As another Minnesota Hockey season comes to a close, the almost reflexive ritual of coaches, parents and players evaluating performance – both team and individual – has already begun.
And, while reflecting back is an intrinsic part of any sports season, it’s critical that all involved focus on what’s truly important and are aligned on what progress and development really look like. In this most recent year of tumult, which wasn’t “normal” by any stretch, it’s important to remember that missing out on many of the fun, social aspects of the youth hockey experience off the ice – as well as the starts and stops along the way – may have impacted performance on the ice.
So, when the season’s over, what is the proper perspective? How should we be assessing what happened at games, practices and tournaments over the last few months?
According to Andy Shriver, trainer for Positive Coaching Alliance and USA Hockey coaching certification instructor, it likely depends on how “success” was defined from the start.
“It comes down to reinforcing our definition of success in terms that focus on things the player can control,” he said. “Opponents’ strength, numbers, abilities, history and experience are not in our control. Refs’ calls are out of our control. Yet all of these profoundly impact wins and losses as much as anything. Focus on effort, how much the players learned and how well they handled adversity and used mistakes to improve.”
The simple reality is there are very few teams who end their season with a win, and there are far more than those who can and should consider their season a success.
“Getting more points than the other team is great. We should all try as hard as we can to score and not get scored upon, using all that we have learned to do so,” said Shriver, a former collegiate hockey player at Gustavus.
As coaches and parents though, there are so many components of youth sports that are more important than the outcome of a game. When the season goes well, many of those things seem to almost happen naturally and can be easily forgotten or glossed over.
On the flip side, Shriver notes there are some glaring things coaches and parents observe that may indicate the season you just completed was not a successful one:
“My greatest disappointments as a coach were if any of my players didn’t enjoy the game as much or more than at the beginning of the season, if they didn’t improve much on the ice or if players demonstrated their own feelings of disappointment or failure by not being good teammates, picking on each other, pointing fingers or letting teammates wallow instead of supporting and picking them up.”
If your player loves the game more today than they did in September, improved on the ice, enjoyed being at the rink and a part of their team and made strides in areas like handling adversity, sportsmanship and showing an internal motivation to improve, it was likely a pretty good year.
When it comes to development, regardless of what the stat sheet says, it’s essential for players to trust the process. Shriver believes that as tempting as scores, averages and data are to use, most important are the stories our young athletes attempt to reflect.
“A great place to start an evaluation of how well a player developed, or how well a team developed is to go right to the source,” said Shriver. “I love player evaluations that start with the player identifying what they feel are their strengths and what they believe would make an impact on their game if they could improve it. A blank ‘report card’ with some key areas and lines for notes by the player is a great way to get the ball rolling.”
Shriver believes there are bigger-picture signs of player development that go beyond specific skills like skating, shooting and passing.
“Players who are smiling when they work hard are making progress,” Shriver said. “Players who make mistakes at full speed, are accountable for them and are coachable in how to minimize and overcome that mistake are making progress. Players who demonstrate increasing confidence are making progress.”
At the end of the day, when we, as adults, aim to reflect on what really matters, Shriver suggests a simple rule.
“Ask the kids,” he said. “Better yet, watch what made them smile, laugh, work hard and beg to come back.”