Rozner: Ask not what your hockey coach can do for you

  • When it's time for the faceoff, hockey coaches just want to make sure they've done all they can to get the most from their players. Work hard, prepare hard, play hard and have fun.

    When it's time for the faceoff, hockey coaches just want to make sure they've done all they can to get the most from their players. Work hard, prepare hard, play hard and have fun. Getty Images

Updated 12/9/2019 6:43 PM

Hockey coaches are just like any other form of human.

There are bad ones and good ones, loud and quiet, mean and nice.


There are those who embarrass players in front of a team and those who make their case in private.

There are some willing to grab a player by the jersey, and there's the type that can frighten a player with a stare.

Different styles of coaching work for different kinds of players, as the many personalities on a team respond to different kinds of motivation.

And that's really what we're talking about when you hear revelations, whether ancient or recent, about questionable coaching tactics.

Not talking about Bill Peters and the unconscionable use of bigoted language. There's obviously no place for that anywhere, period.

Not talking about physical or sexual abuse, or ruining players' careers or reputations by humiliating them in front of their teammates.

And though I wouldn't dream of speaking for someone else or what they went through, or how it made them feel, I will say that playing hockey as a child -- and even in later years -- I had plenty of coaches who got physical with us.

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It was entirely about trying to get our attention.

This will no doubt surprise you, but I was the kind of dopey kid who needed the occasional smack in the helmet, and I had a coach who would from time to time whack me with a stick.

It didn't hurt. It was loud, sure, but it didn't hurt. We got hit in the head harder by opponents than we ever did by that coach.

But it did get my attention.

I once had a coach cross-check me so hard in the chest that I flew about three feet through the air, landed on my backside and bounced my head off the ice.

But how many times must you to tell a kid to stop taking slap shots around the goalie's neck in warmups? Keep the fricken puck down on a cold goaltender.


I deserved it.

The worst were sideboards. Now that was nasty.

Sideboards -- which need no explanation to anyone who suffered through them -- were sprints the width of the ice.

You started with three. Over and back, over and back, over and back. With about 10 seconds' rest, a set of two. Over and back, over and back. A quick breath and a final sprint, over and back. 3-2-1.

Last guy across did it again.

When we weren't listening, we did sideboards, and if we didn't do them fast enough, sometimes we skated until we threw up.

Not a load of fun. But a few days of sideboards and you stopped messing around in practice.

Hockey players are notorious for wanting to have fun in practice instead of, you know, practicing.

Sideboards got your attention, and you listened carefully to directions.

Afraid? No.

The only fear was in getting benched. That speaks to what hockey players truly dread.

The worst thing you can do to any player is take away ice time. Nothing hurts more than that.

You want to play. You want heavy minutes. You want special teams. You want opportunities. You want to be on the ice when it matters most. You want that responsibility.

And you want respect.

But in order to get it you first have to give it and sometimes it took a kick in the butt -- or a smack to the head -- in order to do what you were asked to do.

Others were less overt, using more traditional, less startling methods, but it was all with a coach's desire to get the most from you, to get you to grow as a player and as a person, and because we all wanted to win.

And these were lessons most of us took with us into the rest of our lives, things we learned quite young.

Work hard, prepare hard, play hard and have fun.

I know it's a different time. Generations evolve and standards change, and I'm certain I wouldn't have reacted well had I seen it happen to my kids at any age.

So I speak only for me when I say nothing those coaches did hurt me.

I speak only for me when I say I understood the purpose.

I speak only for me when I say those moments made me better.

There's all sorts of ways to get someone's attention when they aren't practicing -- or playing -- the way a coach has asked them to.

That was just the way it was done at a different time, in a very different era.

And if I could see those coaches today, I wouldn't complain about their tactics.

I would only say, "You made me better. Thank you."

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