Hockey seasons aren’t won or lost in a team’s first game or first practice, but setting the tone early on is important. Perhaps one of the biggest aspects of that is establishing camaraderie among a team of players, coaches and parents.
Bill McClellan knows this first-hand. The longtime high school coach and current head coach of St. Paul Academy boys’ varsity hockey team has also coached youth teams and has seen at various levels just how important early team building can be.
As hockey teams across Minnesota get ready for their seasons to begin, how can we work on team building? One of McClellan’s pieces of advice: Do so away from the rink.
“I think you can do that through some type of off-ice team activities, whether it’s fundraising, maybe bagging groceries at the local grocery store, or packing bags for the food shelf,” McClellan said. “Different activities off the ice where kids have to work together.”
Small Moments, Big Impact
The U.S. Women’s National Team formally kicked off its residency program at the Super Rink in Blaine on Tuesday to prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
But just like McClellan suggests, hitting the ice isn’t the first thing they did as a group.
“We started off residency with a team trip to TopGolf,” said Roseville native Lee Stecklein, who is hoping to make her third Olympic team this winter. “That was really fun. Grace Zumwinkle (Excelsior, MN) kicked everybody’s butt — it turns out she’s a pretty good golfer. That was a really fun way to start.”
Whether it’s meals, watching hockey on TV or in person or just hanging out, all that time together builds camaraderie, Stecklein says.
“There’s a lot of time between skates and between lifts where you’re just hanging out, eating, whatever it is. There’s more of those small moments than you realize. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to go to a Wild game or go out to dinner together, things like that really make a difference.
“Just that extra time you spend together makes us understand each other better, what helps everyone better, and that definitely translates to the ice.”
Fostering a Fun Environment
McLellan also has fond memories of boot hockey tournaments where the team’s coach became “one of the guys.” He’s seen father-son, father-daughter and mother-son games that have helped the parents connect with the team. Those off-ice bonding opportunities can go a long way in fostering a great team environment — and a strong community around the team — during the season.
Of course, having fun throughout is essential, McLellan said.
“As soon as kids stop having fun, they check out,” he said. “It’s the same with practices as well. When kids stop having fun in practice and during games, they stop continuing to grow as players.”
Team building can take place while still working on skills, too. Dryland workouts or stickhandling drills, for example, are things McLellan identifies as ways players can bond together.
“Powering through workouts together does a lot,” said Plymouth native and 2018 Olympic gold medalist Kelly Pannek. “There can be some long days but when you’re together, it just helps everyone push each other and get better, and that brings everyone together.”
Whatever it is players are doing together, Pannek says, be present.
“Even if it’s just small things like watching a TV show together or cooking a meal together. And it’s about just being present wherever you are. So if we’re at the rink, let’s be here together. And if we’re off the ice doing something fun or lazy or just hanging out, be there together. The chemistry naturally builds.”
As important as it is for the players to build camaraderie and trust, the same can be said for the parents, especially at the younger levels. Given how important of a role parents can play in their children’s lives, their influence can seep into hockey.
“I think it’s really, really important that the parents are on board,” McLellan said, noting parents are the most important people in a kid’s life.
Here are some ideas of how parents can help the team (parents and players) build relationships:
Team events can also help build relationships between parents on the team and with coaches, which help create an environment where everyone understands each other better and are more likely to have a positive and enjoyable experience.