotten underway until several weeks later.  In other words, Gloria didn’t affect my hockey (or my home), so she wasn’t all that memorable.

Oh, but then…  Ya, but then…  On August 19th of 1991, a guy named Bob came to call in Southeastern Massachusetts.  Oh, did he ever.  Hitting land in New Bedford, MA, Hurricane Bob tore through Cape Cod and up the coast, causing damages set at $1 billion.

Talk about power outages.  Much of Cape Cod was without electricity, including the rink where my largest hockey school of the summer was scheduled to begin on the following Monday.  Yikes!

For sure, the rink manager and I went back and forth several times per day.  And, while the fate of my hockey school may have been the biggest thing going on in my life right then, I had to appreciate that the manager’s woes were on an even grander scale.

Electricity is needed to run the compressors that ultimately freeze the ice.  And, minus that power, the ice begins to melt.  My sense is that it’s almost an exponential thing, in that the ice holds for awhile while the building is still cold, but things begin to deteriorate rapidly as more ice melts and the building warms.

So, the questions the manager and I constantly discussed over several days were:  1) how much of the ice has been lost, and2) how long will it take to re-establish the surface if the power comes back on.  Ugh.

Now, if you think that’s a nightmare, consider that I had to relay information to 70-ish hockey families who were eagerly awaiting the start of my school.  And I had to do that based on the information provided me by the rink.

Also consider that this was 1991, and about the only means of communication were “land line” telephones.  Talk about an equally daunting nightmare, as I worked my way down the long list of telephone numbers…  Why adults allow toddlers to answer phones is beyond me, but envision me sitting, twiddling my thumbs, and praying some little tyke is really gone to get mommy or daddy.  Also picture the number of busy signals and no answers I’d get as I worked through the list.  Best case scenario:  getting an answering machine that allowed me to recite a 15-second message and be done with it.  Not so good:  when a mom or dad wanted to talk for very long.

Okay, the plot thickens…  My hockey schools of that era were timed to the gnat’s behind — I mean, four groups of kids arrived at noon each day, they’d rotate through about seven unique stations, and they’d be gone at 5pm.  I’d spent weeks earlier in the summer refining that plan, so that every kid got his or her proper amount of time on the ice, a classroom, outdoor dryland training, etc.  The problem now, however, was that the plan I labored at for so long was designed for a 10-day program (or Monday through Friday for two weeks).  And it became evident by late Saturday before our scheduled start that the rink would not be functional by Monday.  Hmmmm…

So, besides all the phone calls, I had to spend much of the weekend totally revamping the camp schedule.  Why did the schedule need changing?  I’d guaranteed a certain amount of ice-time over the two weeks, so I had to redistribute what was planned for a 10-day program into what now appeared to be a 9-day one.  And, with the change in ice-time, every other part of my school also had to be altered.

Things weren’t getting any better, however.  For, all that done to accommodate a Tuesday start, it soon became apparent that power hadn’t yet been restored on Cape Cod, and we were now praying for things to begin on Wednesday.  Ya, you probably guessed it…  Back on the phones (my son helped me with that), and back to revamping the schedule for an 8-day camp design.  And, make no mistake about the challenge in doing the latter, because I’d often complete that work at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.

Could it getting any worse?  Yup…  Power finally arrived at the rink but the ice wouldn’t be ready immediately.  So, we were faced with yet another round of telephone calls, and I was back at the drawing board trying to give all my customers their money’s worth in just 7-days.  Man…

I believe that was it, though — a 7-day camp, beginning on Thursday of the first week and continuing through the next.  Phew.

Still, one great memory of that awful ordeal…  The mom of three boys who attended the camp for many years kept telling me, “Stop apologizing and stop worrying.  Everything will be fine!”  Can you imagine that?  Bless her.  (And in a way, she was blessed.  One of her boys went on to play for the Boston Bruins, another played professionally in Europe, and the other is a successful businessman.)

Of course, some young adults of today may not remember those times — especially the way we may have suffered trying to make so many telephone calls with at least some urgency.  Ya, how times have changed.

Okay, so enter “tropical storm” Irene.  Ha, I put that in quotes because that lady packed a punch as crippling to some folks as any hurricane I’ve seen.  Sure, Irene was seemingly selective, hardly bothering some pockets of real estate while hammering some others.  And, the power outages — at least from what I’ve heard — were as extensive as we get around these parts.

Oh, but the changing times…  I didn’t have any major hockey school planned prior to Irene’s arrival, but I did have a game scheduled with a team from Philadelphia to come north and play my AAA Bantams.  Playing the game wasn’t going to be a problem, since it would be completed a day before the storm was to hit our area.  The danger was in the Philly folks needing to travel back towards the south and through that storm in order to get home.

Technology helped solve some of my headaches concerning all that…  My team practiced at 8pm on the night before our scheduled exhibition, so I asked the manager of that far away team to call my cell phone and give me a final thumbs-up or thumbs-down.  Easy-peasy as one of my on-line friends often says — meaning that the Philly team decided to cancel, and I could share that with all of my players and their parents right there at the rink.

Further on the technology…  My teams have a website they can go to for any last minute announcements.  An email to a kzillion people can be sent in a matter of minutes.  And, should anyone not have power, all my team families and those who will attend my soon-to-begin Learn-to-skate/Learn-to-play program will have my cell phone number on speed dial.

Man, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the ease in communicating nowadays.  Hey, I love little kids, but I really did hate the eerie sounds of silence as I waited for them to go get mom or dad.  I hated the busy signals too.  And, although I could talk hockey all day and all night under most circumstances, I cringed a lot in those days when I faced another 43 calls while a dad wanted to discuss his son’s stickhandling woes.

All is good today, though, and all I have to say now is,  “Good night, Irene.”  😉