Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Reluctant Head Coach

This could be viewed as an unfortunate by-product (or not) of all the BS that underlies the current hockey season (don't even get me started on that one), but I've had to step in act as head coach, at least for the beginning of the season. I look at it from a few different perspectives.

Our hockey program has gotten too big for it's own britches, and its ego has taken blindly taken charge in the quest for hockey greatness. I still don't quite get how things worked out as they did, and it's hard to discuss it without letting my emotions get in the way. For the record, several people have come up to me and wondered aloud how things turned out this way, but it doesn't matter at this point. It really boils down to the choices of DW and who am I to question his thought process? I don't agree with it and think he screwed things up, but he's in charge, so so be it. Victory at the cost of one's soul, as the saying goes.

The point is, with the teams now set, some of us have had to step up and take the reigns, and that includes yours truly. In the past I've been able to skate by with little in the way of leadership or input. Honestly, I'm not even sure why I'm a coach, but previous head coaches have welcomed my assistance. I'm there anyway with N, so why not help out? The thing about being an assistant is that you can skate by (no pun intended) and basically be an observer, almost invisible. When head coaches gave me a chance to be more of a presence, I deferred, taking the easy way out. I felt somewhat like an appendage, but I also felt like I filled some role, however minor it was.

Well, all that changed when this season began. N's team has a head coach (AL) who knows his stuff and is young, talented, and very skilled. Definitely someone who the kids look up to because of that, unlike the dads who are old and dorky. The problem is, AL also runs the arena, so he has to be there to take care of the ice. The beginning of the season most if not all of our games have been away games, so he can't be there. Someone had to step in, and guess who got sucked into that trap? It became painfully clear to me the first game up in Lyndon that there were only two assistant coaches (and no head coach) there, me and NC. I could have just told NC to take charge and I would once again ride in the back, but that would have been wrong for a number of reasons. First off, NC wasn't prepared for this (though neither was I). Second, he is new to the program, this is his kid's first year, and it would have been wrong to throw him into the pit. Finally, I don't want my son to think I'm just a big wimp who always chickens out and lets everyone else take responsibility. These guys needed someone to take charge and as reluctant as I was to do it, somebody had to, right?

I met NC in the parking lot and informed him that it was just him and I, and he was more than willing to step up. We were woefully unprepared for our first game, and part of that stemmed from me not realizing I would have to take a lead role, or more to the point, nobody realizing this. Normally the "head coach" takes care of all this, and this becomes a problem when there is no head coach present. We didn't have roster stickers (not a huge deal), a first aid kid (not a huge deal), a dry erase board to map out plays (sort of a big deal), or pucks to warm up with (a big deal). We had to wing it, but the kids didn't really know what to expect because it's early in the season. I felt bad because they were clearly ready to play, and we as coaches were not. Bad planning and too many expectations that someone else would have to take care of everything. Time for dad to step up and be a man.

Before the game, I got the players attention and ended up doing most of the talking, keeping it simple for our first game. Oddly enough, despite my lack of assertiveness, I've learned enough about hockey to know what makes a winning team, not to mention good players. I've also played sports my entire life so certain qualities carry over from sport to sport. Coupled with yelling really loud, the guys listened and took it to heart. They went out and played a great game, winning 7-4. It's weird when between periods they all skate over and look at you expecting some sort of sage advice. You simply re-iterate what separates the boys from the men.

It was a little stressful, but we managed to pull it off. Afterward we coaches vowed not to be so poorly prepared the next time, i.e., we needed to get our shit together. We also didn't want to fall into the trap of playing second fiddle to the other guys, but that impetus is on us. On the drive home N said that as far as coaching goes I do a better job than I give myself credit for. From my kids that's about as good a compliment as I'll ever get, so I'll take it.

I survived my first stint as N's head coach (I once had to do it for A's team, as well), but I know it won't be the last, because the guys need a leader, if only symbolically. I am looking forward to AL the real head coach to take the helm, if for the simple fact that he really knows hockey and can give them more constructive and helpful feedback... as opposed to yelling "just shoot the damn puck," but for now I'll wear the head coaches jacket and hopefully lead these guys to a positive hockey experience. That means that I'm going to have to do a little growing as well. I think I'm ready... not that I have much choice.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to gregorys2006 for the pic.

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