Coaching without drills

The work of play

I’m back coaching hockey again.

I vowed that I wouldn’t. And yet, here I am.

I can’t skate as well as the other coaches.

I don’t have their tactical knowledge of the game.

As such? They’ve put me in charge of working with the goalie.

He’s a work in progress.

His father is a highly qualified goaltending coach.

His knows more than me and is attempting to ‘help’ me by providing me with books and drills so that I can teach his son as he would.

There’s an issue here. 

I’m not him.

I don’t know what he knows or think what he thinks.

The chance of us sharing values is low.

Well, I care about his son and hope he enjoys hockey. We’re probably on the same page there. It’s likely we don’t share much beyond that.

My young charge is frequently telling me about positioning, about skills and about what he knows.

He constantly reminds me about his dad.

The issue? He knows this stuff in his head.

He wants to show that he’s doing it ‘correctly.’

His body simply can’t do what he knows. His body can’t do it ‘correctly’

I think that he’s being taught to develop a hockey sense, to ‘think the game’.

Only issue?

The game doesn’t take place in your head. It takes place on the ice.

I have a rather different approach.

We’re playing a game.

He has one job. His job is to keep the puck that I have in my pocket from entering the net.

If I score a goal, it’s a point for me.

If he makes a save, it’s a point for him.

If I ask for a break or one of the other coaches calls for a water break, it’s a point for him.

If he asks for a break it’s a point for me for every minute he’s on break.

This game’s been going on since the start of the year. It’s going to go on all year. We’ll keep a running tally of all the points this year. 

No technique. No instruction.

Just battling.

Just play.

He didn’t like the game.

He didn’t want to battle.

He wanted to tell me what he knew.

He wanted to rest.

He wanted certainty.

He wanted to drink water.

I wanted him to keep playing and to stop the puck.

He’d tell me about drills or about things his dad has told him.

Cool. Drills don’t stop pucks

He wanted to tell me ‘why’ about a lot of stuff.

Knowing ‘why’ doesn’t stop pucks.

I told him that I was happy that he knew the theory.

And? Being precocious with a coach does not keep the puck out of the net.

It does give him a chance to rest.

It does save him from feeling bad about letting in seven or eight goals a game.

It is a lot of work learning to move in those pads.

There were times it seemed he’d rather do anything but stop the puck.

And I insisted.

We kept playing.

I keep pushing him to stay in longer.

He’s pretty gritty.

It’s only been a couple of months.

Now, he moves better.

Now,  stops more shots and is loved by his teammates.


His father doesn’t bug me quite so much any more.

There are people out there who would rather talk about change and show what they know in their heads.  They want to be right, certain, healthy, good and secure.

I see this with the therapy tire kickers.

They arrive. They know a few things about a few things.

They love to use the lingo.

They love to show me just how aware they are about mental health.

When it comes time to stop the puck, they’re nowhere to be found.

I think what stops them is shame. People want to be competent. They don’t want to accept that they are not good at something yet.

In order to be good at anything whether it's goaltending, being creative or relating to other people, you first need to examine where you’re not that great. Then get to work. Genius as they say is 99% perspiration. 

I think the 99% perspiration mostly comes from the fear of being found out as being not yet perfect.

Admitting we struggle is tough. We long for the certainty provided by structure, drills and route learning.

Showing up to play with whole hearted determination?

That’s where the magic happens.