Saturday, May 3, 2014

Opportunties, standards, and accountability

This is a complex topic. Giving kids opportunity, holding them to high standards, and holding them accountable all create a healthy tension. It is our jobs as coaches to use this tension to help develop kids and the team.
Every pro was once a beginner.
I have high expectations of each player on my teams. But they are reasonable expectations based on the player's interest, ability, and potential. I have to get to know my players as individuals in order to put a reasonable bar that is just beyond their current reach. And that's where this conversation starts: have high - but reasonable - expectations for your players. For some reason in hockey, the coaches seem to think that 7-8 year olds should be able to do everything the pros do. Clearly such expectations are unreasonable. They are also too complex (do you really think a kid is going to understand every detail a pro does?). So recognize that there is a development curve with all players. And players will move along that curve over time. You just don't know when or where. This is truly the motivator behind my policy of equal playing time. You just don't know when you're going to see someone step up and deliver.
I remember the championship game my second year of coaching football. The previous year we went to the championship game and got blown out 28-0. So we were back, more experienced, and playing a different team for the title. We had some awesome offensive players, but the other team and coach were stronger on defense. Late in the game, we were down 12-6, and we had struggled to move the ball consistently all game. One of the players on our team was playing his first year in football and really is only football experience ever. Soccer was his game, but it was clear he had not "grown up" watching/playing football. Well, he was on offense, and even in championship games we believe in giving everyone a chance. Sure enough, he took the rock to the house on a 25 yard scamper to give us the go ahead score and winning the league title.
I have examples almost every game I've ever coached where a kid just surprises you with a great performance or raising their own back. Don't deny kids those opportunities and experiences! High expectations apply across a number of areas, including player behavior. I set high expectations for players respecting their teammates, listening to their coaches, and trying their best. I also set a minimal set of behavior standards for which there are consequences (usually talking to their parents) if they aren't met. My players know that crossing the line isn't tolerated. Having high standards means you need to let players know when they are or aren't meeting those standards (and if they meet your standards, you need to set a new bar for them!). At a USA Hockey coaches training session, one of the presenters gave the best short description of this: "Kids need and expect fair, firm feedback." Of course you need to be positive and tactful when coaching kids... but you need to coach them. I'm always surprised when coaches don't actually take the time to teach kids what they need to do to improve.

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