Lateness will not be tolerated...
Our season ends the second weekend in March at our National championship tournament. We begin again the second Monday in September - this year happens to be September 14, 2020. So, there is a six month “off season” for our players, and for me. But, as you know, there is no off season. Players are working hard to prepare for next season and in a perfect world, it is both on ice and off ice. Coaches are busy season planning, and I include in that list team tactical and system play plans, scheduling, recruiting, ordering equipment and team supplies, and all the other things that go into a season plan.
One of the things that I think about a lot in the off season is how, as a coach, I am going to interact with my team, how I am going to communicate with them, how I am going to bring discipline to the group, what things are going to be important this coming year and how I am going to emphasize those things. I am thinking about big things like how I am going to foster leadership with my senior group, to the little things like how we are going to keep our dressing room clean and tidy.
I like to run a pretty tight ship when it comes to discipline. Some selected pieces in my pre-season guidelines include:
2) All adults at the rink are to be Mr. and Mrs. Coaches are Coach Smith, Mr. Smith, Coach or Sir. 4) On ice, we don’t say ANYTHING to referees, players on the other team or anyone in the stands. 7) You are responsible to take care of all of your equipment. 10) No one will EVER play “I touched you last” after the whistle. 11) Lateness will not be tolerated anywhere. Be 5 minutes early!! 14) Your language is a reflection of who we are as a team. 15) I never want to hear “Your players were…” unless it’s followed by something good.
I am a firm believer that discipline off the ice is directly related to discipline on the ice, but as the discipline sometimes gets off the rails off the ice, it can on the ice as well. This past season, a few things that got away from us at times: being at the rink at the appropriate time, wearing the proper dress code, keeping the dressing room in any semblance of order. These weren’t “all the time” problems but they were enough of the time to be frustrating to coaches and many of the players. We also had difficulty on the ice. We had to kill 253 penalties over a 46 game schedule compared to having 163 power plays. That is almost 2 penalties and 4 minutes more to kill EVERY GAME. And the interesting thing is that we took progressively more penalties against less talented teams than we did against our best competition. (It was pretty even on the power play side.)
Of course, some of this “lack of discipline” can be attributed to team make-up - I get that. Did I allow (forgive) this behavior at times? Absolutely. Why did I allow it? Because sometimes there are just too many battles to fight and you have to choose what hills you are going to die on. Would I do things differently if I had a chance? Without question. Mostly, I would have been much more of a hard-ass in September and October instead of assuming that players would step into a role of responsibility on their own. Did I coach markedly differently from the year before? I would say not much. The 2018-2019 season power play to penalty kill ratio? 170-177. Hmm.
Another type of on ice discipline is the players’ attention to detail of team tactical and system play. Again, I believe off ice discipline is directly related to how well your players perform as a team on the ice.
It’s here that I have a dilemma in planning (thinking about) next season. If the team’s off ice discipline is based around a set of guidelines that I share at the beginning of the season, how does holding players accountable for that translate into holding players accountable for on ice discipline with regards to team play - given the fact that my team play is very much based on habits and concepts rather than X’s and O’s. My coaching philosophy is very much “Just go play!” rather than “if the puck is here and you are here then go here and do this”. Loosely, I can’t just tell the team to “behave” off the ice and expect that discipline will magically happen but, I feel like I am expecting that to happen on the ice. (Expanding on the “Just go play!” idea, I don’t like telling players what they should have done when they come off the ice after each shift. I let them play, figure things out, and be creative.)
Do we have team tactics that we are trying to execute? Absolutely. But, in letting my players be creative and develop hockey sense, I often let players just go do their thing - especially in the offensive zone.
I have come to the point, though, that as I develop off ice discipline next September, there needs to be on ice development of discipline too (not only on ice behavior/deportment, but team play as well). I am now convinced that one feeds off the other and two different messages can’t coexist. If I am going to insist that stalls in the dressing room are left properly organized after each game and practice then I am going to have to insist that we run the forecheck properly as well. If I am going to insist that the team is dressed properly when we get on the bus then I am going to have to insist that we run the set power play breakout properly as well.
I hope our players are working hard on their pre-season preparation as well…