We Live, We Learn, We Move Forward – Part 1

Posted November 25, 2012 by Coach Chic
Categories: Winter - 2010, Winter 2012-13

There’s no doubt I’ve been through a lot over the past 7-months — feeling I’d been lied to, used, ditched and abused.  (Not that I didn’t make my own mistakes along the way; truly, I did — in fact, I made a bunch of them.)  That stuff is documented pretty well in my last two posts, though, if you need to play some catch-up (“House of Cards” and “Yup, I’ve Been Fired!“).

Personally, I’ve turned a cheek on most of those events in the time that’s passed — mainly because dwelling on them seems to suit no useful purpose.  Earlier today, I caught an on-line lecture by a business coach, his main message suggesting that we ought not allow ourselves to be crippled by acting the victim.  (Think about that one, dear friends.)  I also saw the wisdom in the adjoining old adage, urging us to not quit.*

Now, describing my recent transition is likely to require a lot of ‘splaining — 😉 .  So, I’ll cover it in two parts, beginning today with my need to assess where I am, and what I have to work with…

Part 1 – Ya, don’t quit…

Ever felt the urge to, though — I mean, like in ending it all?  Don’t lie; I have to believe that it’s crossed the mind of every grownup at one time or another.  You’re still here reading this, though — and I’m still typing, which suggests to me that we both ultimately came around to another, better alternative.  In my case, I frequently get my first kick in the pants from something like this…

“You are a poor specimen if you can’t stand
the pressure of adversity.” ~ Proverbs, 24-10

Ha…  It’s almost as if King Solomon knew I was coming — thousands of years later.

That aside, I sense that we all have our own ways of dealing with adversity, overwhelm, frustration, what have you.  When I was younger, I did the usual — like pumping some iron, going for a run, or punching a piano.  (Ha, again, because I aged rather quickly with that last one, discovering uprights don’t budge a bit, while all the small bones in the human hand surely do.  Ugh.)

Lucky for me, I found yet another outlet some 20-odd years ago.  That’s when I was asked to write an advice oriented column for a popular hockey magazine (a few years later I also started writing for a second one).  Before the birth of CoachChic.com, I was able to address reader questions in hardcopy print.  Trust me, that it was an awesome forum in which to vent — about the things I saw wrong in hockey, about some slightly related pet peeves, and about the solutions I proposed for all of those.  (Interestingly, many of the ideas I shared in that long running column did influence the game around North America.  How do I know?  It’s because I saw the right kinds of changes gradually happening, and I was also told so by a number of higher-ups in our game.)

Of course, the two mags I wrote for have since gone the way of the dinosaurs, so I’m thankful I can continue influencing my favorite sport in digital format.  CoachChic.com is where I can deal with the way things ought to be when it comes to hockey skills, tactics, strategies and so much more.  Only in recent years did I see the need for a slightly related website — the one you’re now reading, where I can share with friends what it’s like to be me on a day to day basis.

So yes, I still have my writing to run to when it seems I’m stalled on other fronts.

Nowadays, I also have social media…  I’ll bet you didn’t know that I was one of the first on LinkedIn — back when new members had to be invited; I was one of the early birds on Twitter (pun intended 😉 ); I was invited to test Google+ when that first started; yet I was actually a fairly late arriver to Facebook (where I’ve quickly caught up and garnered around 4200 friends).  My point:  With upwards of 15,000 social media contacts today, there’s no shortage of people for me to interact with.

Here’s some food for thought…  Today, there is a growing number of folks working from home — I call us “soloists”.  And, while the lifestyle can be nice — including the 10-second commutes from our beds to our desks, it surely can be lonely.  So, for us, a preferred social media site often acts as our water cooler.  In my case, I find several sites unbelievable for both help and friendship.  For example, lacking an IT department in my “office”, I frequently find that kind of help — sometimes  in an instant — via on-line friends like Mike Mahony, Deb Kolaras and Tracey Thorpe Tarrant.  And, while I often spend long stretches of time engrossed in writing or producing a video, it’s comforting to know that I can even get a cyber hug just about any time I need one.

You’re wondering where I’m going with all this, huh?  Well, it’s all a part of the self-assessment I felt necessary before I could determine a new direction.  In a way, I felt I had to list all I have going for me — and even against me — as I ready to plot a new course.  And, quite obviously, I thought I’d give you a little background to the decisions I’ll ultimately be making.

My friends in social media know that I bring my laptop and a cup of coffee with me to the back patio each morning, and I basically marvel at the view before me — including the palm trees, the small pond, its beautiful water fountain, and a host of wildlife not seen back in Massachusetts.  My trusted buddy Raggs usually falls asleep at my feet, each of us providing more than a little comfort for the other, just knowing our best friend is close by.  Not long after all the craziness happened, I let the people running this complex know that the league I’d come down here for had folded, and I’d lost my job.  Asked what I planned to do, all I could say was, “I love it right here, and I hope to stay for a long, long time.”

So, that’s one of the givens:  that I plan on staying, and fighting.  There was no need to tell my landlord that I’d spent nearly every cent I had —  recruiting for my former team; getting myself, Raggs and our belongings down here; and trying to arrange the right conditions so I could get my work done well.  (In other words, just paying the rent and feeding Raggs and me is going to be a challenge.)  I say those things now, however, because they’re also part of the givens, or the current reality.

I won’t bore you with my resume, except to say that I worked pretty near year-round at hockey for over 40-years.  I head coached a team for just about every one of the winters included in that span, I’d run my own clinics on off winter days or nights, and then I’d run some of the largest hockey clinics and schools in New England during the spring and summer months.  And, while some coaches prefer one age group over another, I’ve always considered myself lucky to have worked with every level — from toddlers to college guys, and even getting the chance to train a good many pros during their off-seasons.

In a way, I think the latter has put me ahead of some of the biggest names in the game.  I mean, the pro and college coaches might know how to select the world’s top talents, and they even know what to do with them once they’re on the roster.  What few of them can do — and what I can do exceedingly well — is solve the problems of younger players so that they ultimately meet elite level requirements.

Anyway, yet another reality — or given — is that I’m virtually unknown here in the Sunshine State.  Some folks back home in New England might say that I’m one of the tops in the world when it comes to doing what I do, but it’s doubtful anyone here even knows I exist, or that I might be just down the road from them.  Oh, trust me, that I’ve done some sulking over that.  However, as I’ve come to realize in recent days, self pity serves no useful purpose whatsoever.

“Any enterprise is built by wise planning,
becomes strong through common sense,
and profits wonderfully by keeping
abreast of the facts.” ~ Proverbs, 24 – 3, 4

Sooooooo…  When it finally came to the facts — or that self-analysis, I included my power within social media as one of them.  Right along with that is my CoachChic. membership site, with friends there from all over the world.  Our interactions tend to serve an awesome dual purpose:   I know I help my members a lot by quickly dealing with their questions, while I also keep the cutting edge advice pouring into that site for them.  Selfishly, though, the chance to interact keeps me very much alive, and constantly thinking about the game.

Perhaps you didn’t know that I have an on-line hockey store, that featuring many products you wouldn’t find anywhere else.  To be honest, though, I haven’t done that site justice lately, which means that this whole self-analysis thing was long overdue.  Upon realizing that, I immediately joined forces with another hockey guy to launch Black Weekend (or an extended version of the current Black Friday craze).

What some might not know is that I’ve published quite a few hockey training manuals, and — having worked with video since 1980, I’ve more recently produced at least 20 instructional videos that are scattered between my membership site and my on-line store.  Could I do more?  😀  In my sleep.

Enter my son, Michael…  Actually, of all the people who were supposed to take part in the new Junior league down here, Mike and I are the only ones remaining.  (Interesting, huh?  I think at least part of the reason is that we probably believed in the league’s concepts more than some others, while we both probably also have a lot more dedication to the game.)  Anyway, Mike is staying with Raggs and me for the time being, as he attempts to put together a new team playing out of the local Ice Factory.  My guess is that most hockey folks would love to be a fly on the wall as we discuss the  game nearly 24/7.  Trust me, that those conversations hold some meaning to all this.  So, while I won’t be giving you any details on those talks, I promise that they will have a huge bearing on what I plan to tell you in Part 2.

Finally, as far as that last graphic just above goes, it was a recent gift from my good friend and favorite cheerleader, Brenda V.  As it suggests, I’m kinda banking on the chance to look back on recent events, and having myself a really good laugh.

See you all within a day or so, on where I hope to be pretty shortly.


The House of Cards

Posted September 22, 2012 by Coach Chic
Categories: Fall 2012

It appears that over a thousand friends have thus far read my last blog post, that one titled, “Yup, I’ve Been Fired!”  If you haven’t yet, you might want to scan it, since I may be referring to that sequence of events from time to time.

I’m kinda hoping that this is the end of the morbid sort of posts for awhile.  At least one can pray that’s so.  As a matter of fact, as I finished the first draft on this post, I sickened from mentioning my firing.  It’s necessary at times — as a frame of reference, but I decided later to just label as many events as possible as happening before, on, or after that sad day as “September 1, 2012”.

I’ll have you know that I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV.  With that, most of the following comes from the way I experienced things or feel them in my gut.  I don’t believe I’ve made any accusations here, and any wrongdoings mentioned at all are purely alleged.   

As for the so-called “House of Cards”, well…

Only in retrospect can I now piece together some of the things that may have at least partly contributed to my firing.  Ya, in retrospect I now understand why several long-time hockey friends were reluctant to help with my player recruiting efforts, only looking back now can I have a sense of why there was no real outcry from the league’s Commissioner on or after September 1, and only in hindsight can I assume why so many team owners climbed on board the former TEHL train.

Yes, I did call it the “former” TEHL.

At least the way I understand things, the league’s founder gathered bits and pieces from the prior works of a business plan designed for a start-up minor pro league, and he tweaked it (with some help, I’m sure) to fit the needs of a Junior level league.  He’d call it the Tropical Elite Hockey League, and base all of the teams not too far apart in the sunny state of Florida.

I’d seen the pro version of the business plan, and then subsequent ones geared to amateurs, and I loved most of what those contained.  Moreover, I really loved some of the thinking outside the plans…  Thinking “kids first” is always a valiant cause.  Along with that was the aim to have quality coaches in place who knew how to get players ready for the next step.  And those coaches also had to have pro and/or college contacts, so they could help place their kids at those next levels.  Better yet, every organization was asked to work with the others, this to include each coach’s willingness to help place players from other teams.  As was stated numerous times in the early going, the idea was for the entire league to show a great track record when it came to ultimately helping their players make college or pro teams.

Oh, and don’t think that plopping this new league in the middle of the Sunshine State didn’t have it’s own merits.  Hey, who wouldn’t want to coach here?  What players wouldn’t want to go to their hockey practices and then take a swim — outdoors, and in dawgone January?  And, we figured the scouts would even look forward to coming down to see our games, rather than the ones played in your typical frozen northern tundra.

Besides all that, I think there were other factors that made it relatively easy to sell the league concept to potential team owners…  High on the list had to be the founder’s outgoing first impression (explained further in awhile).  Secondly, a potential owner could believe (or be convinced?) that he or she didn’t need much out-of-pocket money to get going.  Hey, the initial payment was only $5000, with subsequent payments not due until after all the team’s players began paying to join (yes, $5500 x 20+ players comes to a tidy sum).   Of course, this put tons of pressure on a team’s general manager, because it was up to him to recruit the players and basically generate all that income — in a matter of just a few weeks.  So, if there’s one thing everyone should realize in hindsight, it’s that not such a rosy picture should have been painted for the potential owners.  I still believe most of the concepts put forth for the TEHL would have worked.  It just would have taken some time, patience, and a little cash reserves.

A funny thing happened on my way to this sunny forum…  I’d only known the league founder through telephone conversations, emails and other on-line messaging platforms.  We seemed to hit it off quite well, at first sharing similar feelings about coaching the game — how things ought to be done in the game, etc.  (We met briefly during a 3-day tryout camp for the league in late June, but that was too hectic a time to really get to know one another.)   Once I became involved in the league, however, I began to hear some negatives about this guy.  Hmmmmmmmmm…

In his defense (as well as mine), it’s hard to judge some of the things I began hearing, because the founder was a long time coach.  I mean, when it comes to coaches, there are often tons of players and parents on a team who love you, and there is always at least one who hates you.  And, let me tell you, the one or two who hate you are a lot more vocal than the ones who liked what you did for them.  I’ve lived with that for 40-years, and I’m guessing that every coach (or boss in any business) knows exactly what I’m saying.  So, maybe you can appreciate me taking a few of the negative things I heard about the founder in stride.

One thing I do know, though — again in retrospect, is that a lot of my long time hockey friends were standoffish when I asked them for help — like when I asked them to point me towards some good Junior-eligible hockey players.  Some even hinted at being leery about sending players to a league that “that guy” was running.  Of course, it still meant nothing to me at the time, when a few of them said something like, “Let me get back to you on that.”  Of course, they never did get back, nor would some of them answer my subsequent emails or telephone calls later on — many of them to guys I’d known for years.  ???  I say again, though, that I never really put all those pieces together (I guess I was too darn busy scrambling my buns off).

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I did a lot of work from home in Massachusetts for a few months.  So I didn’t really start getting to know the founder and self-appointed Commissioner until I arrived down here for good in Kissimmee, Florida on August 1.

At the start, I found him to be a friendly kind of guy — sort of a big, cuddly bear of a man.  Amid the shared laughs, though, we didn’t agree on a number of things.  I just had a vision of how a league — and a league office — should run.  And none of those things seemed to be getting done.  Even when I just casually mentioned a few more things, those seemed to fall on deaf ears.

As an aside…  You might find me a little odd when it comes to discussing a touchy issue, because I’ll only go to the point where I feel it’s a real give and take.  Very much connected to this is something I heard my dad say a few times, in that, “Once someone feels the need to raise their voice, you know they have nothing to REALLY say.”  (Ya, think about that one, because you probably know someone who is just like that:  They start to rant and rave as soon as they don’t have a real explanation.)

I’d like you to also understand the above because I think it entered big time into our relationship.  I’d ask about something, we might start to discuss it, but it wasn’t long before the guy’s voice would lift, or he’d just change the subject.

With that, here’s something else you need to know about me…  Even though you might tune me out, my stance isn’t going to change one iota, IF I feel I’m in the right.  Rant all you want, but that doesn’t win the argument, nor sway me.  If anything, it shows weakness on your part, or an unwillingness to really get to the right answer.

I think anyone in their right mind would agree with one of my earliest recommendations, to have a league website up and running, even if it was at first a WordPress or Blogger freebie.  I was having recruits and the parents of recruits constantly asking me if there was a website they could go to, and I had to each time tell them it was coming — for like a couple of months.  As anyone reading this knows, today is a new age, and customers are now used to being able to visit a company’s site for added information.  What I was worried most about, however, is that a site would have given us a little more credibility (more on this a little later).  Adding one more thing in retrospect, there’s a good chance the absence of a league website — and the occasional loss of players because we didn’t have one — at least partly cost me my job.

I also doubt that anyone would argue the need for daily — and maybe sometimes hourly — communications, from the league office to member teams.  When this got particularly tricky was just before September 1, when it would have been helpful to know which of my recruits had submitted their contracts and deposits, and thus belonged to my team.  Nothing complicated, really…  The Commissioner (or his wife) picks up the mail in the morning, and then hours later announces to all member teams, “John Smith, a defenseman from Timbuktu, has been signed by the Daytona Beach Blaze.”  Hey, this guy was supposed to be overseeing a major undertaking down here, an awful lot of blood, sweat, tears — and money — was being invested by countless people, and it just seems as though everyone deserved to know what was going on.

I also heard often that stray players were contacting the league office, looking for a place to play.  If that was so, it would have been nice to see that constantly adjusted list on a daily basis.  (Right up until September 1, I still hadn’t had a single player pointed my way — oh, except for goaltenders, once I’d already signed two.)

Anyway, since much of this post involves my looking back at some things that didn’t initially strike me as odd, I know now that by never bending in my stance — about the right way to do business — I surely didn’t endear myself to the Commissioner.  And, when I did get fired, it makes all the more sense why he never wrote or called to even say he was sorry (never mind offering to help me out in some way).  No, it’s quite possible he felt I was on to him, or on to what we’d all learn just days later.

Yes, days later…   Ever since the TEHL was first announced, the owner of a popular Junior hockey website started bashing the league — or, so we thought he was bashing the league.  More often than not, he was undressing the new league’s Commissioner.  What we were told — by the Commission and his wife — ranged from it being a personal thing to the fact that the TEHL was not advertising on the guy’s website.

Should a red flag have gone up?  Probably.  But those down here battling for what we believed in banded together instead.  I for one — despite disagreeing with many of the Commissioner’s business methods — was as worried about my own duties as all the other guys.  For the most part, those of us responsible for teams had to ignore the attacks and just press onward.

Only days after September 1, the house of cards started to sway.  Quite obviously, the rest of what I know is mostly hearsay, because I was no longer a part of the league.  I was, however, still plunked here in Kissimmee, trying to figure how I was going to survive, and only hearing bits and pieces of what was happening with TEHL affairs.

I think that a couple of new and damaging articles on that Junior hockey website contributed to the cards shaking some.  And it’s hard to know whether they contributed to a few league owners having some questions in reference to the way some things might be going on in the TEHL office.  (Just so you know, owners had already submitted their $5000 deposits, $500 from every player application went to the league office, and a larger payment was due from the owners very shortly.  So, one can’t blame those owners for wanting to be sure the league was on solid ground.)

The rest of what happened I kinda know, but I don’t think it’s fair to share it here.  Hey, I wouldn’t feel right if I explained things even a tad incorrectly.  Nor would it be ethical on my part to try to share what I believe others were thinking.  So, let me just say that the final outcome to things is that the Commissioner ultimately volunteered to step aside for a time, likely pending further investigation into the handling of some league affairs.  I guess, though, that the temporarily stepping aside thing is moot now, based on the following…

For, on the heels of all that came the word from AAU that the TEHL was no more.  And along with that, seven teams were basically told that they were on their own, or basically cut adrift to fend for themselves.  (My sarcastic way of saying it is that, it’s up to the remaining teams to now sink or swim.)

One sad way to look at all this is that a bunch of people had been dragged far from home — and invested not a little bit of money — on a promise of building something rather unique, something rather special.  And, within less than a day, a great many of those aspirations were pretty near gone…  Poof.

As the TEHL cards came tumbling down, I had some personal thoughts.  I was still stuck here in Central Florida, out of work, and still itching to somehow immerse myself in hockey again.

My initial reaction was that — although I wouldn’t necessarily call it my dream job, I wouldn’t mind acting as an interim commissioner and try to right that ship.  For sure, I’d seen plenty of things over the previous months that should have been done, and I had plenty more ideas looking forward.  Hopes of doing that were quickly snuffed, however, as soon as the league was officially disbanded.  Again, it was now just seven teams scrambling to stay afloat.

Then…  Oh, boy, then…  Despite the way I was previously handled and then dismissed by the St Cloud owner, I have always put business before emotions.  And think along with me here:  I had arranged everything around totally dedicating myself to the St Cloud job, including finding a house almost within walking distance to the rink, I was even paying extra for a room I could use for my video work and such, and I had already started getting around the St Cloud community to create some buzz.  Right about now, I envisioned my former owner — and shrimp boat magnate — dead in the water, or without a rudder.  Moreover, I suspected that, having finally arrived in Florida — long after September 1, she’d discovered that the true challenges down here weren’t as easy to handle as she thought.  With that, I drafted a pretty long email describing all the things I might do for her, and I sent it along with the subject line, “Maybe Burying The Hatchet”.   A few days later I received a rejection.  No big deal, really, especially with her explanation that she couldn’t afford me.  On the other hand, the reason she gave for axing me is something she’ll likely regret someday.

Okay, so the TEHL no longer exists.  Worse yet, all the good things the former commissioner had hoped for the league had also vanished.  And this is no small thing…  I see the possibility of two elite level coaches remaining, and there could be a third.  I see one true hockey man in a front office.   Worse yet, there’s really only one guy left among the remaining teams with contacts to college coaches and pro scouts.

The way I see things, my value won’t be realized by anyone in the league until probably mid-season, which will be too late for me, or too late for my efforts to matter…

Besides the normal day to day things that keep a hockey team functioning, players need to be polishing certain areas of their game that will endear them to the scouts.  Trust me, that I’m a master at that.  So am I a master at solving player problems (I designed a team-play teaching format that has awed NHL coaches, I invented a skating device that cures a skater’s stride in no time, and those things only tend to overshadow the new drills I create nearly every day to solve some player’s problem.)

Worse yet, most team owners aren’t going to notice they’re missing anything until they try to find places for their guys to go.   True enough, that all one needs to do is pick up a phone and ask for a pro scout or college coach.  Whether it gets answered on the other end is another matter, and whether the guy on the other end of the line believes you is yet another.

Spilled milk left to dry, I’ll stop my crying and get on to some predictions.  For, a lot of people will be watching and wondering what will come of the different stray teams left over from the house of cards.

On the day before the cards came tumbling down, there were seven.  Why seven teams?  Ya, surely an odd number, and one that never set too well with me.  In my gut, it was a hint of greed, or an opportunity for the league to collect more team membership fees and more player deposits.  (Actually, if you want to read about what I think happened, go to Amazon.com and grab a copy of my good friend Richard Neil Graham’s book, “Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks & Bucks“, to get an even better understanding.  Within those pages you’ll discover how another great idea also tumbled down like a house of cards.)

Of the seven, I see only one proving to be all that was promised many months ago, and it just might do better than that.  I see two teams perhaps not playing this season, but most likely coming back to challenge the first one in 2013-14.  I’m betting that two of the remaining four will never, ever play a game.  And, of the last two, I see the likelihood of only one surviving to play a second season.

Those remaining two play out of the same arena.  Grrrrrrrrr…  From the very start I called that, “Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!”  Why?  It’s partly because one is owned by the rink, and the other is ultimately going to feel like an ugly stepchild.  From a coach’s perspective, want to have a closed practice for your powerplay or whatever?  Ha.  And from a business standpoint, the two teams are going to be vying for fan attention, press attention, sponsor dollars, and more.  Hey, most rinks are surrounded by 360-degrees of opportunity, where those two teams are sorta relegated to 180 each.

My old team just happens to be the stepchild, with the other owned and operated by the rink.  I see no intentional problems there in the start — the rink people are as nice as can be, but the situation is always going be what it is.  Without a doubt, I see the rink owned team surviving for years to come.  I even see my old owner being a tough enough buzzard to make it through this season.  Only time will tell if she has the staying power to create an elite organization (perhaps in a new facility) for the future.

As for me, I’ll join my son’s team in Daytona Beach, but only on a special assignment basis.  I’m going to do some freelance hockey writing, I’m making myself available to local youth hockey programs, as well as continuing with my many on-line businesses.

A fleeting thought I’ve had over recent days is to start my own team.  Somehow I can’t see 40+ years of hockey knowledge and experience going down the drain.  I’ll also have the benefit of sitting and watching the remaining teams, to learn from their successes and failures.


PS:  My good friend, Brenda V, is from Montreal, Canada, and she is perhaps the rosiest personality I have ever encountered.  Anyway, true to form this morning, she sent me a reminder that, “Life has good surprises also, not just bad ones…”  With that, I will once again hope this is my last morbid post for a good long while.

Yup, I’ve Been Fired!

Posted September 7, 2012 by Coach Chic
Categories: Fall 2012

Please understand that this isn’t something I wanted to write — it’s something I felt I had to write.  Shortly you’ll know why.

This entry is also a little late, again for reasons I’ll need to explain.

Ya, you read that title (and various other posts around the Internet) right.

So, why did I feel the need to address all the gory details here?  It’s because I’d spent months hyping the new Tropical Elite Hockey League, I’d promoted my new team to every hockey and social media contact I had (literally around the world), and I’d posted regularly throughout Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.  I even had some fun telling about the exploits of little Raggs and me in transition — from our lifelong home in Massachusetts to the day to day grind of me being a GM/hockey coach down here in the Sunshine State.  With that, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to just suddenly change my work status without answering a myriad of questions (from upwards of 15,000 on-line folks).  So, sadly, the explanation is to follow…

The reason I stalled a bit on this announcement was so I wouldn’t rattle a number of great young hockey players who were still exploring opportunities in the TEHL.  There was nothing I could do about the guys I’d already enlisted for my original team (hopefully those kids and parents will come to understand), but I knew I surely could save the few who were still up in the air.  (And, thank God, I was able to place a few awesome players elsewhere.)

Okay, so about the firing…  It actually took place in what some friends have called a “classless” act — in an email that arrived in my inbox at 1-minute before midnight on September 1.  (Just that might give you an indication of what kind of person I’d been “working for” over a few short months.)  Needless to say, I spent a number of hours that night staring up at my ceiling, and on occasion climbing out of bed to pace when sleep wouldn’t come.  If you can appreciate it, I’d never been fired from anything in my entire adult life.  So, classless?  Well, you decide…

Actually, I think the situation started badly — on at least two fronts…

First, I don’t think I was hand picked by my team owner, but instead suggested to her by the league’s Commissioner.  In other words, she likely felt no loyalty to me, and she didn’t know me from Adam.  (At the same time, I suspect I was placed with her for good reason — so that she could rely upon my years of experience over a long and grueling season of high level hockey.)

Secondly, we never even communicated until close to two months after I’d been appointed.  She’s a shrimp boat owner from Alaska, you see, and she was evidently extremely busy in her work until very recently.

Then, if there’s a third thing that went wrong in that relationship, it’s that our first ever conversation had to be about money.  That’s not a favorite topic of mine, and I’m wondering how many other folks feel the same.  Still, I had to ask her at one point if she’d perhaps reimburse me for a very costly trip I had to make — for the team’s sake — to the league’s first tryout camp in Florida.

I’m not the type to take advantage of such situations, so I did everything economy-style, and didn’t even submit receipts for things others might have.  No matter, getting reimbursed proved a slight nightmare.  In fact, in reflection, I think the entire fiasco ended up being all about money…

As many of my closest friends know, I perceived my new assignment as my “dream job“.  And, just like I began with other new positions over my 40-years in coaching, I really dug in, beginning the night I was hired.  From that moment on, I (maybe wrongly) even abandoned other work back home to start building my team.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t connect with my owner for so long because it appeared that the Commissioner was pretty much dealing in her behalf while she took care of the shrimping.  That worked for me, because I had plenty to do over those first few months.  In fact, already believing I’d make a fairly decent salary once I got on the job, it didn’t initially bother me that I was spending a lot of my own money — mainly going to player showcases and racking up some hefty cell phone bills (picture calls to numerous US states and Canadian provinces, as well as to far away countries like Latvia and Germany).

Now, I’m the sort to think in pictures (a visual guy is what I am), so I knew I needed a timetable for how things would work:  when my players would need to start school, when the first practices would be, etc.  In other words, back in May, I’d have loved to have been able to look at a calendar and visually see deadlines of all sorts.  Knowing such things also would have made it easier for me to plan my physical move from Massachusetts to Florida.  Unfortunately, nothing more than a permissible start date for practice ice-time came early enough to help me…

Sometime in late June, things did turn a bit.  Suddenly the Commissioner thought it important for me to get down south and on the job — like in a hurry.  Whoa!  I had a huge house and a separate downtown office to empty.  And, looking at the combination of what I’d already spent and what it would cost to relocate, I thought it a good idea to know that I’d begin getting a paycheck once I did get on the job.  Those things in mind, I suggested a relatively sane date for both the owner’s sake and mine, with August 1 giving me about a month to get a whole lot of things done back home.  I think the owner’s response was, “That’s fine.”  Oh, it didn’t sound like a thrilled or enthusiastic response, but…

At this point, I have to ask you:  What amount of money would you have been willing to spend in order to do something you thought you were going to really love?  Well, I’d said good-bye to nearly $5000 by the time I arrived in Florida, and it crept closer to $7000 by September 1.

Okay, so those money issues…

At a time when I could have really used the cash flow, a money order reimbursing me for the tryout expenses arrived botched (it took about 5-days to come in the mail from Alaska to Florida, and it was dawgone unsigned, which caused my bank to inform me that it wouldn’t be good to use for about 7-days).    The night before that check did clear, my debit card was rejected at a grocery store as I attempted to buy that night’s dinner.  (Talk about wanting to cry.)

That experience — of dealing with checks from far away Alaska — confirmed what my banker had advised me, in that my paychecks should be done as direct deposits.

Of course, I still had the need to use my cell phone — and actually all my own resources — for the sake of recruiting and conducting other team business.   So, I thought it time to ask my owner about at least helping with the telephone charges, suggesting that she might arrange a company phone for me.

Her answer to both the direct deposit and telephone questions was, “I’ll have to think about.”  With that, she sailed to sea on her shrimp boat for about a week.

I’ll ask you again, just how much of your own money would you have put into what I was doing?  No matter, because that was just about it for me.  I was close to broke, mainly from spending all my own money on my owner’s business…

Many Facebook friends must have wondered what was going on when I posted the accompanying photo along with the claim that I was temporarily off the job.  You see, two weeks had gone by since I arrived in Florida, and the best answer I could get about a paycheck was that my owner would think about it.

Of course, if she rejected the idea of making direct deposits, I’d be left to wait 5- to 7-days for a check to arrive, and then a possible week more for it to clear.  If she rejects my request for a company phone, I’m going to continue to shell out tons of my own money to do business for her.  So, I ask you yet another question:  Who benefits from all these stall tactics?  Ha!

Well, despite getting some crap (from her and other unnamed sources), I evidently did get my owner’s attention.  I mean, she agreed to send me $1500 (how the heck she arrived at that number I’ll never know).  Of course, she must have been chuckling at my pain, as that money order (this time signed) came by way of the usual Alaskan Pony Express.

By the way, I think it’s been well established (over about 40-years) that I love what I do.  I’m also nobody’s fool, and I wasn’t really about to quit recruiting, despite saying so.  No, as I later told her and the league Commissioner, “I never missed a stroke” during that time I’d threatened to sit out.

Okay, so why do I think I got canned?

To begin, it’s my understanding that my owner put up $5000 for the right to fire me.  (Please don’t laugh at the fact that I’ve invested more so far than she has; it pains me too much.)  And my job was to recruit enough players to help make her next league payment.  (Again, don’t laugh, just because it’s her GM/coach’s blood, sweat and tears — not to mention mostly his money — that would help her to continue to be an owner!)  Well, while I didn’t by any means have a full roster yet, my understanding was that I wasn’t doing badly compared to most others.  In fact, I was told several times by league personnel that I was doing better than others.  Actually, a few more recruits submitted contracts after my firing, and yet more interested players are still becoming available from teams and leagues that are folding, from tryout camps where they didn’t make the cut, etc.  So, just to sort through all that, there would have been plenty of players long-term, but I believe my owner was more concerned with not waiting, and not needing to use her own money to keep things going.

If she can hang anything on me, it’s that certain other things I should have accomplished haven’t yet been done.  If I have any excuses — about finding housing for some kids, or finding jobs for some others, here goes…  First, I’m uneasy about putting extreme pressure on a few local folks who volunteered to help.  Secondly, if you get the sense that I’m all alone down here, you’re right.  My owner has threatened to come for several weeks, and still hasn’t shown.  Moreover, with her asking far too often how many kids I had signed, I too often dropped those other projects and jumped right back on the recruiting.  Again, I’ve been alone here, and I could only do one thing at a time.

Here’s the bottom line, though, along with a final question…  How well would you function if you were trapped to extremely low resources?  I’ll tell you this:  I can shift into overwhelm mode when I’m worried about bills.  And, faced with still having to pay for all my recruiting efforts, just imagine how I feared making or taking too many long distance calls, or buying the gas to attend meetings or games where recruits might be seen.  In other words, while my owner was crying about needing more players to pay her bills, she was actually keeping me poor and hampering my ability to reach those players.  Some might call that “penny wise and pound foolish”, but I spell it “S-T-U-P-I-D”!

You might even laugh at me again, as I tell you that I spent $30 on gas to travel to and from Orlando for a showcase — on the two nights leading up to my firing.  Maybe you’ll also laugh at me, knowing that I’ve been paid a grand total of $1500 for exactly one month’s time on the job (from August 1 to September 1).  To this day, she still owes me about $50 that was missing from my reimbursement check.  (At first I thought that was just a clerical error, but not after following her track record.  My guess:  She just tried to beat me out of that money.)

Lastly, although I’m far from home and without a job right now, and although my reputation might be slightly tarnished, I’m almost relieved to be relieved.  In all my conversations with that woman, I found her kinda hard to like — a hockey mom with power and (supposed?) money (some of it still mine).


Footnote 1:  If there’s another reason I needed to write this, it’s for closure.  So, unlike any other post I’ve ever written, this one is only staying visible for awhile — mainly so it answers friends’ questions, and somehow unwrenches my gut (punching a keyboard is more productive than other alternatives).

Footnote 2:  Shortly after my firing, a friend asked who might replace me.  A light suddenly came on, and I blurted out, “Someone like that doesn’t pull the trigger unless she already had a coach more to her liking (like someone she can control, and get for even less money)!”  God help him.  Hopefully he sees this, too, so that he might find a way to be paid in advance.

Footnote 3:  I’ve already explained why I believe I was fired — mainly because I didn’t recruit enough players to fund her next steps in the team purchase.  However, once that team is full, she and her players are going to miss what I could have done for them — in the way of coaching and readying them to please scouts, and in making the necessary college and pro contacts several months down the road.

Footnote 4:  In case anyone is wondering what the current recruiting process is like, I need to start by saying that a lot of potential recruits don’t exactly tell the truth.  Oh, some players are sincere from the get-go, and they either sign or don’t sign fairly quickly.  The majority of kids, however, only let the GM know that they’re “fairly interested”.  The GM seldom gets a real explanation, but they likely know that they’re going to attend a number of other tryouts before making a final decision.  Some have dreams of a higher level, some are hoping to make a team closer to home, some are hoping to avoid paying to play — or paying less than our league, and so on.  As you can see, then, it’s a drawn out process, that requires numerous follow-ups — in the way of phone calls, emails, social media messages, etc.  And that’s something my owner both failed to realize and actually hampered me in doing.

Footnote 5:  There are folks “out there” who are hoping the TEHL fails.  And, upon first glance, someone is going to think the above is good fodder for them to write about and cheer about.  Sorry, SH, but this is a story about one difficult owner, and not an indictment of the league and its concept.  The other owners and coaches I’ve met or talked with so far are hard at it, and doing things the right way.  For sure I feel at least slightly wronged by the league, but that’s an issue for another time.

Footnote 6:  Do I believe anyone could have helped save my job — other than me, or a smarter owner?  I guess I’m going to leave that to the consciences of a number of folks.  I did surely take note of the calls and messages that came in (or didn’t come in) right after the firing.  In fact, my first Facebook post on the morning after noted that, “The silence is deafening!”  Ya, and some still haven’t said a word.

Footnote 7:  What’s going to come of me and Raggs?  Well, God’s had answers in the past, and I’m betting he has another one in store for us.  Stay tuned.

I (Also) Had A Dream (or Two)

Posted May 31, 2012 by Coach Chic
Categories: Winter - 2010

I know I haven’t posted much recently.  Trust me, that it isn’t because nothing has been going on in my hockey or personal life.  To the contrary, there’s been far too much for me to keep up with in type.  That said, I will have some updates for you within this and my next few diary entries.  Promise.

Yes, I also dream plenty, just like you…  Actually, the first one I want to mention took place back in the early 1980’s.

I can’t really recall now how I connected with a young guy who was the Secretary of the Australian Ice Hockey Federation.  It most likely came about from one of the hockey magazines I wrote for back then.

Anyway, can you imagine my excitement at being considered for a head coaching position within that country’s National Hockey League?  Aaaah, just picture the fun.

Which reminds me of something a long-time friend, Dave Purdy, once told me, in that I should “Never take a job that comes with too many keys!”  :D  Dave is a funny guy, but he was right-on with that observation.  What he meant, of course, is that we might not want a job that includes too many responsibilities (which also reminds me of my then 5-year old grandson telling his grandmother, “I don’t like ‘sponsibilities”).

So, what happens?  The first job offer I get from an Australian pro team is to be their Head Coach and Arena Manager.  Hmmmmmmmm…  Too many keys?

Now, before some young coach tells me that he’d have jumped all over that job, I want folks to appreciate that I was married, I owned a beautiful house in my hometown, and my one child, a son, was on track to enter one of the US’s top hockey playing high schools in the fall.  Would I have taken the job if I was single, or if we didn’t have real roots here in tiny Whitman, Massachusetts?  In a heartbeat.  However, I feared giving up all that, moving to a somewhat strange land about halfway around the world, and then discovering I hated the rink manager’s part of that job.

As it turned out, another job offer came on the heels of the one I’d just turned down.  This one, believe it or not, included coaching another NHL team, while also being the manager for their rink based restaurant.  (Geeeeeeeze!)

Now, could I have made either of those jobs work for me?  I mean, could I have hired a good enough assistant to get me out of most of the rink manager’s or restaurant manger’s duties?  It’s quite possible.  At the same time, picture the risk of uprooting my family with that kind of uncertainty hanging over my head.  Gulp.

Quite obviously, I eventually grabbed the telephone to let the federation’s secretary know why I was turning down those jobs.  With that, my dream job started coming into view.  My Australian friend said that he’d for years had an idea that placed someone of my qualifications in charge of all hockey development within a given state.  (A lot of years have passed by but, I think it was for New South Wales.)

Man, talk about my mind racing…  I was still only a few years removed from visiting Moscow and studying the development of Soviet athletes.  And I was also nearing the completion of my Physical Education Degree.  Ya, my mind was racing.

As another aside here…   I’m a pretty demanding guy — if you work for me or play for me.  At the same time, I think I’m a caring guy, and I’m pretty understanding when it come to certain situations.  As it pertains to what the secretary told me, I’d have to overcome a shortage of ice-time there.  Hmmmmmm…  I understood completely, and I vowed to myself that I could make things work without a lot of ice-time.  Actually, who better could they get to substitute a kzillion off-ice training routines and still have their players grow in leaps and bounds?

Oh, did I have a dream…  As I awaited word from Australia, I doodled and doodled and researched and researched.  And, even though I was doing that stuff in my spare time here in Whitman, I was gradually putting together a program that would ultimately put Australian hockey on the map.  I even recall moving around in my livingroom one morning, performing what would later become a program now called the “Goaler’s Dance”.  Yup, I arrived at that and numerous other ideas as I dreamed about that job.

Quite obviously, there’s a reason I don’t talk funny today, or drive on the wrong side of the street.  😉  Darn, but my friend couldn’t get the funding he’d hoped for, and the job never did materialize.

Oh, that dream…  I’ve always known my stuff when it comes to physical movements, and I can troubleshoot skill problems with the best in the world.  So, I just knew that the model I devised for one state would ultimately be taken on by the entire Australian Ice Hockey Federation.

I’m kinda shaking my head when I think about all this in relationship to hockey here in the US.  I mean, could USA Hockey (or AHAUS back then) have used my model just as well?  LOL…  In actuality, I’d have given them something pretty dawgoned close to their modern day ADM program, only about 20-years earlier.  In truth, USA Hockey is laden with politics, so not unlike our Congress, it takes them a good many years to try and fail, try and fail, try and…

Anyway, all the work I did in preparation for that overseas job wasn’t for naught.  I put it all to use in my own local programs, and I’ve been pouring out talented young players for all the years since.

Come to think of it, if I had moved away, I would have never gotten involved with Roland Lacey of MediaRight Technologies or the M.I.T. women’s hockey team, and I’d have never been dragged (kicking and screaming, by the way) onto the Internet.

For sure, I’d have never run a site like CoachChic.com, where I have the privilege of helping hockey parents, coaches and adult players with the game.

Actually, I’d have probably never gotten into Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or LinkedIn, which means I wouldn’t have been able to call folks like you my friend.  And, if it wasn’t for social media, I’d have never met a guy named Mike Mahony, who helped me build my on-line hockey store.

Ya, it surely would have been a blast doing that Aussie job, but I would have likely missed a lot, too, including the thousands of great players and hockey families I’ve met closer to home over the past 30-years.

All that said, you have to be wondering why that old dream suddenly came to mind today.  Well, it’s because there’s something new on the horizon for me now, and it might just explain my absence here over recent months.

You see, awhile back, there were hints that new job opportunities were going to be opening for me in a number of small cities along the eastern seaboard.  As I heard bits and pieces, it appeared hockey folks in those areas were starving for better guidance, and that’s something I’ve always felt God put me on this earth to provide.   The best part was that I likely wouldn’t have to relocate, and I could continue helping local kids grow their game.

Over time, however, the group heading the above hinted at operation began to change their focus.  Oh, did they ever…

Yup, a few months ago, I was asked to become involved in a new Junior “A” league forming in Florida.  Oh, I’ve for years been joking — especially during harsh New England winters — that I’m looking for a rink with palm trees hanging overhead.  If there was a problem with the new league’s offer, it was that I’d had enough of long road trips.  (Again, some young guy or gal would tell me that I’m crazy, and that he or she would die for the chance I was getting.  Long bus rides can get tiresome, though.  Trust me.)

My counter offer was that I’d go down to the Sunshine State but, rather than GM and coach a team, I’d work for the whole league, and do community relations stuff with the six member rinks.  In other words, I’d show the players, parents and coaches Coach Chic’s way of doing things.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.  I mean, I honestly think nighttime dreams are his way of helping us deal with daytime challenges.

For, what happened next was that I attended a local coaches’ meeting.  And, as fate (or God?) might have it, I had to constantly look up and view a movie poster on the far meetingroom wall.  Ugh.  That poster depicted a character that was almost me!  True story…  In real life, lots of years ago, the team featured in that movie was going to fire their coach, and I was to fly in overnight to be introduced the next morning as the new coach.  It never happened but, it surely didn’t prevent me from asking myself several times during the meeting, “What the heck am I doing here?”  In fact, that had to have played on my mind all that night as I tried to sleep, because I awoke with a start the next morning and told myself, “I have to do that!”

Of course “that” was to GM and coach a team in the new Florida league.  Geeeeeeeze…  Bus rides?  I’ve kinda missed ’em, actually, and I also missed the closeness a coach can feel with his players when making those long treks.

A funny thing…  I’ve always acted the way I did as I awaited word from Australia, in that I always get psyched about a new undertaking, and I start to scribble ideas as they pop into my head.   The only difference nowadays is that more stuff gets saved on my laptop than on scraps of paper, and research can be more easily done over the Internet.  Trust me, though, that the excitement is still the same.

With the TEHL currently being in start-up mode, you can be sure things change from day to day (if not hour by hour or minute by minute).  Only a day ago I discovered my own personal assignment, as GM/coach of the St Cloud Thunder.  (Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?)

People on the ground in Florida right now have their work cut out for them, arranging rink lease agreements for six teams, plotting practice and game night ice,  ordering equipment, having new team logos designed, and so much more,

Of course, guys like me all the while are dreaming…  Ya, I want my players…

Over the past decade plus, I can’t tell you how much I envied my buddies who are local high school and college coaches, and awaiting their first practices.  Not that I often wished I was them, except for that one special night of the year.  I mean, the adrenalin used to pump so much in me that I could hardly sleep.

Okay, as I said moments ago, things are changing rapidly with the new league, so I’m guessing I’ll soon have a lot more to tell you about my latest dream job.

Before leaving, though, let me share something that fascinates me more than anything else when it comes to the TEHL…

From the onset, the league’s founder has talked about putting the league first, along with it’s main objective.  That objective?  It’s to help move every single one of our players on to a good college.  Championships are nice but, the measure of each coach’s success is really going to be in how many players he helps towards that end.

Better yet, I just got off the phone with another coach, and we both agreed that we have to be willing to help each others players.  For sure, we’ll try to beat one another on any given game night.  In the end, though, we’re going to be pulling for all the kids on all of the teams.

That said, I’m hoping that players from (literally) around the world get themselves to our first tryout camp — it’s approaching fast.  Good players are assured of making a roster if they’re seen early.

We Don’t Live in a Vacuum

Posted November 1, 2011 by Coach Chic
Categories: Fall 2011

While a whole bunch of hockey events have inspired this post, I can assure my many on-line friends that this has as much to do with everyday life as it does my sport.

Actually, the seeds for this post — and its title — sprouted a few weeks ago when I got the sense that a hockey dad was advising his son wrongly.

Understand that the boy plays a “team” sport.  Know what I mean?  And what I thought I heard the dad saying was that his son should pretty much forget his coaches’ advice.  Moreover, the hockey dad seemed to be advising his boy to sorta go through the motions with his team, and then get his training elsewhere.

Ya, that’s when I first arrived at the idea that team players don’t function  in a bubble, a vacuum, whatever.

Now, as many readers know, I’m really into social media — from Twitter to Facebook to the new Google+.  I’ve also more recently become pretty active within a number of hockey related groups over at LinkedIn.   And a recent question asked by a LinkedIn member coach had to do with one of her goaltenders suddenly requesting to move from that position to play defense.  ???  Now, I don’t want to go into all the ramifications such a move would cause, but I do need to say that it would cause a whole bunch.  You don’t have to know hockey either, to appreciate that such a move would create a void in one place, perhaps too many bodies in another, and most likely totally disrupt the team chemistry.  Said yet another way, that player could have made such a request long before team tryouts, but to do it once the team was picked would affect the coach’s plans as well as most teammates.  And, might we say, that that player — and his or her family — should realize that they don’t live in a dawgoned vacuum?

As an aside here, perhaps a quarter century ago I coached an extremely talented young hockey player (emphasis on “extremely”).  If there was a problem, he tended to be moody, with this sometimes affecting his performance and those around him.  He was a great kid, but…  I soon discovered that he was also extremely talented in other areas of his life, including being exceptionally bright, and an awesome artist.  Interestingly, perhaps, he also dabbled in another sport that was not team related, and he began climbing the ladder there as well.  Anyway, he ultimately actually made a name for himself in the other sport, and I suspect that his move to train and compete as a soloist was the best decision he ever made.  If you get my drift here, he was likely to struggle if he kept working within a team sport, but he did find a place where he could actually function within somewhat of a vacuum.

Yet another very related story stems from a telephone conversation I had with another coach just a few days back.  He was mentioning how surprised he was that a given hockey mom was kind of a pain in the butt.  As he explained it, her dad was a fairly well known coach, so he thought she would be a model hockey parent.  Hmmmmm…

I told the other coach that I not only understood what he was saying, but that I’d seen numerous similar examples of this in my 40-years of dealing with teams and other hockey programs.

Whether I have the answer to this is debatable, for sure.  However, I’ve noticed that my problems have occurred only with daughters of coaches, and not the sons.  ???  How — or why — should this be?

My only (slightly educated) guess would be the frame of reference within which two siblings might hear things mentioned around the dinner table, wherever.  In other words, it’s more than likely that the sons had experienced the lockerroom scenes — for real, they’ve been teammates, they’ve spilled some blood, sweat and tears on a battlefield, they’ve been beaten on some by coaches, and they’ve had their mouths smashed by opponents.  And, from my totally old fashion, sexist perspective (because I’m grandfathered in that area — LOL), most daughters have not had such experiences.  So again, I think two youngsters overhearing their dad’s war stories could hear two very, very different things.

And the gist of that discussion with the other coach — about the pain-the-in-the-butt hockey mom — had everything in the world to do with this idea about functioning or not functioning within a bubble.  Or, in my friend’s case, it had everything to do with whether that hockey mom truly understood what it’s like to be part of a team.

To expand further on that last statement, let me air what is commonly accepted around the hockey rinks, in that a kid’s attitude is very much a reflection of his or her mom’s and dad’s.  Truly, parents are not usually able to hide their own opinions very well from their kids, and those attitudes — be they great or not so — always seem to find their way into a team sport’s lockerroom — in the way he or she interacts with coaches as well as with teammates.

I don’t doubt some parents would like to argue the above.  Ha.  Dream as you wish, but ask a friend, ask a coach, ask anyone.

One of the tough parts to all this is to hear a coach say something to the effect that, “He really is a good kid, but…”  Ya, the “but” part has to do with the poor kid still being influenced by a wayward parent.

A funny thing…  I’ve only gradually been able to get to know the kids in my charge this winter — from my clinic beginners to another clinic I work in to a Mite team I coach to another older Bantam team.  The Negative Nellies (or Normans) tend to jump right out at ya, while other kids and parents are seemingly so passive one might never get to know their true feelings.  The more I get to know folks, though, the more I’m positive the kids’ coachability will be a refection of their parents’ attitudes.

And here’s the good or bad part to the latter…  Coaches in a player’s past are always being contacted for a reference.  Oh, I’m not talking about the formal kind, but we are constantly stopped at a rink, emailed or called to answer questions about someone who previously played for us.  One problem folks have to realize in this regard is that a coach’s reputation goes on the line with every single one of those conversations.  In my case, I hope I’ve earned a rep for being truthful over some 40-years in the game, and I’m not about to toss that all away to lie about a given kid — whether my opinion of him or her is good, bad or indifferent.  AND, believe it or not, other coaches always seem to get around to asking about the parents.  Why?  Because the kid and his or her parents are always a package deal.  So, if a reader is still resisting the belief that his or her own actions and attitudes reflect on their youngster, it might be time to panic.  The new team — if it is in fact a team, isn’t a collection of players living in separate bubbles.  And what the future coach is looking for are all the right parts — skill-wise and attitude-wise — to act as one.

As I suggested from the start, though, the idea that we don’t function in a vacuum has as much to do with life as it does taking part in a team sport.  Whether we like it or not, we’re all a part of our society, most of us work in an office or within a crew that either functions smoothly and peacefully or doesn’t.  We’re neighbors, some of us are students within a group of other students, and some of us engage in some sort of a club activity.  No matter, it is hard in this day and age to do much of anything that doesn’t affect others.

No, we don’t live in a vacuum, and I’m going to have to do a better job of reminding myself about that.  So should parents, however, so that their youngsters get to enjoy the awesome experiences of being part of all the groups in their future.

An Open Letter to All AAA Hockey Programs

Posted October 8, 2011 by Coach Chic
Categories: Fall 2011

Before I get rolling here, let me say that — as usual, a number of things set me off on this topic…

First, after almost a lifetime of running my own programs, I’ve more recently had the chance (and the pleasure, really) to observe a number of other AA and AAA programs, both closely and long distance.

Secondly, the following question just arrived in my email inbox from LinkedIn…

“With the new checking rules moving legal checking to the bantam level, how does this impact high school freshmen teams, where the current ages span both the peewee and bantam levels?”

Why did that push me over the edge — enough to send me reelin’ at my ‘riter? It’s because the obvious answer to that coach’s question lies in the need for some consistency within a given organization.

Okay, I obviously didn’t explain myself very well with that answer, so here’s both the short and the long of it…

I think I’d answer the coach who submitted that question with the suggestion that checking skills should have been taught to his kids almost from the very start of their development.  Hey, even though Mites aren’t allowed to “body-check”, collisions happen all the time.  Moreover, nearly everything short of a big hit is not only permissible in the little guys’ and gals’ game, but I’ll suggest that skills like steering and trapping an enemy puckcarrier are vital to every single level of our game.  So, by the way, is it necessary to learn early-on to handle the puck with your dawgone eyes up!

Then — oh, boy…  Probably better than a year ago, Boston University Head Coach Jack Parker raised the ire of New England area hockey folks by suggesting there just isn’t the talent in these here parts to bring many local kids on board — to his program or to most other local Division I colleges.  And, man, did the fans scald the legendary BU coach on that one.

I hopped into one of the hockey forums to agree with Parker, citing “skills” as being one of the major culprits.  Ya, skills…

Now, I dare anyone reading this to argue with my claim — or partial blame — here, that I actually started the trend towards the use of that term.

I’m guessing it was more than 20-years ago when I was invited to sit in on the founding of a revolutionary new hockey program.  My part was only a small one, really, in that the owners of that new organization sought advice from several local hockey gurus as they attempted to put together the best developmental program they could for Southern New England high school players.  And, believe it or not, the founders were gradually piecing together a program that would ultimately be followed by just about every other high level hockey program for decades to come.  Where I jumped in was after they’d arrived at the typical weekly schedule of games and practices.

The owners did really want to provide more than others of that time, and they were asking my input about including a weekly “powerskating” session for each organization member.  I happened to flinch at hearing that term.   For, to me, it infers that “power” is the most important component in hockey skating.  Trust me:  It is not.

Actually, the program that I’d become relatively famous for to that point in history had evolved to include far more than just an hour of skating work.  Ya, I’d increasingly viewed my students’ needs in a more holistic way, to include skating, tons of puckhandling, introductory passing and receiving, and some occasional work on shooting.  (In ensuing years, I’d even include some basic “checking” skills.)

That in mind, I suggested to the group that I wouldn’t trap their coaches — or mislead their customers — by calling that weekly session Powerskating.  Then, put on the spot to arrive at something more appropriate, I offered, “How about just Hockey Skills?”  (Quite obviously, that expression was shortened to “Skills” by the time it hit their brochures.)

Again, what I was suggesting would be a fast paced hour of intense skating and puckhandling, with some later attention given to passing and receiving basics and even some help with the kids’ shooting.

Ugh!  If I had it all to do over again, I’d have offered something even more descriptive for what I really meant, by calling it “Individual Hockey Skills”.  For, as a whole bunch of copycat programs soon began sprouting around New England, each included a skills session that was a far cry from what I’d envisioned.

Ya, reminiscent of the old song by Melanie — “Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma”, I now shake my head as I walk through local rinks to see just what they’ve done to “my skills”.  I mean, it now appears that the actual individual skills part is long gone, and nearly every skills session is a mishmash of either unconnected stations or a series of numerical situation drills like 1 on 1’s, 2 on 1’s, etc.  Worse yet, I’ve stopped to watch some of those situational match-ups in progress, and I’ve yet to see a single coach correct either an attacker or defender.  (Geeeeeeze…  As I recall from my long ago Phys Ed Degree studies, “A drill doesn’t teach, coaches do!”)

Still, the total waste of skills time is probably compounded further by yet another shortcoming in most development programs, this brought to mind by that LinkedIn question.  For, you see, to deal with something like body-checking would take some foresight and planning on the parts of program organizers.  Or, as this old skills coach sees it, the very basics of checking must be taught at the youngest levels, progressions should be added at each next level of the players’ development, until fairly sophisticated players emerge at the highest levels.

Okay, I know that one needs even more explaining, too.  So, here goes…

The main point here isn’t about “checking” or “body-checking”.  What I’m really getting at is that there has to be an overall, program-wide plan for every single hockey skill.

As an aside, just picture all the things that had to go wrong in a kid’s development if he or she arrives at a the Bantam level with a lack in skating skills, puckhandling, passing, receiving, shooting, checking, or whatever.  To my way of thinking, he or she has been let down along the way — over about 5- or 6- or 7-years?

In the traditional hometown hockey program it might be the team coaches who were/are the culprits, but in the larger AAA programs I’m pointing a finger at those in charge of so-called “skills”.

Oh, the latter group may have used the fanciest looking drills, and they may have impressed the heck out of onlookers.  But they have also definitely let the kids down.

In other words, introductory skills have to be instilled at the very youngest levels, and those skills have to be heading somewhere.  We might initially be talking about basic stopping or turning skills, but each of those have progressions that should ultimately take a player to an extremely high level of execution.  And the same could be said about every other skating skill, puckhandling move, passing and so on.

As yet another aside, a while back I was shooting the bull on this very subject with someone who oversees a large hockey operation, and I ultimately blurted out something to the effect that, “Every organization should have a system almost akin to the MCAS!”

For those unfamiliar with that acronym, here in my home state it stands for “Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System”, or a system in which public school students (and their teachers?) are tested periodically on the students’ proficiencies in various school subjects.

What I was suggesting was something very similar to the MCASs being devised for a youth hockey organization, so that players had to achieve certain basic skills — and perhaps even knowledge of some basic playing principles — at this level, the next level, and so on.

And, as I intimated above in reference to the MCASs, I feel the teachers — or coaches in this case — have to have their feet held to the fire when it comes to their students’ successes (or failures).  Said yet another way…  If players are arriving at Pee Wee and Bantam levels without some pretty decent skills, someone other than the kids has to be held accountable.

Now, I poked a little needle at the guys and gals who might be using fancy looking drills in their skills sessions, perhaps partially to impress those in the bleachers.  And, I know this is a problem — maybe a huge one.  Yes, parents generally are impressed with all sorts of activity — players buzzing all over, 8-pucks going at the same time, etc.  And they might not even be noticing high priced coaches standing still to blow a whistle or oversee a line of players.  (What they’re also missing, quite obviously, is the need for coaches to be actively involved in a given drill, and constantly providing feedback to the players as they pass by.  Again, the drill seldom does much for a player, at least beyond a point.  No, it’s the coach’s help or advice that makes all the difference in the world.)

Oh, since I’m on a roll with asides today…  I actually authored a manual years ago called “500 Drills” (and it was purchased by NHL, AHL and European teams, besides lots of amateur level coaches).  My point?  I know plenty of drills, simple to pretty fancy.  Still, I never use a one of them that isn’t appropriate to where my kids are at a given time, or what their needs are on a given night.  Said yet another way:  My drill selections are NOT based on impressing anyone; I pick drills that help bring my kids from one level of play to the next.

So, what to do about this problem?

Well, Number One, I don’t believe those of us responsible for the players’ development should be caving and doing wrongly when we know what’s truly right.  If you think about it, to do things solely to please the parents is to suggest that they know more than the guys overseeing the ice.

Number Two, I am not totally dismissing the paying parents in all this.  Ya, in a way, the customer is supposed to be right.  But, then again, no self-respecting mechanic is going to totally agree with a car owner who wants to frequently skip oil changes.  Nor is any doctor worth his or her salt (pardon the pun) going to okay a diet high in chocolate cake, solely because the patient likes that best.  Naw, at some point those of us who know better have to step up — have some gumption, and do what’s right for the customer.  If this means better educating everyone involved in the program, so be it.  But again, what’s the choice:  Keep doing wrongly, or start doing things the way we know in our hearts are right?

Then, before ending, I see yet another thing shortchanging the kids when an organization’s skills program isn’t quite right.  For, if individual skills aren’t dealt with properly during those supposedly dedicated weekly sessions, team coaches are faced with the need to skip work on team related stuff, instead having to devote a good portion of their weekly practices trying to do what others should have been doing.

So, there you have it, from a rather old skills coach who has been around the block (or rink) too many years to mention.  And, for my money (if I was still a paying hockey parent)…

1) Organizations who see themselves as really class operations have to put true meaning back into skills by viewing them as “individual skill” sessions.  In other words, get back to enhancing the capabilities of individual players by concentrating on skating, puckhandling, passing and receiving, shooting and checking skills.

2) There seems the need for a program to better educate parents, helping them to better appreciate how their youngsters can improve far more in the long run from such an approach.

3) Although a daunting task, I’m suggesting here that every program should have their own type of MCAS approach to individual skill development, this to include clearly defined progressions for every individual hockey skill, with defined levels for when such skills should be learned and then mastered.

Lastly, rather than getting upset at the likes of a Jack Parker — for telling local hockey folks exactly the way it is, I think it’s time we who know best get things back on the right track.  For sure, it’s going to be a long journey, and we just may need to accept the fact that we haven’t done the greatest job with our current Pee Wees, Bantams and Midgets.  Better late than never, though.  And that reminds me of a quote I’ve seen a lot lately (I paraphrase):

“Plant a tree today, knowing full well
you’ll never get to enjoy its shade.”

Ya, perhaps it’s time we look to our current Mites and Squirts as the next crop of local players to be among the best in North America.  Whether we’ll be around to see that happen shouldn’t be our motivation.  Doing what we know is right should be.


Want a treat?  Go to YouTube.com and listen to the wonderful words and voice of Melanie in “Look What They’ve Done to My Song“!

A Matter of Trust — in Hockey, in Life

Posted October 3, 2011 by Coach Chic
Categories: Fall 2011

Man, if this topic doesn’t usually cause me to pull my hair out, nothing does.

Before I get deeper into this, however, I probably ought to begin by saying that I don’t just trust everyone — or at least not right off the bat.  Hey, just because you hang a shingle out and claim to be an auto mechanic, it doesn’t mean you really know your stuff.  And just gaining a degree in something or other doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a top butcher or baker or candlestick maker.

Nor does a sheepskin mean you’re a world class doctor.  Case in point…  Many years ago, my late dad had been hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer.  Thank God he questioned the nurse who was about to relieve his pain with a couple of aspirin (which had been recommended by his doctor).  Geeeeeeeze…  Anyone knows that aspirin acts as an anticoagulant.  My point:  There’s nothing wrong with questioning anyone, doctors included.

On the other hand, I had to be super trusting the day my mechanic asked me if he could cut my Cadillac’s tailpipe in half.  Whaaaaa?  Ya, the guy was trying to troubleshoot a really mysterious lack of power in my car’s engine, and he had a hunch he knew what the problem was.  Why did I give the guy a go-ahead on cutting that pipe?  Well, he had worked for years in NASCAR pits, he was famous in the local area for solving problems others couldn’t, and he had worked wonders for me over many, many years.  So, although I cringed a bit at the thought of him hacking my car’s tailpipe in half, I trusted that guy to the max.  And, guess what…  As he explained to me later — after he’d looked inside the pipe, the Caddies of that era came with double lined exhausts, and sometimes the inside pipe would shrink and choke-off the flow of air.  Unbelievable!  Yes, I’d trusted that guy, mainly because he had a reputation for knowing things other so-called mechanics hadn’t a clue about.  And, in the end he saved me countless dollars, because any mere mortal would have replaced a kzillion other expensive auto parts before arriving at the real remedy.

Okay, so I’ve come to appreciate a wide range of folks over recent years…  Roland Lacey and Michael Mahony are two guys I scramble to call or email when I have a serious Internet problem.   I don’t let just anyone contribute to my CoachChic.com hockey site, so you can be sure I totally trust the likes of Bruce Turpin, Shaun Goodsell, Maryse Senecal, Scott Umberger and a host of others.  Do I trust those folks for no reason?  Absolutely not.  Actually, a lot like my old mechanic, I found their credentials interesting, but I was more convinced by their track records, or the quality of their work.  Have we had some healthy philosophical arguments?  Ya, I’d like to think so.  And, I’d also like to think that they’ve trusted my area of expertise when their specialties collided with mine.

If there’s one theme to this point, it’s probably that we all have to trust someone at sometime.  Yet, I’ve also suggested that it shouldn’t be a blind trust.  No, not at all.   And that brings me to a number of experiences of late…

Over the past week, a pretty high level coach from the United Kingdom has contacted me for advice.  Oh, there’s no problem with our relationship, but he’s having his share of problems swaying a few of his elite level hockey players.  As he explains it, his team is moving from the B Pool to the A Pool (a much tougher level), and his players know they have some challenges ahead — mainly in the areas of skating and shooting.  I thought it good that they knew they might be lacking, but then I found it puzzling that they wrestled with some pretty basic advice.  For example — and a lot like young kids I so often deal with here in the states, they resisted shifting to more flexible hockey stick shafts.  Ugh — because, if they’d just trust me and their coach, they’d likely instantly add velocity to all of their shots.  Yes, I said instantly.  Oh, I sense that their coach and I will win in the end — as will those players, but they are seemingly going to wrestle for awhile until our point finally gets across.

I hate to say it but, there’s a huge difference in the amount of trust shown by the parents on my two teams.  God bless most of the parents on my youngest team, because they are basically new to the game of hockey, and they’re super-willing to heed any advice given them.   Consequently, their kids gain almost immediately.  On the other hand, my older team’s parents probably have just enough hockey knowledge to give an old coach (more) gray hairs — or, should I say, their experiences to this point seem to stall their kids’ progress just as might be happening to those few elite level UK players.

Actually, one of my long-time messages for hockey parents is to put more stock in their kids’ practices than games.  As I like to say it, “The games are merely weekly quizzes, telling the players and coaches how they’re progressing at the moment.”  Said yet another way…  A high school coach isn’t going to care a bit about how many goals a kid previously scored, or his or her team’s won/loss record.  No, the coach is going to care far more about the things learned in countless practices over the years, and whether a given youngster can really play the game.

Then, for an example that might make me either laugh or cry…  A number of years ago I had a very skilled young 6th grader join my junior high school team.   Actually, I could see from the start that he was pretty headsy, and that he could think the game far better than a lot of my older kids.  (This wasn’t all that unusual, since he fit in the mold of a lot of “second sons” I’ve coached through the years.)  In no time at all, that little rascal was able to jump into our powerplay unit — with 7th and 8th graders, and there were times when I felt he was capable of actually running the show out there.  If there was a problem, the boy’s mom went from just trusting her son’s development to me to ultimately questioning my choice of forechecks and other such things.  So, while I thought the boy was initially on track to be a local high school star (and maybe go further), the mom ultimately moved him to a different team that practiced and played at a level far below ours.  No longer would the boy be challenged with wild off- and on-ice drills or relatively high level X’s and O’s, but at least the mom could have her say on most hockey issues.

Considering the three above hockey examples, I’m not suggesting that players or parents have to trust every coach, and they don’t even have to trust yours truly.  What they really need to do, however, is find someone they do trust, and ultimately follow his or her advice pretty close to the letter.  As I suggested above, those elite level UK players are probably going to eventually follow their coach’s suggestions; it’s probably more a matter of how much time will be lost until they’re able to take advantage of some sound advice.   The same might be said for those parents who put games ahead of practices.  As for the little guy described in the last paragraph, I’ll be watching the local high school hockey write-ups over coming years, just to see if his mom has been able to coach him well enough to star as he should.

The main theme here, however, has to do with whom you really do trust.  As I suggested earlier, anyone can hang out a mechanic’s or cake decorator’s or hockey coach’s shingle.  It’s also likely that medical and law schools can churn out as many extremely talented pros as not so trustworthy ones.   So, while education surely matters, a track record probably matters a whole lot more.