If you’re of a certain vintage you will remember the infamous scene from Top Gun, “Maverick’s disengaging sir.”
“Let’s get in there, we have to help Ice.”
“It’s no good.”
“Let’s get back in the game Maverick.”
“Come on, we have to get back in there Maverick.”
“Goddamnit, he’s disengaging.”
“I knew it, shit.”
“Get in there, you can’t leave him.”
“Ice is all a lone down there, he’s not going to last in the fight, we have to get back in the fight.”
“Maverick’s reengaging sir.”
The word engage can take on several meanings, but in the game of hockey it’s quite clear. If a player won’t engage, they’re timid, hesitant or worse case scenario scared.
How do young players re-engage?
How does a player flip the switch from being timid to engage, to being the first to engage and win battles along the boards?
Is it in them to do it, or are they done at that level?
Sadly some players will never get past it, some players need to get pushed around and dominated before they fundamentally decide to engage. Others warm up to the idea, but they have to be the first to engage, but are still scared shitless to be the first on pucks. Don’t believe just go watch a game. It’s happening more than you think at every level.
It’s incredibly difficult to “get back in the fight” especially if they have been hurt or taken in hard or awkwardly in the past.
Maverick had his reasons not engage in that split second. Young aspiring players have their reasons to.
The most important aspect nowadays is to talk about it, rather than avoid the subject all together.
With all the video reinforcement that’s so prevalent in the game it’s easy to go back and look at the tape and see where things went right and wrong with regards to engaging the opposition.
Coaches and parents can’t be yelling and screaming at their kids or players to toughen up. They need to understand what’s going on between their ears.
They need to practice with pressure, they need to feel the same discomfort awkwardness and sometimes fear that they do in a game in practice. We throw around buzz words like dirty areas, grit, sandpaper and toughness all of the time. Obviously, everyone will have their own thoughts and definitions of those terms, but when players don’t engage it’s noticeable. When players aren’t in the fight it’s noticeable. When players don’t engage, it spreads like wildfire across the entire team.
Sadly when players don’t engage or are hesitant to engage that’s when injuries occur.
“Fight or flight.” That’s a natural response and one we see all the time in the game. If young aspiring players want to continue to play at higher levels they have to make up their mind, are they in the fight, will they engage because in many cases you can’t be caught in between and ironically that’s where a lot of players are right now.
Why hide it, why cover it up, why pretend that it’s not happening or there? Let’s talk about it. Let’s get everyone’s perspective on it. Let’s not outwardly criticize players in front of others, let’s pull players aside and talk with them, let’s put them in less than comfortable positions in practice so they can grow and develop and experience game like situations in practice. Taking a hit to make a play is a skill, throwing a hit and taking a hit is a skill. Now isn’t the time to run the gauntlet, it’s not the time to toughen up. Now is the time to reflect, correct and teach.
It’s time to re-engage.