As I am sitting here at 2:00am listening to Baba O'Reilly, I got to thinking. (No smart aleck remarks from a certain Stars fan either! You know who you are!) I have been called a lot of things. Some good some bad. The obvious good ones are husband, father, friend. But, one of my favorite things to be called is "Coach". It is also one of the most powerful things to be called. It is amazing how many times I am at a restaurant or store and a kid runs up to me from a basketball or volleyball or softball or hockey team that I have coached. "Hey, Coach." Kids remember their coaches. This is important so I'll say it again. Kids REMEMBER their coaches.
The youth hockey organization that I coached at this past winter was taken over by another organization. I have given them my information and made them aware that I would like to coach with them next fall. In the meantime, I signed my daughter up for Spring Hockey (10U Girls). I swear to you. EVERY other practice, I had thrown my stuff in the car in case the coach needed me to hop on the ice and help coach. But, this being the 5th practice and he hasn't needed me yet, I decided to leave my stuff at home. Guess what? Yep, tonight when I got there, the coach asked if I had brought my stuff. Luckily, I live in the same town that practice was in, so I drove home and got my stuff.
Now, this is the first time that the girls have seen me on the ice. Yet, immediately, they gave me their respect and attention. Young kids are great that way. You don't have to earn their respect. They give it to you. It is yours to lose. I know a lot of adults that lose it immediately. But, that is a different story.
And, they knew my name. My name was Coach. "Hey, Coach. Where should I go?" "Hey, Coach, look at me." "Hey, Coach, watch this." I could have told them to do anything and they would have done it. "Ok, kids. Using only your left skate, skate as fast as you can into the boards." "Ok, Coach." No, I didn't do that. I like to have fun with the kids when I coach. But, I take coaching seriously. It is an awesome feeling to have that kind of absolute power. I mean this sincerely. I'm not on a power trip when I coach. If anything, I am humbled by it.
I had the chance to work with a goalie that showed up tonight. He (yes, I know this was a Girl's practice. But, it is about teaching kids hockey, not gender.) is a skater that just took up playing goalie. So, we let him on the ice with us. I worked with him for about 30 minutes on basics. Shuffle, T push, correct butterfly position since most shots at this level are low. With each instruction, he looked up at me and hung on every word. You could tell he was nervous and unsure of himself. Maybe I'm overstating this, but I had this kid's hockey future (or at least goaltending future) in my hands. How I handled myself and handled him could make or break his desire to play goal. He was struggling to do the T push. He had trouble keeping his stick on the ice and covering his five hole. I could have berated him. I could have got on his case and asked why he wasn't getting such simple concepts. Or, I could earn my title as Coach. I explained things in his terms. I praised the things he did right and showed him how to do things better.
He did OK. Once we switched drills and had the girls shooting on him, he did a lot of things wrong. But, he tried. Positive reinforcement works wonders and makes the difference between a kid hanging his head after a practice/game or smiling and laughing as they skate off the ice.
For those of you with kids in sports, watch the coaches next practice or game. Watch how they do things. More importantly, watch the children when the coaches are talking. You will learn a lot about human nature. You will learn a lot about the kind of person the coach is. You will learn about the kind of person your kid is. And, hopefully, you will learn something about yourself. Think about how you would want to do it "right" if you were the coach.
For everyone, keep this in mind. There are a lot of screwed up things in the world. The war, Virginia Tech, the Blackhawks. Most of these things, we can't directly control. But, you would be surprised how often you have influence over children. You are a coach whether you like it or not. It just may not be on a sheet of ice or field or whatever. When you interact with kids, act how you would want someone coaching your kid to act. Take these coaching opportunities seriously.
After the practice, I started to take off my skates and I saw the goalie surrounded by his dad and other adults. I kept my skates on for a second and walked out there. I tapped him on the shoulder.
"Dude, you did really well out there. Made a lot of saves. Great job for just starting playing goal. Keep up the good work."