Quitting on a play because of a mistake is like a poison that immediately infects not only the host, but the entire colony.
We’ve all seen it. A player misses a pass and they throw their hands up in the air in a misguided attempt to assign blame to the passer. A shot misses the net and the shooter smashes their stick against the boards. It happens on the bench too every time you tell a player to step back even though they have a shift in the rotation coming up – cue the exasperated eye roll and reluctant shuffle backwards.
But it’s not the bad body language itself that’s the problem in hockey. It’s not the disease that kills you, it’s the side effects.
“I’m Just Frustrated”
Players who justify their bad body language by claiming frustration and a desire to win are missing the point. Passion is good. The courage and strength to channel that passion, however, are the building blocks of not only a strong hockey player, but a stronger person.
The game doesn’t always go the way we want it to, and for good reason – what would we watch on Saturday nights if the outcome was already decided?
Part of our obsession with hockey is the competitive fire. It’s why many of us still get excited by fights even though they’re soon to be a thing of the past. It’s why Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Brock Boeser’s skill and grace in 3on3 overtime is such a sight to behold.
Elite hockey players at every level don’t get frustrated.
They get even.
When something doesn’t go how it was planned, when a shot misses the net, the best players at every level don’t waste time worrying about what they can’t control. They get the puck back. They try harder. It’s not just the outward displays of bad body language these players have eliminated either.
Why Dwell On The Past?
What’s happened has happened. You’re not going to change the past. But you can change the future. There’s no time to worry about why your linemate’s pass resembled a wounded pigeon moreso than vulcanized rubber. Just writing that sentence is a waste of time.
Let’s look at it this way.
Bad pass happens in the neutral zone -> intended recipient stops, changes the stick angle, picks up the pass, takes three hard strides with the puck, is checked by a defender, but manages to chip it into the offensive zone
Bad pass happens in the neutral zone -> intended recipient throws the hands up in frustration, cruises right by the puck, which is then picked up by a defender and turned back the other way quickly, trapping the intended recipient and the passer and it’s a 3on2 the other way.
Do You Actually Want to Win?
During exit meetings this year, put the question to your players – do you actually want to win? Of course they’ll all answer in the affirmative, but by now you’ll have developed enough of a relationship that you’ll be able to look deeper.
Does it contribute to a winning cause when the player spends energy on what goes wrong in a game instead of what goes right? Are they bringing their teammates up or are they spreading the poison when they demonstrate frustration with their ice time?
Challenge their mentality. They might not actually know they care more about their own performance than the team’s. It’s not easy, but it’s up to the coach to change that mentality. Good luck!
In addition to a conversation, you can also change their behaviour in practice. Work on picking up bad passes. I spend a few minutes before and after every practice making bad passes (totally not intentionally) to players who have to work on using their feet to pick them up, their edges to change their angle, and their brain to commit to the fact that not everything always goes as planned.
Watch the trailer below for pro skills and drills part 3 with Jon Goyens to learn a couple passing drills that can help you get the message across, or watch the entire presentation with your premium membership here.