When you play sports long enough almost every athlete can recall quite clearly that one coach who had a massive impact on his/her athletic career and life. The coach who was able to somehow get through to an undisciplined, home tormented, athlete or that coach who was there throughout the years when an athlete’s mother or father was not. The situations and ways that coaches can impact our athletes are endless. The positive ways in which those diamond in the ruff leaders can contribute to the wellbeing of our children cannot be underestimated. The limits of that impact simply cannot be measured.
As is the duality of the world we live in, there are also those coaches who can have the exact opposite impact on an athlete.
As my mother knocked on the bathroom door to come out, my mind had already been made up. I was all done with hockey. I was going to quit. I was 12 years old and had locked myself in the upstairs bathroom refusing to go to practice. As tears rolled down my face I remembered yelling back, “I don’t want to go, I’m not playing anymore.” Sadly the statement was true; well partially true. I did want to play hockey for it was the sport I loved, but wanting to quit every practice that year was not a stretch. The underlying cause of this conundrum wasn’t due to the hormones of a pre-teen trying to flex his muscles and defy his mother. The real reason of this locked bathroom door incident was a verbally abusive coach who had taken the fun out of the game. Not only that, and far worse, he had taken away confidence and self-esteem that had been acquired through my first 5 years of playing hockey. That season would eventually end and that coach would no longer be able to tell me how I was embarrassing him or how bad of a player I was. However his sentiments and behavior would continue to affect me. In the years to follow I got better and improved quite a bit, however the game was not fun for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. If I had a bad shift, I would come back to the bench pouty and slamming my stick against the boards. This too I would eventually grow out of; but it was all a result of the impact that one coach had.
As parents we want the best for our children in every situation. When it pertains to sports we want that coach who will encourage our children, not tear them down. Sometimes our athletes need a swift kick in the butt or to hear some yelling on the ice. That is not only fine but in a lot of circumstances, it is necessary. I developed a level of discipline and respect from some serious “yellers” in my hockey career. But the important part as hockey parents is to be able to differentiate where the discipline is being directed and in what context or language it is being delivered. A good tool to use when trying to evaluate whether or not a coach is an effective communicator is to watch the player immediately after he interacts with a coach. In most cases the player’s body language after the interaction will tell you all you need to know. When the head goes down, shoulders drop, and there is perhaps a swing of the stick; chances are that coach is NOT communicating in a beneficial way to the player. What a good coach would do is get across that same message in a constructive and motivating manner.
Please understand, there is nothing wrong with intensity. I am an intense coach. I am all business when it comes to my players. However, as parents of our hockey players it is imperative that we seek coaches who are the most effective communicators and motivators. Those are the building blocks that will develop self-esteem and work ethic. Look for those coaches or programs and stick to them for as long as you can. Remember, it only takes one bad coach to ruin a player.