The Tryout Process: Volume 2: Innovation vs Tradition

The game of hockey has always been steep with tradition and history.  As coaches we find ourselves caught between being innovative and relying on past experiences that influence our coaching strategies and techniques.  Unfortunately in the great game of hockey being innovative causes undo attention and criticism from outside sources.  

Far too many times it seems that great young coaches are forced out or fazed out of the game due to their perspectives or theories about the game.    

The pressure is constant when coaching at any level, but especially when you are trying to implement innovative strategies and techniques that buck tradition.  I strongly believe that some hockey traditionalists are ready at a moment’s notice to be critical of coaches that are experimenting with new strategies.

The Historical Perspective vs. Innovation

If you have followed any of my blogs or articles in the past you are well aware that I’m a bit of a traditionalist myself, but I never let that get in the way of my coaching philosophy.  Change for the sake of changing is never recommended and to change your “cultural beliefs” associated with the game of hockey could lead to one losing one’s coaching identity.   

Your hockey identity is important because it  clearly defines you as a coach.  Nevertheless, as a coach if you aren’t willing to change your techniques that doesn’t make you a traditionalist that just makes you set in your ways and just stubborn.
It’s unfortunate that certain coaches rely so heavily on their drill books from past years to coach or educate their current players.   

To assume that new players will adapt and learn like past players is really quite absurd.   We have to change our focus and teaching techniques every year when coaching and challenging youth to play to their potential, especially in today’s world. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that you change your culture or systems.   If your system is tried, tested and true then as coaches that instantly becomes your coaching philosophy.   I’m not suggesting anyone change their coaching philosophy, but to entertain the idea of trying something new every season not every practice.  

The Tryout Process

The tryout process in our region is quickly approaching and the hockey traditionalists are probably looking forward to observe scrimmage based tryouts. 
The innovative ideas of a few board members in a local association will definitely come under fire because they are tried something different a few seasons ago.   They provided all players in their competitive levels with an hour long skill based/game situation evaluation before the scrimmage based assessments.  

As I discussed in a previous blogs/articles that technique was groundbreaking for this region and one would think make the association in question more competitive in years to come, if they continue to adapt this form of evaluation.  Though this idea is a drastically different approach it will be fought with resistance from the onset because of the traditional or historical approach to the tryout process.  

Everyone is well aware of my love of the Boston Bruins, but this story focuses on a Hall of Fame forward that was part of the most lop sided trades in NHL history, Phil Esposito. 

Photo credit NHL.com

Phil often tells this story about his personality, but I focus in on how brutal his experience was.  As a young hockey player Phil was trying out for his local competitive traveling team.   The initial tryout consisted of two laps around the rink, then the coach called out nine players, and instantly told them to sit on the bench.  He then left them on the bench for the entire workout.  This coach was probably a well respected figure in Phil’s community at the time, but the next barbaric act is a clear indicator of how far we have come in the game of hockey.  He told the nine players that sat on the bench for the entire practice that they were cut! 

“Phil being Phil” quickly said “why the hell did you make us sit here then”.   

Innovation at What Cost?

Being innovative is challenging for any coach and could be very detrimental to their development and of course could reflect on team performance.  It’s also unfortunate to see coaches scrambling to be innovative before they have their foundation or coaching philosophy in place.   To try a new drill every practice is like teaching a power play breakout to 10 and 11- year-olds or beating your head up against a wall.   

In the Provincial winning campaign of 2011-2012 we executed probably close to 15 to 20 drills all season long.
 To suggest that a competitive minor hockey team requires any more than 15 to 20 drills to be successful during the season is somewhat misguided.

Clearly some coaches would probably laugh in my face for making that statement.  My innovation came in the form of small variations to the foundation drills set in place.  Every drill was given small, but very critical variations when the players were ready to execute these drills to their full potential. 

Nevertheless, my traditionalist perspective on the game was never in jeopardy due to my coaching philosophy.   All the drills that were performed were drills that I had experienced through the different levels and stages in my development as a coach and player.  So in some strange way I was both innovative and traditional in my approach.   Finding even ground or a balance while searching for innovations to enhance ones coaching philosophy and techniques should be the goal of any coach.  

There is a reason why hockey relies on its historical relevance and its rich traditions, but to criticize individuals trying to improve the way young people approach the game today is cause for concern.   A balanced attack or a “Venn diagram” approach is definitely in order for coaches willing to apply their trade craft to enhance the game. 

If one strays or pursues one aspect or tends to lean in one direction more than another, that coach and his/her subsequent team will struggle to be successful.   Finding that balance or precision (between tradition and innovation) as a coach takes tons of experience, sound knowledge of the game and the willingness to slightly adapt ones philosophy.   
My search for balance in that area was ongoing and ever changing during my coaching days. I really tried to emphasize, promote and incorporate my coaching philosophy and brand of hockey with all the teams that I was a part of throughout the season and during the tryout process. Traditional or innovative? What tryout process will your son or daughters coach be implementing this try out season?

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