Belleville Bearcats PWAA Coaching Announcement

I’m grateful and fortunate to have been chosen to coach the Peewee AA Belleville Bearcats next season.

I’m thrilled to be able to announce that Jason LaPalm, Taegan Rogers and Sara Kennedy will be joining me, giving the team a full non-parent coaching staff.

Jason is a Masterclass power-skating coach and a driving force at Go2TheMax Hockey. He has helped coach teams that won Gold and Silver medals at both Provincials and Lower Lakes as well as an International Silver Stick Championship. Jason has donated hundreds of hours to the youth of the Quinte area.

Taegan is a former Bearcat and an absolutely wonderful human being. I was fortunate to be Taegan’s coach when she played Bantam Bearcats. She has a deep knowledge of the game. Taegan will be working primarily with our forwards. She will be an energetic, insightful, positive role model for the young ladies on the PWAA team next year.

Sara is also a former Bearcat and a woman that inspires every young lady that she meets. She is one of the most positive people I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. I was fortunate to coach Sara as a Midget Bearcat. She will be working with our goaltenders, passing on her incredible experiences and knowledge. Sara will be an intelligent, athletic, positive role model for the players next season.

Thank you to the Bearcats for giving me (and these great coaches) this opportunity.

If you have questions about the tryout process or the team next year do not hesitate to contact me.

— John

10 Things Female Hockey Players Should Know

It would be easy for a person who hasn’t experienced the differences between boys and girls hockey to believe that they are the same game. They most assuredly are not.

The rules are the same, except girls are never allowed to body check; a concept that probably should be introduced to the boys game until they are playing Junior hockey, but that’s a discussion for another day. The female game and the environment that surrounds it are different than the game that males play. With that in mind, here are 10 things that female hockey players should know.

Every one of these points could be a long, detailed article on its own, so I’ll do my best to keep this brief, but bear with me if I get passionate and go off on something.

10. You’re as good or better than the boys.

Probably the most important thing to know. You are as good or better than any boys’ team. I’d put any team that I coach up against a boys team of the same level. They train just as hard (probably harder). They are just as skilled (probably more skilled). So, why wouldn’t we take on a boys team? Because they are stronger or bigger or more talented? I’m not sure that’s true until at least Midget and even then they won’t be more talented. They will just be physically more imposing. Ask Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex DeBrincat, Brad Marchand or… (well, you get the idea) if size is the only determinant in being able to play at the highest level. The biggest guy on that list is 5’9″ tall and 181 pounds.

We often have very talented boys participating in our programs and I guarantee you that their impression of girls’ hockey changes after the first skate. I can’t count how many times a young man has come up to me after the first or second challenge in a program and said, “Coach, those blue helmets (our girls) are amazing!” We need more of that. Great young men, complimenting great young women on their athletic ability. There is a mutual respect. Anyone worried about today’s youth needs to come out to a Go2TheMax program and talk to the participants. Pure gold.

9. The social part of the game is important.

One of the most interesting things about coaching female hockey is that the players call me by my first name. It’s rare that I am called “Coach”. Boys hockey is just the opposite. The female game is much more personal and as a coach you must build a good relationship with a player if you want them to succeed.

You must also teach specifics and not generalizations (which work better with most boys), but again, that’s a tangent for another day.

I’m not sure of the cause, whether it is society’s influence or otherwise, but female teams in general take longer to bond, but when they do…. wow! Team building is incredibly important. Team chats, a “kitchen table accountability” and the truth instead of the honey are all key to a successful team. No team, male or female that has internal conflicts can succeed, but a female team with dressing room drama is a train wreck. As a player, you need to be the tide and lift everyone up with you. If you see things going poorly, find a solution. Dressing room train wrecks in female hockey can be a death sentence for a team.

The feature image at the top of this post is of a group so distraught that their season is over that they are crying. They were Lower Lakes and Provincial Silver Medalists. An incredible accomplishment by any measure. What mattered most to them? The players they shared the experience with. It was over and they never wanted it to end. Winning was secondary.

8. You weren’t all born to play defence.

It is inevitable that a girl from boys’ hockey played defence. If 10 girls were to move to our team next year from a boys’ program I can guarantee that 7 or 8 of them would have been playing defence.

For the most part female players (again, I don’t know why) have more fears about being creative on the ice. They prefer a strict set of guidelines with which to play within. That’s works, somewhat, at some ages and low levels of play, but is absolutely catastrophic for the player if they ever want to play high-level hockey.

Don’t get me wrong. Defence is a far harder position to play than Forward, but most coaches don’t understand that and preach “move the puck to the forwards as fast as you can”. It’s the wrong message. 1972 called. They want that message back.

Players: Take a chance. Make a mistake. Fail. Then fail again… and again.. and again. Then fail harder and faster than you ever have before. Then do all of that again. You can’t become an elite player without taking chances, making mistakes, failing thousands of times and learning from every one of them.

If a coach yells at you for a mistake they aren’t a very good coach.

You can’t fix the past. The future hasn’t happened. Don’t worry about either and play in the present. Do your thing! Give it a go! Play in the moment!

7. Your parents spend as much time and money on you as they would on a boy.

Hockey is expensive, both from a money perspective and a time perspective. I have girls on my team that drive 90 minutes to a home game. They drive over 3 hours each way to some away games. They pay between $2,500 and $5,000 per year to play hockey. Then they go to camps, clinics, power skating, buy new sticks, skates…. you get the picture here right?

Players: you have a responsibility to your parents to go out, enjoy yourself and give your very best effort. You don’t need to be perfect. In fact, you don’t even need to be good. Your effort however, should always be 100%. Full effort = full victory.

Parents: spending all of that time and money can often put you in a position where you want to give hockey advice to your child on the drives to and from the rink. The best advice going is to let the coach do the coaching (whether you agree with them or not), let your daughter play and you just cheer. The best thing you can say to your daughter is “I love coming to watch you play.” It’s that simple.

6. The endgame is different

Don’t rule out the NHL. Nothing would make me happier than to see one of you playing a regular shift in the greatest league in the world, but you don’t need to worry about Junior hockey like boys do. It’s a blessing.

The endgame for many boys is simply unattainable. They want to play in the NHL. We’ve all seen the math on how unlikely that is.

The endgame for most girls is to get a free or at least reduced-cost education. Brilliant. Any girl willing to put in the work can find a place to play that will help alleviate the cost of University. That’s right, any girl. The problem is that 80% don’t want to put in the work.

If you want a scholarship; do the work. It’s a process and anyone can do it. Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do. We can walk you through everything, but we can’t do the work for you and we won’t babysit you. It’s truly up to you.

5. There are many paths to a scholarship.

Too many players get hung up on NCAA Division 1 scholarships. They provide a lot of sizzle along with their steak. They are glamorous. USport, NCAA Div 3 and ACHA also provide financial assistance to female hockey players. Don’t rule those out.

At the time of writing this article only 2 of the last 10 scholarship commitments were to NCAA Div 1 schools. Don’t rule out other paths. Need help? Ask us.

4. The grass isn’t greener and the ice isn’t smoother in another organization.

In Canada girls have free movement. There is no “hometown hockey” for girls. You can play anywhere you like if you can make the team. This results in a lot, and I mean a lot of movement each year between teams, especially in the Greater Toronto Area where you can find six teams to play for in a 30 minute drive.

Girls hockey has too many Kings (or Queens) and too many kingdoms. Parents form associations with an agenda to help their child. Girls hockey is a talent diluted product.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t incredible organizations out there. There are plenty of them, but if you have issue with your current organization don’t expect another to fix it.

The grass is rarely greener and the ice isn’t any smoother 30 minutes down the road. Every association has problems that it would like to fix. Moving your daughter between teams every year is a recipe for disaster.

3. Find the best coach for you.

There are a lot of choices when picking which team you would like to play for, but the piece that trumps everything else is the coaching staff. Always, and I mean always, play for the coaching staff that suits your family. Every coaching staff has its own philosophy. Pick one that suits you. Play down a level to play for a better coach. There is nothing more important to your hockey and life development than the environment created by the coaching staff.

The player with the coaching staff best suited to them will go further than the player who plays up a level. Don’t chase letters. Chase coaching philosophies.

2. Play at the level that makes you happy.

Are you a BB level player, struggling as the #15 skater on a AA team? Play BB and enjoy the game. Puck touches, the ability to be the go-to player, etc. are all incredibly important.

Are you a BB level player who loves being part of the AA team and doesn’t mind the limited ice time provided to you? Then work your butt off to stay at AA.

You need to be you.

Hockey is truly about the journey and not the destination. It will all be over too soon. Don’t waste a second of your hockey career playing in an environment that isn’t fun for you.

1.- Time is the one constant in your journey.

You have the same amount of time to train as every other player. Some players may be given more or less natural talent than you. Some players may have more or less financial resources, more or less supportive environments, but you all have the same amount of time to work on your craft.

You and only you will determine what you get out of your hockey journey. If you want a scholarship, then go for it understanding what it takes to reach that goal. If you want to play B hockey because that is what you enjoy most then go at that as hard as you can.

Enjoy the ride. It will be over far too soon.

Leave No Doubt!

Tryout Tips

Tryout Tips

It’s that time of year again.   The snow is melted, the hockey season is winding down and tryouts are coming.     It’s a stressful time for players, parents and coaches.  Nobody can take away the stress completely, but being prepared makes the experience much more enjoyable.    With that in mind, here are a few tips for tryouts.

What Do Coaches Look For?

Players

Skill:

Most importantly, skating.  Everything you do on the ice revolves around your ability to skate.   Your ability to get where you need to be in a timely fashion is paramount.   Good skaters are naturally first to pucks, have better body position and subsequently win battles and create opportunities.

Secondary skills like puck handling, shooting and passing are important, but none of these come into play if you are not a strong skater.

Have you ever noticed those players that always seem to have the puck find them?  They are in the right position, make plays to teammates and never seem to be out of the play.    Hockey sense (it’s really just spatial awareness) is challenging to teach, but invaluable.   Do you just chase the puck around the ice like a dog after his tail or do you make strong decisions putting yourself where the puck will be?

A strong skater with good hockey sense is a force to be reckoned with.   To improve your hockey sense watch a game, but focus on one player.   As they move around the rink ask yourself why they moved into those positions, especially when they didn’t have the puck.  When you can answer those questions the next part of the process is to emulate those same decisions in your game.

Be Prepared:

Show up early and find a good spot in the dressing room.   Coaches love players who are early.   Showing up late is a distraction to both you and your teammates.   Our team has a rule, if you are 10 minutes early you are on time.  If you are on time you are late.

Check your equipment before you leave the house.  Do you have everything?  Are your skates sharpened? Is your stick taped?   If you can’t show up to a tryout prepared to give your best then how can a coach expect you do that during the season?

Character:

“We are a team of character.” is one of the lines our teams recite before every game.   Do you congratulate other players on great plays?  Do you push yourself to improve every time through a drill?    How do you react to making mistakes?  Do you smile and try even harder or do you bang your stick on the ice and put your head down?   Attitude is contagious.   Coaches don’t want players who sulk or quit.

Leadership: 

Are you the tide?  Do you lift up everyone around you?  Players can lead in many ways, but the common denominator is that they make everyone around them better.    That may be through raising their spirits, working hard or just simply talking to them.   Everyone is nervous, that’s natural.   The player that can help others be better is irreplaceable on a team.

Focus:

Did you kill a drill because you weren’t paying attention or worse, goofing off?  Don’t be the player who was 5th or 6th in line and did the drill incorrectly after everyone ahead of them did it properly.  That’s lack of focus.   To a coach it simply shows that you don’t care.  Focus on the drills and give yourself the best chance to succeed.

Ask Questions:

If you don’t understand something, ask a question.   Coaches love players who want to learn.  It shows that you want to get it right and that you care.

Front of the Line:

Do you understand the drill?   Get to the front of the line.   There is no question in a coach’s mind that the player at the front of the line wants to be there.   It shows confidence and leadership.

Don’t Compare:

Don’t compare yourself to other players.   Hockey is a team sport.  There are roles to be filled.  Just because you aren’t the top scorer doesn’t mean that you aren’t valuable.   Focus on what you do best.   Believe in yourself.  The coach wants you to be you, not somebody else.

Have Fun:

Happy players always perform better than unhappy ones.    Studies have even shown that happy athletes make better decisions and make them up to 300X faster than unhappy ones.    If you want the best chance to make the team then put a smile on your face!


Parents

Ask Questions: 

If you have questions, ask.  It’s important that parents and players understand the coach’s philosophy, plans for the year and are comfortable with her or his demeanor.    Don’t ask questions in the 60 minutes before a tryout starts.    The coach has other things to focus on.   If possible, ask once the tryout has ended when the coach will have more time to give you full answers.

Talk to the coach in the days prior to the tryout.   Many coaches are happy to explain their expectations, explain drills, etc.   prior to the tryouts.

Support, Don’t Critique:

Your job is to support your child, regardless of how they did in the tryout.   Refrain from critiquing them and stick to being positive.    A positive word or tap on the back can go a long way to easing their nerves and improving their performance.

Keep Perspective:

Your child wants to make the team, but they also want to please you.   Don’t equate being cut from a team with disappointing you.   Some of the best players to ever play the game were cut from teams (including Wayne Gretzky).

Prepare Your Child:

Did they get a good night’s sleep?  Are they eating healthy foods? Are they on time for the tryout?   These are all things that are out of their control.   As the parent you need to take responsibility for these aspects of their performance.

Perhaps more importantly, have you prepared them for the chance that they may not make the team?   When doors close new ones always open.   Look on the positive side of the situation no matter what happens.


Last, but not least a note for coaches.

No good coach likes cutting a child.   It’s a soul devouring process that keeps us up at night (in my case for weeks ahead of tryouts).   Remember why you are there and what the mandate from your organization is.   Your job is to meet that mandate (winning, development, etc.) to the best of your ability and your team choice is part of that process.   You aren’t the “bad guy”.  You just deliver the bad news.

Here is a quote that has always helped me through tryouts.

“If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader – sell ice cream.” – Steve Jobs

Good luck at tryouts.   Have fun and enjoy the process.   Your minor hockey career will be over too soon, so enjoy the journey.

Questions? Comments?  Send them my way.

See you at the rink,

John

Does Your Child Lack Confidence?

Does your child lack confidence?

If you have been around minor hockey for any length of time you have heard the word “confidence” thrown around like it was a magical fix-all that would correct any problems that any player may have.

“If only they were more confident…..”

“It’s their confidence that is holding them back.”

I’m going to suggest to you that confidence is just a by-product of a much more important trait, resilience.

You don’t acquire confidence by succeeding. You acquire it by failing over and over again until you get it right. Without resilience there is no confidence, just the illusion of it.

A player who is never put in a position that challenges them; that causes them to fail only has the illusion of confidence. When times get tough and things don’t go their way they have no experience to call upon. They don’t know how to push through the mistakes, to revel in them and get better. All they know is that something that once worked well, now doesn’t. Frustration sets in and the illusion of confidence shatters.

Resilience is the key. A player who is willing to fail 100 times to get it right will ultimately be confident. Creating resilience is hard work and that is why most players never acquire it. It’s easier to play on an iPad than to take 200 shots a night. Athletes without a clear plan (and many with a plan) will, like water, flow through the easiest course.

Players who are scared of making mistakes will never build resilience. Coaches and parents, the next time you have “the chat” with a young athlete instead of giving them the gears for making a mistake, praise them for it. Ask them what they learned and how they will improve on it next time. Open up the discussion and you will be amazed by the answers that they have.

“It was exciting to see you try that play / pass / move. It didn’t work out, but how would you make it better next time?”

I guarantee that this process works. Help the athlete find the space outside of their comfort zone, applaud the mistakes, talk about how they could be solved and watch the player soar.

The Truth or the Honey?

The Truth or the Honey? It’s more than a game.

One of the phrases that we use with our players, whether it be at a clinic, a camp or as part of the teams that we volunteer to coach is “Do you want the truth or do you want the honey?”

Every player likes to hear when they do something well and as coaches and parents we should latch on to those good things making 100% sure that we let the athlete know that a) we noticed and that b) we are proud of them. A positive experience is going to cultivate more positive experiences. The athlete is going to continue to improve, not because they are afraid of “getting it in the ear on the way home”, but because the rush of doing something well and having your parent experience it with you is something that they want to feel over and over again. Sharing good moments with the people you love is what life is about.

Focus on the good, but don’t ignore the bad.

Athletes want the truth as much as they need it. They want to know when they didn’t perform well.

If you only comments regarding their performance are ever “great game” or “good shift” then you are doing them a disservice. The honey is sweet for a short time, but how do they learn to overcome adversity, become resilient and grow if everything is always perfect? What happens when in the future they don’t do a great job and their boss tells them so? Will they have the tools to deal with the hurdles that life puts in their way?

Athletes rely on their coaches and their parents to give them the information that they need to improve. The truth helps them grow. It isn’t always positive, but it can be delivered in a positive way.

A good coach holds his or her players accountable. My team of 9 and 10-year old girls always wants the truth. They know that our coaching staff loves them and that telling them the truth isn’t being mean, it’s just the truth. We then ask them how as a team we will overcome our challenges. They come up with the answers, are invested in them and subsequently do amazing things.

Support the athletes. Ask good questions and let them come up with the solutions. Don’t just tell them what to do.

Encourage them. Latch on to the positive moments and ensure that you let the player know that you are proud of them.

Step back. Let them do their thing without constant guidance.

Remember, you don’t coach a sport. You coach a person. Let them embrace the process. You’re in this together.

The picture that is attached to this post is a team after a championship game. The medals around their necks are Lower Lakes Best of the Best Silver Medals. These are incredibly hard to win. Many of the girls are in tears, distraught, barely able to keep their composure at all. At first glance you might think that they were crying because they lost. Not so. They were crying because our season was over. Something incredible and wonderful had come to an end. They were devastated.

That guy crouched down in the middle of the circle is me, trying not to cry myself while I read out our motto one last time. The girls had read it themselves all year, but they asked me to do it for the final time. What an honour.

If you deliver the truth in a positive way your players will embrace it, invest in it and crave it. They know that you aren’t being hurtful. You are being helpful. They know that you care. They know that you want only the best for them. Those relationships don’t end with the season does. You form life-long ties with magnificent people who are going to do incredible things, perhaps in part because when they were young you took the time to tell them the truth in a positive light rather than taking the easy road and just giving them the honey.

#LeaveNoDoubt