I recently received an email from a parent who was concerned about mixed messages from coaches. When I am at the games, the player is receiving one set of instructions, but when I can't be there they are getting a different set of instructions. With their forgiveness, I feel the train of thought it sent me down was worth sharing.
For those that have coached with me, or those that have played with me, I have a strict rule about line changes on the way back. Put simply, they don't happen. Line changes happen on the way up the ice or with the puck in the offensive zone. I tell my players that if they had enough energy to play offense they better have enough to play defense and that if they come to bench the door will not open. I tell them, jokingly, that I will let them collapse from exhaustion on the ice in front of the bench before that door will open.
However, I do have multiple kids playing and can't always be there. And this player plays on another team that I'm not as involved in. With that team, as the puck is going back towards the defensive zone, coaches are calling for them to come off the ice. The player is put in a predicament. "Do I stay on the ice and handle my defensive responbility first, as Coach Rich has taught me, or do I do what this coach is telling me and come off?"
What a great question! For my part, I'll take a minute and discuss the situation with the other coaches to make sure we're consistent with the message, but let's focus on the player. You have a youth hockey player, forced to make a crucial decision, both with the on-ice situation and with the coach.
Option A, stay on the ice and play defense. Do what Coach Rich has taught you and you trust that coaching. Know that when you come off the ice the coach is likely going to express frustration, possibly yell at the player for not doing what was asked. In this case, the player could then say "I understand what you were asking but Coach Rich has told me to do something differently and I thought I was doing the right thing. Can you help me understand what you saw that made you ask me to come off so I know how you want it done?" What a challenging thing for any young player to do! A good coach, after a moment to breathe, should be able to communicate with the player.
Option B, come off the ice. The coach is fine, in fact probably happy that they followed the instruction and came off, but the player is confused and possibly upset. In that case, the player can then say to the coach, "I followed your instructions but have a question....Coach Rich has taught me 'x' and this is what I saw. You asked me to do 'y'...can you explain what you were seeing how you want it done." Also challenging....easy for a child to bottle up the frustration and/or just soak up the fact that the coach is happy with them. Why mess with a happy coach, even if I'm frustrated?
Before continuing, let me just say that coaches get frustrated. Anyone who has seen me coach knows I can be....."passionate." We'll go with that. But abusive is unacceptable. If a coach can't handle the situation properly with a youth hockey player than that is a whole other issue that needs to be addressed by adults. But let's approach this from the perspective that that coach, although possibly frustrated, will do the right thing and communicate with their players.
Which brings us back to the question. Option A or option B. You have to choose. And I don't think there is a wrong answer. Isn't hockey great at teaching life lessons? That players have to make decisions, knowing there will be consequences both on the ice and off. That those decisions will affect both game results and relationships and will require communication skills to work through it, either way. Whether it's the player that's frustrated or the coach, they will have to discuss what happened so they don't stay frustrated and those feelings don't continue into the future.
How many times in life, whether it be sports, or work, or religious groups, youth groups, marriages, parenting, etc.. do people have differences of opinions that require immediate decision making and then communication. Every day.. And how a person handles the communication after the decision is usually more important than the decision itself. From both sides. As long as both sides understand that the person who made the decision likely had the right intentions for making that decision, communicating properly will help both sides grow and learn and have a stronger relationship in the future.
In the hockey world, as the player gets older, they can take the 'x' that Coach Rich taught them and the 'y' that other coaches taught them, and should they continue on the hockey journey, can coach 'Z'......which is theirs alone. And in life, I firmly believe that playing hockey, and being put in those situations as a youth player, will only help them make more correct decisions and communicate those decisions properly when placed under pressure and dealing with upset individuals. Isn't hockey great for teaching life lessons?