Plan To Win

Several years ago I was on the bench coaching my team, and I screamed


But the young, athletic, fully-aware player did not shoot the puck.

The whistle blew, and the player came to the bench, and I asked him why he didn’t shoot the puck. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”

I reflected on that moment for weeks, because I knew the player had the ability, I knew he had great hockey IQ, he was a leader on the team, respected in the locker room, and he knew it was the right decision for that moment. Yet he didn’t shoot the puck. He didn’t shoot the puck… for weeks I wrestled with understanding his response.

Why didn’t he shoot the puck?

As I was raking leaves in my backyard, reflecting, doing my gap analysis(debrief). It hit me. It was a bad expectation. I didn’t put him in a proper training scenario throughout the weeks leading up to that moment.

It was I, the fearless, experienced coach who has been around hockey for three decades, played pro, and coached for over 15 years. I was the coach who planned the practice each week and talked to parents weekly about their child’s development.

Yes, it was on me!

I didn’t set the pace in practice leading up to that moment. I had asked the player an unfair question and put unreasonable expectations on him. He didn’t shoot because he wasn’t trained!

That revelation was so exciting! So, in the days to come, I began to unpack the situation. He did not perform in that moment because he was not prepared to win. My expectation did not meet his practice repetition – which I control – routine, and overall preparedness. My question was unfair.

As I continued to reflect on that unfair moment, I realized that I was the one who needed to be a better leader. And being a better leader didn’t mean putting more pressure on my players to play better or “dig deeper”. In fact, asking more out of my players was being extremely insensitive and poor coaching. They didn’t have the training to play at the upper ranges of their ability in the biggest moments because of me.

How dare I put this kind of pressure on them!

Honestly, I felt ashamed. I apologized to the players and parents, and then I went to work!

I realized I needed to set better expectations for myself and my team. This means I need to understand what I wanted the team and individual players to become, I needed to set the vision, mission, and communicate with them their role on the team. I wanted them to compete, so I needed to set the competition tone in the practice plans, I need to show them on video what it means to compete and never give up. I needed to set the pace in all areas of what I wanted them to do show them, practice with them, and repeat the process…I need to lead at a granular level with a tremendous amount of repetition, and I knew I needed to make if fun.

If I wanted my defense to move the puck north, and south then I needed to show them. We should practice moving the puck north and south; and then show them video of pro players moving the puck north and south; then practice it again and again; and talk to them outside the rink before practice and after practice about their concerns.

Whatever skills I wanted them to develop, as a coach I needed to give them opportunities to learn, practice, and perfect those skills, so that they could perform consistently when they’re under pressure. Once the consistency was there I began to slowly add different types of pressure

When I thought about my goals for the team, I wanted them to become the best version of themselves; I wanted them to be confident, I wanted them to have a routine, and most importantly, I wanted them to have fun.

With my goals in mind, I wanted to help my players for a plan for everything: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. A plan that helped my players have a vision, manage their emotions by zone, have confidence, and use their five senses. A plan to help them deal with doubt, anxiety, and fear. I knew we both needed targets for practice, a plan for adversity, I knew we both needed a post-game and practice debrief time and venue. Ultimately we needed a plan.

I knew if I wasn’t willing to put these pieces in place, then I could never put any expectations on my players and team.

I realized I couldn’t just say, “Why are you not mentally prepared?” or “Hey, you need to come to the rink in better metabolic conditioning?” or “You need to skate faster!” or throw out bombshell insults like “dig deeper, you are soft, or step up when the going gets tough

How could I put those expectations on a player when there is no plan?

It’s unfair and disrespectful to players and parents, so I rolled up my sleeves and started asking questions

I researched and asked questions to nutritional professionals. I started asking questions to my  Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) friends about proper conditioning. And I started asking questions to people smarter than me about hockey.

And I think most importantly, I began to ask mental preparation and toughness questions to sports psych professionals. I had a path, and I was super pumped about it.

Preparing my players and team to play at the upper ranges of their ability consistently in the biggest moment was going to take more focused development on my part. Yes, my players need to buy in and work hard, but I realized all the heavy lifting was on me, their coach.