Friday, November 28, 2014

A Player's Psyche, A Coach's Role

I have a friend who used to be involved in the industry. We really could not get into many hockey discussions, because most of the topics were taboo (due to confidentiality.) To my lucky charms, he is out of the industry, so now we can have hockey discussions! 

Recently, we got to talking about just how fragile a player’s psyche is. To the point that sometimes he will stop trying, just drawing his paycheque. I was dumbfounded. I thought every player cared about winning and losing. How does a player just lose heart?

He said it happens without them even realizing it. When a rookie gets drafted to a rebuild team, he sometimes finds himself in an atmosphere where losing is acceptable.

He begins to think it does not matter how hard he works. He begins to get frustrated, and he begins to get used to losing. Then he gets into the habit of losing.

At this stage, he still cares, but there is a thin line. Thin enough that the coaches really have to be on top of things. If they miss it, little things can set the player off and he will start shutting the coach out.

He starts making mistakes over and over again. Not bothering to change his style. Telling his coach that he knows best. The team continues to fire coaches and not hold the player responsible.

How can losing be acceptable? Why would anyone accept losing as part as their routine.

My friend said it does not happen overnight. It happens gradually.

But shouldn’t the coach notice the signs?

Apparently they are part of the problem, not the solution. They are so involved in the process that they become oblivious to what is really going on.

He said he has seen teams consistently outplay another team game after game, and yet they keep losing. The players get very disheartened. Players may finally begin to think: “Who cares?”

Well, I can understand that, but can’t the general manager step in make a major trade? Or maybe the coach can change things up, benching players or changing the lines up.

But of course, that is easier said than done. The general manager has to bring in the right kind of players.

(I smiled and said: “Yeah, get players who can score and play the game!”)

But his response was that that is where the problem lies. Everyone seems to think it is easy to put players together and put them in the right place. But it is like a puzzle. You have to find the right pieces. Coaches sometimes work blindly, trying players out in different places.

They may try to make a player what he is not. For example, putting an offensive player on defense. They rationalize this, thinking this will make him more of a complete player. When a coach tries to make a player something he is not, it can really backfire. The defenseman may very well become resentful. Or since he does not succeed as a dman, he loses all sorts of confidence. When he continuously gets put in places where he cannot succeed, it really wears on him.

So I asked: “What is a coach suppose to do?”

This is where a coach truly becomes a coach. He has to get to know his players. Really, a coach is part shrink. Sometimes he has to gently massage a player’s ego. And sometimes a coach has to bring a player back to earth.  Sometimes he has to treat the stars with kid gloves. For some reason, the stars do not feel they have to work as hard as third- and fourth-liners! 

I asked how the third and fourth line players take that.

If they want to stay on the team, they take it. You can buy role players for a dime a dozen. Finding a superstar is a completely different story.

So, as you can see, being a coach is not as easy as people think. He has to be part friend, part psychiatrist, and part parent. The hardest part of being a coach is knowing when to push a player and when when to massage their ego.

I will be trying to get together a part two on this topic soon! Let me know your thoughts on it.

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