A short nine months ago I was sitting on the bench waiting for my next shift in what would be the last hockey game of my playing career. Fast forward to now and here I am, standing on the other side of the bench coaching the same game that I love. I decided I wanted to ensure I stayed involved in the game, and while playing in the “beer leagues” is all too fun, I wanted to give back to the sport that has given me so much. Easy right? Sign up to coach, teach the girls a thing or two, and try to win some hockey games. Well, not exactly.
I am just over 4 months into my newly acquired coaching career, working with a great group of girls at the Midget Competitive level. And they are incredible. They have reached the finals in all three of the tournaments we’ve played in, winning gold in two and silver in one (we are working on the rematch for that silver game). We have beaten teams categorized higher than us and continue to compete in a fierce league in the Ottawa region.
And although I could write an entire article about how incredible this team is, I want to shed light on what it’s been like to transition from a player to coach – all in just a few months.
After playing competitive hockey for 20 years, I like to think I know the game pretty well. That’s not to say I was ever the best out there, but I grasped what was taught fairly well and took well to being coached and instructed. However, I’ve now learned that understanding the concepts and being able to teach them are two completely different tasks.
I often compare coaching with teaching. Have you ever had a professor or teacher, who was wildly and evidently smart but wasn’t able to actually teach and transfer that knowledge to you or your class? Coaching is very similar in this sense. Just because you understand the game, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good coach. You can understand all the tactics, systems and skills in the world but if you can’t communicate that to your team in a way they understand, you won’t be successful as a coach.
Coaching is about communication, it’s about putting yourself in the player’s shoes. I’ve definitely learned that it is not a one size fits all. All like teaching, every player learns and understands differently. What may work for one player, may not resonate the same with another. That’s why it’s so important to establish relationships and get to know your players.
Every player is different. Everyone learns differently. Just because I understand a system or tactic, doesn’t mean I am very good at explaining it. Ask the girls on my team. Luckily they are all mature and great kids so they are patient with me as I learn, but when I try and draw a drill on the white board it often looks like a kindergarten just drew their first picture. They usually laugh at me, but say that they understand. Then we start the drill and it is chaos, but we work through it together.
I guess what I want to say in this article is that coaching is a lot harder than it looks. It’s given me a new appreciation for the coaches I’ve had in the past and how good they have been at their job. Is coaching fun? Absolutely. Is it rewarding? Often. But it takes time and learning, and just because you could play the game definitely does not mean you can coach the game. This has been a new challenge for me and I only hope to continue to learn from it.