The relationship and commitment you need to have with your players and your staff on a daily basis in order to even have a chance at progressing your program needs to be planned way ahead.
I have found that players nowadays have a totally different mindset commitment to the game. Players are more prepared and committed than ever before. As coaches, we go into the season with positive attitudes and think we will make this work. That’s great, but you alone cannot do this. Coaches have this in their DNA to think this way and it can be very dangerous. Players want feedback, they want to be reached out to about their game and your team’s systems.
You need to connect with your players right away and get them to understand how they are as a person and as a coach have a laugh or two. It’s not always about just talking hockey that you really get to know that player — talk to your players about their families and off-ice things. Players need that connection with their coach. This does not mean you’re soft or that your player won’t still get a blast in the ear if he/she isn’t doing their job, but you need to show two things as a coach to get the player’s trust and respect.
Be honest and respect them, don’t forget how you wanted to be coached as a player and given honest answers and respect. Sometimes as a coach you think that you should have done this or that, and second guess yourself. I found it took me a lot of years to realize that I just need to ask myself what would I have thought or liked to have been asked to me or shown as a player. Be honest with yourself, don’t sugarcoat it. If you needed a pat on the back, then do it. If you needed a earful, then say it.
We as coaches have to stop overthinking things and second-guessing ourselves. Go with your gut feeling and what you would have liked when you played and stick with it. All players are different, some can handle hard criticism, some you need to find what works for that player to get the best hockey from them.
I always say without these players buying in and respecting you as a coach you will lose your team. I have found that you will get even more respect when you also admit as a coach your mistake. This could be very little mistake, but players see that you’re human like them and it opens the room to everyone being honest and working together.
I have coached teams were it’s a totally different form one year to the next and it’s mostly like this every year. You need to hold yourself accountable as a coach. It’s your job on the line and if you can hire assistants that you can work well with and also challenge you then your goal is that much closer. I don’t think it’s wise to hire an assistant that just agrees with everything you say.
I want feedback, I want to be challenged and kept me on my toes.
I think about it this way, if you had a company and you hired a board that just agreed with you all the time, what kind of company would that be? Coaches need input from staff and also your captains and assistants need to have a voice with you. As the coach you can listen and show the players you care and have their back and they will go to the wall for you.
Make sure you do your research on players’ attitudes, how have they have done on teams that had bad years, because we all know any team that has a good year most of the time things go smooth. I want to know what that player is like in tough times. When they are being challenged, will they fight or complain? Will he/she just go along for the ride because you need these answers before you sign this player.
You can do this and still the player turns out to be not what you expected. That’s when you need to coach or teach or let him loose. Don’t just give up on that player right away unless he/she is a big problem. Give him/her the chance to prove themselves then you can be honest with yourself as a coach and also that player.
That’s why we see so many players go to different teams and do well. Not giving up on them so quick if you can give that player the chance, you as coach can say to yourself you did what you could and you move on. Coaching is really a puzzle, some days you wonder if you did a good job placing things together and if it worked.
You’re challenges aren’t simple, however, if you take a breath and look at what you’re doing, and you love coaching, you will find a way.
Life is a challenge we all go through good and bad days, it’s the people who battle through the bad days with you that are strong people. Those are the players and staff that I want on my team. Be the captain of your ship and the crew will follow.