It’s easy to get caught up in wins, losses, stats and the emotions that accompany competition. Even adults sometime succumb to the excitement or frustration that can lead to inappropriate behaviors.
We want fierce competitors who love to battle and have a never-quit attitude. But we also want them to be humble winners and graceful losers. For young players, understanding this may be easier said than done.
Joe Law believes it’s critical to strike an appropriate balance.
“We want to be good and we want to win, but most importantly we want our players to get better and have fun,” said Law, who last fall received the Bruce Johnson Award from the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association, recognizing his 20 years of coaching at both the youth and high school levels. “The focus should really be on the journey.”
Law, who is coaching at the Peewee level this season, shared his thoughts on navigating that journey, and how parents and coaches can help young hockey players grow and represent themselves and their teams the right way.
Minnesota Hockey: Why is it so important for young athletes to learn the right way to win and lose?
Joe Law: It’s very important to have balance. As a coach, I have to set an example. We’re not going to get too high when things are going well, or too low when they aren’t going well. There will be ups and downs all season long. Winning games is great, but you don’t need to tell everyone about it or rub it in someone’s face. It could just as easily go the other way next time. And you can learn a lot from your failures.
Minnesota Hockey: What is and isn’t acceptable behavior for the winning team?
Joe Law: I tell my kids from the word ‘go,’ I don’t allow any kind of taunting. You’re never going to put your hands in the air, sweep the ice or do a bow and arrow to celebrate goals. Find a teammate, tell them good pass, congratulate each other. You can get excited without making it looked like a choreographed dance like the NFL. After the game, coaches should remind players to tell the other team ‘good game.’
Minnesota Hockey: What is and isn’t acceptable behavior for the losing team?
Joe Law: First, don’t show me how much you care by slamming your stick. You’re also not going to show me by blaming the refs. I’ve never met a ref who cared who won the game. As a coach, they’ll look at how you act, so it’s critical to keep an even keel and respect your opponent and the officials. Shake hands after the game even if a couple calls went against you.
Minnesota Hockey: Can playing with humility breed more success on the ice? How can coaches champion this?
Joe Law: It can make a big difference in terms of team dynamic. Some of the better teams I’ve had have been the ones that weren’t the most talented. When I was coaching in high school, sometimes the kids who weren’t high level players their whole life were the most coachable. They didn’t think they knew everything and ended up better in the long run.
I try to tell the kids, if you want to go far, you need to play as a team and make sure everyone feels included. If all we do is talk about who scored the goals, we’re creating a big problem. Our captain is our most humble kid. He’s a good player, leads by example. I like to have kids in charge of various responsibilities so everyone has a part and can feel included. That breeds the concept of ‘everyone’ and really dials back on the individualism.
Minnesota Hockey: How do you help kids understand the difference between being confident and being cocky?
Joe Law: It’s OK to know you’re good, knowing and believing that you can do things and be successful. The more success you have, the more confident you’ll be. Cockiness is telling people how good you are. A true leader doesn’t need to call attention to themselves. You can carry yourselves in a way that you’re proud of yourself without exuding arrogance.
Minnesota Hockey: You mentioned celebrating success – what should coaches do if they have players going beyond just having fun, but being disrespectful?
Joe Law: Players should know the expectations from the first practice on, how they will treat teammates and opponents. The first time a kid goes too far, I would lean over on the bench and say, hey, let’s celebrate with our teammates. Tell him that’s not how we’re going to do it. The second time, I’ll likely repeat that in a more stern voice. The third time, we’ll probably have to talk about a consequence, maybe have a meeting with the player and their parents.
Minnesota Hockey: What if it’s a parent that’s going overboard or getting too emotional in the stands over a win or a loss?
Joe Law: If it’s becoming confrontational, I may step in. But otherwise, maybe wait until the next practice and take them aside and talk to them about it. Remind them about your team philosophy and that the kids will follow our example. It may also be a good opportunity to see if they have any questions for the coaches, or if there’s any issues and clear the air. In person is the way to handle that, not over email. It’s important to keep open lines of communication about expectations with both players and parents.
Minnesota Hockey: What are some things young players can do to demonstrate respect?
Joe Law: With the officials, sliding the puck to them on icing calls, shaking hands after the game, telling them good game. One thing I don’t allow is putting your hands near the ref or throwing your hands up after a call. I don’t know any adult that wants to get shown up by a 12-year-old. With opponents, you don’t need to chirp. If the game is getting out of hand, tone down celebrations a bit. You don’t have to hate the other team to want to beat them, but you should respect them. If you have a kid with no regard for the opponent, or playing angry, they’re probably playing for the wrong reasons. It’s important for coaches to remind players that the other team makes mistakes just like we do, we’re all working on things and trying to get better.