Are You Finding a Role For Every Player?
Scene: postgame, the car on the ride home, quiet and tense.
“You didn’t get a lot of ice time today. What’s up with that?”
A coach’s nightmare, right? This is the beginning of a spiral of frustration that will consume the energy of not only this player and his teammates, but the coach as well.
Unless the player answers like this:
“True, but we had a lot of powerplay time and I don’t play on the powerplay, I play on the penalty kill.”
It would be pretty tough for the parent to complain in this case, right?
But They Still Will
Parents are going to complain. As sure as the Edmonton Oilers will draft first overall, parents will complain about ice time.
The key to stemming the tide of annoying emails at the source, however, is fulfilling the player and not the parent. I rarely, if ever, talk to parents about ice time, because when you explain a role to a player and give them the responsibility to contribute to the team using that role, most players will understand and do what they can to help the team.
If the player is content with their ice time then that’s all you need to worry about.
Alright, enough about parents. I talk about parents way too much.
It’s Still About Winning
I’ve yet to see a team at the major midget or junior level leave players on the bench and succeed over the course of a playoff series. Teams in bantam can get away with it because certain players are so dominant (which doesn’t make it right, but that’s another story), but as players get older they worry less about themselves and more about the team.
As we settle into another season of ups and downs, ask yourself: will employing the skills of the entire lineup help me win?
Perfecting a Specialty
Let’s list out a few common roles.
- Defensive zone draws
- Offensive zone draws
- Safe defense (get pucks deep)
- Energy (stir things up)
- Shut-down (keep the puck out of the net)
- Offense (put the puck in the net)
- Penalty Kill
Depending on the level of your team, some players might be able to contribute to more than one of these areas (hopefully, anyways).
The key is to assign responsibility to every last player on your roster. All of these roles are crucial to winning, and delegating focus throughout your team will maximize not only each individual player, but the team as a whole as well.
The only role this doesn’t address is desperation mode. Who are you going to put on the ice when you need a goal in the last minute of a game? It might be different from your offensive zone specialists, and in that case, the player getting grilled by his dad might have to explain why someone else is better at scoring goals than he is.
Spreading Out Energy
As a minor hockey coach, it’s our responsibility to find something for every player to do, but to win more often than not it’s crucial to spread out the physical and mental fatigue that inevitably creeps up some time in early November. It’s about quality over quantity.
Assigning roles and responsibilities allows you the freedom to keep ice time even (and avoid parent feedback) while also utilizing your players’ individual strengths.
And after all, if you picked a player but you can’t find a role for him, then that’s your failure as a coach. It might take a bit longer with certain players, but if you’re a good enough coach then you’ll be able to find an area of the game in which each player can excel.
Finding a role is something a player can feel proud of, and if you’re able to teach a player how to better at that role, then that’s something for the coach to be proud of as well.
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