Sunday, June 16, 2024

Secret Hockey Coach: How to create a happy fulfilling player environment

In a new series, our secret hockey coach explains that having players who are part of the decision-making process will make them go to new levels

It’s lonely at the top. As a coach this year, I have experienced depression, anxiety, sleepless nights and mental hardship that has been tough to deal with. Anyone else feel this way?

Coaching is a tough profession. A lot of people think coaching is either the miracle talk or the strong motivational talk.

The reality is that this is a miniscule part of my job.

Confidante, psychologist, adviser, therapist, motivator, disciplinarian, educator, cheerleader, friend, manager. The list goes on and on – these are all the things I have been this week and I haven’t coached a session!

Relationships are the key component of coaching. When I played, my coaches didn’t know anything about me personally, didn’t make any attempt to get to know me on an equal level and ranted or shouted incoherent instructions at me from the sideline. The effectiveness of this could be debated for years.

How it worked then I don’t know but one thing I do know is that it doesn’t work now.

For me as a coach, relationships are fundamental to good coaching. Knowing how to motivate individuals, knowing which buttons to press on to get the desired results, knowing when to praise, knowing how to critique.

Get to know your players, get to know what makes them tick, dig a little deeper with them, talk about fears, talk about life away from the pitch.

Meet with them outside of the usual scope of your relationship – the bar, the coffee shop, the café – wherever works. Trust me, the better your relationship with your players, the better players they will be, the easier job you will have as a coach and the more success your team will have.

India celebrates Commonwealth bronze with coach Janneke Schopman PIC: Worldsportpics

I had the pleasures of talking with Ric Charlesworth some years ago. He told me that his job was to “comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable”. Coaches come and go, assistant coaches come and go, people lose jobs and coaching changes are made. I see coaching changes internationally and at elite clubs.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a coach lose their job because they weren’t good with the tactical side of things. I don’t remember the last time I saw a coach lose their job because they didn’t know what they were doing on the field.

Every coach I speak to who has been through a termination tells me the same thing: “I didn’t feel like the players were listening anymore”, or “I didn’t have that connection with my players anymore”.

Players want to win; they are driven by winning games. To survive in the modern game, you must have one of two things – player happiness or a winning team. Today, both are inextricably linked. Your team will never be happy if they are losing consistently, and you will never win consistently if your players are unhappy. The two go hand in hand. Create that happy fulfilling environment and the wins will follow.

For me, a sizeable squad goes through fortnightly individual meetings, a chance to get to know my players on a deeper level. Sometimes we talk about hockey or about life. I also target two to three players daily on the pitch during warm up and just check in with them.

Sometimes it’s me teasing them a little about an incident we have seen on video (we film everything), or checking in with those who are students on my team about how classes are going. It’s a genuine check in and a daily attempt to get to know them better and get the best out of them.

I would suggest writing your squad down and ask yourself what you know about each of them. How can you facilitate a process to have better, closer, more open relationships with your players. When they feel an ownership as part of the decision making, they will go to new levels.

The more you know about them the easier your job will be and the less lonely you will feel.

I am a full-time coach working at the elite level in hockey. My purpose for this column is to talk about my experiences and observations in coaching. I chose The Secret Coach as it allows me to speak freely and ask questions without a perceived agenda. I am hoping that this column touches you in many ways as a fellow coach.

Until next time, Happy Coaching!

Total Hockey


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