By Scott Lowe - MYHockeyRankings.com
We’ve become a society in which people are more worried about what everyone else is doing and how others are being treated than making sure they are taking care of their own responsibilities to the best of their ability.
This seems to be magnified in the world of youth hockey where there is a prevailing attitude that any player who gets benched, scratched or cut – or who is not included among a team’s top six or on its first power play – is being mistreated, a victim of politics or whatever other excuse fits.
Just ask that player’s parents.
A victim’s mentality has taken hold of the sport as parents and players look to blame everyone but themselves when a situation takes an unexpected or unwanted turn. Instead of looking in the mirror and doing a thorough self-evaluation when something goes wrong, players and families tend to go on the attack and point fingers.
The finger pointing usually is directed at linemates who “aren’t good enough,” a defensive partner who “who holds my kid back” or a coach who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about or is conspiring with other parents against a player. Too often the blame is placed elsewhere.
This isn’t the NHL we’re talking about, so no one on the ice is going to be perfect. If each player does his or her best to improve on individual areas of weakness, the entire team will benefit.
The first thing we should do when things aren’t going our way is take a thorough inventory of everything we can possibly control to make sure that we are truly doing whatever we can to be the best player and teammate we can. Areas to examine should include attitude, effort, coachability, performance, reliability, practice habits, production, accountability, preparation, dedication and likability among teammates.
These are all things that an individual can control, and if a player is lacking in any one of these areas, it is incumbent on him or her to make every effort to improve in that aspect before even thinking about passing any blame on to someone else.
Part of the self-evaluation process should include a one-on-one conversation between a player and coach to determine what the player can do better on the ice, off the ice, on the bench and in the locker room.
It would be ideal if these types of conversations could happen on a regular basis before a situation arises that can’t be corrected. It is advisable for a player to reach out to his or her coach to discuss performance and expectations regularly for several reasons:
First, an open line of communication can expose any potential problem early in a season before it starts to affect the player’s status in the lineup.
Second, regular communication with an adult is something that young players need to get comfortable with as they progress up the hockey ladder and advance toward adulthood. It’s a skill that will help them athletically, academically and professionally.
Third, it will help the player build a stronger relationship with the coach and reinforce to the coach how much the player cares about the team and improving. Establishing this type of relationship can help a player earn the benefit of the doubt in certain situations, may make the coach feel the player is capable of assuming a leadership role and should make the coach feel confident recommending the player to higher-level programs in the future.
It’s not about just going through the motions and having a meeting, though. The player must bring an open mind and the proper attitude to the discussion since it is likely that he or she will hear some things that are not particularly flattering. That must be accepted for the player to assume a larger role on the team and ultimately improve.
On the ice, players don’t get better by performing the same drills they are good at repeatedly. Instead, performance improves only when players are willing to venture outside of their comfort zones and work on areas of their game that they struggle with until they master them – no matter how awkward or silly they look in the process.
Similarly, if the mentality players bring to the meeting is one in which they do not want to hear things that make the conversation uncomfortable – and they are determined to stand up for themselves and debate the coach about anything the they don’t agree with – it is going to be very hard to truly absorb and understand the points the coach is attempting to make.
If a player is defensive and unwilling to listen intently, ask questions about things he or she doesn’t understand and absorb the message the coach is trying to communicate, the likelihood of leaving that meeting with a real understanding of what needs to be done and the ability to successfully act on what the coach has requested is very low.
This is why the message that parents receive from their kids often is very different from the one the coach was trying to get across and why animosity often continues to grow between the coach, the player and his or her family. The player was too busy formulating arguments and trying to defend him or herself in the meeting to absorb and understand the constructive criticism that was being presented.
Of course, when this happens the message relayed to the parents is going to be inaccurate and likely construed as the coach being unfair. While this may or may not be the case, the reality is that it doesn’t matter. The coach isn’t always right, just like in the business world, where the boss isn’t always right. But also just like the boss, the coach is in charge.
It’s the coach’s team to run as he or she sees fit, and as a member of the team, it is the player’s responsibility to do everything in his or her power to do what the coach is asking of him or her. That is the nature of team sports and the definition of a good teammate. Failure by a player to make a concerted effort to do what is asked of him or her on and off the ice gives the coach every right to reduce the player’s role and his or her opportunities.
Keeping the lines of communication open from the start can prevent a situation from getting so far downstream that it becomes toxic and beyond repair. For a player, having to make slight adjustments along the way to remain in a coach’s favor is much easier than getting so far off the track that there is little hope of restoring his or her faith in the player.
This also means that a player can’t throw in the towel on a situation and start looking for second, third and fourth opinions.
Hockey is a fast sport, and a player who is getting advice and or instruction from others – including mom and dad – who might have a different philosophy or approach than the team’s coach can become overloaded mentally and struggle to make quick and correct decisions on the ice. Not only will this anger the coach of the player’s team, making him or her less likely to recommend the player in the future, but also the player’s performance will suffer in front of any coaches and scouts attending the team’s games.
If the player is open to coaching and constructive criticism from Day 1 and tries to do everything the coach asks, any lack of success enjoyed by the team rests on the shoulders of the coach, who hopefully will be willing to adjust his or her approach if things aren’t going right for the team.
That, too, is on the coach and not for the player to worry about. The only thing that should be on the player’s mind is trying to do exactly what is asked of him or her.
To grow as a player and earn the trust and respect of a coach, it is imperative that a player focus strictly on his or her situation and doing everything possible to accomplish the goals that the coach has set out for the player. It can’t be about anybody else. What others are doing and how they are treated has no bearing on the player's personal situation and status in the coach's mind.
No matter what a player thinks of teammates and how he or she measures up to them on the ice, the player will never really know what the coach thinks of the other players, the nature of his or her relationship with them, the role the coach has in mind for others or what the coach has asked of them on and off the ice. Any comparison takes away from what the team is trying to accomplish and may not even be relevant
For the good of the team and his or her future career, each player has the responsibility of accepting the role that has been assigned by the coach with a positive attitude and the intention of winning the coach’s trust and perhaps being rewarded with more opportunities going forward because of his or her team-first approach and willingness to sacrifice to help the team succeed.
Control what you can control, and the rest should take care of itself.
As AA, AAA and junior tryouts approach this summer, those words ring true as well. Players shouldn’t look around at all the talent assembled and try to be something they aren’t. If there are higher-skilled or faster players at a tryout, no one is going to be able to change his or her game and become like them overnight or in a few days. In fact, trying to be something they aren’t likely will take away from their strengths as players and ultimately hurt their chances.
Just keep in mind that no hockey team is built with players who all have the same attributes. There are many roles on a team that need to be filled for a team to be successful. Players should come to the rink with an understanding of what they do well, how they bring value to their team and a willingness to do whatever it takes.
Control what you can control.
This includes attitude, body language, compete level, effort in all zones, physicality, a team-first approach, willingness to block shots, on-ice communication, actions on the bench, behavior toward teams and staff, willingness to lead drills and overall demeanor on and off the ice.
Get to know the players and coaches. Ask for feedback, accept it and put it to good use. Be thankful to those who have provided the opportunity before, during and after the tryout. Build relationships and follow up.
Make an impression; hockey is a small world.
Even if one situation doesn’t work out, players should leave a tryout with a new group of respected hockey people in their corner who want to see them succeed and will vouch for them the next time a coach or scout calls them looking for a strong player who can fill one of their needs.
That happens every day in the hockey world, and while players may not be able to control how many points they score or whether they ultimately get picked for the team, they can control what people think of them as a player and person.
And that’s more than half the battle.