AHU COACH’S CORNER: Putting the team first will yield better relationships
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun once said, “Hockey is all about the team. Hockey culture hates individualism.”
Hockey, maybe more than any other major sport, is built around chemistry, both on and off the ice. Building a great hockey team is the sum of the parts players and coaches bring on the ice, and the personality and leadership they also bring off the ice. A strong team culture can take a team from good to great, beyond what talent brings alone. I’m sure we have all encountered situations where the culture was bad and everyone was more interested in “me,” not “we.”
As coaches and parents, you are responsible for your team culture, whether it is good or bad. Part of building a great team culture is recognizing talent, but it is equally important we recognize character.
Culture is simply how we do things. A great team culture can give teams an edge or a boost with the mental side of competition. A winning culture doesn’t necessarily mean you win every game, but it does mean the team is focused on good habits and displaying good character traits. If young players can develop habits of positive mental habits, it will also help them in all aspects of their life. Team culture comes directly from your values and non-negotiable beliefs. The team becomes a direct reflection of coach, player and parent values. Culture is the direct reflection of what you teach, how coaches act on the bench during games, how parents behave in the stands and how you relate to your players on and off the ice.
Creating an exceptional team culture takes work, and it’s incredibly important coaches, players and parents are all buy in to the cultural framework. In a developmental team culture, coaches believe all players deserve equal opportunity to play hockey and that players need to have fun playing the game. That means all players get equal ice time over the course of the season because every shift provides a learning opportunity for hard work, recovering from mistakes and supporting teammates. A good athlete is always looking to improve and asking, “What can I work on, what can I learn from my teammates?” It is the players’ responsibility to bring their best effort, and a coach’s responsibility for providing positive reinforcement.
A developmental team culture also expects a lot from players. All players are expected to give their best effort at all times and be positive toward their teammates. Players are expected to demonstrate sportsmanship while winning and while losing. For parents, that means reinforcing great sportsmanship values in the rink and on that drive home after the game. Playing the game, winning and losing all provide valuable life lessons and an opportunity to demonstrate that each player deserves respect, an opportunity to play and an opportunity to learn and improve.
Building an incredible team culture places high value on both results and relationships within the team. It means having a strong sense of the mission and purpose so each member of the team (coaches, players and parents) knows exactly what the expectation is and holds each other accountable. A well-defined culture provides candid and frequent feedback and team members are treated with respect and valued for their contributions to the team – not just their points. It is important to team culture to embed the idea that every player has an important role. Just because one player scored a goal does not mean the offense leading up to that shot wasn’t just as important.
You will begin to see strong relationships and players focus on the benefit of the entire team, not just their individual performance. Team culture is about the mental aspects of the game and athletic performance. Spending time to develop a team-first culture can pay off when it comes time to perform on the ice. When all of our players are in a team-first mindset, the team is greater than the sum of its parts.
Kurt Goar is Arizona Hockey Union’s coach-in-chief.