A few weeks ago we checked in with Kyle Wallack on the Glass & Out Podcast. Kyle is busy recruiting a brand new team from scratch for his new position as head coach of NCAA Division III Albertus Magnus College. It’s a grind for Kyle, and one of the toughest parts about the process is the fact he’s missing out on the day to day interactions of coaching a team.
“Although I don’t have to hear anyone complaining about not being on the power play,” he said.
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It was a funny comment, but it got me thinking — we’ve all heard those complaints. Everyone wants to play on the power play, everyone wants to be double-shifted, everyone wants the glory of scoring a goal and being on the ice. It doesn’t matter if you’re coaching minor hockey or you’ve spent years in the professional ranks or college hockey like Kyle.
Coaching today’s athlete
Whether you subscribe to the coaching millennials handbook or you’re still trying to figure out this text messaging craze, the truth is that every generation of hockey player is different than the last. They’re more sophisticated, they have access to more information, and they’re more connected to their peers through social media.
One area where coaches can fall short is in failing to recognize just how much their players don’t know. They’ve all seen Auston Matthews toe drag through the offensive zone, but they might not understand what he did in the defensive zone to put himself in position to shoot the puck.
That’s where you and I come in.
Matthews circles low in the defensive zone, gives a good target for his defenceman, moves the puck quickly, and then heads north in a hurry before getting the puck back and shattering the Arizona defenceman’s ankles.
It’s up to us as coaches to explain the benefits of details such as supporting the puck carrier. It’s up to us to describe the value of keeping your stick on the ice. In other situations, it’s up to us to point out exactly what a player needs to do in order to have success and therefore move up the lineup.
Tough but necessary conversations
Sometimes we give players too much credit for what we think they might know. If they haven’t scored in a few weeks and they can’t hit the net to save their life, then how on Earth could they question the decision to take them off the power play?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but that doesn’t change the fact that they do.
They want to know the reasoning behind every decision, and if we don’t give them that reason, then what? Will they sulk and feel sorry for themselves? Hopefully not, but we all know it happens. Will they try to prove us wrong by working harder on the wrong thing, forcing something that isn’t really there and damaging their confidence even more?
That’s a bit better, but still not the result you’re after.
If you want a player to improve at something specific, tell them. Situational play is a privilege, not a right. Tell them why they don’t kill penalties or aren’t on the ice for key faceoffs late in games. Tell them why you can’t find a spot for them on the power play.
It comes back to culture. If you communicate and explain yourself, then it’s up to the player to respond. That response will spread to the rest of the team instead of a poisonous woe-is-me attitude that grows out of a player feeling like they’re being treated unfairly.
The best part about communication is that once you’ve said your piece, then the player has no excuse but to work on that part of their game. And they still might complain behind the scenes, but in that case it’s more their problem than yours.