Playoffs and championships are everyone’s goal, but nobody should lose focus on the bigger picture
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – As playoff time nears, players and coaches are reminded of the most important aspects of postseason play: have fun and make sure the kids continue to develop in the right direction.
“It’s bonus hockey, but it shouldn’t be any different than the regular season,” USA Hockey American Development Model (ADM) Regional Manager Dan Jablonic said. “You’re focusing on the fundamentals, making sure you’re allowing each kid an experience they’re hoping they’re going to remember for a long time.”
Pressure and expectations during the postseason are obviously quite different at the 10U level compared to 16U and 18U. Players and coaches need to keep that in mind. Age appropriateness certainly needs to be taken into account.
“What you’re saying as a coach in a 10U locker room should be a lot different than what they’re saying in a 16 or 18U locker room,” Jablonic said.
Playing time at 10U and the younger age levels should be distributed fairly. When the kids are getting older, it’s a coach’s discretion to play the better players.
“The big thing we like to see is just that we’re there to develop the kids, and part of that development is them learning how to play with pressure and that’s certainly what playoffs bring,” said Steve Thompson, ADM manager of goaltending. “We just want to make sure that every kid gets an opportunity to develop under that pressure and that excitement and that stress that does come with playoffs.”
Added Jablonic: “That’s the cool thing with kids, they’ll keep it pretty humble. Win, lose or draw, they want to play, they want to compete, they want to be with their friends, then they’re kind of moving on to the next thing.”
It can be tough to curb the nerves of 16- and 17-year-old kids, but if they prepared for the moment, they should be ready and confident.
“That you went to bed on time, that you ate correctly, you did all the little things,” Thompson said. “You sacrificed all those things that most people won’t, knowing your other peers in high school are doing X, Y and Z, and you didn’t because you know it’s not good for your hockey career. That’s usually what you can lean on when times are tough, because you know you’re ready to go because you did what you needed to.”
Jablonic stressed that teams that excel in the playoffs are the ones that come together, play fun, fast hockey and really enjoy the experience. Players are encouraged to be a great teammate — be happy if a player nets a couple goals.
“I think it’s important to recognize that you don’t let one game essentially represent your whole season,” Jablonic said. “You’ve got to make sure that you’re putting that in them. Are the kids developing? Are they improving their skills? Are they improving on not only their hockey skills but their social skills? Are they fighting through adversity? How do they handle defeat? Are they showing respect to the officials, the other teams you play?”
Making things fun leading up to the playoffs is invaluable. That can all be dictated by the tone of a coach in practice.
“If the coach is really rigid and regimented and is feeling tight and stressed, the kids are going to feed off that,” Thompson said. “If the coach is coming into the rink with a smile on his face, saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a really fun practice today because we get to play in the state tournament or city tournament this weekend,’ I think they too will kind of see that behavior.”
That coach needs to be a positive influence on the kid’s life and help the player realize that what happens on the ice isn’t do or die.
“We asked our coaches, simply put, ‘How does it feel to be coached by you?’” Jablonic said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s preseason, regular season or playoffs, that kid’s going to be leaving the rink, and always keep that in mind. You want to compete, you want to win, but you don’t want to be the detriment of the kid.”
Keeping everything in perspective can lead to good, fun hockey during the playoffs and a learning experience that can shape a kid for a lifetime.
“It’s a chance for everybody to show what they’ve got after a year of hard work,” Thompson said. “That’s why you go to practice every day, that’s why you gut out all the stuff throughout the season to have an opportunity to win a championship with your teammates and that’s what the game’s all about.”
Photo credit: Photos by Sully
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.