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  • Writer's pictureRick Traugott

Confidence and "Earning Your Ice"

I have heard the expression “earn your ice!” a few times this week and it’s brought me back to the conversation I have been having for the past few years on creating confidence in teams and players.

Sandy Sampson is a local goalie coach who works with a number of PWHL and women’s university teams in and around the Toronto area. He is also a coach in our national women’s team program, working mostly with our U18 and development goalies. He has a tremendous knowledge of the game but maybe more importantly, he is a great communicator and motivator of young athletes. His goalie sessions are always demanding and goalies always work their butts off for him.

One of Sandy’s catch phrases that he uses is “earn your ice!” He uses it as a motivational tool, emphasizing that the harder you work the better you will be. It would follow that you might play more than your goalie partner but that isn’t the motivating factor in the expression. Sandy just wants his goalies to work their hardest when they are on the ice – both at practice and in games.

Another coaching friend of mine used the same expression talking about his team now that the season has started. He felt that he had a better (and somewhat larger) roster this season and therefore could insist that players “earn their ice”. It was his intention that this could be used as a motivating device to get players to work harder and play better. But unlike Sandy Sampson where the expression was used as a positive motivator, “earn your ice” in this instance was being used in a somewhat negative manner in that players were going to “lose their ice” if they weren’t playing well enough.

Two quick stories about bench management and “earning your ice”:

It’s amazing the little things you remember about games – even 35 years later. Playing for the varsity team at my high school, I was centering one of the top two lines and therefore, really never missed a shift - power play, penalty kill, always on the ice. I remember we were playing a league game mid-season at Michael Power High School when my coach Brian Proctor called my line up but with the third line center in the middle. He went out, took my shift, I sat, missed a rotation, and went back out the next shift and played regularly the rest of the game. Frankly, I was mystified! I spent the rest of the game, even though I was back playing my regular shift, wondering what I had done wrong to make coach sit me for a shift. Was it something on the previous shift? (I ran it through in my head over and over.) Was I not working hard enough? Had I made some defensive mistake? I was perplexed.

Coach Proctor always sat in his geography classroom a good half hour before school started every day. We all knew he was there and available to chat about things. I went in tentatively the next morning. He gave me his “glad to see you” smile and he launched into a conversation about how well the team played and even threw in a “your line was terrific yesterday” comment. I said thanks and then asked him why he had sat me for a shift in the middle of the game. He looked at me with the Coach Proctor perplexed look that I always got when he was thinking and he said to me, “Rick, I will never sit someone without telling them why. If I sat you for a shift in the middle of the game and didn’t tell you why, it was only because I got my lines mixed up by accident. I truly don’t remember sitting you yesterday.”

You can imagine the relief (after obsessing over it all night). But what a great lesson in coaching – and again, I remember it 35 years later. To this day, and although I don’t sit players very often, I will never sit someone without telling them right here on the bench why they are sitting.

The second story comes from a cafeteria conversation with a colleague whose son plays minor pee wee AA hockey locally. We started talking “earn your ice” and she told me about the change this season in her son’s play (in fact the play of all the players on the team). Evidently, the atom coach that this group had played with the year before would continually use ice time as a motivator and pull players off the ice when they made mistakes. As my colleague said, players were always looking at the bench after every whistle because they never knew when they would be pulled off.

This season, the new minor pee wee coach, has an “everybody plays” policy. He rotates the lines through regular shifts, special teams, the entire game. The players therefore have had an opportunity to build their confidence and not worry about making mistakes every time they go on the ice. It’s become clear that it is not only the players’ confidence that has skyrocketed but their level of play has improved because of that confidence. The coach still corrects mistakes, but on the bench with no threat of losing ice time.

I haven’t had teams that don’t come to play every day. My feeling is that if you have to employ an “earn your ice” mentality of motivation then, as a coach, you haven’t done a terrific job of motivating your players in ways that build their confidence at the same time.

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