Male Players at the Junior Hockey Level, the level with which I coach, are asked to leave their home and be independently mature... to adjust and make rational, adult decisions. This is far from easy. According to LiveScience.com:
Researchers at Dartmouth College scanned the brains of nineteen 18-year-old students who had moved more than 100 miles to attend school.
"During the first year of college, students have many new experiences," said psychologist Abigail Baird, the study's principal investigator. "They are faced with new cognitive, social, and emotional challenges." A group of 17 older students, ranging in age from 25 to 35, served as a control group for comparison. The results showed that the freshmen students' brains underwent significant changes and were very different from that of the older adults.
The changes were localized to the cingulate, caudate and insula regions of the brain. These areas are believed to be where emotions and thoughts are integrated.
The researchers believe the changes represent an increased awareness of the students' inner feelings and an improved ability to organize and integrate incoming sensory information; this synthesis helps shape the kinds of emotional and behavioral responses they have to new experiences.
The results are consistent with other research suggesting that the human brain continues to grow and mature right up to the point when we become adults and even beyond. In another study, researchers found that humans don't really develop the ability to handle multiple pieces of information at once until about the ages of 16 or 17.
Understanding these challenges has forced me to alter how I coach these young men. Through personal reflection, it has made me ask critical questions of myself and my own growth process. It has taken a great deal of attention away from just the hockey component, and focus more on the personal development of these players, and in the process it has helped me become a better coach and better person. Here are 3 critical ingredients I have integrated into my program to help keep the confidence of these young men up, and create a positive emotional growth period for my players and my teams:
1) Use an outside voice- I had to learn that the more I talk, does not guarantee the more these players will listen. In the 2014-15 season I made the decision to bring in a Life Coach to our program after a difficult stretch of games. At the time I had no idea that it would completely change the course of our season, and the direction of our program.
Emily Clement (www.emilyclementlifecoach.com) is a Life Coach in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and she began meeting weekly with our team to help them establish goals, overcome obstacles, and gain a greater understanding of the "Big Picture". The results were both immediate and far reaching. For example, the week before she arrive we lost a game 11-2. After her arrival, that same season, we saw our team go from last place in our division to 2nd best, make the playoffs, and establish the highest win total by a Laconia, NH based Junior Hockey team in a decade. Here is a video that describes the experience-
2) Show lots of Love- The days of Bear Bryant and the Junction Boys are long gone. Recognizing that these young athletes are different, and those days are over is a necessary component to achieving team success in our current world. Players need for you to communicate with them on an individual and personal basis, for them to "buy in" to what you are selling.
Some of the ways I have tried to show that I care include:
+ Team Dinners
+ Monday morning breakfast & coffee with small groups of players
+ Periodic, Individual Player Meetings
+ Providing them Job Opportunities with Scoring Concepts
+ Doing extra workouts and extra training sessions right along with them
+ Volunteering Activities
+ Team Movie Night
+ Community & Service Projects
+ Fun Team Building Activities
+ Bringing former Players back as Alumni/ staying involved
Each kid needs to know they have a role and they serve as a critical cog on the team wheel. They all need to feel important. If you can be an active participant in helping them feel a part of your team, then you will get a more cohesive, dynamic group.
3) Use Language they understand & Communicate on their level- The old coaching saying of, "Never ask your players to do anything that you, yourself would not do", applies in a broad sense to all aspects of your team.
I rarely talk about my own playing experiences with my team or my players, because frankly they do not care. I am 36 years old... soon to be 37. These players want to know what their current role models do to be successful. They want to know how Alex Ovechkin prepares, what Nathan McKinnon does in the off-season, and how Sidney Crosby recovers. My heroes and my experiences are not only different mentally from theirs, but also mine as well be dinosaurs.
We exist in an instant gratification culture, and where I had to load a VHS to watch highlights, these kids have more advanced technology readily available in the palm of their hands. Use this technology and these resources to provide them with the necessary feedback that they are looking for. If a kid is feeling down about a certain aspect in their life or their game, use google or youtube to find out an applicable clip or article that they can relate to. Share it them and help them through the struggle. Be present.
Additionally, many of these kids have never spoken on a phone before, just like I have never ridden in a horse and buggy. I find even email is outdated for them. Communicate how they communicate, don't force them to adjust to your world. Use not only language they will understand but also methods of communication that makes them feel comfortable. This will allow your message to come across more clearly and have better chances to be retained by them. If you know they are going through a goal scoring drought and it is affecting them mentally, text them a youtube clip of Steven Stamkos highlights. This concept can be applied to school, relationships, family and much more.