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Deflections - The Old School Coach


The coach is “Old School.”

I hear that a lot, from coaches, parents, at clinics… It’s a catchphrase to mean, “The coach uses timeworn drills and a my-way-or-the-highway mentality, and isn’t too interested in trying something new.” It’s the minor hockey equivalent of the one room schoolhouse.

Then again, I know a couple of coaches who could be accused of being old school and they’re quite effective. In the end, their kids are taught, learn, improve, and have had some success. In short, affixing a moniker to a coaching approach isn’t always accurate.

However, what is worth examining is the overuse of drills that didn’t cut it before and still don’t. Much of that comes from ignorance, and I mean it in the most literal way. A coach will resort to what was done ages ago or what is most expedient or even easiest. The drill was boring and ineffective 30 years ago. Why? Because it doesn’t (and didn’t) address any of the key ingredients a good drill should: movement, variety, challenge, minimal waiting, highlights particular skills or tactics, done in an appropriate space and at a speed where learning can occur, to name a few.

The old school approach is to use the same warmups every practice; to use the same 1-on-1 or breakout drills every practice; to think that nine-year-olds should be doing complex breakout to neutral zone regroup to 3-on-2s; to spend 15 minutes on ice showing players where to go on face-offs; to loudly smack your stick on the ice and exhort the players to go faster, no matter the drill; to tell parents that one of the objectives is to finish in the league’s top three and win at least one tournament; to go to a couple of junior practices and steal a few drills, figuring your own players could do them too; to assume the “new stuff” and approaches to instruction and coaching are interesting but not needed.

We shouldn’t confuse old school coaching approaches with traditional values-based leadership. An ethical approach to leading kids of any age is probably the same now as it was decades ago. Now though, with programs such as the Coaching Association’s excellent Make Ethical Decisions, coaches learn there’s a process to making a decision, not just impulse. This is true even when the coach knows that, in the end, the result may be similar.

At older competitive levels, parents seem to be more willing to accept old school coaches. It doesn’t exist in the classroom much anymore. Why accept it in sport? I suspect we have an idea why, and it’s not positive.

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