Let’s face it, every youth hockey team has a few (or…more than a few) knuckleheads that have their own agenda. Some just don’t buy into off-ice (yet); some don’t respect authority; some may suspect blood sugar fluctuations due to their even more suspect food choices; and some may have just had a bad day/week.
What do you mean you don’t want to do a spiderman lunge?
In the years that I’ve been around hockey, I’ve seen these cases handled in a variety of ways. In most cases, the coach will either verbally coerce the player into submission, attempt to ignore the player, or simply kick him/her out. While I think all of these methods may have some merit depending on the player and the situation, I’ve had pretty good success over the years taking a different approach, especially with “chronic offenders”.
A few years ago I made the realization that many coaches, including myself at the time (despite my unconditional optimism), spend more time reprimanding negatives than acknowledging or rewarding positives. In a youth team off-ice setting, this can be disruptive to the overall success of the team, and, frankly, gets old very quick. It makes coaching exhausting! I realized that some of the kids that are chronically misbehaving aren’t necessarily “bad kids”, they just thrive on the attention. They may have a tough home life, one parent, abusive sibling, or generally be under-confidant. Regardless, the key here is that they just want attention. In these cases, I’ll often pull the kid aside before or after off-ice (depending on what’s most appropriate for that given day) and let them know that I view them as a natural leader, and acknowledge that for better or worse, teammates follow his/her actions. The next off-ice, I’ll pull them from the back of the line and put them up front to lead the dynamic warm-up. I’ll also use them to demo exercises and commend them in front of everyone when they do something well. This has had a SIGNIFICANT impact on curtailing undesirable behavior, and can ultimately change the player’s course.
All of this comes back to an idea I read…in a book.
Give them a reputation to live up to.
In other words, if you want to influence behavior, sometimes it’s ideal to commend the individual for the behaviors you WANT to see, even if it doesn’t exactly fit their current profile. In this case, describing the player as a “leader” instead of a misfit may change the player’s view of themselves and the role they play on the team. This isn’t lying; it’s outlining expectations in a different manner. In my opinion, if we keep reminding kids of how bad they are, they’ll keep reminding us of how right we are!
Next time you have a problem child in your group, give this strategy a shot!
To your success,
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Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.