Are You Giving your Players Time to Rest?
Sometimes there are very valuable lessons learned as a coach when you least expect it. This has happened to me a number of times and as we begin the holiday season, I wanted to share something that has made an impact on my season planning for all of my teams.
I was very fortunate to coach a very strong girl’s high school hockey team a few years ago. The team was actually good enough to compete at the provincial championships three years in a row. Unfortunately, the scheduling was difficult for our team as the tournament took place the first week after March Break. And to make matters worse, being a boarding prep school, we had a second week off, which meant the tournament was actually at the end of our March Break.
This created some challenges. First, all my players had to plan on travelling back from break early from their March Break which meant booking flights for a number of players. Second, we had no guarantee that we would qualify for the tournament until mid-February so the whole plan was up in the air until late in the season. Third, and maybe most importantly, I was going to have to send my players home for the first ten days of March Break. This meant a huge hole in the schedule with no practices or games and, a number of players would be going on a holiday with their families and possibly sitting on a beach somewhere for ten days. It almost seemed like there was no point in playing in the provincial tournament - how could a team actually play at a high level with ten days off!
So, I made a plan. The first year we went to provincials in 2007 the tournament was being held about 40 minutes away from our school. We couldn’t stay in our dorms during March Break but we could at least use our rink. We scheduled two practices of an hour and a half the day before the tournament with a team meal in between. We ran a totally “get the rust off” skills practice in the morning and then reviewed systems in the afternoon practice - mostly power play and penalty kill. Then it was off to our hotel 40 minutes down the road. The practices were good but not great. It was evident that we had been off the ice for ten days but by the end of the second practice things didn’t look that bad. I kept thinking that all the other teams would be in the same boat but, I knew that most players we would be up against also played club hockey so they would most likely have all been on the ice - maybe not as a team, but at least on the ice.
The tournament started, we made it through to the medal round where we couldn’t find the net and finished the season 4th in the province. And…we played great! In fact, we played the best hockey of our entire season. And it wasn’t a fluke. We did the same thing the next two years and finished well both times.
My valuable lesson as a coach? After being on the ice five or six times a week for an entire season, the team actually benefitted from having the ten days off each of those years before provincials. I think the strain of a competitive and sometimes stressful season was alleviated by having those days off and the team came back refreshed and very eager to be back on the ice. They also missed being together, and were mentally and physically rested before the most important tournament of our season.
I have incorporated a week off into my season plans since then - and a week off means no practice or games whatsoever. With minor hockey teams I tell parents right at the start of the year that there will be no hockey from Christmas to New Year - at least eight days off hockey. With older teams, I try to find a break in the game schedule where we can also not have practice. I usually get some push back because players think they will “lose all of their skills” but I am adamant and I know that a week off once or twice a season is a really beneficial thing.
As a coach, don’t be scared by time off. It’s a good thing. If I had full control over my schedule (sometimes games are scheduled by the league) I would make sure my teams had a week off in November and again after Christmas or in early January. Both mental and physical rest can make a world of difference to your athletes.