Not every player can wear the “C,” but being a leader and a great teammate are things all kids – regardless of age, skill or experience level – can and should aspire to.
“Sometimes the best teammates are the ones who weren’t given letters but still do the right things, not because they feel an obligation to do it, but because they genuinely feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Adam Krause, assistant men’s hockey coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “A player who works hard, has a ‘want to’ attitude, contributes positively to the game and sacrifices themselves, shows how much they care about the team.”
For Krause, a former captain as a player at both Hermantown High School and UMD, identifying the traits of what makes a great teammate isn’t rocket science. He believes it boils down to a few simple, learned behaviors.
It should go without saying, but the “Golden Rule” should be prevalent in our community rinks. Nobody involved with youth hockey wants to have a bad experience, so treating your teammates the way you would want them to treat you is imperative. Players should be encouraging, not discouraging, and be accountable versus blaming others. One of the best ways a player can be a great teammate is by being supportive of his/her fellow skaters.
“As coaches, we love the kids who skate over and give a tap on the shins to the goalie or defenseman after they’ve made a mistake, and say ‘we’ll get them next time,’” said Krause. “Talking on the bench, being vocal in the locker room, having good body language if things aren’t going well, are all great ways to pick your teammates up. Coaches also notice the negative, like when a kid is open and doesn’t get a pass and slams his stick or looks up at the ceiling or complains. Nobody wants to play with that kid.”
Create a Positive Environment
Showing understanding and empathy for teammates during tougher times or after errors is a big part of creating a positive team environment, both on and off the ice. At every level, it tends to work best if the best players and/or older players are also among the hardest workers, lead by example and bring positive energy to every practice and game.
“We teach our older guys that if a freshman makes a mistake, don’t call him out in front of the whole team, because we’ve all been there. That’s a conversation to have in private,” said Krause. “If you play long enough, you’ll be one of those guys that passed the puck to the other team and they scored or fell on the blue line and gave up a breakaway. For me, when you’re at your lowest, you need someone to come up and say, ‘it’s not a big deal, we’ll get them back.’
“You remember the teammates who picked you up. When nobody says anything, it leaves a pit in your stomach. Young players who are willing to get out of their comfort zone and stick up for teammates create a more positive environment and keep the game fun.”
Team Success over Individual Success
The more team-oriented players can be on a consistent basis, the faster the team will jell and the more enjoyment all will feel.
“There’s room for some selfishness if it’s pointed in the right way, like, I want to be the guy who scores to help the team,” said Krause. “But if your teammates aren’t involved that’s something different. Great teammates and leaders push the team by pushing themselves, being willing to play any role and understand that team success is more important than individual success. Our captain, Noah Cates, is one of our best players, and he works the hardest. He shows up every single day. It’s not something that just happens.”
Krause added, “Coaches love it when the bench reacts crazier when the team scores than the person who actually scored. We don’t like the guy who skates away from the team for a solo celebration. We see that happen often in youth hockey. We like the guy who scores and jumps into his teammates’ arms.”
According to Krause, being a great teammate is learned behavior that requires conscious effort, and parents and coaches can both play a role.
“When I was a kid, every time I left my parents’ car they’d say ‘work your hardest, be a good teammate.’ If they saw me slam my stick on the ice, they’d bring that up. If good behaviors are instilled at an early age, it’s so impactful,” said Krause. “It’s about more than hockey. When parents can stress from day one that these are important lessons for hockey and life, the rest takes care of itself.”