Let’s talk: Why coaches need to redefine “courage” in hockey

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Henry Acres

Henry Acres is based in Sweden, as a husband and father to twins. He has experience as a team and skills coach, in management and scouting at various Pro and Jr. levels in Sweden, Finland, Norway and continental Europe.

He possesses Elite Trainer certification (ETU) from the Svenska Ishockeyförbundet and HP-1 from his native Canada.

Henry is motivated to continuously develop people, teams and organizations towards becoming their best and himself on this journey.

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Those of us that live, breathe, eat, drink, and sleep hockey, have a clear definition of what courage is and looks like.

Courage includes standing up for your teammates, being first to pucks — even when it means taking a hit to make the play — working the boards, net-front, getting to the “greasy areas,” and showing no fear in blocking shots. At its finest it looks like this:

This epic shift is the epitome of what hockey courage looks like. Full belief in self. All in. Courage in action is rooted in a developed mental strength, being completely present, and expressing the will to power through the physical pain of the moment. That is the code.

What about the pain we don’t see? Let’s talk!

First, let’s talk about ourselves as leaders. Your players will always mirror your energy. What is your daily self-care and evaluation process of your mental state? Are you taking care of your needs to be able to serve others? Physically activity? Eating properly? Sleep patterns? Do you have a support network? Fellowship of coaches, staff, partners, and mentors, are you supported in being your authentic self and can discuss anything and everything openly?

How are you building this vital skill-set daily in your players? What about when a player is struggling? How deep can you dig? What is your trust bank account with each player?

As an organization, do you have a structure to address player needs in this area? What does it look like? Do you have a clearly understood action plan for you and your staff to be able to access professional support and assistance immediately if required?

Let’s talk!

Pro players have reached out to me this season at their breaking point:

  • “I feel worthless. Because I am a scorer and not scoring.”
  • “I feel that I am in the way and my life is spinning out of control.”
  • “I feel like I am no good on the ice or otherwise.”

How do you respond to this feedback from players? What is your process to surface the truth? The more prepared you are today, the nimbler you are able to assist your player in getting back on track in life and as an offshoot producing for the team. You perhaps are the only person this individual can trust to keep their head above this rising water. This is heavy. Let’s talk!

Hockey is a team game — a community, a family, no one can, nor should they struggle alone. The environment you create should be a safe place for all.

To learn and grow is impossible when in fight or flight mode. Humans can only function for brief periods in this “survival” state of being. When we do return to the “new normal” of regular training and games.

We are going to be challenged with a boatload of external factors, well outside our realm of control. The associated effect of this pandemic and other life events in our players. They will be changed, and we must be proactively prepared, ready to deal with this hidden pain productively.

Creating a “safe” space for players to ask for and receive support is the required new definition of courage. It takes tremendous strength to just hold on and a greater amount of courage to take the essential step towards meeting and accepting each other for who we are in that second. This is coaching at its highest level, as a coach of significance.

I support you.

Join the conversation.

Let’s talk!

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