If you’ve ever played a sport, you’ve had a bad coach. That doesn’t necessarily mean that coach was a bad person, in fact, it likely means you just didn’t like him or her and you didn’t get the playing time you thought you deserved, but straight up bad coaches do really exist.
For the purposes of this post, I’m not talking about a specific coach who’s done something wrong. Sure, I’ve had my head shaken with a cage-grab as a kid, I’ve had pucks shot at me in practice as a teenager, and I’ve had a stick pinning me against the glass under my neck too, but y’know, that stuff happens. I’m talking about the type of typical mistakes your average coaches make during your average seasons. Things that don’t take major corrections, but can have negative effects.
For starters, here are five things bad hockey coaches do. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.
They let the score dictate their tone and direction
We’ve all been there. Your team has gone out in the first period, put the throttle down, and hounded the opposing net. Their goalie made some great saves, and somewhere along the way, your goalie wasn’t able to come up with the same level of play (maybe you have Bryzgalov in net). Hell, maybe something really unlucky just happened (maybe you deem having Bryzgalov in net as unlucky).
Whatever the case, you’re losing 2-0 after the first period. Maybe the shots are close (even though you kept your opponent to the outside and theirs were harmless), so the scoreboard, on the whole, is not that complimentary to your group despite a pretty good period.
And here comes coach into the room during intermission.
“Bulls**t lack of effort on the forecheck”
“F***ing hit somebody”
“Bear down around the net”
And on and on and on.
Wasn’t he watching the game? It gets disheartening.
Bad coaches see the game through the score, regardless of how their team is playing. All you can ask as a coach is for your team to play your systems to a “T,” work their bags off, create chances and limit them in your own end. Luck, both good and bad, happens.
Smart coaches see this. Bad ones do not.
They don’t listen
I’m not of the mind that your coach needs to be your friend, in fact, I believe nothing close to that. It’s different for assistant coaches (who generally take more of a “players’ coach” role), but for the head coach, I believe there’s value in preserving a boss/employee relationship, where their words have real weight, and not following said words has real consequences.
The problem here is that some coaches take that too far and run their teams like dictatorships, which is not what I’m suggesting anyone do at all. Hockey players today, as I’ve written many times before, are not built as they were in the past. They’re not happy to get off the farm and “have a shot.” They’re groomed from birth, told how great they are constantly, and are a lot more sensitive.
You can pine for the days of yore all you like, but it doesn’t change the fact that one of your jobs as a coach is to get the most out of players, and to do so today, you have to know what’s going on with them. You have to listen for cues about when guys need a pat on the back, and when they need a kick in the ass. You have to listen for which guys are feeling good on a given night, and which aren’t. You have to listen to your assistants to get a feel for what’s going on at the other end of the bench. You have to listen to the ref to know when to rein in your team’s aggression. You have to, in sum, listen.
You can still be a leader while listening. It’s becoming a mandatory part of the position.
They wedge rosters into systems that don’t fit
I’ve given John Tortorella flack for his “old school” style of coaching in the past, but I really respect that he’s coached teams of his to play differently in the past (Tampa Bay’s motto of “Safe is Death” when he was there was hardly that of the Rangers’).
Often you have a coach who falls in love with the success he had using a certain type of system – maybe he had an ultra-fast team that had success forechecking aggressively – so when he gets his next job, he employs that same hard-forechecking philosophy…only his team is full of Brenden Morrows who can’t get to the puck carrier in time, meaning that forecheck is actually counterproductive.
I believe, as Tortorella said he would do in Vancouver, that the best thing is to assess what you have for talent and play to your strengths. It’s kind of a no-brainer, actually. If you have the luxury of being the GM as well, you can bring in the personnel you desire to play the system you like, but most are just handed a roster and told to win. And, that’s tough to do when you’re trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole.
All that said, if you’re a coach who doesn’t know multiple systems and can’t coach a few of them decently well, you’re probably already in the “bad coach” category, and aren’t too worried about this concept.
They don’t let their assistant’s coach
In particular, I’m talking about practice. Not every player responds to the same stimuli, and given that most coaching staffs are usually comprised of a number of smart hockey minds (if this is not the case you’ve got bigger issues), I think it’s healthy for the players to hear from everyone fairly frequently. A balanced advice diet, if you will.
There’s also another huge factor that comes with this that coaches don’t take seriously enough: it prevents listener burnout.
Hockey teams are together alllllllll the goddamn time during the hockey season. Morning skate, team meal, games, practices, travel, it’s just you and your teammates and coaches in varying sized rooms face-to-face putting up with one another’s dumb voices and garlic breath. We often hear about coaches who “lose the room,” because it’s a real thing, and it’s related to that person-to-person overdose. Some guys seem afraid of their assistants getting “too much power” and overthrowing them like they’re running some downtrodden society and not a hockey team, so they talk to “their team” all the time, at every event, every skate.
By the end of the season, it’s like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher.
A coach who lets his assistants actually coach still has his voice heard come April and May.
They think they have to be Ray Lewis
Hockey, like most sports, is an “every inch matters” game. If you get beat to a puck and it gets poked by you it can have bad consequences for the team. When players get too comfortable in their settings you’ll find guys who turn it on (offensive opportunity!) and off (back-checking) at will. This is not a good thing.
But still, when you’re coaching a high level of hockey, even junior and beyond, your role is not to be a Ray Lewis-level motivator. You’re allowed to expect guys to push themselves. I believe that coaches like Mike Babcock, who expects nothing less than a player’s best, succeeds in getting that best more often and farther into the season by rewarding effort and success with more than just words (and doing the same with punishment).
It’s kind of the “teach a man to fish” thing (“give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for life”). If you bench, scratch, trade and cut players who don’t self-motivate, the message is pretty clear that here, we self-motivate. Before long, the players are monitoring the players, because if I’m putting in my best, you better be too. If your team can only get up to work hard when you whip them like a jockey on a horse down a straightaway, you have to keep whipping them constantly. (And finally, Mike Keenan on a horse becomes relevant.)
…Nobody likes to be whipped constantly.
Be a pro and I’ll treat you like one. Seems like a pretty fair deal to me.