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The Cornered Coach: Old Yeller behind the bench

(Flickr photo by Gar Lunney courtesy of the Canadian BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives)

I'm not much of a screamer behind the bench.

I've tried to raise my voice in an attempt to raise my team's game. However, a few things usually happen.

One –  I invariably shout out the wrong instructions; "Off the boards!", which results in a crafty opposition forward with acute ears rushing over to pick off the suggested pass.

Two –  By the end of the night my vocal chords are completely stripped. My post-game speech, intended to be delivered in thundering, inspirational tones, sounds more like a squeaky Mickey Mouse routine,  leaving my 10 year old hockey players giggling like, well, a bunch of 10 year old hockey players.

So, how do you get your message across during the course of a game?

It helps to have one leather-lunged coach on the bench. After all, there are times when your players need a little verbal assistance. Letting them know you're "changing on the fly", giving them a "heads up" when a cherry picking opposition forward sneaks behind them, or when there's an open man in front of your net that somebody forgot to cover.

But here's the key.

It doesn't help when you have too many "Old Yeller's" behind the bench. If all your coaches are screaming instructions, this is how it sounds to the players.


Toss in those "helpful" instructions from dad, mom and the grandparents up in the stands, and you've created a symphony of confusion for the poor kids. Hockey is already a high-paced, difficult contest to navigate without being forced to process a half-dozen different voices inside your head. Also, from a development standpoint, young players need to learn how to make their own choices. There's not a whole lot of fun in being a "robot" and just doing what you're told to do with the puck. A big chunk of the joy of playing hockey is experimenting with your abilities and options on the ice, even if it means making a few mistakes along the way.

I prefer to leave the yelling to another member of the coaching staff; and you're almost guaranteed to have at least one person who loves the sound of their own voice. Let them do the screaming while you fill in the gaps when the kids get back to the bench. That's a perfect time to offer some encouragement and sneak in a little advice.

"Nice shift, Billy! You're really working hard out there. Just remember to watch for your teammate in front of the net when you win those puck battles in the corner."

It's well-documented that human beings respond to a more positive message. One of the best parts about coaching, in fact, is seeing the smile on a young player's face when you give them a pat on the back for making a good play. All of a sudden, they're motivated to do it again and they can hardly wait to hop over the boards for their next shift.

Hockey, of course, is a passionate game. As a result, there's bound to be some noise mixed in.

But make sure there's some value behind the volume and that the sound inside your player's head is enhancing their enjoyment of the game - not driving them crazy.

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