I always tell my wife, “It’s black and white; it’s just reality”. However, I’m learning that there is a whole lot of gray in this world. Look no further than how to measure success in today’s world. Are you successful if you make a lot of money? To me, success is a very gray thing; it’s not black and white. What one person might think is success, another might argue. In hockey, I use to believe you were only a successful player if you made it to the NHL. If you didn’t make it to the NHL, no way can you say you were a successful hockey player.
Now, let’s think about success from the perspective of a hockey organization or community. How should we measure success? The black and white answer is you measure it in wins, losses, and championships. There is only one problem here: this isn’t the NHL. It’s not that kind of business. Success in a hockey organization instead needs to be based on how many players are playing the game and are opportunities being created for the players to go on and play at the next level. In hockey, you are always trying to make it to the next level. It’s a never-ending journey until you make the NHL, and then you are trying to stay because everyone is trying to take your spot.
Going back to measuring success as an organization, another flaw with measuring it in championships is that you may not be playing against the best of the best at your age/ level. Are you really pushing yourself and getting better? Is it really a good and accurate measure of success? Or is it just something that makes you feel good?
The bar should not be lowered so we can say we are successful. We must measure success in terms of developing good hockey players and people. Are we creating opportunities for players to move onto the next level? The next step will look different for each individual player. Success will look different for each individual player. As hockey coaches, our number one job is to create opportunities for players, not win games. What the player does with the opportunity is up to them.
The best way we can create opportunities is to focus on things that will help them in the next step. The first place to start and the core of every hockey player is individual skills (skating, passing, stick handling, shooting, hockey IQ, etc). These are the building blocks. If players do not have a solid foundation of these skills, nothing else really matters. It’s what every scout or coach is going to look at first. As an organization, the focus must be on skill development! If it is not, we are do not doing what is in the players’ and families’ best interest.
Do players really learn or develop new skills in games? Or do players test themselves and put to use the things they work on in practice? When do you think more development occurs: in practice or in games? Think about how much time and reps a player gets in a practice versus a game. Both are typically one hour long in youth hockey, so it’s an equal comparison. In a youth hockey game, a good player probably plays 12 to 16 minutes on average, and has the puck on their stick for 45 to 60 seconds at most (and that is if they are a really strong player). How much skill development do you really think is going on in that amount of time? Now think about an hour-long practice with players constantly moving and touching the puck. Where should our focus really be at? The answer seems to be obvious!
Everyone has seen hockey evolve over the years. One place it’s evolved the most is in professional hockey. It’s where everyone looks to draw things from and bring things to their organization. I can remember finally making it to the AHL towards the end of my career and getting to see what player development truly looks like. Every day I went to the rink in Bakersfield, the message and what was expected of me was very clear: “Get that one percent better every day”. There were no excuses. The Edmonton Oilers, our coaching staff, and trainers gave us everything that we as players needed to get better. There truly were no excuses any player could make for not improving.
We as players had everything we possibly needed at our disposal to get better. We even had player development coaches that would lead sessions every couple of weeks before or after practice. These sessions were always about individual skill development with a focus on either skating, puck handling, or shooting. Extra time in the gym to work on weaknesses for your body were a must as well. That season, I played the least amount of games during my entire career, but I can honestly say it was the best my game ever was. Everyday players and coaches talked about acting and being a professional. Why would we not treat hockey the same way in our youth program and here is Kansas City?
In hockey, I believe you control very few things besides your attitude and work ethic as a player. Wins, losses, and politics preventing you from making certain teams are not things you control. Let’s redefine what we are looking to accomplish. Does winning championships make hockey grow here? Does producing good hockey players and people make the game grow? I believe it is the latter, and that’s what my focus is on and why I created BA Hockey Academy. With the help of many others, my goal is to raise the bar in Kansas City! As a lot of you have heard, “Nothing worth having comes easy in life”. This couldn’t be any truer in hockey.
Take care of these things and the results & individual accolades will take care of themselves!
Find out more about Bryce’s Hockey Academy and upcoming schools through his website.