If you had parents upset with you during the regular season because of ice time, things are about to get really rocky, right?
Every minor hockey team in Canada has issues about ice time. When the season is on the line in the playoffs the scrutiny only intensifies. Most parents want the team to win, but every parent wants the team to win because their child led them to victory. And can you blame them? Which coaches among us wouldn’t crave the same satisfaction were our own children grinding it out in search of a championship?
However, it’s not about the individuals, it’s about the team achieving success or suffering failure as a singular unit. So let’s stop talking about the parents and focus on what matters: your team.
Find a Role For Everybody
Different levels of hockey incorporate different amounts of players for a reason: it’s tough to win if certain players are tired because of playing too much while players who aren’t playing are collecting rust on the bench. You need everybody. And even if you don’t, giving everyone the opportunity is the right thing to do (more on that in a second).
In bantam, midget and junior you’re going to have players who excel in certain roles because that’s what they’re comfortable with. If you can devote ice time to defensive players and offensive players in different situations, then the collective team unit will conserve energy and be more effective in their roles.
Now, you might have players that aren’t happy with those assignments (or more realistically their parents – wait, dammit, we’re not talking about parents), so in that case you’ve got a character issue on your hands. Will the player suck it up and buy in to their role? Or will they feel sorry for themselves and play worse? The first player will do what he or she can to help the team, while the second player, well, they’ll probably lose more ice time as the playoffs progress.
You Don’t Know What Will Happen
Let’s get back to the element of opportunity. The magical thing about the playoffs is that you don’t know what will happen, both in terms of the results of the games or how your players will perform.
Quick story: a few years ago I was in a tournament in Phoenix with an atom team. We went on a dream run to the playoffs and found ourselves in overtime in the gold medal game – a situation we should not have been in.
Now, this was atom hockey. We were in another country. My assistant coach asked if we should put a certain player on the ice who, while he wasn’t struggling, probably wouldn’t help us score. My answer?
Everyone deserves an opportunity.
And you know what happened?
… Sorry to burst your bubble, but no, he didn’t score. He went out there for 30 seconds, got the puck out and came off. He didn’t play again in overtime, but he had the opportunity and that was all he wanted, and his parents were cool with it too.
He didn’t cost us. Sometimes all it takes is the pressure to succeed for an unlikely hero to rise from his or her seat on the bench, take charge and lead the team to victory.
(We ended up losing in the shootout – one of our more heralded offensive players tried a move, got tangled up and fell on his face – you never know what will happen!)
Coach to Win
Everyone on your team is there for a reason. No, you’re not going to play everyone equal amounts in the playoffs unless you’re coaching a level of hockey where the difference between the top and bottom is negligible. These are teams that are focused on development and having fun, but they still want to win.
It doesn’t matter if you’re coaching junior A or peewee house hockey, playoffs are about winning. No, I’m not saying peewee coaches or house coaches of any age should severely limit playing time for weaker players. However, sometimes coaching for the win is worth the risk of an unhappy camper. The last minute of a period or protecting a lead or going for a tying goal? Put the hot hand on the ice. Coach to win.
The players who see less ice still get the satisfaction of the victory, provided they’ve been included throughout the year and have had a role to play during the playoffs. The kids who get less ice might be frustrated, but that’s the reality of the game.
It’s a fine line. Striking the balance is tough. But that’s why you’re the coach – to make the difficult decisions.
A boulder rolls over the top of a mountain easier when it has more hands pushing. Some hands might be stronger than others, but every ounce of strength helps.
This playoff season, bring everyone along for the ride. This playoff season, coach to win.
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- The Ten Qualities of a Playoff Difference Maker!
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