Blog No. 45
Sometimes we start doing something for one reason and without realizing it continue doing it for another. For the first time in many years I’m not coaching hockey. I started coaching in my first year of university. I was planning on going to teacher’s college and having the volunteer hours working with kids was a necessity. I did the minor hockey thing when I was young (it is practically a rite of passage in Canada though I have friends who didn’t play). I thought that coaching would be a fun way to get my volunteer hours and it was (for the most part). Having two older brothers a lot of my weekends as a kid were spent at the rink and as a coach it wasn’t much different. I missed a lot of shifts and a few fun nights but I kept at it without too much complaining.
I was very lucky when I called the league and said I was interested in volunteering. There was an experienced coach who was looking for an assistant and I could get started the day I called. It was a mad scramble to go through my long neglected gear and pull out the stuff I needed. The helmet fit thankfully, so did the gloves (but they had that sitting in a hockey bag for years smell). The skates fit but they were a little rusty and needed to be sharpened badly. I didn’t have time that day so it was an interesting experience getting on the ice and trying to show the kids how to do the drills (especially since most of the drills were new to me). I only fell once though and it was a pretty invigorating entrance into the world of coaching minor hockey.
I was also luck in the coach I was paired up with. Not only was he a teacher himself, he was a long time coach with the time to do all the behind the scenes work that coaching takes. He was also much more organized than me and he was invested in the team and the game. Most importantly though, we shared a similar philosophy in that the game is about having fun and learning and our job was to teach the players and try to make the ice time as even as possible. I grew up seeing my share of minor hockey coaches who took the game too seriously, double shifting their best players and throwing tantrums when things don’t go their own way. I saw too much of it as a coach too, but it was always coming from another bench. Everyone I coached with had a level head and a good balance of wanting to win, but never at the expense of our players.
I don’t really want to get into the politics too much, but I put it in the title so I should at least mention it. There is always conflict between some parents, some coaches and the league, the refs are always an issue (whether it works for or against you) and parents are exactly as bad as the news portrays them. (That is some parents are a nightmare but some are great.) The worst part of all is that all of the garbage happens in an “everyone pays, everyone plays” minor hockey league. Minor hockey is about a lot of things and as coaches we tried to emphasise all the benefits from learning how to be part of a team, self discipline, how to lose and win gracefully and countless other life lessons – but mostly it was about the fun. That wasn’t always easy with negative influences at the gate.
The most rewarding part was having parents and players ask to be on our team the next year. We didn’t receive anything for being a coach (other than the fury from the odd parent or administrator). Coaches spend a lot of time and energy (along with money for gas and skate sharpenings) and they do it for the players and the game. I initially did it for the volunteer hours, but long after I got into teachers college I kept coaching. My parents always said it was good to have on a resume – and they’re right – but that’s not why I kept doing it.
For all the weekends I lost and the shifts I missed I enjoyed working with the other coaches and the team. We weren’t always the best (there was that one magical year) but we always tried to make it fun. Though towards the end when all the coaches’ kids were long out of the league and the politics started becoming overwhelming the joy gave way to frustration. The kids are sometimes awful and last season we had a few of them, the league seemed sometimes petty and we faced their wrath more than once and too many parents lost sight of the real goals of minor hockey. Over the years I enjoyed coaching even though it was another obligation. I liked the camaraderie, I liked being on the ice, I liked that I was filling a role that I took for granted when I was young. It just became part of who I am and now I’m not doing it and that makes me feel weird and happy and sad.