A coaching colleague of mine was watching a Midget boy’s game this week while her team was getting ready for their game. She was shocked at the pushing and shoving after the whistle, the continual “chirping” at the other team, the screaming at the referees from everyone - coaches, players, parents in the stands. She said it was embarrassing. It was the type of game that would make her consider not putting her kids in hockey.
What dismays me is that this isn’t the first time I have heard people around the game of hockey talk about the lack of discipline our players have. And unfortunately, it ruins the game for many players, coaches and referees, often leading to them leaving the game altogether.
My high school coach Brian Proctor told us in no uncertain terms “if someone on the other team pushes you after the whistle, it is NOT a personal affront to your manhood!” We always had a policy that you stopped when the whistle blew and never engaged in a game of “I touched you last” - that endless shoving that happens every time there is a stoppage of play at the net.
That said, and put simply, discipline comes from the top. In other words, your leadership as the coach of the team determines how your team behaves on the ice.
I have hard and fast rules on my teams. First, players MUST STOP when the whistle goes. If the other team continues to push and shove, we turn away. Seriously, no one is going to get hurt by a little shove after the whistle. Second, there is no talking to anyone other than our own teammates on the ice - no one talks to the other team, to the referees, to their bench or to the stands. And I make it clear at the start of the year that if any player gets a penalty because of anything they say on the ice (e.g. swearing at the referee) they will immediately go to the dressing room after their penalty is served.
There is a sequence that is burned in my memory from the 1996-97 season. I was coaching a high school boys team. It was an older team (we had grade 13 still) and had a lot of leadership and skill. Ben Chapdelaine was one of our top forwards (he later went on to a stellar career as football quarterback at McMaster University). There was a play and scramble in front of the opposition net and after the whistle, one of their defencemen pushed Ben pretty hard and then punched him with his glove in his caged helmet. Ben started skating to the bench and the referee immediately gave their player two minutes for roughing. Not one player on our team tapped their stick on the ice, waved to the player as he went to the box, said anything to any of their players - we simply got ready to compete on the power play.
In my books, skating away from these situations takes real toughness. It shows discipline, keeps players focused on the task at hand, and most importantly, keeps our players out of the penalty box. Between the puck dropping and the whistle blowing, I want my teams to be THE toughest. I want them never to back down from battles, I want them to win the loose pucks, I want them to outmuscle their opponents all over the ice, I want them to be mentally tough enough to overcome anything that gets in their way.
When I see a team that to my mind is out of control on the ice, invariably it stems from the leadership on the bench. I would be appalled if anyone ever commented that one of my teams was “out of control” on the ice.
And, there is no question that the discipline surrounding deportment and behavior is directly related to discipline in playing as a team within the framework of team tactics and systems. If you want a team that plays like a team and is coachable, you need to start with solid discipline in on ice and off ice deportment. Team discipline will directly affect team success - not just in wins and losses but in what your players will get out of the season.