At any level of hockey, teams and players need a morale boost every once in a while. Maybe it’s within a game after a lopsided period, or during a tough stretch when wins are hard to come by.
As someone who has coached at both the high school and youth levels, Mike Taylor has seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to boosting morale and keeping a team’s confidence up. The current Eagan boys junior varsity coach has also coached varsity and Peewees. He offered five ways to boost team morale and confidence.
Keep Things Fun
Taylor says it’s important to always have fun, but especially so during tough stretches.
“A big thing that I learned years ago is when your team is struggling is when really you’re probably the most positive and the most caring with them,” said Taylor, who played college hockey at St. Scholastica and currently serves as Minnesota Hockey’s Boys High School Director. “When you’re doing well, it’s way easier to be hard on them.”
One thing he implemented when he coached the Eagan varsity team was a friendly competition among his players, who were split up into two teams for small-area games in practice.
Whichever of the groups won that day’s games earned the coveted cooler, which could contain anything from candy to Gatorade to donuts. Players didn’t know what was in the cooler on any given day, making the competition even more fun. Taylor made sure to carve out at least 15 minutes at the end of practice for activities like that to help keep morale up.
“Even alumni who come back talk about the cooler,” Taylor said.
At the youth levels, Taylor noted that teams he’s coached in the past enjoy when coaches joke around or do silly chants to help lighten the mood. Giving each player a nickname was another way Taylor found helped create a sens
“They always should have fun things,” he said.
Celebrate the Small Victories
When the going gets tough, there are usually still positives to draw on. That might include breaking down film of games to key in on things that went right that teams or players can build off of.
Even within a game, Taylor says morale can be shifted just by focusing on improving from one period to the next.
“If you’re behind after a period, you might say, ‘Well this period, let’s try to win this period,’” Taylor said. “It’s things I’d call small victories. We don’t pay attention to the scoreboard. We pay attention to the competition and the process. If you do that, the scoreboard usually takes care of itself.”
At the youth level when wins and losses are far from the most important thing, Taylor says it’s important to emphasize progress.
“When I coach youth ... we never really talked about wins, losses, records. We talked about getting better,” he said. “So always pointing out how we’re playing better. Are we getting better today?”
Instill a Positive Culture
Throughout his tenure in Eagan, Taylor said his teams talk quite a bit about culture. Their approach is to develop a blue-collar mentality, with seniors leading the way for the younger players.
Helping develop a solid culture as a program means that when morale might be dipping, the team has leaders it can count on to help pick up the rest of the team.
“We’ll have a leadership group and we’ll constantly talk to them about culture,” Taylor said. “Sometimes, the talks might be heated. If I feel they’re feeling sorry for themselves, I might call them in and just say, ‘This ain’t gonna end until you guys make up your mind as a group.’”
Coaches Need to Keep Their Cool
Few things can hurt a player or a team’s confidence faster than a coach who loses his or her temper when things aren’t going well. Taylor says his coaching mantra aims to keep that in mind: “Be demanding but not demeaning.”
So while Taylor may want things to run a certain way in practice – he calls it “fanatical” – he always makes sure to respect his players in the process.
“You can be demanding, and you should have high expectations. But you can never demean a kid,” Taylor said.
Remember It’s Just a Game
At the end of the day, it’s important to remind players at any level why they’re playing hockey. When a team gets in a funk or a player is frustrated about an individual performance, it’s sometimes up to coaches to put things into perspective.
“The bottom line is it’s a game, and it’s a game for kids. It should be fun,” Taylor said. “I think too often we think it’s life and death. You always seem to survive even the bad losses.”