When putting together their teams, coaches often look for players who will work hard and show their effort. It’s a common phrase in sports that ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’. But working hard isn’t just skating around the ice at full speed all game. It is a skill just like stickhandling and shooting. Being able to effectively communicate with your team what is expected gets everyone on the same page and focuses the effort on specific actions.
Speaking at The Coaches Site’s Coaches Conference in 2019, Ottawa 67’s Head Coach and Team Canada World Juniors Head Coach Andre Tourigny explained how he works with his players to get what he expects from them.
“Every coach talks about compete and work ethic. Which coach doesn’t think hard work is important?” said Tourigny. “Which team doesn’t talk about being relentless and hard work? I’ve never played for a coach that says ‘don’t worry about your effort’. That won’t happen.”
It’s why communication is so important, especially between a coach and players still learning the game. Players need concise, clear instruction instead of general hockey phrases.
For example, telling a defenceman to ‘stand on the blue line’ is a good starting point, but then what? When the puck goes the other way, should a player stay standing or follow the play? If the puck goes past them on offence and the team needs to reset when the puck leaves the zone, what should the player do? Step-by-step instructions aren't necessary either, but encouraging players to ‘try to not let the puck go offside’ gives them the freedom to move around and keeps them involved.
“If you tell me to work, what exactly do you want me to do? We want to work but we want to win battles and races. We want to manage and protect the puck. Be able to grind the opponent by possession. Those for me, if you do that without working hard, you impress me, I don’t know how you do that.”
As Tourigny puts it, instead of getting upset at a player for making a mistake, tell them why or what you expect them to be doing instead.
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