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

Coaching the Creativity Out of Athletes

At a recent session with one of our groups of young ladies I experienced a rather jarring moment.

We were working on separating upper and lower body movements.     As anyone who has ever tried to teach this can attest, it’s a hard concept at best and for some players it’s paramount to asking them to push a boulder up a hill with their nose.

This group however, was absolutely nailing it.   They were flying through the challenges so fast that I had to improvise and add more difficult aspects on the fly.    While I was making them better players they were making me a better coach.    It was glorious.     Smiles everywhere.   Fist pumps and celebrations as they powered through every obstacle that I put in front of them.

Then….

I asked them to show me their best, craziest, most outrageous move and the entire session came to a jarring, grinding halt as if I had just drained all the oil out of the engine.

“Can you show us one?”  they asked.

Boggled, I asked them again, just show me something crazy.  Try anything.  Don’t worry about if it works or not.  Have fun with it.

“But, but… we have no idea what to do.”

Reluctantly they gave it an attempt, but of the 15 ladies in the group, 12 did exactly what we had just been working on, like robots.    They learned quickly, and could replicate what I was showing them.   They could even recite when and why they would use the skills, but they couldn’t skate down the ice and come up with an outrageous move on their own.

So, where did the creativity go?

As I asked more probing questions it became clear that the creativity that should been something to embrace had been “taught” out of them.

“My coach says to always do it this way.”

Good intentions gone wrong.  There is no single way that anything in hockey should be done.  There are simply too many situations to box up skills that way. Teach habits, not structure.    Teach creativity, not systems.    Let the player mix their skill-set and their habits in a way that makes sense to them.   Every hockey journey is unique.    Teaching hockey as if it was a manufacturing line in the industrial revolution is a recipe for disaster.  Habits transfer to higher levels of hockey.  The same can’t be said of systems.

A player with great habits and creativity can fit into any system.     Let them run.  Let them experiment.  Let them make mistakes, the more the better.

They will amaze you.

This Ted Talk sums it up better than I ever could.

Thanks ladies for making me a better coach.

Stay positive!

See you at the rink,

John

 

Cadence

Something that jumps out at you when you or your child attend one of our clinics or one of the practices for a team that our instructors coach is that the instructional time has a defined cadence.

Every instructor is a bit different, but in general the pace of the practice or session increases as it progresses.    We start with the explanation of the skills that we will be working on, demonstrate them and then inject the players into the program.

There is a constant flow (and this doesn’t necessarily mean flow drills) that keeps as many players engaged as possible while still trying to retain a proper work to rest ratio.     Even while at rest, the players are asked to be doing something from spinning pucks on their stick to analyzing the players who are moving through the challenge.    There is no time to goof around, turn off their brains and tone down from the pace we are setting.    Any player who has been part of our “gong show” drill can attest that you always need to be ready to go, even if you aren’t first in line.

This cadence or pace carries over to the next session, to games and in some cases to the players’ lives away from the rink.    Players show up to the rink (and to life) ready to go and ready to meet challenges.

Coaches, here are some things that I do that may or may not work for you.  I could talk about each point at length, but that…. would break the cadence.

  • Structure practice just like you structure a game.
    • If you want players at a game an hour early, then have them at practice an hour early and structure that time just like you would before a game.   This of course, means that you need to efficiently use that time.   Don’t waste everyone’s time by having the kids and parents at the rink early while the kids goof off in a dressing room for 45 minutes.   Make use of every minute.
  • Plan your practices, but don’t lock yourself in.
    • I spend hours planning what I want to teach and how I want to teach it, but as we all know, “No plan survives first contact…”
    • If your players are struggling with a drill perhaps they need more time on it or perhaps you haven’t properly explained it.   Jumping off to something else just because you planned it doesn’t make sense.  Give them the time they need to learn.
    • Don’t plan 10 drills in a 50 minute practice.   Nobody is getting anything out of that.   You spend as much time moving pucks as the kids do going through the drills.    Pick 3 drills, preferably ones that mix the skills that you are teaching together and do them right.
    • Theme your practices around one skill or one mixing of two or three skills.   Show the players how the pieces fit together, don’t just give them three skills and expect them to do it themselves.
    • What are the key teaching points?  If you don’t know then neither will your assistants and the kids will have zero clue what they are actually working on.
  • Explain “Why” you are teaching a skill and “Why” it is important to the player.
  • If you ask your players to work on their skills at home then you should be doing the same.  If you ask 30 minutes from them, then you need to put in double that.    If I have learned nothing else, it’s that the more I know the more I realize that I don’t know much.    Be a life-long learner.

Everything here will help you build out a practice or training session that has a cadence or rhythm that is conducive to learning.    Don’t be afraid to overload young athletes  with information, but be prepared to answer the questions that are sure to come.

Questions?  Just ask.

John

 

 

Transferable Skills

I had a great hockey conversation today about something I call “transferable skills” or skills that continue to bear fruit as the player progresses in age category and/or skill category (B to A to AA and beyond).

Make no mistake, everyone needs to work on skating, puck handling, shooting and the like, but is the skill being taught in a way that will benefit the player in the long term? In many cases the instructors are pressed to provide immediate improvements or short-term lightning bolts that will impress parents instantly.

The parents are pressed to find immediate results because without them their child won’t make the team. It’s a vicious circle.

It takes a confident, educated instructor and a patient, supportive parent group to break out of “what works now” and instead opt for true long-term development.

A player who is never taught how to be in a proper supportive position on the ice has no hope of ever playing hockey at a high level, no matter how fast they skate or how hard they shoot. This is why so many players who put up big numbers in the OHL never make it in the NHL. They understand the game from a singular, offensive position. Being able to find the position that is offensive, while at the same time defensively responsible is the transferable skill that they never developed.

There are dozens (probably hundreds) of these skills. The more a player has in their toolbox the more readily they can jump from level to level.

Coaches, I implore you, learn the correct techniques and put winning on the back-burner. Teach the game the way your charges will need to understand it when they move to the next level and not the way that wins you games at Novice.

Parents, give your coaches a chance to teach in the long-term.

Most importantly, players… when you are being taught, always ask “why”. Why are we doing it this way? Why do I move my hands that way? Why do I crossover? Why… why… why…

If you understand the “why”, you will know if it is something that will help you in the long-term. Don’t be upset if the instructor wants to explain it after you leave the ice. Ice time is expensive.

It’s easy to make players good or even great in the short term. It’s incredibly challenging to coax them through a long term program where they don’t see immediate results, but in this case, good things most certainly come to those who wait.

If you have questions, ask, PM, email. My door is always open.

John