Closing the Gap

Now is the time to act. Now is the time for change. Now is the time for player development to take the lead.

Those were the last three lines of the article “Left Behind.”

How can we act?

How can we change what’s happening in our beloved game in our beloved region?

How can Player Development take the lead?

A lot has happened since publishing “Left Behind” and going live on the Quick Shift Podcast to talk about player development in Atlantic Canada.

There’s been a lot of positive comments and that’s fantastic, but has any action taken place?

It’s one thing for me to write something and perhaps stir the pot or start the much needed dialogue surrounding the topic, but it’s another to not suggest ways we can fix it.

Hell, Hockey Canada held a summit after Nagano, why can’t we get the Technical Director’s of all four Atlantic Provinces together and discuss ways we can close the gap.

In the last few days I’ve some amazing conversations with amazing people talking hockey and player development.

In my opinion the time to act is right now.

We can’t wait any longer.

How are we going to convince people from this region and the powers that be that change is desperately needed?

Why couldn’t all the technical directors, and all the leading player development gurus from all four provinces meet and collaborate?

Wouldn’t it be also be great to reach out to a few current QMJHL players, US College, current pros and former pros from the region to join that committee and share their perspective on the topic.

If we have the right people in the room with open and trustworthy dialogue wouldn’t that be a step in the right direction?

Well there’s one giant hurdle right off the top.

When you get the leading player development gurus all in one room, sharing ideas potentially could be perceived as detrimental to their business.

The competitive side of that business rules supreme in most cases and you probably never see those handful of people openly collaborate, which in my opinion is a real shame.

I understand that dilemma, business is business, but this is for the good of the game in this region, not about dollar signs.

Obviously, everyone can agree that if there is going to be progress made it has to start at the grassroots level.

It’s clear there has to be a cultural shift in the way coaches coach at the foundational stages of the game if we are going to see players develop and catch up here in Atlantic Canada.

The real question that should be asked is why do you coach?

What are your values as a coach?

What do you believe in?

You see everything changes within that framework when outcomes appear.

Obviously, when you are talking values those are things you can control as a coach, when you look at outcomes those are aspects of the game you have zero control over.

Now think about that for minute,

Values vs Outcomes

Every coach, player and parent should write down their values and the outcomes.

Clearly the “hockey parent” as we know today would have vastly different values than the coach and their son or daughter or would they?

What about the players?

Would every player want a fair shake when it comes to ice time, speciality teams and playing with the quote on quote best players?

Hell yes.

Would they want a level playing field to develop, Hell yes.

But what about the coach.

If the coach is all about winning over developing a culture based on development and deepening the love and passion for the game, the core values of the players and parents will never be met and that particular coach is clearly in it for the wrong reasons, taking us back to why do you coach?

You can thank hockey lifer Wally Kozak for that analogy.

Wally and I spoke for about an hour and forty five minutes yesterday.

I laughed and I cried talking about the game and my experiences within it.

Yes I cried, thinking about the Bantam AAA girls team I Co Coached with my good friend Kelly MacNeil.

I always get emotional talking about that group.

I was quite embarrassed breaking down on the phone like that.

I apologized a few times for breaking down, but Wally wouldn’t hear of it.

Wally Kozak was and is still way ahead of his time when it comes to coaching and development in the game of hockey.

Wally had me do the exact exercise of what I just wrote over the phone.

He also wanted me to create a mission statement if I were coaching a team.

This is what I wrote.

“To Promote a Positive Culture, Develop and Deepen the Love and Passion for the Game, while Inspiring Young Players and People to Reach New Levels”

Why do you coach?

What’s your mission statement?

What’s the mission statement of your child’s organization and does the organization follow it, or is just a bunch of words that’s on a poster hanging in the rink next to all the banners they have won without truly developing kids for the next level?

This is Wally’s comment after reading “Left Behind”

“Keep things in perspective when it comes to measuring success. What matters most is what young men and women learn from the experience. Playing competitive sports teaches valuable life lessons. Coaches who coach the “right way” appreciate the importance of hard work, respect and team work. These are life skills that will lead to success. Regardless of the level that kids achieve they need to develop the life skills that will help them be the best that they can be. Being coached the right way “you never win of lose, you either win or learn”. John Wooden defines success as being the best that you can be. The best coaches win more often because they appreciate the value of being a hard working Team Player. After winning his 10 th NCCA basketball championship he was asked by a reporter. waht do you think about your players? Wooden replied, “ask me in 25 years.”

What are the core values of the hockey community in Atlantic Canada?

Have we become so fixated on winning that we have forgotten the true essence of the game?

If we are going to have any chance at closing the gap we need to change the collective mission statement of coaches at the grassroots level all across this region.

For that matter we may have to change a lot of coaches mission statement across every level within the game in this region.

We are going to have to collaborate and share what works, what doesn’t work, but most importantly we have going to develop the person and the player.

That’s going to take a cultural shift of epic proportion to achieve.

Kozak’s quote on coaching truly resonated with me.

“A coaches job is to transmit belief”

Shortening benches for the all mighty “W” doesn’t transmit belief, it ruins any chance of development, actually it kills it.

Kozak used the word “criminal” to describe it.

Honestly, we have all been guilty of that offence at one time or another.

If Atlantic Canada is going to close the gap we will have to ultimately shift our collective focus from winning to developing.

Coaches and organizations can say all the right things about developing, they can flaunt the names of past players that they have produced, but a what have you done lately mentality has to be front and centre when considering player development.

Have organizations in Atlantic Canada become blinded by the light when it comes to development or are they blinded by all the banners.

Perhaps winning all those banners may have gotten in the way of player development.

Player development will never take the lead when winning becomes the mission statement of organizations.

Now back to my discussion with Mr Kozak.

Mr Kozak had me draw a tree.

I scrambled to find a piece a paper so I drew mine on a piece of green construction paper that I stole my daughter’s craft area.

I guess the green paper inspired me to draw a fur tree.

Now I’m no artist, a matter of fact I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

Wally asked me to describe my tree.

“Well it’s not much of a tree,” I said.

I said “it’s a fur tree with a long trunk.”

“Ok perfect,” Kozak said.

Just before we hung up, he asked me if my tree had any roots.

“Come to think about, I didn’t draw any,” I said.

You see if we are going to close the gap here in Atlantic Canada with regards to player development it all starts in the root system.

How deeply rooted are your values within the game?

How deeply rooted our your son or daughter’s coaches values?

Is it all about the outcome or is it about the embracing the journey and developing?

Are we winning and learning?

Are we ever going to realistically close the gap?

Ask me in twenty five years, hopefully it won’t take that long.

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