It didn’t take long, but focusing on the process of hockey rather than results has taken over the mainstream coaching consciousness in most corners of the game. It will shock a lot of hockey parents out there, but most coaches at the minor hockey level are doing what they can to make their players better every chance they have, rather than pulling out all the stops just to eke out wins.
But winning is still fun. Coaches want to win. Winning hockey games is part of the process, so is losing them. When you win games, you learn what success tastes like, and you can draw a straight line from the hard work you did in practice and in the gym to the victory. Winning is a reward for that process, and it’s a lot easier to work hard when you believe that reward is coming more often than not.
Losing has the opposite effect. If it’s hard for the coach to drive to practice the day following a tough loss, then that energy will inevitably seep into the players and contaminate the practice. Habits suffer, and thus the process suffers, and pretty soon you’re stuck in a cycle of lose, feel sorry for yourself, run a poor practice, lose again.
That’s why coaches shouldn’t try to live and die with every win or loss. If you get too high when you win, then the lows following the losses are that much harder to deal with. It’s still valuable to understand why you feel the way you do after a loss, but only in the process of determining what you can improve in practice to avoid the same result.
What About the Players?
Think the coach wants to win? Well, magnify that desire twenty-fold and you’ve got a group of players who, hands-on, and not from the safety of the bench, are injected with adrenaline and living each moment of each game. Players feel pressure to play and win from their parents, their peers, and a society that praises winning streaks and condemns losing. Should those players be pressured by their coaches, too?
Sure they should, but if the coach really wants to win, then he or she will remove the pressure of winning, and replace it with the pressure of performing. How do you perform at your best? When you prepare properly. If we spend two or three practices talking about the next must-win game, then we’re neglecting the task at hand – improvement, development, and preparation. Focusing exclusively on winning creates an effect opposite from what was intended; if we psyche our players up long before the critical moment arrives, then by the time it does, that player will be consumed by the results of their actions, and not the actions themselves. They’ll freeze. We want our young players to play and think fast. Good habits in practice, repetition of key skills, and determination to be better than an opponent are the ingredients of a winning recipe.
So if you want to win this season, don’t focus on winning. Focus on the skills, tactics, and strategies required to win instead.