Q: I coach bantams and I’m curious what types of team activities are appropriate to help teach club responsibility and personal responsibility. Any suggestions?
A: The best bantam coaches add a lifestyle component to their curriculum. It becomes a very important piece of programming at this age level, and unfortunately, coaches sometimes overlook it.
As for specifics, I’ve seen bantam coaches take the opportunity to educate their players on some of the new challenges or experiences they may soon encounter off the ice. This is where personal responsibility becomes paramount.
As coaches, it’s important to promote a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to enforce rules that maintain a smoke-free, tobacco-free, alcohol-free and drug-free environment. Any of these chemicals can derail a player’s future, which is a point coaches should emphasize as part of their lifestyle curriculum. And on the topic of drugs, coaches should not only warn players about the dangers of street drugs, but also the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.
One especially effective technique for this type of training is to bring in polished guest speakers or professional educators to discuss these topics with players. The sobering stories can help grab players’ attention, plus it clearly demonstrates to players and parents that you care about their overall well-being and future. It’s a value-add for your program.
A good example of teaching club responsibility can be as simple as setting up a peer mentor program within your club in which older players work with younger players on and off the ice. Cultivating this type of positive club mentality radiates social bonding throughout your organization and nurtures togetherness among your players, parents and coaches. This helps create a positive environment where younger players emulate older players while confidence and leadership skills grow among the older players.
One way to do this is by having your bantam players make monthly scheduled appearances at the mite, squirt or peewee practices. Have your bantam players work in pairs and help the younger kids’ coaches conduct their stations and provide positive support. Your players will make excellent teachers and be able to give great skill demonstrations on the ice.
I recently heard a story in which a peer mentor simply sat with a beginning 6U hockey player on the ice for 20 minutes. This young player didn’t have the energy to participate on this day. At the following week’s practice, this same young player was back, energized and ready to play. This child’s mother told the coach that her son had a great experience last week and was appreciative of the time and patient nature of the bantam player who was willing to just sit with her youngster on the ice.
And the benefits extend to the mentors, too. Providing your bantams with the responsibility of leadership, plus the responsibility of managing their schedule of homework, hockey and volunteering at the rink, is priceless. These are skills that will help them on and off the ice in years to come, preparing them for college life and the realities of balancing their academic workload with other responsibilities and opportunities.
These are great lessons that will lead to success in everyday life. What an opportunity to help educate your players through sport!
The author, Joe Bonnett, has more than 20 years of hockey coaching experience, including 18 seasons at the NCAA Division I level. Before entering the college ranks, he was a 12U and 16U coach in Michigan.